When I was 17 or 18 I loved to sneak into our living-room at home while everybody else was sleeping to listen to The Waterboys or A Pagan Place. Just like the seafaring men had discovered new continents, I had just come across these two records. As the needle touched the vinyl with a softly cracking noise I put on the ear-phones and lay down on the brown coloured eighties couch. At that time we lived on the second floor of a stonemason’s house and the tombstones were spread all around the house. Every now and then the room was illuminated by the headlights of passing cars. A lonely lantern’s dim light spread itself into the corner with the TV-set, and only the seasons seemed to change its density. Lying on my couch I flew through winter, spring, summer and fall; with the wind and rain pushing against the window or ice crystals covering the glass.
But wintertime was the most precious time. The world was a space where everything was slightly dampened and the snow-covered streets and fields were overlayed with a pale, blue-white colour. Those nights I kept my eyes open while the music glided though my world like a ship through a cold, rough sea. Snowflakes were spinning upwards against the lantern’s light – almost dancing, slightly revolving – only to finally disappear onto the ground.
Snow, silence, winter. These are some of the coordinates on a large map, which Mike Scott, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of the Waterboys, uses as a guide on his travels through strange countries and oceans. Sometimes these ships, like the red-sailed the Marlene, can bring its crew even up to the gates of Paris.
‚December is the cruellest month, but this time - for once - my cheeks are warm...’
The first time I saw The Waterboys was one evening while sitting together with two friends for an editorial meeting. At that time we were publishing our own magazine in a small run. Along the way the TV had a Rockpalast feature on. Or at least I think that is what it was. Talk Talk had just played, left the stage and on came – dressed in black leather gear – the Waterboys. They started to play. I could not recall having heard the name before but I liked the symbolism in it and learned later, that it was taken from a Lou Reed song. The first song they played was All The Things She Gave Me. It started like a storm and I was electrified. We put down the pencils and fully concentrated on the show. The presence of the music and the singer was compelling. They continued, played A Girl Called Johnny and finally The Red Army Blues and Savage Earth Heart. Only once before I had such an experience: when I heard Bob Dylan for the first time a couple of years before. Something caught me. Something that I did not know of, that seemed to be part of me so much. That helped my thoughts to find their path. The very next day I went to the record store and got myself A Pagan Place. And the following day I bought their debut The Waterboys.
The debut album starts with December, being the morning star in Mike Scott´s universe. The perfect music for lonely nights and snow covered streets in front of your door. Music, which can help to lead you to a safe shore across a turbulent sea. It is almost a physical process to witness the colours, sounds and stories intertwine while listening; creating a shivery and oscillating atmosphere.
These days I do not spend my nights in my parents` living room to listen to music. These days I retreat to the backroom of an ancient house, whose windows are facing the market square of a medieval town. Friends of mine have rented that secluded room together with me. A place to retire and listen to music, read literature, recite poems or make photographs. Everything is left just like it was fifty years ago. And between plain and inornate wallpaper sticking on old newspaper, an old green sofa, a more than a hundred year old tiled stove, the old Philips reel to reel tape recorder, given to me by an old friend, and a record player I have started again to listen to music by nights. And even if my musical spectrum has increased enormously, I still enjoy listening to the Waterboys. Without my ear-phones on. Music just played for itself and true really seems to be rare these days.
It is quiet outside and – almost like the planks on a ship at sea – the old floorboards of the room vibrate slightly from the bass sounds. Everything seems to come back to me. Like then I can almost hear the colours when Gala breaks out of the loudspeakers. A composition of flickering lights, the trying to bond a cracked soul, carried by a voice of anonymous times. And transcendentally this music seems to take possession of a room. Even before Mike Scott´s voice sets in. The piano, starting first tentatively with single small jingles, breaks away and then, together with the drums and the bass, they lament themselves into an ecstatic uproar. Finally collapsing and giving way to the piano driving further to a minimalist drum beat. Like the steady noise of a rudder dunking into a virgin sea. Taking it into a never-ending universe escorted with airy, floating chords, covered with a peculiar colouring, driving it easily into the next level of a strange world. Mike Scott sings the way a narrator would tell his stories.
When I close my eyes I can see that girl in the window cross staring out on the sea. And all of a sudden I find myself sitting in a ship’s stern behind some fishermen. Half the night they have been outside on the rocking waves. And while they round the ship, they cast the net once more. I crouch down further backward, still trying to hear their chant, and when they pull our frightend souls aboard, I can see Gala’s soul amongst them. The frightened off child that we once knew and were ourselves. At the end of the song the bass drum reverberates for quite a while, sounding like a fading heartbeat that slowly sinks into the depth of a dark sea.
Why did this music touch me so much and never really let me go? It might be true in its roughness, its mysterious nature, in its promise. It might have opened up a door and given me the invitation to pass through its hallway, discover other rooms and open up more secret gates. But most of all, as its vastness will never fade to inspire my imagination. Songs like I will Not Follow, It Should Have Been You or Savage Earth Heart exist in their own universe.
Mike Scott has recorded most of the songs on this album by himself. An offbeat guitar and a piano accompanied by the sound of the legendary drum-computer TR-606 create this particular sound. Later he kept on recording further brilliant songs with numerous other musicians, amongst others with the grand violinist Steve Wickham.
Will a musician know which impact his music can have on the listener? Most probably not. Once the act is completed, it liberates itself from the artist and leads a fully independent life. Kandinsky stated that the art was eternally free. But can the artist be fully decoded? Is that not irrelevant? Are not legions of Dylan-scientists just hunting their own primal sensation? And does not every new interpretation simply lead them away from their own, real and non-transferable inner picture? Then again the artist will never appreciate why his work is loved.
Mike Scott turned fifty these days and his voice has kept the unbowed intenseness of a lucid flame. Scott rightly belongs among those singers, whose forceful impact can grasp hope and tragedy of an entire life. The scholar of Blake and Yeats has become a poet himself. As if using a scalpel, he sets his words unerringly through the blood vessels right in the nerve centre.
This morning the postlady has delivered a parcel and I would swear she winked at me. The parcel contained the latest issue of the Believer, a magazine from San Francisco. As it grew dark outside, I removed the enclosed CD and took the shortcut through the two narrow alleys to the old house on the market square. I took the straight stair, the floorboards creaked under my steps and in the dark I fumbled for the key above the door. Mike Scott has recorded the more then ten minutes long A Wild Holy Band especially for this issue. I turn it on and the music starts. Like a ship leaving the harbour, bidding farewell to those left ashore. A ship carried out on the high seas by the arising winds, on an eternal quest for truth.
And as Scott´s voice comes in, I wish the winter had found its way into the streets outside and covered them with a white powder right in the middle of August.
I walked out stunned and liberated and soon began my travels.
The captain of a ship called the Waterboys.
© M. Moravek/J. Moravek