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Islington Academy, London 6 January 2011

For nigh on two decades Big Country were one of the acts who most consistently delivered - many hard rock fans wrote them off for their pop origins and the bagpipe sounding guitars of their early days, but for me their stirring, celtic-themed anthems and boisterous live shows made them the nearest successors to Thin Lizzy. Sadly the year after they split up in 2000 singer, guitarist and main songwriter Stuart Adamson committed suicide.

After the occasional tribute show, the remaining three members (guitarist Bruce Watson, bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki) have embarked on a more extensive tour, with guest singer Mike Peters from The Alarm. He was a sound choice as they were one of the few eighties bands from more indie origins that had rock credibility, together with Big Country and U2 (before Bono disappeared up his own messiah complex).

A sell out Academy crowd with barely a person under 40 contained an excess of balding men in check shirts and the atmosphere - right down to singing along the Skids' Into the Valley beforehand -was electric and full of anticipation, and as they opened with a couple of songs from The Crossing debut- 1000 Stars and Harvest Home- the whole crowd took over the singing with a substantial number jumping around at the front.

The set was a mixture of debut album favourites (Inwards, The Storm) and singles (Look Away) from the first three albums, but their post 1986 quintet of albums were only represented by Driving to Damascus, the title track of their final release. Personally I would have loved to hear stuff from their heaviest album, 1993's The Buffalo Skinners, but I was probably in a minority.

Mike Peters treated the occasion with due reverence, giving his heart and soul without trying to dominate, and paying tribute to Stuart and the rest of the band. He even read an extract from HG Wells about the Porrohman before launching into the crowd during that song, which showcased their duelling celtic guitars to the full.

Bruce Watson took on more of the lead work than in the old days and was supported by son Jamie, who was the spit of him, only even more celtic looking. The two of them combined to particularly good effect during Teacher.

Despite the aid of a lyric book, objectively speaking Mike struggled somewhat on the more melodically intricate numbers, especially where he did not have the crowd to carry his singing. One of my favourites, Just a Shadow was one of those that suffered, more's the pity as its message of the human cost of 1980's Thatcherism may carry renewed weight in the years to come (apologies for coming over all Ben Elton).

But in the wider scheme of things that did not matter as a series of hits such as East of Eden and Wonderland had the crowd reliving its lost youth, and as the circle of pogoers at the front grew ever larger, during their signature song Fields of Fire I could not resist joining in, perhaps unwisely, having partaken in Wetherspoon's Thursday curry night.

The momentum was maintained with encores of Lost Patrol and Chance, two anthems sung by the crowd with almost religious fervour, before after the surprise of the night in Restless Natives, In a Big Country brought a 100 minute set to a suitably riotous conclusion.

Although this tour sold so well that another one of larger venues has already been fixed for the spring, this should not be seen as the start of a new chapter. Instead with some help from their friends the surviving members paid a fitting tribute to their underrated catalogue and cherished the memory of Stuart Adamson's very obvious talents.

Review by Andy Nathan

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