Waterboys Appreciation Society

This Is The Sea-era postcards. Photo by Dag Reinert Johansen, posted at Mike Scott & The Waterboys on Facebook. Thanks for more great pics, Dag! You are a treasure trove of Waterboys memorabilia!

This Is The Sea-era postcards. Photo by Dag Reinert Johansen, posted at Mike Scott & The Waterboys on Facebook. Thanks for more great pics, Dag! You are a treasure trove of Waterboys memorabilia!

Blasphemy!

Blasphemy!

The Waterboys, “Fisherman’s Blues”, Cropredy 2014.

The Waterboys’ Mike Scott

Interview with Mike last year from The Snipe, a Vancouver music blog.

1000th post!

1000th post!

Review of This Is The Sea, Rolling Stone, 1985. More of a poet than a songwriter? Less skilled at inventing melodies and sufficiently varying tempos? Wonder what Parke Puterbaugh would say about this legendary album and its equally legendary creator today.

staff:

Today’s the day. The day you help save the internet from being ruined.

Ready? 

Yes, you are, and we’re ready to help you.

(Long story short: The FCC is about to make a critical decision as to whether or not internet service providers have to treat all traffic equally. If they choose wrong, then the internet where anyone can start a website for any reason at all, the internet that’s been so momentous, funny, weird, and surprising—that internet could cease to exist. Here’s your chance to preserve a beautiful thing.)

Fellow tumblr users, we are urging you to click the “Make it stop” button up at the top of every tumblr page today and stand with us for net neutrality. Thanks!

Fellow tumblr users, we are urging you to click the “Make it stop” button up at the top of every tumblr page today and stand with us for net neutrality. Thanks!

Damn good stuff. Mike and Steve with James Maddock and crew, doing “Fisherman’s Blues”. Get up and dance!

The Waterboys, “Send Him Down To Waco”

Interview with Mike Scott, NME, 1984

The Waterboys: Scott Yet Another God Like Genius

Richard CookNew Musical Express, 11 August 1984

"I SOMETIMES thought that in the old days the young men of the tribe would want to grow up to be great warriors. In our age, those like-minded young men would want to be great footballers or musicians. I went for music."

Mike Scott thinks about the leaping inside, the hunger to make music.

"The Beatles! She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. My parents had Sergeant Pepper.”

I sit with the Scotsman who is the light and spirit of The Waterboys. He has just completed a short slew around the island, north to south, and is now waiting to visit Europe again. He has a feather in his lapel, matted and duck-grey.

"I like feathers because of their Indian connotations. And I suppose if you wanted to look at it symbolically you could say it’s Mike expressing his solidarity with the creatures of the air. But I wouldn’t explain it like that!"

He laughs, the chuckle explodes the seriousness of the remark, his eyes shine with mischief. He is sensationally young.

"I lived in Edinburgh till I was 12," he remembers. "Then we moved to Ayr. The Dead End Kids came from there, remember them? They made one appalling record called ‘Have I The Right’. They used to play at the Darlington Hotel and I hated them. All the bands there were cabaret bands – they did ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and Doobie Brothers songs. But me and ma friends had garage bands."

Whatever went on in those garages, posterity holds them as the first stirrings of a remarkable new boy from the sticks. Scott already has the scent of greatness, of oncoming triumph in his nostrils. It seems to instinctively thread through our conversation, for we find ourselves speaking of capital-letter Life with scarcely a pinch of embarrassment. Only a murmur of deprecation is poised on the bud of Scott’s lips.

HE IS not so new, it is true: he looks 19, but at 25 Scott has already been through the mill. In his groups DNV. Another Pretty Face and Funhouse he apprenticed for King Rock; now, with The Waterboys, he is another pretender for the crown.

This time his claim has the ring of authenticity about it.

The Waterboys’ record is called A Pagan Place, and it is a most convincing blend of youth and mastery, of skyrocket rush and sacred conviction, one of the finest manifestos since the echoes of Heaven Up Here died away. Mike Scott’s songs flirt with philosophies and mysteries that have been for so long the currency of charlatans. Sceptical fatigue seems the only feasible response. Except the music he sets them to is windswept, glistening, fantastically unspoilt.

The Waterboys, last year’s debut, slipped out and under, almost unnoticed but for the clackety vamp of ‘A Girl Called Johnny’. In retrospect, the record – which Scott admits is little other than a collection of demos and first ideas – has a flushed urgency about it that predicts directly the promethean sweep of A Pagan Place. But it hardly prepares for this magnificat.

