Celtic folk-rock band
The Celtic folk-rock group the Waterboys was originally made up of a group of British musicians from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and was formed under the direction of Mike Scott, considered one of the greatest singers and songwriters in modern music. The musical history of the group was centered around Scott’s quest to explore different genres, from Irish folk music to mainstream guitar rock. One song from the band’s second album A Pagan Place, “The Big Music,” was taken as a metaphorfor Scott’s soul-searching quest, to lose and perhaps find himself in music. As Scott told Neil McCormick in the Daily Telegraph, “Music has a life of its own.” Thus the Waterboys were credited as the inventors of the “Big Music” sound, as Scott termed it, a style of music that combined the Celtic tradition with stirring rock and passionate, poetic lyrics.
Scott, the group’s sole constant leader, was born on December 14, 1958, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His interest in music led him to create a fanzine called Jungleland, and he later played in a series of local punk groups. Scott studied English and philosophy in college, a course of study which shaped his regard for the British poets William Blake and William Butler Yeats; their words and symbolic imagery would later inspire the Waterboys’ music. Afterwards, he moved his latest group, Edinburgh’s highly touted Another Pretty Face, to London. Described as a cross between rocker Bruce Springsteen and the punk band the Clash, Another Pretty Face failed to build a successful career, and after a series of failed singles, the group broke up.
Subsequently, Scott formed the Waterboys in 1981. He chose the name after a line in a Lou Reed song called “The Kids,” as well as for his own lyrical fascination with sea imagery, a device that would often recur in his new group’s work. After placing a newspaper advertisement calling for musicians, Scott recruited multi-instrumentalist Anthony Thistlethwaite and drummer Kevin Wilkinson for the group’s self-titled debut album in 1983. With The Waterboys, the ensemble played a spirited combination of stirring rock and Celtic folk, a passionate blend of music that swelled under Scott’s unrestrained vocals and colorful guitar playing. Following the release of their follow-up album, 1984’s A Pagan Place, the Waterboys further solidified their reputation for playing their unique concoction of rock and Celtic folk. Joined now by keyboardist Karl Wallinger and trumpeter Roddy Lorim-er, the Waterboys expanded their dramatic sound and delved further into Scott’s spiritual ambitions. Although their first two albums were poorly produced, they earned considerable critical praise.
The Waterboys returned in 1985 with This Is the Sea, which marked an early peak in the group’s career. Musically, the album had something in common with rock and folk, and had eloquent, mystical lyrics that were compared to Yeats. One single, “The Whole of the Moon” seemed destined to become a major hit. However, Scott turned down an opportunity to perform on Great Britain’s Top of the Pops, a first sign of his stubborn streak that would run throughout the Waterboys’ career. He also refused to allow his record company to release singles in multiple formats including 12-inch singles, cassettes, B-sides, and colored vinyl records, which marketing departments viewed as vital to making a record a hit. Then, band member Wallinger decided toleave the Waterboys to form his own group, World Party.
In order to reinvent the Waterboys, Scott and Thistlethwaite relocated in the mid-1980s to County Galway in Ireland. “I learned a lot about being a man living in Ireland,” Scott admitted to McCormick regarding his decision to relocate to County Galway. “And I learned a lotaboutCeltictradition. It has given me a grounding. It’s one of those things: you never appreciate the place you come from. When I was a young man, Scotland was a place to get away from. I had to go to where the bright lights were…. When I went to Ireland all those illusions fell off me. My years in Ireland helped me to rediscover Scotland. Scottish culture is very close to Irish culture. The music is the same, only slightly spikier, and I got all that given back to me.”
Members include Colin Blakey, whistle, flute, organ, A A piano; Noel Bridgeman, drums, percussion; Guy Chambers (joined group C 1988), keyboards; Jay Dee Daugherty, drums; Trevor Hutchinson, bass, bouzouki; Roddy Lorimer, trumpet; Dave Ruffy (joined group C 1988), drums; Mike Scott (born Dec. 14, 1958, in Edingurgh, Scotland), vocals, guitar, piano, organ; Sharon Shannon, accordion, fiddle; Anthony Thistlethwaite (born in Leicester, England), saxophone, mandolin, guitar, keyboards, organ, harmonica; Karl Wallinger (left group c. 1985), bass, keyboards; Marco Weissman (joined group C 1988), bass; Steve Wick-ham (born in Ireland, joined group C 1988), fiddle, organ, vocals; Kevin Wilkinson (born June 11, 1958, at Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England; married Marilyn Fitzgerald, 1986; children: one son, two daughters; committed suicide and died July 17, 1999, at Baydon, Wiltshire, England), drums.
