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Impressions of the Waterboy’s adventures

Julie 20, 2012

I am an ardent Waterboys fan and it is fair to warn readers that I cannot be regarded as objective in my opinion of Adventures of a Waterboy, Mike Scott’s autobiography. Therefore this is not intended to be a formal or academic review but rather my impressions of the man and the book.

A wordsmith

I raced through this memoir. It makes for thrilling reading if you’re into the Waterboys, traditional Irish and Scottish or 80’s and 90’s music – or just music in general. Scott is an accomplished musician and lyricist, as well as an entertaining writer. His writing is engaging and vivid (give or take a cliché or two) and he has a knack for characterisation that will probably make him the envy of seasoned novelists. For example, this is how he recounts meeting Irishman Steve Wickham, ‘The Fellow Who Fiddles’, after inviting him to add violin to a song on This is the Sea, the third Waterboys album: ‘When I opened the door I found a cheerful gypsy-eyed ragamuffin looking back at me. He came in, lay on the living room floor with his head propped on an elbow and proceeded to tell me his life story with endless diversions, ruminations and meanderings, all in the most charming Dublin accent. After a few hours of tales populated by charismatic characters with names like Clancy, Cooney and O’Kelly, I made Steve some ham sandwiches and tomato soup. Then we picked up a couple of guitars and bashed out the Waterboys song, Savage Earth Heart. By the way Steve played it, and though he hadn’t even picked up his fiddle yet, I knew we were going to be musical brothers.’

This piece of writing made me happy. I pictured Wickham in my mind’s eye and later, when watching a video clip of him fiddling fiercely, dancing across the stage in his baggy pants and black hair sticking out the top of his holey hat I knew I expected him to look exactly like this, courtesy of Scott’s writing.

White Heat in Ayr

Adventures of a Waterboy opens with Scott as a nine-year-old Edinburgh schoolboy, constantly hearing music in his head, ‘as always, a mighty stramash of pop melodies learned from the radio, only grander and louder and longer because in my head the music does whatever I want it to.’ (By the way, ‘stramash’ is a chiefly Scottish word for a noisy racket.)

As a teenager Scott moved to the town Ayr on the west coast of Scotland, and at age fifteen formed a garage band. This is the part of the book where I started appreciating Scott’s warm and self-deprecating humour. Once, his band, White Heat, was playing in some kind of social club in rural Scotland where the locals all seemed to have thin brick-shaped heads and a look in their eyes ‘like the flash of a razor blade.’ White Heat was playing a selection of their own punk originals as well as rebellious rock anthems, ‘… but the locals, surely wondering who the hell booked this lot, don’t get it. We even had a request of ‘play a Jim Reeves number, son.’’  Scott was ‘singing my ass off’ but ‘after every song a different brick-headed local approaches the stage, fixes us with terrible eyes and tells us to turn it down…’

After a year at Edinburgh University, during which time he attended countless punk gigs and zero classes, he dropped out and formed his first serious band, Another Pretty Face. He eventually moved to London and formed the Waterboys in 1983.

Two grand songs

Scott spends some time describing the This is the Sea album and especially how The Whole of the Moon was conceived and written. I especially appreciated how he describes each song taking on a life of its own and how he’s swept up in its flavour and personality, a feeling he describes as being enfolded in an exhilirating scent. He’d live the song’s atmosphere for days, and even when he did mundane things like shopping for milk and bread at the corner shop, the songs’ melodies and lyrics ran ceaselessly through his head with new ideas flashing into his mind at any and all times.

The first verse of Fisherman’s Blues was written on the back of his JFK-boarding pass, leaving America and returning to the UK. Half the Fisherman’s Blues album was finished in a mansion of faded grandeur in the town of Spiddal on the west coast of Ireland.  A fascinating chapter is devoted to the time recording the album here, elaborating on the traditional musicians taking part as well as the personal effect working in the charged atmosphere of Spiddal had on the band and crew. Scott saw all their essential selves being drawn out during this experience.

Difficult Mike’

There is a fair amount of hiring and firing and problems with record companies going on and Scott apparently has a reputation for being ‘difficult’. What became clear to me is that he is a perfectionist and wished to see the final product as he envisaged it; the music he heard in his head, the music instructing him. It seems reasonable to me.

Scott and Wickham

The bond between Mike Scott and Steve Wickham was a special one and Wickham’s seemingly intuitive and definitely soaring fiddle-playing complemented Scott’s distinctive and passionate vocals. But after a painful divorce which left Wickham a shadow of his former, joyful self, combined with disagreeing with Scott on the direction the Waterboys was taking, he left the band.

Scott and Wickham were reunited in 2000 but there were initial glitches. Scott remembers that while they were trying to work together a (long-overdue) heated argument ensued; ‘…words hung lividly in the air above our heads … and then evaporated. For a while the eruption had exposed the unspoken undertows of our past, it had another more profound effect. As we sat facing each other, scoured and unburdened of our baggage, a deep recognition passed between us. Steve’s jet-black eyes glittered at me and I knew who we were: two musical soulmates. And none of the other stuff, the who did what to who back when, mattered a jot. What mattered was the deep feeling of old comradeship and something that felt a lot like love.’ That comradeship continues to this day. The Waterboys continue to record music and tour, with Wickham a prominent member.

2000 and on

The book chronicles Scott’s life up until 2000. He considers distance to be important in writing a memoir because hindsight puts things in perspective. He does not think that the things which have happened to him since 2000 are in a bookable perspective yet.

Still something of an enigma

It seems to me as if Mike Scott is a genuinely humble man and I enjoyed his talking about Findhorn, the New Age community in the north of Scotland where he found a spiritual home. I must admit that I was not looking forward to this particular chapter but his humour made for pleasant reading. He also met Janette, his second wife, at Findhorn, and the tale of their courtship is rather touching.

Apparently Scott is a private man, too, which may explain why he divulges so little personal information. He does not ponder the reasons for this first divorce nor does he explore his feelings after finding his father thirty years after the latter walked out on them. What is clear from reading the book, however, is his deep love for Janette.

I don’t have a problem with the relative lack of personal (or intimate) information; after all, Adventures of a Waterboy is about Scott the musician. In fact, I prefer Mike Scott to remain something of an enigma.



Autobiography of a Waterboy has been released in hardcover format by Lilliput press and paperback publication through UK publisher Jawbone Press will follow in August.

The picture was taken for Fisherman’s Blues album, in front of the Spiddal Mansion of Music.

6 Kommentaar leave one →
  1. Wynand Venter permalink
    Julie 20, 2012 4:37 NM

    Felt a lot like love

  2. Julie 22, 2012 5:44 AM

    Vir my, as ‘n mede Waterboy-aanhanger, was hierdie nou regtig lekker en interessant om te lees, Nadia! Ek gaan my bes doen om hierdie boek in die hande te kry!

  3. Hesti permalink
    Julie 31, 2012 2:10 NM

    Mmmm ou Nadels nou het jy my hartsnare weer laat roer. Ek was mal oor die Waterboys in die dae van Chris Prior toe hy hulle aan my bekendgestel het. Ek gaan maar wag vir die sagteband en hopelik sal Astian, wat nou in ‘n garage band speel, vir die eerste keer begin lees.

    • Augustus 6, 2012 10:47 AM

      Ai Hes, ek wens ek het in jou Melville-dae geweet van ons gedeelde belangstelling! Ons kon Waterboys parties gehou het 🙂 Watter instrument speel Astian?

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