Friday 19 October 2018

How great is scott?

IN the late Eighties, wild-haired Scottish demi-god Mike Scott was holed up in Spiddal in west Galway searching, not unsuccessfully, for the muse. As it turned out, two of his band The Waterboys' best albums, the million-selling masterpiece Fisherman Blues (or at least side two of this record) and Room To Roam, were recorded in Co Galway, Mike's spiritual home at the time.

"When I lived in London in the mid-Eighties, I had no personal life. Suddenly when I came to Ireland I had a personal life," he said in 1990. "I made loads of friends and very fast, and I fell in love with Irene [Keogh, sister of Irish fashion designer Lainey] almost immediately."

He added that he'd met people in "tiny villages in Ireland far more clued-in than people who live in cities. People in Spiddal that are more cosmopolitan than people in London."

All these years later, mystic Mike is back living in Ireland again -- after some years living between New York and north-east Scotland -- with his Glaswegian wife Janette, he and Irene having broke up long ago.

I meet Mike, who formed The Waterboys in 1983, regularly in and around Dublin, in internet cafes on Grafton Street, in record shops, sometimes on the street. He always stops for a chat in his soft-spoken, intense way. The Waterboys' latest album, An Appointment With Yeats, took Scott 20 years of thinking about William Butler Yeats and his poems, before he decided to do something about it. It is one of the great Waterboys records, a feat of creative genius from the 53-year-old Celt once described as only a shampoo away from Bob Geldof's unkempt mop. He had a head full of Byron and Blake and Yeats. He seemed permanently and irretrievably lost in a world of his own making. Mike Scott of The Waterboys sang inspirational words about mysticism and the human condition like: "I was grounded while you filled the skies/I was dumfounded by truth/You cut through lies/I saw the rain-dirty valley/You saw Brigadoon."

The Whole Of The Moon, the song from which these lyrics are taken, won the Ivor Novello prize for best song in 1991, and is a sublime piece of songwriting.

Scott clearly had a way with words. This Is The Sea, where he sings, "once you were tethered, now you are free: that was the river, this is the sea," is as soothing as the subject of the song. (The song, he said, was about "perceiving spirit in the world, about being touched by a sense of the sacred.") Like Van Morrison, Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Scott (born on December 14, 1958 in Edinburgh) is held in high esteem by devotees of soulful music. I'm sure the Waterboys' early music was as much an influence on Bono as William Burroughs or Bowie was.

Mike Scott, back in the day, had the Big Music aura to his music in a similar way that U2 had. The Waterboys' This Is The Sea and U2's The Unforgettable Fire are two obvious examples of The Big Music -- with the big sound and the big themes to match -- in record form. "I think the recording technology of the day fostered the 'big' sound," he said. "This was the era of big snare sounds, and newly developed reverbs and echoes that added depth and space to records. And after the primal return to punk of several years earlier, people -- listeners and record-makers alike -- were ready to have a more sophisticated sonic experience again."

I beg to differ. There was much more it to than that. Anyone who listens to any of the classic Waterboys tracks like Strange Boat, The Whole Of The Moon, A Bang On The Ear, Fisherman Blues, Don't Bang The Drum, couldn't help but be moved by the unbridled visceral passion -- the soul -- of the music. Screenwriter Richard Curtis, he of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually fame, wrote in The Guardian last summer: "No one agrees with no one about nothing in pop. It's a Marmite subject. But I'll lay down my cards at the start: I've listened to a lot of pop and, as the years go by, I'm starting to feel, to my own surprise, that the Waterboys are the next best group after the Beatles.

"For instance, my two favourite love songs ever are If I Fell and I Love Her, both off A Hard Day's Night. The only comparable two love songs on one record are A Man Is In Love and How Long Will I Love You?, on the Room to Roam album by the Waterboys."

The Waterboys with guests The Unthanks and Katie Kim, play The Iveagh Gardens, Clonmel St (off Harcourt St), Dublin 2, on July 20. Gates open 6.30pm.

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