By David Hennessy
“Sometimes when I think about it, it seems a long time ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday. Who knows? Time’s a mystery,” says Mike Scott, lead singer of The Waterboys, of the 25 years that have passed since the release of the album, Fisherman’s Blues. To mark the milestone, the band have released Fisherman’s Box, a six CD set of all the tracks from the band’s Fisherman’s Blues sessions recorded between January 23, 1986 and June 2, 1988. That is 121 tracks, 85 unreleased before now. In addition to this, the band tour the UK next month with a special line-up that reunites Scott and fiddle player Steve Wickham with Fisherman’s Blues-era members Anto Thistlethwaite and Trevor Hutchinson.
In spite of this, he laughs: “It will be nothing like the old days. I don’t know what it will be like. I’ll wait and see. I never get too hung up on expectations because if I’ve learned one thing in all my years as a musician, it’s about sticking with my expectations, they’ll be confounded. I’m always ready for the unexpected, for surprises.”
The famous Fisherman’s Blues ssessions have been legendary for the high volume of high quality music that was produced in that time. It was a time when the band were moving towards a new sound and one that was heavily traditionally Irish. Was it a nostalgic and perhaps emotional experience for the band frontman to trawl this vault a quarter of a century later? “I’ve prepared so many Fisherman’s Blues derived records over the years because we had an album in 2001 called Too Close to Heaven which was ten tracks left uncompleted which I went back and finished and then in 2006 we did a remaster of the album with a whole bonus CD of stuff that had never come out, so I’m very used to going back to the Fisherman’s Blues era. It’s a well worn road for me. Yes, I guess it is nostalgic because it takes me back into those feelings and those times and I had a very happy two or three months preparing the Fisherman’s Box, going through everything. It’s like entering a warm old atmosphere.”
Having moved to Ireland, Mike had fallen in love with the country which influenced the band’s change of sound. The country has changed a lot since and as Mike is still based in Dublin, The Irish World wonders if he is still in love with it? “No,” he answers immediately with a laugh. “I know it too well. I’m long past that first flush. I know all Ireland’s foibles as well as its magic. The thing I really notice is that you hardly ever see priests or nuns these days, I can’t say I’m sorry about that. The Catholic Church has begun to relax its grip on the neck of Ireland. If we could get them to stop controlling the schools now, that would be a good step.”
Originally from Edinburgh, Mike was based in London when he first established the band. Moving to Ireland on Steve Wickham’s invitation, he found a new lust for life and the music that he had always played: “I didn’t have much social life when I was in London and that changed when I came to Ireland and suddenly I was playing music not just because it was life or death, which it was when I was in London. I was playing music because what else would I do? But suddenly I was playing music for fun in the backrooms of pubs and in people’s flats, it was wonderful. I had a great time in Spiddal especially where we made the last portion of Fisherman’s Blues.”
Their previous album This is the Sea had given us the classic Whole of the Moon and The Waterboys were hot property in the music industry which made it a risk changing their sound to a more traditional Irish from the “Big Music” they were known: “It was something that happened organically and we probably did discuss it, we probably said things to each other like ‘Gosh, I like how we sound,’ very matter of fact but there was no contrivance of a decision: ‘We’ve done this so what would work next? What would throw a good shape for the public? Let’s do this’. There was none of that. No bullshit involved, just organic change.
“There’s many kinds of artists and I really like Neil Young. Neil’s music changes but it always feels organic, it never feels contrived and then you get other people like David Bowie whose music will change and of course I love David Bowie’s music but his changes seem contrived as if he’s sat in a room and thought: ‘Okay, next I’m gonna make soul music’: Then he does Young Americans. ‘And then next, I’m gonna go experimental’: And he does Low, and I love those albums and I love the changes he did but it’s a different way of working, it’s not The Waterboys way of working. We’re more of the Van Morrison/Neil Young/Bob Dylan, the change is organic style. It’s not like Dexys Midnight Runners suddenly all deciding to wear preppy clothes and have fiddles.”
Irish fiddle player Steve Wickham was invited to play on The Pan Within on the band’s This is the Sea album after Mike was impressed when he heard him playing on Sinead O’Connor’s demo tape. Wickham and Scott have had a special relationship and understanding ever since the Dubliner came to Scott’s house in the mid-80’s and sat on his floor: “It was right from the very first day we played together, we had this connection, this musical connection. I’ve only found it a handful of times, it’s very special. In fact, I’ve only found it once: As coherent a relationship as the one I have with Wickham, it’s the only one like that. I’ve had other great musical relationships. Anthony Thistlethwaite comes to mind but Wickham is probably the central musical relationship of my life.”
For the full interview, see the November 16 Irish World.
Fisherman’s Box is out now. The Waterboys tour the UK and Ireland from December 8. For more information, go to: www.mikescottwaterboys.com/.