The Waterboys “Fisherman’s Blues”

Ultra Fidelis’ Musical Favorites

waterboys_blues

(EMI/Chrysalis LP) 1988

The early output of the U.K. based band The Waterboys was nothing if not ambitious. Founded by Mike Scott in the early eighties, amidst a London music scene that seemed to be searching for a post-punk/post-new wave identity, The Waterboys carved out a niche with Scott’s self-described “big sound”. Scott fused elements of a new wave beat with layers of Ska-styled  horns and production that wouldn’t have been out of place on a George Martin or Phil Spector project. Never “slick” affairs, the resulting first three records were just a little too heavy-handed and Scott couldn’t quite deliver on his lofty “big sound” aspirations. After Karl Wallinger’s 1985 departure to form World Party, a musically frustrated Mike Scott and longtime bandmate Anthony Thistlethwaite were persuaded by Irish newcomer Steve Wickham to spend a few days in Dublin. Three years later, the Waterboys were still in Ireland, had hooked-up with some of the country’s finest traditional musicians and eventually released what I consider to be one of the best dozen or so recordings of my lifetime. Fisherman’s Blues is quite simply a masterpiece.

The fact that it took three years of roaming around the Irish countryside, collecting musicians and material along the way, and playing endless informal gigs, will not be lost on even the most casual listener. It seems, on the surface at least, paradoxical to refer to the playing as incredibly tight and, at the same time utterly relaxed, but that’s how the record comes off. From the opening bars of the title track, which some may recall from the soundtrack of “Waking Ned Divine” (a spectacular achievement in its own right), you’ll feel like you’ve been invited into a warm country home on a chill damp evening and are sharing a truly special experience – some very old friends making incredible music together. By the time they work through a stunning cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” and deliver a half-drunken attempt to remake, or at least forgive, Hank Williams’ decadent reputation (“Has Anybody Here Seen Hank”), you’ll be convinced these folks must have been playing together since childhood. After their romp through Scott’s self-deprecating reflections on his failed love-life (“And A Bang on the Ear”), the gorgeous haunting balladry of “When Ye Go Away” and Toma McKeown’s sung/spoken version of “The Stolen Child”, a W.B. Yeats poem set to music by Scott, you won’t want it to end. For most people it doesn’t; they just start the record over again and pour another Guinness.

Fisherman’s Blues is still widely available on both LP and CD. If you’ve got a decent turntable, seek out the original 1988 pressings in favor of the “heavy vinyl” re-issue from Simply Vinyl. The former can be found relatively easily in most decent used record shops and, like so many of their other re-issues, Simply Vinyl seems a lot better at delivering a plastic manhole cover than they do at getting the re-mastering right; either they just don’t know what they’re doing or their source material isn’t a first generation master tape. Whatever the reasons, eschew the “audiophile” label and stick with the thin floppy vinyl of the eighties pressings for the cleanest sound.

-Scott

 

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