Title - 'We're Not in Kansas: Live Bootleg 1993-1998'
Artist - Big Country
For those not in the know, Big Country are a Scottish rock band formed in Dunfermline, Fife, in 1981. They 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).
The height of the band's popularity was in the early to mid 1980s, although it retained a cult following for many years after. The band's music was most recognizable for the sounds it infused with Scottish folk and martial music styles, as well as for playing and engineering their guitar driven sound to evoke the inspirational spirit of bagpipes, fiddles and other traditional folk instruments.
Their first single was "Harvest Home", recorded and released in 1982. It was a modest success, although it did not reach the official UK Singles Chart. Their next single was 1983's "Fields Of Fire (400 Miles)", which reached the UK's Top Ten and was rapidly followed by the album The Crossing.
The album was a hit in the United States (reaching the Top 20 in the Billboard 200), powered by "In a Big Country", their only US Top 40 hit single.
Their second album Steeltown (1984) was a hit as soon as it was released, entering the UK Albums Chart at No. 1. The album featured three UK top 30 hit singles, and received considerable critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, but like Wonderland (and, in fact, all subsequent releases) it was a commercial disappointment in the US, peaking at No. 70 on the Billboard album chart.
1986's The Seer, the band's third album, was another big success in the UK, peaking at Number 2. It produced three further Top 30 singles, including the Irish number one hit "Look Away", which would also prove to be the band's biggest hit in the UK, peaking at No. 7.
Their next album, Peace in Our Time (1988), was recorded in Los Angeles. It reached No. 9 in the UK Albums Chart, but sold poorly in the United States. Then came their fifth album, No Place Like Home (1991) (which was not a commercial hit anywhere), 1993's The Buffalo Skinners, before they released Why the Long Face (1995), and then what would ultimately be the bands eighth and final studio album - with Adamson on vocals - Driving to Damascus (1999).
Sadly, and after years of suffering with his personal demons, Adamson was found dead at a Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii on 16th December, 2001.
In 2007, to celebrate 25 years of Big Country, founding members Bruce Watson, Tony Butler (now lead vocalist for the first time), and Mark Brzezicki reunited to embark on a tour of the UK with dates in Scotland and England and a gig in Cologne (Germany). They also released a new album, Twenty Five Live.
After another brief hiatus, the surviving original members toured again in late December 2010 and January 2011 with Mike Peters of the Alarm and Jamie Watson, Bruce's son, added to the line-up. This line-up began more regular touring as well as writing new material for potential release, in part with the involvement of record producer Steve Lillywhite.
The efforts resulted in the creation of Big Country's first single in 11 years, entitled "Another Country". After some band personal and behind the scenes in's and out's, the brand new album The Journey was released through Cherry Red Records in 2013; becoming the group's first studio record since 1999.
Today, and after the departure of Peters (The Alarm and solo work), Big Country have been joined by English singer Simon Hough on lead vocals; as well as harmonica and additional guitar. Long time member, Bruce Watson confirmed that Hough was now the band's fifth member and he also indicated that the group was working on new material; which would involve Hough, for potential future release.
But, and until then, we have this terrific flashback box-set of five (5) live CDs for your Big Country fix! Personally, I am, and always have been since day one, a MASSIVE Big Country fan and even saw them live once back in their '90s heyday in the UK.
Out now via Cherry Red Records (UK), We're Not In Kansas (The Live Bootleg Box-Set 1993-1998) pays tribute to the tour de force that was Big Country in the '90s. Featuring en masse of bootleg recordings of five live shows, these have now all been released officially for the very first time; and with the full blessing of the band.
