THE WATERBOYS: STILL QUENCHING THE ENDLESS THIRST
Bexhill De La Warr Thursday October 14th 2021
It starts out with Mike Scott at the upright piano, stage right, his cowboy hatted silhouette reflected on the wall.
Hammering out a welcome, Scott’s sure sense of show flows through Bang The Drum.
We’re here, in a special place, the scene set: drum kit and bass stand unmanned as the opportunity to make something of the night and reach beyond - into that holy, wonderstruck, realm The Waterboys have so long made their own - unfurls.
Following on, in the opening song’s key note striking wake, there’s no holding back on a mighty Love and Death and incandescent Islandman, barely time for a gasp and a gulp and we are out there, swimming in thrall to the big music, a calling Scott has never deserted.
Repurposed, with clarity and soaring intent, the latter two songs may have been relatively obscured in their original recorded incarnations. But tonight they are born anew, sending out flares to summon the restless questing spirit.
Islandman, with his anthropomorphising sense of place “London sprawls across my rump/Cornwall my crooked ancient leg/ Wales two hands held apart/ Scotland is my dreaming head/Ireland is my heart”, never sounded more pointed, more vibrantly alive, than here and now in the post Brexit era.
The other two Waterboys lead players - indomitable inspirational fiddle player Steve Wickham and louder than life, rhapsodically inventive, organ/ keytarist Brother Paul - add astute invigorating stabs, slashes and heady perfumed elixirs to the magical weave.
I soon realise I’m crying: helplessly joyful, unbounded, set free tears.
This is all going deeper than I ever expected.
It is my first gig since the pandemic began. I had thought I was past all this, “so over” the live experience but, again and again, tonight, over two sets, The Waterboys exert a pull - back into the vortex.
Set 1 is chock full of dizzying highs. Anchored by a resolute but flexible, ever evolving, rhythm section - bassist Aongus Ralston and a few gigs old Belfast drummer (iEamon Ferris a worthy last minute substitute for unvaccinated stateside stranded regular Ralph Salmins) Scott has reach and resources aplenty to fill the heart and get to the high place in the mind.
This Is The Sea, Old England Is Dying (its pained and pointed “heroin eyes, heroin eyes” never more baleful or brilliant) are present and priceless examples of that ineffable Dylanesque talent for the timelessly prophetic.
More recent additions to the canon - Ladbroke Grove Symphony, Nashville, Tennessee - emphasize the purposefully myth making journey Scott has joyously threaded through the years.
Refined, controlled yet playful, theatricality is The Waterboys live show guiding light - such a glistening, celestial, legacy deserves careful curation by its creator.
There’s a richness - in the recent catalogue alone - that demands a series of shows, a residency to put this band in context but cherry pick from the past Mister Puck (already two, recorded and unreleased, albums ahead of the game and, internally, onto the thing after the next thing) must.
Astute choices ensure no aspect of his visionary soul stays hidden.
Closing the first set My Wanderings In The Wearyland is little short of jaw dropping. A cry from the heart, a summation of years, a bellyful of bile and big laughs, a transcendental epiphany and much more.
Embedded now, like the wondrous Wickham (a polymath away from the fiddle who emerges wearing a magnificent crow’s mask for set 2), Brother Paul is at the centre of the music and the show.
A musical force full of alacrity, mischief and daring the repartee between Paul and the frontman is emblematic of Scott’s ability to keep finding and honing new accomplices to serve the ever hungry muse.
As the show climaxed images mounted and swirled, bold intentions declaimed, swaggering purposes unleashed. There’s brazen humour, a tribute to BP’s teen faves Kiss and another to Keith Emerson’s keyboard stabbing supremacy, after Scott recounts how as a callow youth (on the bus over to Glasgow from Edinburgh) ELP were the first band he ever saw.
It is a set that features a torrential and impassioned surge through Yeats The Second Coming (of course Yeats has been referenced and recited by others before and will be again but with such full tilt, perfectly pell mell rocking vigour? Its a cross cultural dream come true, baby!), glorious green Gibson guitar grind and buzz , the stirring unbeatable Fisherman’s Blues and The Pan Within. The tenor maintained throughout is Adamant and forthright, bejewelled and celebratory all in all an emotional reckoning for this attendee.
I first encountered Scott’s music 40 years ago, in the NME Carnaby Street office 1981, going through the weekly demo tape intake. The effect was immediate, featuring the first demo recordings of Mike’s pre Waterboys outfit Another Pretty Face. Only a hint of the delirious and emphatic highs to come in years ahead but it was Scott’s voice, earnest and warm, assured but explorative, that hooked me in.
That voice, the constant in many marvellous Waterboys reconfigurations and incarnations n the years ahead, rings as clear and true now as ever.
With a swirl of wonder and beauty trailing in its wake the final encore is, of course, the mighty Whole Of The Moon, never undersold, never underplayed, its worth holds good, the rewards its popularity has brought well served.
Yes, you can indeed wrap your arms around these memories - get to swim and live in them and emerge emboldened, dancing in the light.
40 years on from that APF demo tape The Waterboys - dazzling and undaunted shining and sanctified - are just the uplifting tonic this seeker required.
Medicine Bow received with thanks, sign me up for the next stage of the journey, wherever it may go.