Monday, 19 August 2013
115 Fisherman's Blues - The Waterboys
Acquired : 23 December 1988
Tracks : Fisherman's Blues / We Will Not Be Lovers / Strange Boat / World Party / Sweet Thing / And A Bang On The Ear / Has Anybody Here Seen Hank / When Will We Be Married / When Ye Go Away / Dunford's Fancy / The Stolen Child / This Land Is Your Land
This record and the next have a melancholy significance as they mark the end of a subplot that's been running since the start of the story. They are the last LPs to be bought as birthday/ Christmas presents by my sister Helen as this was the last Christmas she was at home. She returned from Oxford after graduating in the summer of 1987 and got a job as a library assistant in Rochdale before starting a librarian's course at Liverpool in September 1988. I have few memories of that last year she lived with us; I suppose with both of us working that's not so surprising. By the time she left Liverpool she had a dodgy boyfriend and soon took off with him to Oxford where they've remained and it's just been a utilitarian ( and essentially pointless ) exchange of tokens ever since. I do remember her being chuffed that the guy behind the counter complimented her on her taste when she bought this.
On to the Waterboys then and one of the more interesting left turns in the decade's music. After finishing the tour to promote the previous album in 1986 Karl Wallinger left the band and Mike Scott went with violinist Steve Wickham for an extended stay in Dublin. They gradually accumulated a new line up ( retaining original saxophonist Anthony Thistlethwaite ) and this LP was the first fruit from long sessions recording at Spiddal House on the West Coast of Ireland . This was featured on the cover with Scott and the new band looking like, as Q's Mark Cooper in an unenthusiastic review put it , "Bronco, The Band, or an awful lot of people from 1970". The "Big Music" of yore isn't entirely absent from this LP but Irish folk influences are now very much to the fore.
The album starts with its title track which gave them a second hit ( number 32 ) at the beginning of 1989. It's a Scott/ Wickham composition with the latter's fiddle and Thistlethwaite's mandolin very much to the fore. The song sees Scott's escapism taking the form of wishing to be a simple fisherman or brakeman, travelling light but still hoping for love. It's jaunty rather than maudlin and has cropped up on one or two soundtracks e.g. Good Will Hunting since.
"We Will Not Be Lovers" is more recognisably from the band that made "This Is The Sea". It's a bitter brush-off of a girl who's bad news sung with Scott's usual intensity. Wickham's fiddle plays the main riff with impressive stamina , Trevor Hutchinson's bass prowls and prods and Dave Ruffy's powerful rock drumming brooks no argument . The lyrics are good but it is a bit wearing over 7 minutes.
"Strange Boat" a Scott/Thistlethwaite co-write is a disarmingly simple mellow song with a country flavouring that could either be a literal description of the emigrant experience or a metaphor for the band's own new musical journey. Wickham's sympathetic fiddle is first class.
"World Party" is the highlight of the album, an absolute Waterboys classic. It's exact relationship to the new group formed by the departed Karl Wallinger isn't clear. Wallinger has a composer credit and his influence in the piano part that drives the song is obvious although it's actually Scott himself playing on the track . The lyric could be interpreted as a send-off to someone wanting their own space but the themes of wistful regret and chasing a vision are long term Scott staples and the third verse is entirely introspective. The arrangement is fantastic with Thistlethwaite wrenching some amazing sounds from his fuzz mandolin, Wickham sawing away, Noel Bridgeman coming up with a nice trumpet solo and the Abergavenny Male Voice Choir beefing up the chant of "Party ! Party!"
"Sweet Thing" is a cover of a Van Morrison song from the hallowed Astral Weeks. Now I'm not a big fan of Van the Man; while respecting his influence and extraordinary creative longevity I don't like his voice and find a lot of his stuff overblown and tedious. Scott actually aggravates the problem by making it nearly as twice as long as the original, some of which time is filled up by working in a snatch of the Beatles' Blackbird to no great effect ( except financially no doubt ). The lyric about finding spiritual fulfilment in another's arms in typically exalted language is impressive but the arrangement is less interesting than the original and it doesn't do much for me. Some sources have the brief burst of chatter and rough-cut violin waltz that follows as a separate track "Jimmy Hickey's Blues" but that isn't the case with the vinyl version.
The second side is all then-recent material recorded at the Spiddal sessions in 1988. "And A Bang On The Ear" was the second single (in abridged form ) , peaking at a disappointing 51.
It's a High Fidelity - style catalogue of Scott's past loves , possibly fictional, with each verse ending with the title line, an Irish expression approximating to "peck on the cheek" . It's a great song despite Scott acquiring some dodgy Irish inflections in his singing voice which justifies its running length by gradually building up the music with each verse culminating in some great Hammond work from Thistlethwaite abetted by Martin O' Connor on accordion.
The song also features Jay Dee Daugherty from Scott's longtime heroes the Patti Smith Group. one of six different drummers featured on the LP.
"Has Anybody Here Seen Hank ? " , a Scott / Thistlethwaite co-write is a drowsy tribute to the increasingly fashionable though long dead country outlaw Hank Williams with the very un-pc line "I don't care what he did with his women". The pseudo-Irish vocals don't go with the subject matter or the country stylings in the music and its relative brevity is a bit of a relief.
"When Will We Be Married " is a Scott / Wickham co-write of an Irish folk tune where the protagonist or his conjugal rights despite full awareness that his "Molly" is eye-ing up other men. It's well-executed with Wickham excelling once again and Scott himself playing the drums at the dramatic climax but it does raise the question of whether Scott is bringing anything new to the table beyond an appreciation of the Dubliners and Chieftains.
"When Ye Go Away" is a Shane-like tale of a charismatic visitor who won't be staying, a Scott-penned low-key strumalong with Alec Finn's bouzouki lending it an exotic air.
"Dunford's Fancy" is a brief little jig penned by Wickham and named for the producer which doesn't feature Scott at all.
"The Stolen Child " is a W B Yeats poem set to Scott's music. The poem is based on Irish legends about fairies stealing children but it's not too hard to see how these might have originated from experience of infant mortality. The verses are read in a thick brogue by Thomas McKeown while Scott sings the four line refrain at the end of each one. It culminates in the devastating line "For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand" which puts me in mind of The Virgin Suicides idea that the four young girls checked out because they understood what was coming. Scott's music is perfectly sympathetic particularly Colin Blakey's flute and the effect is extraordinary. Why they felt the need to bookend this masterpiece with a pub singalong verse of "This Land Is Your Land" is mystifying but that's Scott for you.
So here we have another bewilderingly uneven album ( not the last either ) from one of our most erratic talents.