Mike Scott, the leader of The Waterboys, is standing side stage at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. It’s 1991, and he’s taking part in a multi-artist tribute to Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
“I’d prepared several Yeats musical arrangements specially, figuring all the other acts would too, but in the event they all just did their own songs,“ he recalls. “I was surprised by this and thought to myself there and then that Yeats deserved a show all to himself…”
The idea cooked slowly, however, and it wasn’t until a conversation 14 years later with long-time Waterboys fiddle player Steve Wickham that the wheels really began turning.
“The idea had slumbered for many years – during which, now and then, I’d set another Yeats poem to music. Then in 2005 Wickham did a show of his own at the Yeats Summer School, which is an annual event in Sligo where Steve lives. He did our version of ‘The Stolen Child’ (released on the seminal Fisherman’s Blues record) in his set and told me about it. Suddenly my old idea of an all-Yeats show sparked back into life and I started writing the music.”
The tunes came thick and fast and Scott found himself ready to tread softly on the dreams of WB Yeats: “A fabulous avalanche of songs and arrangements arrived – 15 or 16 in a month. For the first time I had enough for a full show and the reality began to take shape…”
The show premiered in March 2010 at (where else?) the Yeats-founded Abbey Theatre in Dublin.
The man who once pictured the rainbow had now found an artistic pot of gold at the other end of it: “The first run at the Abbey Theatre was very special indeed,” Scott recalls.
“To bring Yeats’ words to life in his own theatre – he founded The Abbey along with colleagues in the Irish literary movement in 1904 – was a terrific experience.”
Scotsman Scott, who once sang a song about his adopted hometown (he lived in Dublin for a few years from the mid-80s to the early 90s) called ‘City Full Of Ghosts’, was now walking among them.
“I could feel a power animating the performance and filling the words. It was great to play it to the Dublin audience which knows Yeats so well,” he says.
The audience are very important to this show. An attention span, not a common commodity today, is certainly required. It will bring rich rewards though.
“The show is the show, the music is the music and The Waterboys are The Waterboys,“ declares Scott. “Given that, yes, there is an effect created by the singularity of the venue, and the character of that town’s audience, of course the room will affect the performance,” says Scott.
“I always remember Liverpool Phil as a wide room with a low stage, so the band is close to the audience and the audience feels quite spread out. And being a Liverpool audience, they’re super-alive and animated. It always makes for a special show…”
He’s not wrong. When The Waterboys last played in town, at The Phil back in 2007, it was one of the most passionate performances your scribe has ever seen. Full of wonder and joy. And, not least, the unique fire and flair of the singer: “I’ve had this show percolating in my mind for twenty years. I’m still itching it and will be until I take it around the world,” he declares.
“I’m sure I’ll find I’ve learned things from this experience that will inform future work – but I don’t know what those will be yet… I’m working on other Waterboys music between times, but the two don’t overlap. An all-new Waterboys album is still taking shape in my mind.”
That’s Mike Scott for you: always on the run. But still blinded by the light.
The Waterboys perform An Audience With Mr Yeats
Philharmonic Hall, 1 February.
Tel: 0151 709 3789.