Disc 1: Minneapolis - 1st Avenue - 06/11/93
1. "All Go Together"
2. "We're Not in Kansas"
3. "Look Away"
4. "What Are You Working for"
5. "Chester's Farm"
7. "Pink Marshmallow Moon"
9. "Long Way Home"
11. "The One I Love"
12. "In a Big Country"
Disc 2: Minneapolis - 1st Avenue - 06/11/93
2. "Lost Patrol"
3. "Don't Fear the Reaper"
4. "Hey Hey, My My"
Glasgow - Tower Records - 23/06/95
5. "You Dreamer"
6. "Look Away"
7. "I'm Not Ashamed"
8. "One in a Million"
9. "Send You"
10. "We're Not in Kansas"
11. "Hey Hey, My My"
12. "Rockin' in the Free World"
Disc 3: Stirling - MC Robert Centre - 20/4/94
1. "All Go Together"
2. "Harvest Home"
3. "King of Emotion"
4. "Look Away"
5. "Thirteen Valleys"
6. "One Great Thing"
7. "Winter Sky"
8. "Long Way Home"
10. "The Storm"
11. "Everything I Need"
12. "River of Hope"
13. "Just a Shadow"
14. "We're Not in Kansas"
15. "Come Back to Me"
Disc 4: Stirling - MC Robert Centre - 29/4/94
1. "Peace in Our Time"
2. "In a Big Country"
4. "Rockin' in the Free World"
5. "Don't Fear the Reaper"
Rotterdam - Rowtown - 28/8/95
6. Introduction By Mark
7. All Go Together #1
8. All Go Together #2
9. You Dreamer
10. Look Away
12. I'm Not Ashamed
13. Just a Shadow
14. Long Way Home
15. The Storm
16. Thirteen Valleys"
Disc 5: Rotterdam - Rowtown - 28/8/95
1. Don't Fear the Reaper
2. We're Not in Kansas
3. In a Big Country
4. Peace in Our Time
5. Found Out About You
6. Rockin' in the Free World
8. Tracks of My Tears"
Dunfermline - Taffie Toories - 24/5/98
9. You Dreamer
10. Look Away
12. "In a Big Country"
Tunbridge Wells - High Rocks - 9/6/95
13. "Daydream Believer"
Inclusive of stunning versions of many of their evergreen hits Ė "In A Big Country", "Look Away", "Chance", "Wonderland", "Peace In Our Time" and "King Of Emotion", spread across these various live recordings, you will find choice cuts and rarely heard covers too.
The first CD opens with an absolute belter of a anthemic, guitar rousing monster in "All Go Together", a cut from their underrated Buffalo Skinners album, and is backed by another from that very same album, the title of the box-set itself, the drumtastic "We're Not In Kansas".
Taking each track one at a time would make this review way longer than it already will be from this fan boy! So let's just say, for me personally, and I would imagine all BC fans out there, the choice cuts for me heard here live (when they'd only ever been available only on elusive, under-the-counter bootlegs beforehand) are the abovementioned duo, and stalwart blockbusters such as the next track "Look Away", "Wonderland", the stunningly beautiful piano ballad "Ships (Where Were You)", the gentle guitar plucking of "Chance", the raw trio of "Thirteen Valleys", "In A Big Country" and "Harvest Home", and the highly underrated "Just A Shadow."
Indeed, listening to these five CDs one after the other youíll not only hear a band touring to promote their most recent albums (at the time), such as The Buffalo Skinners and Why The Long Face, but some delightful, and heavily impassioned cover versions of song such as "Donít Fear The Reaper" (Blue Oyster Cult), "My, My, Hey Hey" and "Rockiní In The Free World" (both Neil Young), and even "Tracks Of My Tears" from Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
But here's the beauty of these live recordings, for as much as they are bootlegs and therefore not of the highest soundboard recording quality, they also bring us album tracks from those aforementioned new albums that were only ever sung live at that time. Tracks from Buffalo Skinners such as the trashing "Chester's Farm" (a fan favorite, for sure), the hipsway of "Pink Marshmallow Moon", the Scottish pride of "The One I Love", and then from Why The Long Face both "I'm Not Ashamed", and one of my all-time BC favorites, the Celtic "You Dreamer" ("I need a guide book. Get me a map. Not even Indiana Jones could deal with that.")
In closing, founder members Bruce Watson and Tony Butler have been interviewed for the Q&A sleeve-notes, which document a fascinating and largely undocumented period in the bandís history.
We're Not In Kansas (The Live Bootleg Box-Set 1993-1998) is being released by Cherry Red Records (UK) on December 1st, 2017.