Big Country may never have reached the commercial highs of similarly structured outfits like the Waterboys and U2, but the Scottish rockers had all the ingredients needed for stadium domination. This two-disc U.K. collection from Spectrum dutifully chronicles the underrated Dunfermline, Fife-based outfit’s nearly 20-year career, from the band's classic 1983 debut, The Crossing, to 1999’s Driving to Damascus. Listeners who only know the group’s two big international hits (“In a Big Country” and "Fields of Fire”) will find in Fields of Fire: The Ultimate Collection a veritable treasure trove (as in 35 excellent remastered tracks) of anthemic modern rock with a rural twist, propelled in large part by the late Stuart Adamson’s soaring, bagpipe-inspired guitar leads.
Big Country comprised Stuart Adamson (formerly of Skids, vocals/guitar/keyboards), Bruce Watson (guitar/mandolin/sitar/vocals), Tony Butler (bass guitar/vocals) and Mark Brzezicki (drums/percussion/vocals). Before the recruitment of Butler and Brzezicki an early incarnation of Big Country was a five-piece band, featuring Peter Wishart (later of Runrig and now an SNP MP) on keyboards, his brother Alan on bass, and Clive Parker, drummer from Spizz Energi/Athletico Spizz '80. Parker had approached Adamson to join his new band after the demise of Skids.
When Big Country took to the stage at the Grugahalle in Essen for the German TV series Rockpalast in March 1986 they were at the peak of their commercial success on the back of their UK No. 1 album "Steeltown" and the release of their follow up "The Seer" just a few months in the future. The show captures everything that was good about Big Country, the soaring guitar, the great songs, the powerhouse rhythm section and Stuart Adamson's charismatic performance as the band's frontman.
Retired, wealthy sea Captain Jame McKay arrives in the vast expanse of the West to marry fiancée Pat Terrill. McKay is a man whose values and approach to life are a mystery to the ranchers and ranch foreman Steve Leech takes an immediate dislike to him. Pat is spoiled, selfish and controlled by her wealthy father, Major Henry Terrill. The Major is involved in a ruthless civil war, over watering rights for cattle, with a rough hewn clan led by Rufus Hannassey. The land in question is owned by Julie Maragon and both Terrill and Hannassey want it.
For its fourth album, Big Country made two changes seemingly intended to bolster its fortunes in America – switching from Mercury Records to Reprise and enlisting hot producer Peter Wolf. The bagpipe guitar sound was de-emphasized, along with the political lyrics, and Wolf treated singer Stuart Adamson as he had Starship singer Mickey Thomas, adding echo and backup harmonies to beef him up. On songs like the lead-off single "King Of Emotion" (Top 20 in Britain, non-charting in the U.S.), Wolf sought to retain Big Country's heroic quality while adding the widescreen dramatic style and cheerleader choral approach of Starship's "We Built This City." It was a brave try, but didn't really suit the group, making Peace In Our Time Big Country's least representative and least interesting album. (Nevertheless, the title track made the U.K. Top 40, and "Broken Heart [Thirteen Valleys]" also charted.)