Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chatting with Big Country's Bruce and Jamie Watson

Bruce Watson in Seattle. (All Andy photos)
By Andy

With the weather topping at a scorching 89 degrees in Seattle on July 1, Big Country's tour bus rolled up to the front of El Corazon as a coterie of fans gathered round, clutching albums and posters for the band to sign.

Father-and-son guitar duo Bruce and Jamie Watson and drummer Mark Brzezicki hopped off the bus first to greet fans while singer Mike Peters (Alarm) and bassist Derek Forbes (ex-Simple Minds) followed soon after.

Later that night, in carrying on the grand tradition of the Scottish band -- minus lead singer/guitarist Stuart Adamson, who died in 2001 -- the quintet blazed through a handful of songs from its debut album, "The Crossing," plus stellar selections from its new one, "The Journey," and more.

I caught Bruce and Jamie outside of the tour bus before the gig while they were having a smoke break.

Jamie and Bruce Watson with Mike Peters.

---You guys have obviously been doing this for a long time and you've got kind of a revitalized group here with Mike on vocals and your son on guitar... how's it all going?

Bruce: It's been great. We've been over here for three weeks. We started in New Jersey, worked our way across the country, came all the way across the West Coast, come up to here and into Canada tomorrow --and every night's been fantastic.

---The crowds have been good?

Bruce: It's been better for us because we ain't been here in 20 years. And for us to come back to this magnificent country and check out the geography and the history -- we are complete tourists and we film everything and we're now making our own documentary using a couple of mobile phones, and it's great because you do not see this stuff everyday.

---What's been some of the highlights so far for ya?

Bruce: Monument Valley-- we shot a video there (for "In a Broken Promise Land" and it was premiered on the Fourth of July on their website). Just came from the Redwoods, I was down driving through the Sequoia trees and looking for Bigfoot; I didn't find Bigfoot, but I stood in one of his fuckin' shits.

Jamie: Going to see the Grand Canyon. There's not very many people from where I stay that get the opportunity to go out and do that and meet so many nice people, as well. We were at the Redwoods, the giant forest yesterday, so that was pretty cool. Just meeting all the nice people and getting out of Scotland for a wee bit, it's a bit too cold over there, you know?

---How does it feel to do this with your son? Obviously you guys are playing guitar together, but you're also probably bonding some more?

Bruce: Jamie and I have got an album out called "Another Anthem for the Damned," and then what happened was we got the call to play some 30th anniversary gigs with the Skids and that led on to us doing these anniversary gigs with Big Country. We're all one big happy family. You see that bus? That is our home (when on tour). It's what I call it, "camping on wheels." It's kind of crowded, but everybody finds their own little space. Some guys are on laptops, some guys are editing videos, some guys are just watching world TV out the front window.

Jamie on touring: We've all been getting on great, there's not been any tantrums as yet on the bus.

Jamie on playing with Bruce: It's great and I wouldn't change it for the world. I've been performing with my dad for a long time now, about six, seven years. When the Skids, Stuart's first band, reformed in 2007, I had to audition for them. And I got the gig, so me and my dad started working from then, doing things on and off for the Skids until 2010, and then we started working on our own solo album together and then it just evolved from then. Here we are now, we're still on the road and we're still going about three, four years later.

It's good, we always mess around on stage, like I'll be playing guitar and he'll slap me on the back of the head or something like that. Or if one of us makes a mistake on the guitar, we just look at the other one, as if to go, "That was him." We always have fun doing that and pretty much always take the piss out of each other.

Mike sings (and jokes) while Jamie plays.

--- I remember the DVD (Big Country's "Final Fling") and your son (then age 11) came out and played air guitar (actually, an uplugged mini guitar) at the end. What's it like having him side by side now, playing those classic riffs?

Bruce: It's great, because Jamie lives with me. When he lives with me at home, I'm his dad and I follow him around and I turn off light switches because he leaves them on -- and he's my son. When he's out on the road, he's a band member, you know?

