Long, long time ago, I can still remember – playing The Waterboys’ ‘Big Music’ as my rallying call before going out to do my final university exams. They weren’t a band I particularly followed at the time – I was primarily a hard rock kid back then – and my acquaintance with Mike Scott’s oeuvre has been haphazard since. I loved Fisherman’s Blues, and there was then a long hiatus until somehow I picked up on the blindingly good Modern Blues a couple of years back.
So now here we are again at the Edinburgh Playhouse, scene of many a great gig in days of yore, but now largely given over to musicals. Which probably explains the numerous signs insisting that the place is a seated venue, and “would patrons please co-operate in ensuring everyone can see”. In other words, sit yer ass doon!
|The Waterboys - first class jiggery-pokery|
Which is a pity, because there’s plenty of danceable stuff in the Waterboys’ set, and it’s clear that some of the audience are itching to shake their booty on some of the jiggery-pokery stuff like ‘When Ye Go Away’ and the spankingly rumbustious ‘The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy’.
Fortunately Mike Scott has a trick up his sleeve to allow us at least a vicarious dance sensation, in the form of hip chick backing swingers Zeenie Summers and Jess Kav, who get on down in exuberant, loosely co-ordinated fashion throughout. They also provide spot on vocals, with Kav especially impressive and versatile, ranging from soulful to scat-singing to well-nigh classic soprano at times.
By contrast Steve Wickham, looking like your favourite absent-minded professor with his waistcoat and stuck-up hair, often looks rather bemused by proceedings, when not actually playing, swaying gently while holding his fiddle in both hands. But then he chucks in his trademark pirouette as they roll back the years with ‘A Girl Called Johnny’, and when he rips into that scudding riff on ‘We Will Not Be Lovers’ you know exactly what he brings to the party.
There are a few tunes from the latest album Out Of All This Blue. It may have been a bit of an erratic outing, but Scott still pulls out some strong songs with the likes of ‘If The Answer Is Yeah’ and the country-style tribute to keyboard player Brother Paul Brown, ‘Nashville, Tennessee’. Personally I reckon the tag-line of the latter would be better reversed to “My ass may be in Nashville, but my heart is in Memphis, Tennessee”, but that might have required a whole different lyric. I’d also have preferred to hear something upbeat like ‘The Connemara Fox’ or ‘The Hammerhead Bar’, rather than the more mellow ‘Man, What A Woman’, but hey, I’ll give Mike Scott a pass on that.
In any event there’s enough from Modern Blues to keep me happy. In addition to being a sublime lyricist, Scott is an excellent raconteur, and cleverly uses a bit of guitar tuning as a catalyst for a story that neatly lines up the muscular ‘Still A Freak’. Then after the interval he neatly bends the premise of ‘Nearest Thing To Hip’ to turn it into a nostalgia trip for lost Edinburgh record shops from the heyday of vinyl. There’s no need for storytelling with the rattling set-closer ‘Long Strange Golden Road’ though. ‘Anthemic’ is a word that could have been invented for Mike Scott’s songwriting, and this is a beat poet visionary call to (peaceful) arms. It’s also one of several songs on which Brother Paul goes to town on his Hammond organ, apparently wrenching soul from the very guts of it. His addition to the Waterboys ranks a few years ago was a signal moment.
They encore with ‘The Whole Of The Moon’, and inevitably the audience rise en masse to acclaim the archetypal example of Scott’s “Big Music”, singing along merrily as they’re conducted by Summers and Kav. They stay on their feet for ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, the first blast of Scott’s delving into folk traditions, on which Scott and the girls join in with Wickham to twirl through the classic fiddle riff, summing up the collective spirit of the evening.
Mike Scott is blessed with the ability to create a multi-faceted repertoire. As The Waterboys’ Facebook page puts it, “The Waterboys belong to no movement, genre, school or fashion. We play Waterboys music. We follow the twists and trails of the music wherever it leads, wherever the adventure unfolds. Come with us.” Yeah, it may sound a bit corny. But Mike Scott is still a freak, and a bloody good one at that.