Scott formed the Waterboys, 1981; released debut album The Waterboys, 1983, followed by A Pagan Place, 1984; released epic album This Is the Sea, 1985; relocated to County Galway in Ireland, mid-1980s; released Fisherman’s Blues, 1988; released Room to Roam, 1990; Scott moved to New York City and hired new band members, 1991; released unsuccessful mainstream rock album, Dream Harder, and disbanded the Waterboys, 1993;
Addresses: Record company —EMI-Capitol Records, 1750 N. Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028.
By moving, Scott hoped to erase most traces of the group’s prior music in favor of a more stripped-down, acoustic folk sound, largely shaped by an important new addition to the lineup, Irish fiddler Steve Wickham. Also joined by three other traditional Irish musicians, drummer Dave Ruffy, keyboardist Guy Chambers, and bassist Marco Weissman, the Waterboys released the acclaimed Fisherman’s Blues in 1988. Considered a masterpiece from start to finish, Fisherman’s Blues embraced the Celtic tradition and included the last recorded song written by Scott and Wallinger (with Trevor Hutchinson) entitled “World Party.” The album also featured such rollicking songs as “And a Bang on the Ear,” “Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?,” and “When Will We Be Married?,” in addition to a cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing.” Scott continued to promote his adopted heritage on the album with the exception of two electric rock tracks, toning down his “Big Music” sound and placing his Celtic passions at the forefront for the group’s next release, 1990’s Room to Roam. Noteworthy tracks from this release, the Waterboys’ last album to feature the Irish tradition, included a rendition of “Raggle Taggle Gypsy,” the bouncy and romantic “A Man Is in Love,” and the slow-moving epiphany “Bigger Picture.” A year later, the group released The Best of the Waterboys ’81-’90, a sampling of their first five albums.
After Room to Roam, Scott left Ireland in 1991 for New York City. Here he gathered an entirely new group of musicians to fulfill his next musical ambition: mainstream guitar rock. Despite Scott’s newfound passion, most critics agreed that the Waterboys’ 1993 release, Dream Harder, failed to match the quality of the group’s previous work. Thus, perhaps feeling devastated, Scott disbanded the Waterboys for good and moved back to London shortly after the album’s release. The final Waterboys album The Secret Life of the Waterboys: 81-85 came out in 1994, a 15-track collection of outtakes, demos, radio session, concert takes, and remixes from the band’s early years.
With the Waterboys behind him, Scott pursued a solo career, releasing Bring ’Em All In in 1995. For this project, Scott reverted to his uncluttered folk acoustic style rather than making another attempt at guitar rock. While critics continued to complain about his spiritual preachings and new age idealism (he had since moved to a new age retreat in Scotland called Findhorn Community), they also complemented Scott’s effort as his most enjoyable recording since Fisherman’s Blues. Although more laid-back than the Celtic tradition of the Waterboys, Scott’s solo record contained notable songs such as “She Is So Beautiful” and “City Full of Ghosts (Dublin).”
Thistlethwaite, one of Scott’s original cohorts, released a solo project as well. Unlike Scott, he moved away from Irish traditionalism with a straight-up Chicago blues album entitled Aesop Wrote a Fable in 1995. The work was a mix of original songs and classic blues pieces by artists such as Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Peter Green, and John Mayall. The album included a horn section for three of the songs, and former band mate Wallinger made a guest appearance on piano.
On July 17, 1999, original Waterboys band member Wilkinson took his own life in Staffordshire, England. Survived by his wife Marilyn Fitzgerald, one son, and two daughters, the drummer had played with other bigname bands including China Crisis, Squeeze, Marillion, and Ultravox. He had recently completed a tour of the United States with the pop group the Proclaimers and had turned down an offerto tour with rock legend Bonnie Raitt because he wanted to take time off to spend with his family. In addition to the drums, Wilkinson was also accomplished at playing mandolin, bass, guitar, and bouzouki.
The Waterboys (EP), Ensign/Island, 1983.
The Waterboys, UK Ensign, 1983; Ensign/Chrysalis, 1986.
A Pagan Place, Ensign/Island, 1984; Ensign/Chrysalis, 1987.
This Is the Sea, Ensign/Island, 1986; Ensign/Chrysalis, 1987.
Fisherman’s Blues, Ensign/Chrysalis, 1988.
The Best of the Waterboys ’81-’90, Ensign/Chrysalis, 1991.
Dream Harder, Geffen, 1993.
The Secret Life of the Waterboys: 81-85, Ensign/Chrysalis, 1994.
musicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Daily Telegraph, September 18, 1997, p. 27.
Independent, July 23, 1999, p. 7.
Independent on Sunday, August 24, 1997, p. 12.
Irish Voice, September 15, 1995; September 26, 1995; October 17, 1995.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 9, 1996, p. 10E.
All Music Guide website, http://www.allmusic.com (August 15, 1999).
"The Waterboys." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/waterboys
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