There’s a clip that’s been doing the rounds recently of The Waterboys in session for Chris Evans on Radio 2. They’re tearing their way through a terrific version of Purple Rain, Mike Scott competing for centre stage with an electric violin that thankfully sounds more Hendrix than Nigel Kennedy. If you’ve not seen it you should head off to the usual places forthwith. You can thank me later.
Mike Scott is quite a complex character. From Ayr in south-west Scotland, just down the road from Plain Or Pan Towers, he’s done well to maintain the image of the scruffy-heided beatnik poet hippy who’s the androgynous offspring of Mick Jones and Patti Smith, both in look and musical/poetic vision.
In reality, he’s quite a switched-on guy; arguably more Rambo than Rimbaud. Stories abound that he’s a sound engineer’s nightmare (“A little less reverb on the snare, thanks, more flange on the subwoofer and can we keep the room temperature to a steady 18 degrees?“) and a promoter’s worst headache (only the very best hotels, with a room as far away as possible in all directions – up and down and either side – from select members of whoever constitute The Waterboys on that particular tour, a strict macrobioticveganwheatfreeglutenfreewhatever diet and a propensity to change the goalposts at the last notice). A perfectionist, then. Or difficult to deal with, you might say.
1985’s This Is The Sea is the real deal though, and any and all of his quirks and imperfections can just about be excused because of it. Full of literal references to the Great God Pan, the healing powers of spiritualism, a kinship with socialism and liberally sprinkled with poetic references alongside the odd Beatles line, it comes bolted onto a steel girders-massive production that Scott himself tagged ‘The Big Sound’. The album is truly epic on a widescreen scale; a heady mix of acoustic and electric guitars, keys, strings and a liberal dollop of Celtic Clarens Clemons-ish saxophone.
The big hit from the album was of course The Whole Of The Moon, but, essential as The Hit is, there’s far more to the album than that.
Be My Enemy fairly rattles along in double-quick cow punk time, a skifflish, raggle-taffle distant cousin of Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm and most of The Clash’s early back catalogue.
The Waterboys – Be My Enemy
Scott is on scorching form, smoothing his ‘rs‘ as he spits as angrily as a posh boy from South Ayrshire can about mainframes shaking, cellars full of snakes and nazis on his telephone. The whole thing kicks like a particularly angry mule and is essential listening. Terrific stuff.
Medicine Bow is a howling storm-warning for some near-future apocalyptic event or other, electric guitars clashing with discordant violins and an out of control piano player.
On the album, it faded to a whisper, but a few years ago a warts ‘n all version of This Is The Sea was released, with the rage in excelsis, full-length version of Medicine Bow included.
The Waterboys – Medicine Bow (Full-Length Version)
…and here’s The Pan Within. Over 6 minutes of cosmic folk/rock spiritualism. Come with me on a journey beneath the skin, indeed.
The Waterboys – The Pan Within