Jamie: Well, I used to mess around on my dad's guitar. He used to have them lying all over the house, you know, they were everywhere, lying in the corner, in the washroom. Wherever you went, there was a guitar lying about. So I just picked up gradually doing that. But I started playing drums first, Mark used to show me how to play drums when they were in the studio when they were recording "Driving to Damascus." I was pretty much there the whole time when they were doing that, I even spent my birthday there. It was a great experience getting to know how a studio works and what the guys actually have to do to put into it to get this finished product, which everyone calls an album or vinyl, whatever, you know? It takes a lot of work and a lot of money. It was a great place to learn.

It's a bit weird for me because I've actually seen Big Country play, whereas these guys have never seen themselves play. I know exactly what they mean when "You're in the band now." So I wish I could stand up front and watch this gig, but you can't unless it's been videoed, even when it's videoed it still doesn't capture the complete full atmosphere, but it's close.

--- The new songs are great, by the way. How are they translating live? Does it feel just as good to play those next to the other ones?

Bruce: Yeah. What we do is we play a half-and-half set, we do an old song, a new song, an old song, a new song, so you get approximately 10 new songs, 10 old songs. And they kind of fit together. The setlist is different every night, so we don't know what we're doing until the last minute. And some songs we haven't played for awhile. Certain songs you can do in bigger venues, and certain songs you've got leave out for a different kind of venue. As long as we give them a majority of new and old, that's the main thing.

---The obvious question is how does it feel to have Mr. Peters out there fronting the band?

Bruce: It's fantastic. He's the only real choice I could think of to do this. We were only gonna get Mike and we would go off with a couple of charity gigs about two and half years ago. It was only gonna be three songs and so I asked Mike if he would do it and he jumped and said, "Yeah, I'll definitely do that." And then the charity gig got pulled, it didn't happen, but we came to rehearse anyway. All of the people on the website were going, "You know, it's the 30th anniversary coming up, you're doing it for the Skids, why don't (we) do it for Big Country?" I mean... OK! We've never stopped. It's just a complete rolling thing going on and on and on.

Jamie: He's a great guy. I've known Mike for years, and it's just good to be on stage with him, as well, and with Derek Forbes of the Simple Minds, he's on board now, and Mark's always been there, you know? He's my old pal.

Forbes, top, and Brzezicki.

---With your guys' great history and with Stuart and everything... With Mike ... would Stuart approve of what you guys are doing?

Bruce: Yeah, because way back on the last tour we did, with Mike in the support band, we were breaking up anyway, and Stuart was living in Nashville when he said, "It would be great if Mike could actually go out and continue with Big Country and I will do my solo stuff." But we never thought about it.

---With such a wide range of material to choose from, what are some of your favorite songs to play live?

Jamie: Oh, wow, I love playing "Harvest Home," obviously, "Fields of Fire," "In a Big Country," "Chance," I love doing all them, but I like playing (the new ones). They stand up on their own against them, I think. Everyone keeps commenting on how good they are, it's like the band's never been away. It's got different elements there in some of the songs on the album, but I think it's just a way of going that we're not forgetting about Big Country. We're here to do what we do and we want all youse guys to come along and be part of it, as well. I like playing "Last Ship Sails," that's a very punky one, and I also like playing "Hurt," it's sort of a nice quiet song, sort of reminds me a bit of like "Chance," but hopefully it can evolve that way, you never know. (It's got that) trademark sound.

----Growing up around the band and everything and knowing Stuart when you were younger, did you learn anything from him, anything that stuck with you?

Jamie: To be honest, Stuart used to play guitar and I would always watch him and say, "Oh, man, he's a great guitar player," but when they were recording at Rockfield, Stuart would sit and play the Playstation and computer games with you. He preferred to do things like that than going out and socializing as much. He liked to sit and have fun with the children. When we took days off, he took us out to the theme park with my mom and dad and his kids, and we all went out to this place called Alton Towers and we went round and spent the whole day there and hired a car. Just pretty much having a laugh-- him and Callum (Stuart's son) were great at cracking jokes together. So, we all miss him.

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