‘As I watched the changing tapestry of the days unfolding before me and bellow me I started seeing the world through new eyes. I began to understand the mysteries of landscape: how every bluff, outcrop, hill and promontory had its significance,that each part of the landscape ‘spoke’ to every other part in a language beyond words. And I became aware of a subtle presence, a lingering sense of past, which cloaked the west of Ireland like another dimension as if older times were here simultaneously, overlaid one on another like wavelengths.’
This poetic passage depicting how the beauty of landscape can inform the soul was not written by a pre-eminent Irish writer from the earlier part of the 20th century.
But the language of Mike Scott’s memoir, Adventures of a Waterboy, is heavily influenced by the Anglo-Irish-literary tradition.
Growing up in Edinburgh in the 1970s, Scott knew very little about Irish culture, apart from a few Yeats lines he learnt at school.
Musically, Scott looked to the leaders of the punk movement— Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and Patti Smith —for inspiration and cultural sustenance.
In 1986, he found himself at a crossroads. This is the Sea had achieved significant success in the charts. The Waterboys, off the success of their third album, could have easily leapfrogged into the soulless-corporate-quagmire of stadium rock.
That January, Scott haphazardly boarded a plane to Dublin. The day he arrived, news had just broken about the death of Phil Lynott. As Scott gazed out at a sullen Dublin sky, a westward journey— that would encompass a spiritual and musical reawakening— had begun.
Like a mythical troubadour, Scott began roaming the rugged countryside of Spiddal, Ben Bulben and The Aran Islands, connecting immediately with a sense of history, which both the people, and the landscape, offered him.
“For me, coming to Ireland was finding the culture that my grandmother lost when she left the Hebrides and went to mainline Scotland. She was a Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Mull, and when she was a teenager, she moved to Glasgow, where the language contact was broken. Consequently, my mother never learned Gaelic,” he says.
“When I discovered people speaking Gaelic all around me, in the west of Ireland, it was like finding that lost culture. It was very romantic and enticing to find myself in that environment. Even though I didn’t speak Irish, I did pick up a lot of words. I felt very close to many of these old-world-characters that have since vanished in Britain, but still linger in parts of Ireland. I think the Celt is a creature of imagination, whereas I think the Anglo-Saxon culture is more ordered and less imaginative.”
As he became acquainted with local traditional players— as well as more established Irish musicians, who would shape the folk-influenced, Fisherman’s Blues record— Scott began to study Irish mythology and folklore – devouring any books had access to. This added a new dimension to his song writing process, he says.
“Daniel Corkery’s The Hidden Ireland taught me about the poets and the pipers in the 17th and 18th century. James Stephens’ fairy novels The Crock of Gold, The Land of Youth and The Demi-Gods, all brought me to an esoteric-fairy-Ireland.”
In his memoir, Scott vividly recalls a session he played in The American Bar on Inis Mór, with a group of local musicians from Bun Gowla—the westernmost village of the island— as wilder than any stage he has played on at Hollywood, New York, London or Glastonbury.
As his ferocious appetite for Irish music rapidly increased, so too, did Scott’s penchant for the pints of porter that accompanied each session, he says.
“I woke up one morning, and my first thought was: when am I going to have my first pint of Guinness? I realised that if I didn’t stop drinking, it would become problematic, so I made a conscious decision to give up booze in 1991. I was really bored with getting drunk, and having hangovers, it was fun for a while, but it got very stale, and I wanted my life back.”
After six years, Scott decided that he had pushed his Celtic dream to the limit, and decided to leave Ireland. While enjoying the camaraderie and community spirit of Irish musicians, he recognised that two powers had the nation by the throat: each was black, with a white collar, he says.
“So many of my Irish friends have this problem with self esteem, and how they feel about themselves, and I think they’ve been hobbled by the influences of the Catholic Church, and its teachings— which is mainly all about guilt.”
Scott felt so strongly about the findings of The Ryan Report in 2009, that he marched— along with Irish folk singer, Declan O Rourke— for people who were sexually abused by clergy-members of the Catholic Church.
In 2011, The Waterboys released their tenth studio album, An Appointment with Mr Yeats: Scott’s musical interpretation to the great Irish poet. As he returned to the landscape— artistically and imaginatively —Scott says he realised how much it pervaded his consciousness.
“It was in Spiddal House, County Galway, where I first put music to The Stolen Child. Travelling in the west, gave me a sense of that visual landscape in Yeats’ poems: Gort, Knocknarea, and Lough Gill, I know these places extremely well. I never forget how the west of Ireland makes me feel, just like I never forget how I feel about Yeats’ poems,” he says.
Catch the Waterboys live this summer…
Saturday, July 14
Hebridean Celtic Festival, Isle Of Lewis, Scotland
Tickets: 01851 621234
Friday, July 20
Iveagh Gardens, Dublin
Sunday, August 19
The Beautiful Days Festival, Escot Park, Devon
Tickets: 0871 220 0260
Saturday, August 25
Solfest Festival, Cumbria
Tickets: 01900 602122