Whether it’s the immolation of personal love in ‘All The Things She Gave Me’ or the stretching-fingertips vision of ‘The Big Music’, Scott uses his music to celebrate, to work magic. In the studio his players sound like crashing waves, their instruments given alpine resonance, as though they were playing in Fingal’s Cave. The songs have simple chords, and instead of turning to complication or electronic sound The Waterboys use tactile devices like saxophones, trumpets, drums that need beating, guitar strings with wooden soundboxes.

"If The Waterboys come together to rehearse, someone just starts playing and we all join in and play for maybe 40 minutes, improvising, playing pure music…playing jokes on each other when we play, like catching out the drummer by playing a chord exactly when the snare drum hits…musical life! I wanted music that breathes, where there’s complete interaction."

Is there a purity to chase in acoustic instruments?
"The moment you put music through anything that is an additive, it takes it away from the source. An acoustic instrument has to be closer. But that doesn’t mean the other things are wrong. You know Shane? A cowboy in that says, ‘a gun’s only as good as the man who uses it’. Same with an instrument. All it does is report the idea of the person who’s playing.”

MIKE SCOTT talks and glows like a man with no terrible regrets, no burdens that the next day can’t dissolve. He looks back without malice, with sunny affection, for his days with the promising and ill-starred Another Pretty Face.

"We were really young, and just got a lot of things wrong. I still had the rock dream of a perfect band. We were heavily smitten by The Clash at the time and thought we had to be certain things. We found out that we couldn’t but by then it was too late – we were already tied up with Virgin, and we’d already done most of the things people remember Another Pretty Face for. It was an ill-considered year. Ideals came before music."

APF became Funhouse, then fell asunder. Then came a casual group called The Red And The Black, a trial shape for the present outfit (Waterbabies, perhaps). Scott wrote and quietly stacked up a collection of demos.

"It was an interesting time," he says, thrumming fingers under a ghostly haze of smoke. "I quite enjoyed that period…a lot of things happened to me that were important. The freedom from Funhouse…and then I split up with my girlfriend who I’d lived with for two years…the two freedoms felt like getting out of jail. Life became an adventure. And the songs I wrote after that were like an explosion, like ‘Savage Earth Heart’, which is my favourite. Nothing’s settled since then."

Was he hurt that the ambitious debut cast no more than some ripples?

"I’d have been a lot more disappointed if it was new when it came out. The last track was made a year before the record was released. I was thinking about newer things. I wish more people’d heard ‘Savage Earth Heart’, though…I think that’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t quite believe it was me when I heard it. It seemed to hit me."

What quality in it was so striking? Mike reflects.

"It’s difficult to put into words because it continues to unfold for me. I’ve discovered about five different interpretations since I wrote it, and they all connect…deep strains of thought.

"It was written in a spirit of revelation! I was sitting in my flat on a Sunday, thinking about all these things, the nature of inspiration, the muse…and I pinned it down to three words, these three words."

Mike’s voice slows, as if afraid of what he’s getting himself into.

"It summed up the nature of…of me. It came out without thought – a line came into my head and I wrote it down. If I knew you quite well I could explain it to you…"

Pretty deep stuff, I say clumsily, examining the fingerprints on my glass. A bit beyond pop music, you might say.

"Oh yeah. Nothing to do with pop music. I’m not interested in it at all, the charts, the radio. I don’t see why I should have anything to do with it.”

Because you’re in it. The environment whirls all around you.

"Only because it’s the only one I can be in and write and make records and get it to people. Just because The Thompson Twins are also on a record label doesn’t mean I’m like them. Categorisations, you know…"

SCOTT SETS down his glass. He looks as if he might be McCulloch’s lost twin brother. There are the same plaster cherub’s lips, the proud, suppliant eyes, a rug of hair that looks as if it fell out of the sky onto his scalp. As he talks, conversation is spaced with delighted laughter and expressions of humorous amazement, as if he’d suddenly been handed a birthday present.

How does a soft-spoken man summon such gusts of passion? How does he play ‘The Big Music’?

"Yeah, we don’t do that live. There’s no way I can sing it. It’s too big! I can’t get my emotions round that in a live context, or ‘Rags’. I find ‘Big Music’ is hell to do. Something like ‘Red Army Blues’ is just a projection of emotions."

What, then, is this ‘Pagan Place’, the thunderbolt climax to the record?

"The title had lodged itself in my brain as some sort of essence. The adventures that I had in the time between Another Pretty Face and The Waterboys, and the thoughts about life, me, all that stuff, brought me to…a fresh place. I had come to what I called a pagan place – I don’t mean Godless, or heathen. Further than that.

"It’s undeniably true in the way it applies to me. Who put the colour like lines on his face, brought him here to a…’Big Music’ describes a state of mind that doesn’t apply most of the time. If I went on stage after a day full of epiphanies I could sing I have heard the big music and I’ll never be the same. But if I can’t turn it on I won’t do it.”

