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Writing 'Top-Class Songs' And Keeping Busy

2 April 2015 | 4:11 pm | Michael Smith

The muso talks about his musical evolution.

“I didn’t really record in Nashville for the weather,” admits Dublin-based singer, songwriter, guitarist, poet and literary connoisseur Mike Scott, who for the past 32 years has steered the varying fortunes and musical explorations and incarnations of The Waterboys, the band he formed in his hometown Edinburgh in 1983. “There was snow when I went to do the rehearsals in February [last year].”

An early infatuation with the music of The Clash and Patti Smith was the original impetus for the then English Lit student to start putting bands together, but when he formed The Waterboys, the music was more a cross between Van Morrison and U2. By the time the band’s only real hit, The Whole Of The Moon, arrived in 1985, Scott had become infatuated with traditional Irish music, and the band followed suit into Celtic folk-rock. As members came and went, there were more musical permutations, and then, in 2011, came An Appointment With Mr Yeats, various poems by the Irish Nobel Prize-winning poet of the late 19th/early 20th century put into musical settings by Scott.

As it turns out, for all the changes, everything links together, the centre of the labyrinth of course Scott himself. So that Nashville-recorded album, Modern Blues, with its nods to early rock’n’roll, rockabilly, blues and even Elvis, is the natural extension of what came before. The previous couple of years, Scott had been immersed in going through all the tapes – mixed, unmixed, outtakes, the lot – from the recording of the seminal 1988 album, Fisherman’s Blues, for the six-CD box set, Fisherman’s Box. “Modern Blues began to take form in 2008. I had a big tour in 2007 with The Waterboys for the Book Of Lightning album, and then 2008, was, for me performance-wise, a year off. Only a few shows that summer, but no touring, and I wrote most of my book, Adventures Of A Waterboy, that year and also the first four or five songs of this record and several others that didn’t make the record. Then I did the Mr Yeats album, and then we did the box set, so that kept me busy, but it also bought me the time to write the rest of the songs for Modern Blues. And once I knew I had enough top-class songs, at least top-class to me, I went and made the record.”

Cut at Sound Emporium in Nashville, alongside Waterboys drummer of four years Ralph Salmins and long-serving Waterboy, violinist Steve Wickham, Scott was able to call on Memphis keyboards player “Brother” Paul Brown and, more impressively, veteran session bass player David Hood. “[Hood] is so great and so classic that I wouldn’t have thought of asking him to play on the record. But the moment it was suggested, I knew it was the right thing.”

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