Stuart Adamson

William Stuart Adamson (11 April 1958 – 16 December 2001) was a Scottish guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. He was the co-founder, lead vocalist, and guitarist of rock group Big Country, which rose to prominence in 1983.

William Stuart Adamson
Stuart Adamson performing in August 1991.
Stuart Adamson performing in August 1991.
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Stuart Adamson
Born(1958-04-11)11 April 1958
Manchester, England
OriginDunfermline, Scotland
Died16 December 2001(2001-12-16) (aged 43)
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
GenresRock, punk rock, new wave, Celtic rock
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, musician
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, keyboard, bass guitar
Years active1976–2001
LabelsNo Bad, Virgin, Phonogram, Mercury, Vertigo, Compulsion, Fox, Transatlantic, Track
Associated actsSkids, Big Country, The Raphaels

Prior to that he founded Scottish art-punk band Skids. In the late 1990s he founded alternative country rock act The Raphaels. He was once described by DJ John Peel as "the new Jimi Hendrix".[1]

Early lifeEdit

Adamson was born in Manchester. Both his parents were Scottish, and when he was four, his family moved to Fife and settled in a small mining town, Crossgates, about a mile to the east of Dunfermline.

Adamson founded his first two bands in Dunfermline and they both started out playing in Dunfermline and across the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh. He went to school with Ian Rankin, who was two years younger and went on to become a fan of Skids.[2] Adamson was a lifelong supporter of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club.

Adamson's father was in the fishing industry and travelled the world. He encouraged Stuart to read literature, and both parents shared an interest in folk music. Adamson founded his first band, Tattoo, in 1976 after seeing The Damned play in Edinburgh. Besides Adamson, Tattoo included his friend William Simpson, who would also play bass guitar for his next band, Skids.


Adamson founded Skids in 1977 when he was 18. Adamson and Simpson first recruited drummer Thomas Kellichan. They played as a trio around Dunfermline and Edinburgh until meeting 16-year-old Richard Jobson.[3] Jobson was recruited as a frontman; Adamson and Jobson both wrote songs for the band.

Skids' biggest success was the single "Into the Valley" in 1979, which reached number 10 in the UK Singles Chart.[4] The band had four chart singles in the UK that year. Adamson was involved with three of their four albums, leaving in 1980 before Joy. Jobson's influence had increased in the band, which led to the increasing disputes between the two musicians.[5] Jobson later said "This was a guy who had a mortgage, a wife, and a family when we were all trying to live some mythic punk lifestyle. He seemed level-headed, grounded."[6]

Big CountryEdit

Adamson came to greater international prominence with Big Country. He constructed the band with friend and fellow guitarist Bruce Watson, then employed as a cleaner on submarines at Rosyth naval base, and a rhythm section of studio musicians Mark Brzezicki and Tony Butler, whom he found with the help of his record company.

Big Country's first hit, 1983's "Fields of Fire", reached the UK's Top 10, and was rapidly followed by the album The Crossing. The album was a big hit in North America (Canada.#4,[7] United States #18) powered by the single "In a Big Country", which was performed on Saturday Night Live and the Grammy Awards. The video for "In a Big Country" received frequent airplay on MTV and featured the band riding all terrain vehicles in the countryside.

Their second album Steeltown appeared in 1984. The band's third album was The Seer. The first two albums were produced by Steve Lillywhite. The band continued to record studio albums and to tour until 1999. Adamson supplied much of the distinctive guitar work, as well as being the lead singer and main songwriter (both music and lyrics). The band's lineup rarely underwent changes, the exception being a brief departure of drummer Mark Brzezicki in the early 1990s and his temporary replacement by Pat Ahern.

Personal lifeEdit

Adamson was married twice. He had two children with his first wife Sandra in 1982 and 1985. His son Callum Adamson is the guitarist of the band Ahab, and his daughter Kirsten has a solo musical career. In 1996, Adamson split with Sandra and moved to Nashville, US.[8][9] There he married his second wife, Melanie Shelley a hairdresser in 1999,[10] and founded his final band, the alternative country band The Raphaels, a duo of Adamson and Nashville songwriter Marcus Hummon.

