As the original bassist for Big Country, Tony Butler was a pivotal part of the band’s phenomenal success story of the 80s, achieving 15 top 40 hit singles and five Top 5 albums.

Friday (June 30) sees the release of Big Country’s Driving to Damascus, a 4CD Deluxe Edition of the 1999 album which Tony described as “the best we felt as a band for a long time”.

Tony is also involved in a project with the band Kindred Spirit who have just released a charity single Think Loud. Featuring Leo Sayer, Marcella Detroit and John Illsey of Dire Straits, among others, the single aims to raise money for Cure Parkinson’s.

We spoke to Tony about his two latest releases, his candid recollections of his journey with Big Country and the enduring impact of lead singer Stuart Adamson’s untimely death.

Tell us about your new project Think Loud to raise money for Cure Parkinson’s?
My involvement is not quite the norm really. My good friend and manager up until recently, Ian Grant, has been unfortunately suffering from Parkinson's now for the past six to eight years and I’ve watched him diminish in his physical and mental state as we've gone along.

It's because of Ian Grant having this problem I needed to support him. I didn't actually play on the record, other people were dealing with that. I asked him if there was anything I can do and he said do something for the video. It was no great shakes to do something like that. It’s a hugely devastating condition and when you get to my age, I’m 66 years old now, and I've come into the realms of getting old, getting frail and things not working properly, but something as debilitating as Parkinson's, I'll do anything for that man and this is just one of the things.

I didn’t even know it was Leo Sayer singing when I first heard it, I just thought wow, that’s different for him, so good for him. I would have loved to have played bass on it but they got John Illsely from Dire Straits on bass and he’s no mean player either. Ian Grant wrote the lyrics and I did say to him ‘thank f*** you didn’t sing it!” When it comes to music he just managed it, he never played it – he left it to the guys that could do it.

What impact did Stuart’s passing have on the band?
It’s really kind of crossed over a very difficult patch for all of us because none of us really have got over Stuart’s passing. I left the band officially in 2002, after Stuart died, because the band wasn’t a band for me after he passed away and I didn't want to be part of a supergroup or any of that nonsense. I was in Big Country because I loved Big Country and it was all I wanted to do, and if they couldn't make any music in that form, I didn't really want to know.

What made you reunite with the band?
I kind of got enticed back into the band in 2010-ish purely and simply because BBC Radio Two were going to be putting on a concert in honour of Kirsty MacColl whose connection with us is that our producer for our first couple of albums, which kind of put Big Country on the map, was Steve Lillywhite and Kirsty was his wife. I found it a little bit churlish to think well I'm not gonna get back into the band because of how I felt, so I decided that I would go back with the band and would find a suitable singer who we knew would do the job and do it reasonably well. I got together with the guys so we could talk about it and see how we could deal with it because I was still quite reticent to do it. And then I thought, right that's it, I'm gonna put my foot down and said if we’re going to do anything, we’ll do it as a three-piece. And we rehearsed for about two or three weeks as a three-piece and basically the first couple of weeks was just us getting used to the fact that Stuart wasn’t there. I didn't want to do the supergroup thing and get other people in and get bigger and wider – we were a little club and were always going to be a little club, so we did a little three-piece thing which was fine, but I then said I don't want to do it anymore. Then Bruce got Mike Peters involved from The Alarm and I did think that he was a suitable singer so I agreed to do it. The Kirsty MacColl gig didn’t happen – I don’t know why, it was a mystery, it just didn’t materialise. Her passing was a huge blow for the Big Country family because Steve Lillywhite was the fifth member of the band when we were recording the first couple of albums and Kirsty was always around. We were like a big happy family in that respect, so that was a disaster.

Why did you decide to part ways with Big Country after this?
We did a tour and I just felt weird all the way through it and I didn't want to be there but I didn't want to be so churlish and ruin it for everybody else so I carried on all the way through till 2012. Then I said I really can’t do this anymore. I wasn't enjoying it and I felt the band were becoming a bit of a parody of itself. I always insisted that we tried to do something new and I'm not going to be detrimental about any other people. Mark and Bruce will always be my brothers. I shall always love them. We tried to write some songs and we were coming up with some ideas but there was an element that just wasn't right, so I'm not going to really say any more about that. I'm not going to lambast or put anybody down but I wasn't very comfortable recording a single called Another Country which really kind of upset me because I just thought the title was so crass. I was starting to think about what I was gonna do next. It wasn’t so much about going against the legacy of Stuart – we just wanted to make great music and keep progressing. We weren't rock stars, we were more like a kind of boys club that had a bloody good time you know. We weren’t rock stars hanging out at clubs and that kind of stuff and we certainly weren’t media puppets, so the band wasn't that sort of thing for myself and particularly for Stuart.

Did you have any idea of Stuart’s personal struggles?
I mean the last tour we did with Stuart in tow, I remember having a meeting with him and I said to him, look you're in a bad way, you need to hang your guitar strap up and just take some time out. From that meeting I went home and I wrote a song called Dream Boy which I've got on my website. It was just my way of saying “stop man”. He went over and did all that American nonsense – I had no time for it really. He loved Country and Western and I didn't, so we parted ways.