That might lead to a reluctance to play – to share secrets.

"There’s a B-side called ‘Where are You Now When I Need You’, which is a sad song and it’s my business. I put it out, but I wouldn’t broadcast it."

If The Waterboys seem to burst with belief, Scott is reticent about pinning it down.

"I am really interested in life. What it is, where it comes from, what is behind physical being…and I think all that is religious. It’s hard for me to give you an answer. I care about what I say.

"I went to church as a little boy. I was always quite pissed off with church. It was really miserable, all these miserable people in their best clothes with flash cars outside, inside these four walls, singing dirgey hymns. It didn’t seem like a celebration of life, and there’s no better way to pay tribute to the thing that gives you life than by celebrating life. Bob Marley said, I don’t go to church – I am a church. That was how he celebrated life.”

Is your life a celebration, Mike?

"I don’t know," is the bemused reply, "I think Bob Marley was a lot wiser than me."

IN THE thoughtless modern way of categorisers, The Waterboys will be simply indexed with U2/Bunnymen/Big C and their garrisons of hero-rock. Almost any sector of A Pagan Place, with Scott’s overwhelmed voice at its heart and the music swelling and swirling all around him, keeps that promise: of warrior legions galloping to the crest of a hill…

"…Over which lies the new world!" Scott offers a sharp giggle. "I don’t see that, really…’Rags’ might sound exultant but it’s about really miserable things. I’ve really got it in for myself there.

"And I think music should be such that people want to pay attention to the lyrics. Lyrics are my business. If people don’t catch on then I must be doing something wrong."

Perhaps you should do your own ‘Two Tribes’.

"I’ve heard that about a dozen times and haven’t made out a single word yet. Can’t sing you the tune. It’s that amazing production, like putting your head in the engine of a car. Anyway, I tried it with ‘Whatever Happened To The West?’ and it didn’t work that well.

"I suppose I’d rather thing about, well, the nature of man’s soul. I’m not so interested in the dreadful situation man’s got himself in, I’m interested in how he got there and how he’s going to get himself out of it."

A Baskervillean dog, unconcerned at this predicament, comes sniffing up to our table.

"Then again, I can’t take myself 100 per cent seriously when I hear myself say that. But this is what I go home and think about! I start reading something…"

And out it all comes. The hound leaves, unimpressed by art.

"I seem to be a bit solitary, yeah. I’ve lived on my own for two years. But I’ve just had nine weeks on the road in close proximity with five other human beings. A good healthy overdose of life is what writes songs."

Does this young hero have heroes of his own?

"I like Strummer. I used to think he was one of the greatest men alive. I don’t think that anymore but I’ve retained a real affection for him. I see him down the Portobello Road a lot – saw him pushing a baby girl in a pushchair the other day. Great stuff Joe!

"My favourite human being is Bob Dylan. I’ve never heard anyone who can sing like Bob Dylan. The gamut of emotions he can represent is quite ridiculous. His whole life is fascinating. When I saw him at Newcastle a couple of weeks ago he was…ridiculously great! I must have spent years of thought time thinking about him.

"The word hero applies to child worship, and I don’t think my attitude’s like that. I think Patti Smith had a big effect on me. I like Sitting Bull, the Sioux chief. He was killed resisting to the end, as an old man. Such is the stuff of which heroes are made. They shot his son too, that same night. December 15, 1890."

WATERBOYS, MEN who were entrusted to carry water to men working on chain gangs, had no need of such expert knowledge. And although Mike Scott shrugs his shoulders at pop, he knows it. It informs him, which might be why his Boys sound so clear and purposeful, why his rock can seem like crystal. He has the rules under wraps.

With this strength comes an awful thirst – to hear, see, feel. Listen to him, watch those eyes widen at an ever-wider world!

"There’s always more – always more to feel, to experience. Even when things go badly for me it’s another lesson there to be learned. Just being alive is so fantastic! Being able to speak and see. And know that there are still more things to be discovered, with perseverance and discipline. It makes life…quite good. The bad things are the mundane things.

"I used to feel really indignant, to feel that everybody in music should be saying something and beating their breasts. But why should popular music be a main arena for that kind of discourse?"

Perhaps he would rather say – why shouldn’t it? And why shouldn’t I bounce this talk back to earth? What kind of girls do you like, Mike?

"Girls! (Pause) Girls? Well…the only way I can answer that is to tell you a girl I like now and tell you what she’s like. Her face is about eight parts female and two parts animal, which is a pretty good ratio.

"And she’s read Yeats."

Of course.

© Richard Cook, 1984

We never get tired of this. In fact, the last time we posted this video we wrote “We never get tired of this” about it. We never get tired of this.