Sunday 18 March 2018

Once more into the mystic goes Magic Mike

Back in 1985 they were hailing him the poet laureate of rock - but Mike Scott still writes songs that reach out to us, says Barry Egan

‘All traditional music is linked up somewhere,’ says Mike Scott, who plays Dublin in October with The Waterboys
‘All traditional music is linked up somewhere,’ says Mike Scott, who plays Dublin in October with The Waterboys
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

At some point in the mid 1980s, Scottish bard Mike Scott had a vision, or at least a revelation, in a period of mystical and musical transition. There were stories that some of the sessions in pubs in little villages in Galway involving The Waterboys - and the merry band of kindred spirits who joined them along the way - would go on until dawn. Rolling Stone magazine in 1985 called him "the new poet laureate of rock 'n' roll" so this was the kind of carry-on expected of him. And he didn't disappoint.

One folklore-ish tale had it that The Waterboys did a gig that lasted seven hours in their new spiritual home of Spiddal, Galway, where the West was always Mike's muse, and was likely to induce a state of rapture.

Writer David Cavanagh in an interview with the great Scott in 1990 in Select magazine asked him about how the folk-tastic new Mike squared with his old rock 'n' roll self as a devoted Patti Smith fan (The Waterboys's debut single, A Girl Called Johnny, was about Ms Smith - punk fanzine author and hardcore Dylanologist).

"Dylan drew a lot on European traditions, you know," Mike answered. With God On Our Side is taken from an Irish tune called The Patriot Game. I think all traditional music's linked up, really, way down there somewhere."

"I had a great revelation," he added, "I'd been getting into Irish music, learning loads about it, and then I went back to Scotland and realised it was the same music. Just a different variation on it. Ach, what a dickhead! It had been there all my life and I'd never known."

Scott has been wandering into the mystic with his take on folk, blues and country with his legendary band almost ever since he formed The Waterboys in 1983 in his native Scotland (and where, in Edinburgh, on December 14, 1958, he was born).

Screenwriter Richard Curtis wrote in the Guardian that after The Beatles, The Waterboys were the best band ever.

Mike knows how to write words that reach out to us, and our connection to Mother Nature.

Listen to This is the Sea and tell me that you don't feel something deep within: "You're tryin' to make sense/ of something that you just can't see.../ but that was the river/ and this is the sea!"

Ditto, The Whole Of The Moon, when magic Mike sings: "I pictured a rainbow / You held it in your hands... I spoke about wings / You just flew." (It is not particularly difficult to see why the late genius Prince covered The Whole Of The Moon. Or, for the matter, why Ellie Goulding made Mike's How Long Will I Love You, her own.)

Scott once told me about perhaps his earliest memory as a child. He was standing in the back garden of a hotel in Norfolk, aged four or five, on holiday with his family.

Out of the blue, he noticed where the garden gave way to wild woodland, and he suddenly thought: "This is my kingdom."

"That sticks out very clearly," he said. Mike's life seems chock-a-block with such transcendent epiphanies.

"I stepped out of the human world, out of the manicured gardens of the hotel in a little village where my dad used to take us every summer, and into the wild of the woods.

"I remember having some kind of appreciation that this was a different world. It moved me in a way as a four-year-old I didn't understand. I suppose it was an awakening to nature. I can still feel what that was like," said Scott, who lives in Dublin with his Japanese wife.

The Scottish visionary is playing the 3Arena in Dublin on October 26 with The Waterboys (who have a new album out later this summer, a follow-up to the 2015 Nashville soul stomp Modern Blues). Tickets are available from

Sunday Independent

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