The Waterboys: Shake Some Action, Part II

An appointment With Mr. Scott

Mike Scott / Photo treatment by Ron Hart

Rock & Roll Globe interviewed the Waterboys’ Mike Scott earlier this week to talk about the Irish band’s killer new album Where The Action Is

This is part 2, culled from an interview conducted six years ago. We left part 1 with Scott talking about 2014’s An Appointment with Mr. Yeats. 


So, how was Yeats as a collaborative partner? 

Scott: Well, my mum was a college professor in English literature. And I grew up in a houseful of books. I was used to hearing the name “Yeats” in hushed tones of awe when I was a kid so I’ve always known who Yeats is. As a teenager, I started reading for myself. My mother, to her great credit, never force-fed me Yeats. I wasn’t made to read it which was a good thing because when I was ready to read it, I discovered it in my own way.


I imagine it could be pretty daunting.

Well, I grew up in a houseful of books so I was used to literature all the time. 

The Waterboys Fisherman’s Blues, Ensign 1988

When did you go read him did you say, “I really like this, I can relate”?

 I found a copy of “News from the Delphic Oracle” on my mother’s bookshelf when I was 15 or 16. I really loved that poem. I understand it but I loved its language and the tableaux that it described and the indication of Pan in the third verse – I loved all that. And when I first toured Ireland in the mid–‘80s I bought myself a volume of his poetry, the first book of his that I had myself and I realized the lines sat on the page like song lyrics. Somewhere along the line, I started to put them to music and the first I did was “Stolen Child” on the Fisherman’s Blues album and that worked out well and a couple of years later I did more and a few years later I did more and slowly I built up a sufficient number to make a stage show which was presented in Dublin in 2010.


Before you conceived of doing this album, then?

Yeah, it was a stage show first. Obviously, I knew that it would become an album, but I envisioned it like a Broadway show and then you’d have an album of the show.


I have to say, if hadn’t read the liner notes and the bio accompanying the record and was just listening, I would very likely say “Well, this is Mike Scott writing very Mike Scott-ish music.”

[Laughs] That’s a very big compliment.


Well, the sound and vision mesh well with your catalog. Do you see the lineage there?

Not really, no. I’ve liked him for so long he must be an influence on me and I like the same subjects as Yeats – the mystic, politics, Ireland. 


Have many other artists done this with poetry?

Well, William Blake … Jah Wobble -he used to be the bass player in Public image Ltd., – and did an album of Blake’s songs and then there’s Robert Burns, Scotland’s great poet, who has been set to music many many times and in fact he set his poems to music himself with tunes popular in his day. Recently there was an album of his poems by Edie Reader. In fact, there have been three four Yeats albums – probably more – a dozen done by not very well-known artists, mostly folky and very reverent. But I don’t know of any single rock ‘n’ roll album of Yeats.

The Waterboys An Appointment With Mr. Yeats, BMG 2011

You took the Waterboys name from a song on Lou Reed’s Berlin correct?

Yes, from the song “The Kids.” I liked the word and I didn’t know what it meant. I’m from the UK so the word “waterboy,” it was just a mysterious word and I liked it.


Then, you found out what it meant.

Yeah, it seemed all right. Waterboys bring water to thirsty people. 


Right, but also, it’s kind of a subservient, helpful role too. It’s kind of a cool rock band name in that way, though. A modest term.

Yeah, humble, yeah.


You’re known as a pretty serious guy – certainly in music.  Is that a reflection of who you are? In other words, are you a pretty serious guy, offstage?

No, I’m not. There’s a box set coming out in October called Fisherman’s Box – the complete Fisherman’s Blues sessions – and includes about a dozen joke songs – made up on the spot. There’s the “Headphone Mix” song about the terrible sound mix we’ve gotten in the headphones, for example.  You can have a listen to those see if you still think I’m serious.


AUDIO: The Waterboys “Fisherman’s Blues” (piano version)

You’ve revamped songs depending on the lineup of the band. Tempos change. Emphasis changes. This time are you more faithful to recorded versions or are there more songs that are reworked?

Some songs I like to play them really close to the record, certain elements. Other songs I don’t care. Other songs need the freedom. It will be a mixture. There are songs where, even if there is something definitive about the record, I don’t want to hear it or I don’t need to hear it.


You came up in a great era and I think when people who grew up with the music back then see some of the key bands are around, they’ll come out. Hey, I’d forgotten about the Waterboys: I love these guys!

Yes, but I thought it was a terrible era for music. The’ 80s were so terrible I had to invent my own. The ‘60s, man, the music of the ‘60s, from 1964 to 1972, god that’s the golden age for me. We didn’t know how not to make great music then. When I say we, I don’t mean me … Rock ‘n; roll, soul musicians, it was all fantastic!  Now, since the mid-‘70s, it’s been bad and the mid-‘80s I think was the most extreme contraction of all the gains that were made in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I felt like alien. Even good stuff – I listened to “Purple Rain” on the radio recently and I loved that at the time, and it’s a great song in fact I sang it during the Prince tribute show six months ago, but listen to the record and it’s so dated by its sound, all this “then cutting edge” sound which sounds incredibly dated now. Yet, you listen to music from 1966 and 1967 and it’s timeless. Even a great Springsteen record from then had a horribly loud snare drum. 


When you listen back to your stuff, does that sound dated to you?

I didn’t go too far down the road of those trendy sounds and when you hear Fisherman’s Blues there’s no trace of 1987. Even on the first three records, there’s a little bit I would change if I could remix it now, but mostly I think I went for fairly classic sounds that have stayed fresh.  I wasn’t thinking about that really; I just wasn’t enamored of the fashionable sound of the day. 


We talked around 1996 after you did that retreat, went to remote part of Scotland and entered into the world of this holistic, New Age retreat and workshop center of 400-500 people called Findhorn Community.

I had four years off from touring. I made a couple of records, but I took four years off from touring. It was in Findhorn. I was burned out after making Room to Roam and Fisherman’s Blues. I’d had no management for about five years and I was carrying the whole thing on my shoulders with a constantly touring band and crew and had a lot of responsibility. I was just really exhausted. I moved to New York to try and recharge, but I couldn’t find a band that was right as the Waterboys. There wasn’t that combination. So, I didn’t tour the album I made on Geffen, Dream Harder, and then I went solo and did Still Burning (1997). I did tour that, but by the time I did it had been four years since my last concert. 


AUDIO: Mike Scott “Love Anyway”

How do you feel now about this re-emergence? This is your first US tour in six years?

I’ve been playing constantly in Europe, but I do see it as the beginning of a new period because I do want to tour more constantly in North America and now that I’ve got a band and an organization, I can do that. It’s not going to be six years ‘til the next tour.


Do you have the stamina?

Yes. It’s different, but – you probably know yourself ‘cause you’re a similar age. I’m working tricks now to maintain my energy. I never fritter it away. I always maximize so really, I’ve got more focus and power than I had in my 20s, but of course I don’t have a 25-year-old’s energy to just call on it at any moment.


Your music has a lot of emotional sweep, power and drama. It has effect on us, certainly, exhausted in a good way. Does it have that effect on you?

No, not really. It’s my job.


AUDIO: The Waterboys An Appointment With Mr. Yeats (full album)

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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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