Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – The Waterboys’ Mike Scott

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: the folk-rock icon takes the test

1
Which two chart positions did The Waterboys’ single ‘The Whole of the Moon’ reach on the UK Top 40?

“Number 26 in 1985 and Number Three in 1991.”

CORRECT.

“When it first came out, the Number 26 chart placing was disappointing, but I wasn’t surprised because I  thought the label had the wrong strategy when it came to our releases. I always thought the song deserved to be a hit, so I glad when it became one six years later. In the rave scene, the DJs had been playing it on the Balearic Islands so I knew there was a lot of demand for it.”

2
Which Las Vegas band covered ‘The Whole of the Moon’ when they played Scotland’s TRNSMT festival in 2018?

The Killers?”

CORRECT. Frontman Brandon Flowers declared it “one the finest songs I’ve ever heard”.

“They also played it at a big open-air show in Dublin. One of our backing singers was standing at her window, heard it playing and thought: have I missed a gig?!”

It’s a song that’s been tackled by many, many artists including Frightened Rabbit and Bleachers

“One of my favourites is a gay disco version by Boys of a New Age from 1998. It’s all programmed synthesisers and it’s seriously funky. They do a naughty thing I approve of where they change the first line from ‘I pictured a rainbow / You held it in your hands’ to just a repeated ‘You held it in your hands’, so it has a different meaning!”

Famously, Prince did a rendition and there was speculation that it was about His Purpleness for a while. Did you ever talk to him about it?

“No, we never met. He was a big influence on the sound of the track. It wasn’t about him, but our keyboard player Karl [Wallinger] and I were huge Prince fans, and we caught certain sounds from his records which we transformed into our own thing and put on ‘The Whole of the Moon’. That [Prince rumour] came from me writing on the record sleeve for a joke: ‘For Prince, U saw the whole of the moon.’”

3
Which chart-topping artist made her United Kingdom live debut as backup singer on ‘The Big Music’ at a Waterboys’ London concert in 1985?

Sinéad O’Connor.”

CORRECT.

“She turned up with one of the record label guys and she was already in her very beautiful green stage dress. I knew her a little bit because she’d just been signed to the label we were on, Ensign records. We hadn’t spoken to her about singing with us, but the record label guy pleaded: ‘It’ll break her heart if she doesn’t get to sing. Come on, you’ve got to let her do it. She’s learned the song’. So we said alright, and she’d learned the song perfectly and was really great.”

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4
Onstage in Oslo in November 2019, what did you jokingly offer to sell for $300 each?

[Hearty laugh.] “Two Morrissey albums customised by me.”

CORRECT. On one Moz album you’d written ‘Morrissey is a twat’. 

“This was because I’d seen online that Morrissey was selling, as part of his merchandising, copies of classic albums not by him, but signed by him, like Iggy Pop’s ‘Raw Power’ and Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’, for $300 each. I thought it was a fucking rip-off and a joke, so I sent one of my techs to a local shop and he brought back a couple of Morrissey albums that customised and then jokingly offered to the audience for inflated prices like Morrissey had done.”

Did Moz ever see it?

“I never heard from him, but some of his fans were predictably pissed off about it!”

One of the records that Moz signed was ‘Transformer’ by Lou Reed. The Waterboys took its name from a lyric his song ‘The Kids’. Ever meet him?

“I met Lou at a gig in New York, and I had the presence of mind to thank him for all his influence and his music. I’m glad I did that, because when I met David Bowie at a party, I didn’t do that and was a bit cheeky and addressed him as ‘Dave’. He was cool and came to several Waterboys gigs before he died, so he must have been some kind of fan. But I was a vast fan of his and I wish I’d taken the chance to tell him.”

This is just GREAT!!!Mike on Morrissey's merchandise scam :-)Sentrum Scene, Oslo, November 1st 2019

Posted by Dag Reinert Johansen on Saturday, November 2, 2019

5
When you recorded The Waterboys’ 1988 album  ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ in Ireland, a member of your party was chased by a chef brandishing what?

“Our roadie was chased by a chef with a shotgun!”

CORRECT.

“We were recording in the west of Ireland. We hired this big house to record in and… he kept trying to get our attention and would suddenly turn up in the control room with trays of alcohol, trying to get into our good graces. We liked him, but we were busy recording and we hadn’t much attention for him, and it sent him over the edge. On his payday, he went and got very drunk and came back into the house with a shotgun and was looking for the man that had hired him – which was my co-producer John Dunford!”

At the time, it was a massive departure for a rock band to swap guitars for acoustic Irish folk as you did on ‘Fisherman’s Blues’…

“After making our first recordings in that ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ style, I took the tape to [label boss] Nigel Grainge at Ensign  and he couldn’t understand what we were doing at all. He thought I’d get it out of my system in a couple of recording sessions and then I’d go back to making angst-filled big rock music. But that didn’t happen.”

Did he envisage you as being as big as U2?

“I don’t know if I would have been happy with that. I couldn’t have done the career moves that were necessary to get there. I couldn’t make incrementally similar records. I had to go where the music was taking me, so that precluded me from taking that route. I also never really liked playing huge gigs – I like seeing the whites of eyes and being able to smell the audience.”

