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A Long Way to the Light

When, at the age of 16 (1986), I started going out, a lot of people around me were seemingly seeing the whole of the moon. I didn’t. I even managed to ignore The Waterboys for the full first 2 decades of their existence. My ignorance was brutally ended in 2000 when being fatally attracted by the electrifying album A Rock In The Weary Land. Lucky me. A great journey of revelations started, greatly supported by the re-releases of all their early, and very fine albums.

Mike Scott - Adventures of a waterboyIn 2013 we had set out to go see them wandering boys live in Antwerp in August. Shortly before that very non-disappointing appointment a tweet by Belgian rock journalist Bart Steenhaut pointed me to Mike Scott‘s autobiography Adventures of a Waterboy. I took it with me to read on our yearly family holidays, to be better ‘prepared’ for the live gig, to have a better understanding of the man we were going to witness on that stage. In my imagination he was a wild man, a shamanist, and totally music. Would he actually be such, I wanted to find out.

What a revelation the book turned out to be!

I soon fell for the honest and open tone, the eloquent language, poetic like the lyrical foundation of his songs. I felt the man’s excitement in every page, even when going through the dreary moments of his career, the months and years of searching. I liked how he, almost casually, pictured the occasional lack of discipline, the quarrels with managers and producers, the quests for band members to record albums with or go on tour.

There are a couple of lady stories, but they always serve some musical purpose. The stories are relevant, musically. My heart broke over the heartbreaks and the various friendships, established, broken, lost, fixed. But then again, also in this domain, at the heart of the story is always the Music, Big or small (or both), folk or rock (or both).

The book obviously has quite some room for the becoming of Fisherman’s Blues (1988), without doubt their most known work. In great detail the emergence of the album is described, with its many back and forth movements, the declines and the falls, before and during its making, before and after its release and the touring. The reading takes the reader beyond the endless changes of names and the special, sticky relationship with Wickham and Thistlethwaith.

What I did miss was some deeper backgrounds on the becoming of the first 2 albums, The Waterboys (1983) and A Pagan Place (1984), 2 albums I still hold very dear. Overall I felt there is a sort of gap between Mike’s early teen and high school years and This Is The Sea (1985), the finality of the Big Music.

But, no worries, Adventures Of A Waterboy is a highly fascinating insight into some decades of musical adventures, a journey full of exploration, whether actually inside or outside of the music industry, always about music, at least in the end always pointing the man back to music. The book offers a look behind the scenes that goes way beyond the superficial glamour and public perception. It also shows the persistence, the hard work that is required on top of the talent. The work illuminates Mike’s brainwaves and how they helped him shift worlds, from the early years of aspiration to the rock business to the spirit of the Celts and the god Pan.

Adventures Of A Waterboy turned into one of those rare books that lifted me with my feet from the ground and transcended me completely to the described places and times. With its colourful descriptions of landscapes, cities, venues, islands, rooms and places. Enticing. A mesmerising journey through ink, letters, words, pages.

As a music-affinate reader I really got dragged into some threesome decades of up and down emotions of the passionate wanderer that Mike Scott seems to be. He gave me an insight into his life with the spirits; the spirit of the Big Music, the spirit of Pan, the spirit of Celts, the spirit of light and Love, the spirit of the mysteries, the spirit of outerworldly muses, gnomes and elves. I was energised by the man’s will, his drive, his ambition. All for greatness. Through the book I sensed a seeker, one who will never stop seeking, meanwhile adding characters to draw from, a shape-shifter swiftly moving between worlds. He is a wild man. He is a shamanist. But -above all- he IS music.

Intuitively I stopped reading when entering chapter 15, “The Philosophy Room”, and listened to the song Long Way To The Light first. After the chapter, I stopped again and listened to the full album Bring ’em All In (1995), one of Mike’s solo albums, before continuing my read. It helped me get this era of his life much better. It helped me understand that one sometimes has to keep up, slowly putting one foot in front of the other, do what one does best.

Mike Scott - Adventures of a waterboy -RugAlthough first published in 2013, these Adventures Of A Waterboy are not described beyond 2001-ish, shortly after the release of A Rock in the Weary Land. And that happens to be the time where I strangely picked up. I haven’t stopped following them since then.

I have enjoyed this autobiography the most because it’s an authentic story, all included, the better and the worse, of an artist and his music. No gossip. No dirt. No ego. Just music. And the god Pan. One of the better musical (auto)biographies around.

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