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.

An appointment with the Waterboys

No excuses, I was a teenager in the ’80s. And I gave my girlfriend/wife their best of album ’81-’90. Yet I never showed much interest in the Waterboys, despite my wide interest in music. Maybe I was too fed up with ‘The Whole of the Moon’ as it was really, really played a lot in the places I went out in the weekends around ’86-’87? Maybe it didn’t fit my cool punk-wave ways (not preventing me to deeply love The Smiths and The Triffids, to name a few)? Maybe my mind just wasn’t ready for it, not free enough a spirit by then?

It wasn’t until 2000 that I bought my first Waterboys record, the by then just released A Rock in the Weary Land. No idea where the sudden attraction came from. Was it because it was described as a comeback? Was it because of the fooling around with vocoders and other distorters, the heavy electricity on the record? The Waterboys - Is she conscious EPIt was a strange attraction. That led to me immediately falling in love with this rock called love; its passion, drive, pleasure. It turned out the start of a rollercoaster of musical brainfloods that started by subsequently also purchasing the EP Is She Conscious from the 2000 album. That EP included an incredible 15 minutes live version of Savage Earth Heart. To my surprise this song originated from their early years. And that got me interested to dive further.

When the early Waterboys albums one by one got re-released with substantial remastering and editing by mr. Mike Scott I bought them as they were put out. And consistently fell in love with each of them, while greedily and gratefully feeding my mind on the fascinating background added in Mike’s sleeve notes. I grew along with each re-release to finally reach the big music of This Is The Sea via The Waterboys and A Pagan Place. And so, some silly 20 years after locking it out of my musical world, I discovered the amazing beauty, melodies, layers and power of The Whole of the Moon. Although it is ‘Red Army Blues’ that gets me in tears every time again.

The Waterboys (Remastered)The Waterboys - A Pagan Place (Remastered)The Waterboys - This Is The Sea (Remastered)

The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues (Remastered)Impatient and near-unbearable waiting followed, but then finally also Fisherman’s Blues was re-released. And 20 years after the boys themselves ‘slightly’ changed direction (understatement), I was able to savour the outcome of their Irish adventures. The sleeve notes only partially shed light over this impressive turn they took, and the years of wandering and exploring it took to create it. That didn’t prevent me from feeling the free spirit that breaths throughout the Fisherman’s work.

Later on I was impressed by the bluesy Too Close To Heaven too, and its refurbished and boosted edits of FB sessions. Unfortunately Universal Hall and Book of Lightning didn’t overload me with enthusiasm therefore skipping the Karma Burning album, not even realizing it’s a live album. Hmm, Waterboys and live playing, that always works, do I know now. I did feel Mike’s fond love for music on one of his solo albums that I bought in the mean time, Bring ’em All In.

More and more, in interviews mr. Mike alluded to his lack of real inspiration, although reviews of their live performances were full of praise, one by one. But then, 2011, the message of the release of An Appointment with Mr. Yeats reached me (see my Top Music 2011 summary), convincing me to buy it. It turned out to be wildly inspirational, bewildering, enthusiast, broad, folk danceable while rocking as in the big music era. Artistically, the album melts the many faces of the Waterboys into one highly cohesive, unique musical picture.

And next, 2013, a tweet by a rock journalist pointed me to Mike Scott’s autobiography, Adventures of a Waterboy. I took it on our family holiday early August 2013, intrigued but also eager to be ‘prepared’ for the live gig of The Waterboys we were about to attend by the end of August in Antwerp (yes, first time we get to see them on stage). Through it I hoped to better understand who the man is that will be on that stage. A wild man, somewhat shamanist and an all-music madman, as he is in my imagination?

So my wife and I unilaterally made an appointment with Mr. Scott to go discover these Waterboys live; live on stage, the only platform mr. Mike considers the right one for a musician to grow an audience; much more than music business tricks like videos, music clips, alternate releases of the same song, etc. Some things I learned from his fantastic book. I will come back to his adventurous book, but note that the gig was fantastic, guiding us through all the worlds of the Waterboys; folk, rock, big music, tiny music, acoustic, improvised, extended, unexpected, driven by the spirits. The chemistry between Mick and Steve is obvious and shiny. And Steve Wickham brilliantly took over the brass and trumpets from the first albums with his terrific fiddling.