Adamson was a keen motorcyclist who regularly purchased new machines for riding around Fife. His interest extended to the race track where he sponsored the career of the British Championship rider Iain Duffus in the late 1980s.[11]


On 26 November 2001, Adamson was reported missing by his wife Melanie. At the time the couple had been estranged for several weeks, and Melanie filed for divorce on the day he had disappeared. He had been due to face drunk-driving charges in March 2002, and had been ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. He had previously experienced problems related to alcoholism, and had begun drinking again after having been sober for over a decade. On 16 December 2001 he was found dead in a room that he had booked into in the Best Western Plaza Hotel in Honolulu in Hawaii. According to a local police report he had died by suicide by hanging himself with an electrical cord from a pole in a wardrobe.[12][13] A subsequent Coroner's Office report found that he had consumed a 'very strong' amount of alcohol around the time of his death.[14]

His body was flown back to Scotland, where after a private funeral service at Dunfermline Crematorium in Fife, he was cremated.[15] In the evening of 27 December 2001 a public memorial service was held to celebrate his life and career at Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, attended by Richard Jobson and a crowd of several hundred mourners, including Adamson's family and friends, and former members of Big Country. Messages of condolence were publicly read out, including one from U2's The Edge, stating that Adamson with Big Country had written the songs that he wished U2 could write.[16]


In April 2009, a mural of Stuart Adamson was unveiled at East End Park, the home of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club of whom Adamson was a fan: the mural was painted by art students from the local Queen Anne High and Dunfermline High Schools, and adorns the wall of the north stand.[17]

In September 2011 a commemorative bench to Stuart Adamson was unveiled at Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline. It was paid for by fans and is inscribed with some of his lyrics chosen by fans in an online poll.[18]

Stuart Adamson was the inspiration behind the song "3 Ways To See Despair" by Manic Street Preachers.[19]


According to Skids bassist Bill Simpson, Adamson's first real guitar was a Gibson Flying V. He is usually associated with the Yamaha SG2000 guitar, which he used extensively during the Skids years, as well as on the first two Big Country albums. He also used Fender Stratocasters in this period to achieve lighter tones. Around the time of The Seer, Adamson began to lay his SG2000s aside and experimented with other models. Among these were several Les Pauls, a Gretsch Duo-Jet, and an ESP Model 901 Stratalike with humbucking pickups. Adamson also had several guitars made for him by the Glasgow guitar maker Jimmy Moon.

Adamson's distinctive "Scottish" sound was created using an MXR pitch transposer, which pushed the guitar notes up an octave and created a shrill, bagpipe-esque whine. This can be heard in the lead guitar passages in the song "In a Big Country". Adamson was also noted for his use of the E-Bow, a device that magnetically vibrates guitar strings and generates unique tones with infinite sustain. The e-bow is most prominent in the introductions to the songs "The Storm" and "Lost Patrol".

Stuart used SESSION 'Sessionette:75' amplifiers mainly for live performances and recordings.


Skids discography
Year Title Label Notes
1979 Scared to Dance Virgin
Days in Europa
1980 The Absolute Game
1981 Joy Guitar on Track 5 only.
1982 Fanfare
1987 Dunfermline: A Collection of the Skids' Finest Moments
2007 The Saints Are Coming: The Best of The Skids EMI/Virgin
Big Country Discography
The Raphaels Discography
Year Title Label
2001 Supernatural Track

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Glen, Allan. Stuart Adamson – In A Big Country. ISBN 184697142X.
  2. ^ Reid, Stuart (17 December 2001). "Rock Star Adamson dies in hotel". The Scotsman. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  3. ^ Sean O'Hagan, Jobson's Choice, The Observer, Sunday 20 June 2004.
  4. ^ Official Charts Company - Skids - Into the Valley,
  5. ^ Simon Goddard, Once more into the valley Archived 30 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, The Scotsman, 17 February 2007.
  6. ^ Sean O'Hagan, Jobson's Choice, The Observer, Sunday 20 June 2004.
  7. ^ "RPM 100 Albums". RPM. archived at Library and Archives Canada (Volume 39, No. 11). 12 November 1983. Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  8. ^ STARDOM: LIFE AND TIMES OF PUNK HERO, The Scotsman, 18 December 2001.
  9. ^ "Daughter of Big Country legend Stuart Adamson is happy the world still loves his music as she prepares to release her debut album". Daily Record. 15 February 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  10. ^ "Ex-wives feud over fortune of Big Country suicide star". The Guardian. 27 January 2002. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Stuart Adamson and Motor bikes | Stuart Adamson". Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  12. ^ "Death of rocker Adamson likely suicide, official says | The Honolulu Advertiser | Hawaii's Newspaper". The Honolulu Advertiser. 18 December 2001. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
  13. ^ Jeevan Vasagar, Big Country's Stuart Adamson dead in hotel, The Guardian, 17 December 2001.
  14. ^ Mike Wade, Autopsy shows star was drunk at time of suicide, The Scotsman, 26 January 2002.
  15. ^ "Singer Adamson's funeral held". 30 December 2001. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  16. ^ "ADAMSON REMEMBERED | Stuart Adamson". Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  17. ^ "Stuart Adamson Mural, East End Park, Dunfermline". Stuart Adamson fans website. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  18. ^ "'Spiritual home' pays tribute to rock legend Stuart Adamson with a little help from Wigan". The Courier. 26 September 2011. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  19. ^ "Interview: Manic Street Preachers, still fired up". The Scotsman.

External linksEdit