6
In 2007, choreographer Christopher Bruce created a new work of ballet using six songs from The Waterboys’ 2003 album ‘Universal Hall’. In which German city did it premiere?

“I’ve never heard of this!”

WRONG. It premiered in Mainz on 8 November 2007. He created the new work for the ballettmainz of the Staatstheater Mainz, using the album songs ‘I’ve Lived Here Before’, ‘Always Dancing, Never Getting Tired’, ‘Peace of Iona’, ‘Seek the Light’, ‘The Christ in You’ and ‘The Dance at the Crossroads.”

“That doesn’t ring a bell – I’ve either never known this or have completely forgot!”

7
In 1984, Bono included The Waterboys’ ‘December’ in his Top 10 Records of 1983 for Rolling Stone magazine. Name three other bands in his chart.

[Laughs] “I don’t know!”

WRONG. Among others, you could have had: Simple Minds’ ‘Waterfront’, The The’s ‘Uncertain Smile’, “T Bone” Burnett’s ‘Proof Through the Night’, The Alarm’s ‘The Stand’, and R.E.M.’s ‘Murmur’. How did it feel to be grouped into the rousing mid-’80s breakout of Celtic bands known as ‘The Big Music’ (the genre took its name from your 1984 single) that included U2 and Simple Minds?

“It didn’t feel like we were part of a movement. We toured with U2 and Simple Minds, but we didn’t feel like we were the same kind of band as them. They were bands that were prisoners to their equipment: U2 couldn’t sound like U2 if you took all their sound away. When we toured with them, I used to like doing a solo acoustic number. That was my statement of saying: ‘If the song’s good enough, it can be sung with just an acoustic guitar’. As much as I liked and respected those bands, we felt like we were very different from those bands and never agreed we were part of ‘The Big Music’ movement.”

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8
In which 2013 film does former Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke perform a cover of ‘Fisherman’s Blues’?

“It’s the film that stars Jude Law, but I can’t remember the name of it.”

WRONG. It’s Dom Hemingway (which does indeed star Law).

“I didn’t see the movie, but I saw the clip of her singing ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ and it was really good. I love it when people do something a bit different with my songs – like Ellie Goulding’s version of ‘How Long Will I Love You?’, which had beautiful string arrangements that changed the sound of it completely.”

Ever turned down your music being used in a film or an advert?

“In 1998, I turned down £150,000 for ‘Glastonbury Song’ to be used in a German cheese advert starring Michael Schumacher.”

9
Name the venue and city of The Waterboys’ first ever gig.

Our first show was at the Batschkapp Club in Frankfurt in February 1984.”

CORRECT.

“In my memory, it was quite a decent-sized venue but I went back in 2001 and I couldn’t believe how small it was. It was like going  back to your old school and it suddenly seems really small.”

Tell us about your new The Waterboys’ album ‘All Souls Hill’ due in April 2022…

“I produced about two thirds of it with [Manchester producer] Simon Dine, and we worked by correspondence. He’d send me these mash-ups and tracks and out of every 10 he’d send me, I’d listen to one and think, ‘That gives me an idea’, then take it further and send it back to him. ‘All Souls Hill’ came about unexpectedly. I’d already finished what I thought was going to be the next Waterboys’ record, where the songs all have one theme – I can’t say what that theme is, but it’s not Donald Trump [his latest single ‘The Liar’ takes a swipe at the former President]! But then I started doing these tracks and decided to jump a record and release ‘All Souls Hill’ first.”

10
In which sitcom does Graham Norton sing a lyrically-incorrect version of a Waterboys track with a youth group in a caravan?

Father Ted!”

CORRECT. In the 1996 episode ‘Hell’, where Norton plays Father Noel Furlong.

“That’s one of my favourite versions of ‘The Whole of The Moon’ – absolutely brilliant! I love the way he gets the words deliberately wrong.”

Did you ever had any Father Ted-style moments when you lived in the spiritual community of Findhorn in Scotland the ’90s?

“When I was in the Findhorn community, I was the most well-known musician by the world outside, but my status as a rock‘n’roller didn’t count for much in the community. The first time I asked to play their weekly Community Concert variety show, I had to go and see this touch American lady and she said sternly:  ‘You can have three minutes and don’t go over it!’. Some people might have taken it as a knock to their rock star ego, but I knuckled under and kept my songs to under three minutes.”

Didn’t you end up taking unusual workshops as well?

“Yeah, I once did a men’s sexuality workshop with 20 other men and it was a brilliant experience. The group leader brought in a sack of clay and said: ‘Right today lads, we’re going to sculpt our erect penises!’ This wave of fear went through the group! [Laughs] I’m telling you the funny things, but I had some profound life-changing experiences living there.”

The verdict: 7/10

“I’m pleased with that score!”

The Waterboys’ new albumAll Souls Hill’ is released 22 April 2022. Their latest box set,  ‘The Magnificent Seven: The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues/Room To Roam Band, 1989-1990 ’ is out now

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