“Thoughts on a train journey”: Big Country’s rousing, fist-pumping anthem “Fields of Fire”

By on November 21, 2017

Tucked away towards the end of Night Flight’s “Take Off To Party Time” episode — which originally aired on March 10, 1984 — is the video for Big Country’s rousing, fist-pumping anthem “Fields of Fire,” which, as you might expect, has nothing to do with partying whatsoever.

In fact, as the band’s lead singer/guitarist Stuart Adamson (born in Manchester, England, but raised in Scotland) told the UK’s Smash Hits that the song was, in his words, merely “a selection of images, thoughts on a train journey.”

Watch the video now on Night Flight Plus.

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Adamson’s visuals emphasize various compare-contrast types of relationships (father/son; journey/rest) but he also sings about “coming home again,” and it’s the song’s rousing chorus that everyone remembers:

“Four hundred miles, without a word until you smile/Four hundred miles, on fields of fire!”

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The “Fields of Fire” video — presented along with the band’s tour dates, a regular feature on “Night Flight” which, on this weekend, was sponsored by Mattel Electronics’ Intellivision II — shows a freckled young lad playing with his choo-choo train set, apparently conjuring up the action we see in the video.

We see that Big Country — Adamson, guitarist Bruce Watson, bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki — are passengers playing their instruments inside a train coach as it travels across the glacially-created highlands of Scotland under typically gray skies.

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When the train comes to a stop after it comes through a tunnel, we see a Scottish fellow with bagpipes is blocking the way, so the band depart and follow him, Adamson clamoring down hills in his tight, immaculately white jeans and everpresent scarf , as they’re led on to the minefields of a bloody World War I battle.

Read more about Big Country below.

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In the early ’80s, Scotland’s Big Country were frequently singled out for their spirited, stirring Celtic-flavored anthems and for Adamson’s and Watson’s twin-guitar leads, which reminded more than a few critics of  bagpipes and fiddles.

Kurt Loder, in his review of their melodramatic The Crossing album for Rolling Stone (RS 404, September 15, 1983) even singled out “Fields of Fire,” saying it was “one of the great, resounding anthems of this or any other year.”

Loder also referred to Adamson and Watson (both ex-Skids) as whipping up “skirling, bagpipe-like single-string riffs.”

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A lot of fans thought Big Country were going to be one of the “next big things.”

They did everything those types of bands are supposed to do, including appearing on “Top of the Pops,” The Tube and other music TV shows, and they were frequently lauded in music rags like Smash Hits, NME and Melody Maker.

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They were also frequently lumped together with bands like Ireland’s U2, Wales’ the Alarm, and Irish/Scottish folk rockers the Waterboys, due their similarly swelling, widescreen panoramic approach to modern Euro-rock, which critics called “The Big Sound.”

The band not only toured with U2 (as well as David Bowie, and Eurythmics), but U2’s early producer Steve Lillywhite also produced Big Country’s first two albums.

Adamson and band — who formed in mid-1981 in Dunfermline, a town on the northern shore of Firth of Forth — also proudly referenced the rural aspect of the band’s nationalistic roots as often possible with Scotland-inspired lyrics and rapid-fire military drumbeats, not to mention they also wore checked plaid flannels and tartan neck scarves, danced the jig onstage, and proudly waved their country’s flag (just like U2).

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Released in February of 1983, “Fields of Fire” (#10 UK) was just one of their Top Ten UK hits — ’83’s “Chance” (#9), ’84’s ‘”Wonderland” (#8), and ’85’s “Look Away” (#7) were the others — but it was largely ignored here in the U.S., charting at just #52 on Billboard‘s Hot 100.

Their “Fields of Fire” video was also mostly ignored by MTV, who had regularly aired their previous video for “In A Big Country,” and its single had charted higher in the U.S. (#35).

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Big Country’s debut LP for Polygram’s Mercury imprint, The Crossing, released on July 19, 1983, reached #18 on the Billboard 200 Top Albums chart, and “Fields of Fire” was often singled out as one of the strongest cuts.

In the end, it might have been the fact that Americans just couldn’t wrap their minds around a band like Big Country being so patriotic about some country other than their own.

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Big Country released a couple more Top Ten hit albums — the bleak Steeltown (1984, #1 UK) and mystical and somewhat hackneyed The Seer (1986, #2 UK) — and then five more (all for different labels), but by the 1990s, they were struggling to keep the band together.

In 1996, the band announced they were going on hiatus, only to reform again in ’98 for a tour and yet another new album, Driving to Damascus, which contained the hit “Somebody Else,” written by Adamson and the Kinks‘ Ray Davies.

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Adamson had grown tired of touring, and he was in the midst of struggling with lifelong depression and chronic alcohol abuse.

In November of 2001, his wife declared him missing from their Nashville home (he’d moved there in ’97 and even formed a rootsy new group, the Raphaels).

Then, just a month later, he was found dead on December 16th, after he’d hanged himself in his hotel room in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was 43.

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Sorry to end on that sad, downbeat note, but hey, cheer up! If you’ve a hankerin’ to watch some of the actual “party time” videos we collected in our “Take Off To Party Time” — including those by the Gap Band, Madness, the Kinks, Lionel Richie, the Pointer Sisters, Prince and more — have a look at this mostly upbeat 1984 episode, which we’ve collected with all of Night Flight’s “Take Off”‘s over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.