The Waterboys

TrackAlbum
A Girl Called JohnnyThe Waterboys
Down Through Dark StreetsA Pagan Place (reissue)
The Pan WithinThis Is The Sea
When Ye Go AwayFisherman's Blues
Too Close To HeavenFisherman's Box
The Return Of PanDream Harder
Let It HappenA Rock In A Weary Land
An Irish Airman Foresees His DeathAn Appointment With Mr Yeats
Long Strange Golden RoadModern Blues
Love Walks InOut Of All This Blue

 

The Waterboys photo 4

Mike Scott

 

 

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Contributor: Tony Thompson

I met Mike Scott once:

Me: I got married in Galway because of Room To Roam.
Mike Scott: Did it last?
Me: No, but A Rock In A Weary Land and Book Of Lightning got me through the divorce.
Mike Scott: Right…

I first heard The Waterboys in a ‘dance’ club in the early 80s. I was underage and out of my depth. The music was awful until A Girl Called Johnny came on. It was as though someone had turned on a light. I went up to the DJ booth and asked the Robert Smith lookalike DJ for the name of the band. He didn’t answer but simply held up their first album. I bought it the next day. They drifted out of my life at points but I always seemed to come back to them at the right time. Mike Scott’s lyrics, like Dylan’s best, are at once personal and universal. From All the Things She Gave Me that captured a painful breakup I went through as a young man to Love Walks In, a new song that evokes more recent developments in my life, Mike’s work always seems to find me where I’m standing. I spend a lot of time listening to music and have formed many deep connections to a wide range of musicians. Yet, when asked the inevitable question – who’s your favourite band? – I always have a ready answer.

There is simply no other story in rock and roll like that of the Waterboys. They are the sort of implausible act that a novelist would create. Possibly that is why they remain one of the most satisfying acts in the history of the genre. The leader, key member, and principal songwriter is Mike Scott, a highly literate Scottish mystic who fell hard for punk but always dreamed a little bigger: Springsteen, Patti Smith, Television, Prince, and Lou Reed (the band is named from a line in The Kids from the Berlin album) were all on the table in the early days.

 

The Waterboys photo 2

Steve Wickham and Anto Thistlethwaite

 

There have been more than fifty members of the band. Mike, an only child, has always been drawn to collaborators. Few stay the course. A new vision, a new sound, a new brother – has been the pattern. Yet there is an inner circle. Steve Wickham, a fiddle player of extraordinary talent (yes, that’s him on U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday), disappeared from the fold for a while in the 90s. Somehow, the band wasn’t right without him and he returned, much to the relief of fans. Wickham has a cult of his own among the loyal. Anto Thistlethwaite was an early member and the lungs behind some of the best rock and roll sax sounds since Bobby Keys. He too left in the early 90s and is much missed by fans – particularly me! Some point to World Party’s Karl Wallinger, who was a Waterboy in the 80s, as Mike’s most important foil. It ended in tears but their work together, particularly on This Is The Sea was monumental. Look up the list of other Waterboys (and girls) members. It’s astounding who has been through the ranks.

 

The Waterboys photo 1

The Waterboys in front of Spiddal House in Co. Galway (1990) see this excellent feature on That’s How The Light Gets In for full line up above

 

In the grand tradition of cult bands, they have exactly two reasonably well-known songs. The first is a magical and mysterious track called The Whole Of The Moon that charted twice, in 1985 and 1991. The second is Fisherman’s Blues, an original folk song that sounds as though it grew spontaneously out of a ‘session’ in an Irish pub. If the band had only ever been one of the architects of the ‘big music’ along with U2, Simple Minds, and Big Country, they would still be important. But the sharp left turn that led Mike Scott to Ireland, where he had a vision that incorporated the traditional music of that country and the ‘roots’ music of America, makes them utterly unique.

But that was all years ago. Since then, Mike Scott continues to follow his eclecticism and curiosity wherever they lead. He is restless both intellectually and musically. Fans are challenged, sometimes to the point of madness, with each new release but to dismiss their later material is to miss the point. There is no ‘early stuff’. All of the albums have been departures and new beginnings.

The list above will get you started but I make no grand claims about my choices. If you are drawn into the world of the Waterboys’ music, the journey will be a personal one that no list can capture.

 

 

 

The Waterboys studio albums: The Waterboys (1983), A Pagan Place (1984), This Is The Sea (1985), Fisherman’s Blues (1988), Room To Roam (1990), Dream Harder (1993), A Rock In The Weary Land (2000), Universal Hall (2003), Book Of Lightning (2007), An Appointment With Mr Yeats (2011), Modern Blues (2015), Out Of All This Blue (2017)

Mike Scott solo albums: Bring ‘Em All In (1995), Still Burning (1997)

Steve Wickham solo albums: Geronimo (2004), Beekeeper (2017)

Anthony Thistlethwaite solo albums: Aesop Wrote A Fable (1993), Cartwheels (1995), Crawfish And Caviar (1997)

 

 

 

The Waterboys official website

Waterboys Appreciation Society

The Waterboys – excellent fan site

“Adventures Of A Waterboy: Remastered” by Mike Scott

“The Waterboys go back to Irish roots” (Dave Simpson, Guardian interview, 2013)

Steve Wickham official website

Eight Miles Higher interview with Mike Scott (2017)

The Waterboys biography (iTunes)

Tony Thompson is a Melbourne based writer and lecturer. He writes reviews on a blog called On Books On Music and had a novel, “Summer Of Monsters”, published by Walker Books in 2014. On two separate occasions he has travelled from Australia to Europe to see The Waterboys in concert!

TopperPost #706

3 Comments

  1. Joyce Gibson
    Mar 24, 2018

    Thank you for writing this great article. I loved Mike Scott from the off – I even saw his band Another Pretty Face supporting Stiff Little Fingers in 1980 – they got booed by the punks but I went and bought All The Boys Love Carrie.
    The first three Waterboys albums are superb – I could easily pick 10 songs from them alone. I enjoyed Fisherman’s Blues but for me something was lost in the move to Ireland. In the 90s, The Glastonbury Song caught my ear, and I really liked the 2 Mike Scott solo albums. As a fan I remember the thrill of spotting him in Glasgow Airport about 15 years ago, but I was far too shy to say anything to him. I did finally meet him at a book signing a few years ago now, but I couldn’t say anything more original than thank him for all of the great songs he’s shared with us for so many years now.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Mar 24, 2018

    Tony, thanks for this excellent piece. One of the best live performances I have ever seen was The Waterboys at Croke Park in 1986. Blew all of the other bands (which included Lloyd Cole and The Commitments and Simple Minds) off the stage. One of the highlights that day was ‘Wayward Wind’. Like Joyce, I think that after ‘Fishermen’s Blues’, something was lost. Saw them live soon after it came out and they were much more self-indulgent and rambling and there were far too many guest musicians on stage. And because it is such a near-perfect song, would have to have ‘The Whole Of The Moon’ in my top ten…

  3. David Lewis
    Mar 25, 2018

    I liked the last album a great deal and have been a sporadic fan since the original release of Whole of the Moon. This is a good list. Thanks.

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