You had incredible success in the early days, tell us about that.
The whole thing was taking a great direction and things started to go wayward in the middle when Mark left us for a while and we did The Buffalo Skinners album and we got a tremendous drummer in to take his place, a guy called Simon Phillips who’s a phenomenal drummer but it just wasn’t the band. I think everyone really started thinking about what we were going to do. Are we going to carry on with this? But fortunately Mark decided to rejoin and the next couple of albums that we did were beginning to sound like the band moving forward. The last album, Driving to Damascus, I think it was the best we felt as a band for a long time. But what we didn’t know at that time was the fact that Stuart had fallen back into his old ways and he wasn't in a very good state. So when we finished Driving to Damascus we thought, right we're gonna go off and get back on the road. Let's do all that kind of stuff that we used to do with more vigour. And then he disappeared into America again and he was becoming very reclusive, he didn’t want to get involved with anything. I think the nail that hit the coffin lid shut tight was when we had Fragile Things released here from that album and Radio Two were playing it to death which was fantastic of them. But then there was some anomaly with the packaging on the single which stopped the single from entering the top 70. They struck sales off. It was kind of you know “Christ we're just a bunch of guys who are trying to do our best, writing music which we think is our best, and you want to mess our lives up”. All that stuff is like a cancer, it sits there and grows and makes you feel bad. So I think Driving to Damascus was going to be our - not our comeback album ‘cos we’d never went away - but was going to be our next stage, the next volume.

You’ve got a new deluxe version of Buffalo Skinners being released by Cherry Red Records this week haven’t you?
Yes, the CD deluxe version is coming out. It's gonna have all the demos on it that we did in preparation for it which brings me to my favourite Horror Story… we just mentioned that Stuart spent a lot of time in Nashville in America. On one occasion we decided to go out and meet him and do some work out there and write some songs. Knowing that he was trying to get into his Country and Western bit, it was up to me and Bruce to sort of steer him back onto the rock side. One day we had a day off and I was sitting in a diner and I was watching American football and these three policemen ran into the diner and just came up and picked me up off my seat and dragged me out to a police car and I said “what are you doing, what are you doing?” I was protesting and sitting in the back of the squad car and for a start they were asking me to speak proper English! I showed them my driving licence and they thought it was a Monopoly card, because they didn't understand the British driving licence and they kept on telling me to speak properly. Later another squad car turned up and some guy with clips on his shoulder, I guess he was the Captain or something, recognised me from the band and said to them to release me. I went back into the diner 'cause I was shaking by that time and the guy who owned it came up and checked that I was alright. He brought this newspaper with him and it was the local paper, The Tennessean. It had a big picture of this person that they were looking for raiding a gas station, so they thought I’d held up a gas station! The guy in the picture was a black guy with a black hat which is what I used to wear all the time. That put me off going to Nashville forever.

Stuart wanted us to go back to Nashville to do another recording session and I refused. So we finished off the album in Britain and we recorded it at Rockfield and that was the last time we really worked as a band. Each album frames a stage of everybody's life, whether it's personal or if it's just the environments that we were living in. The first album, particularly Steel Town, was very reflective of the horrors of living in Britain and the diminishing standards in so many ways and with The Crossing, a lot of it was based on the Falklands War. Every album picked out bits of what was going on in people’s lives at that particular time and The Buffalo Skinners was an opportunity for me and Bruce to really get our rock heads out 'cause we decided it’s about time we got some real loud guitars going! And the bagpipe guitar thing!

You worked with Pete Townshend didn’t you?
Yes his brother Simon Townshend was my longstanding friend and he's now musical director for The Who. I’ve been very lucky because I’ve played with both Pete Townshend and Ray Davies, two of the greatest songwriters as far as I'm concerned and I've had the pleasure of working with them both so you couldn't pay me for that sort of pleasure. It’s great. To be standing behind Ray Davies at Glastonbury and playing You Really Got Me, just awesome. My memories are so lovely and personal and you know I think people like to think that they do great things and like to tell everybody about it and make sure everybody knows about it but I kind of think they're nicer here in my heart.

You also worked with the Rolling Stones?
That was just extraordinary. Working with such a band and they were absolutely bloody friendly with us. They afforded us all the luxuries that they were so used to. I mean a Rolling Stones dressing room was like half a football pitch and you know, just be part of their community was just awe-inspiring. To perform in front of their audiences… I mean, the biggest audiences I think we've ever played to are the ones that we did with The Rolling Stones, and the one that we did with Queen back in 85. When you're standing on the stage and you can watch what's going on as far as the eye can see, masses of people, I mean it's an extraordinary kind of vision/image that I will always have in my head. But The Stones were great. One night I actually stood right behind Charlie Watts. It was great to see how the band gravitated towards him.

You also took part in Live Aid didn’t you? What was that like?
It was awesome because I mean it's an extraordinary thing to be part of especially as a worldwide sort of campaign to get people to spotlight something that’s going on in another part of the world that none of us would have any idea about.

From the band's point of view, it was unfortunate for us as we were on some time off and we couldn't get ourselves together. I was having a party but I got a phone call from Mr Geldof saying “I know that the band can’t play but could you guys come along?” So literally I just got hold of everybody, Bruce, Mark, and Stuart. Stuart and Bruce got a flight straight down and we went there, just to be part of it, just to say we were there. But just before the end, I grabbed hold of Stuart and Bruce and I said “look, come on let’s go down to the front 'cause I wanna be seen here, I want my mum to see me.” We barged through the crowd and every year there's this massive banner picture and there's little ole me standing right next to Roger Daltrey and Elton John.

I wish we’d played, I really wish we’d played because seeing how all the bands went down and they all went down well, and I'm sure that a lot of people agree, for some reason it became U2's defining moment. You had Bono, and Freddie Mercury, the two shining lights of that day, to say OK, we're not only trying to bring you to the attention of what's going on but look at us, we’re f***ing great, we're British/Irish and the whole world can see that. It was a very defining moment. I’m sure that Stuart would have had a lovely time on stage given the chance, but it's not something I think negatively about.

*Tony features on Think Loud a track and video released by Kindred Spirit, a collaboration of musicians and celebrities, raising awareness for ‘Cure Parkinson’s’ & much-needed Speech Therapy for sufferers of the disease. To download and donate click here.