Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #8 The Waterboys – Friday, July 12th, 2013

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

The Waterboys live at Bluesfest 2013

Artist: The Waterboys
When: Friday, July 12th, 2013
Where: Claridge Homes stage at 8:00pm
Context: This Waterboys set on a Friday night seven years ago allowed me to cross a band off my list of bands that I needed to see, of which I never thought I would see, and they did not disappoint. Mike Scott came out on stage in a town in which he had never before performed, took off his sunglasses, and said, “Okay, Ottawa, let’s take a look at you.” Then, he led his band right into “Strange boat” from the classic album, “Fisherman’s blues”.

Indeed, having been at this for a long time, Mike Scott had a lot of material to pull from and played a set of tunes from all different parts of his career under The Waterboys moniker. Their sound has changed quite a bit over the years but what has never changed is Scott’s incredible talent for lyrics and storytelling. The band membership also has been quite fluid over the years. The band touring North America with Scott that year was one that he had put together himself just for this purpose and considering that most of the material was likely new to them, played it like it was second nature. The standout member, of course, was fiddler Steve Wickham, who was an honest-to-goodness member of the band in the late 80s, when “Fisherman’s blues” was written and recorded. You can just feel the chemistry and history between Wickham and Scott as you watch them perform together. Yes, Wickham is just as much the performer as Scott himself.

The Waterboys played for just over an hour, squeezing in most of their more popular tracks, certainly all of my favourites, save one (“Glastonbury song” from 1993’s “Dream harder”), but I was only half expecting that one. They even played a couple of new tracks, both of which had a bit of blues rock feel, and as Scott said, “It is a blues festival, right?”

My wife Victoria at one point turned to me and said, “They’ve waited too long to come to Ottawa.” And I’m pretty sure the crowd, which was for the most part of the older persuasion, would have agreed and most seemed pleased with the set. When it ended, one would almost say abruptly, the crowd managed to drag the band out for an encore, for which Scott and company covered an old traditional gospel tune, “Will the circle be unbroken”. And this was a perfect ending for me.

Mike Scott and Malcolm Gold
Steve WIckham of The Waterboys
Mike Scott
Malcolm Gold and Jay Barclay of The Waterboys
Steve Wickham duelling with Jay Barclay and Malcolm Gold
Steve Wickham duelling with Mike Scott
Mike Scott getting theatrical in a two-faced mask

Setlist:
Strange boat
Fisherman’s blues
A girl called Johnny
I’m still a freak
The girl in the swing
We will not be lovers
Raggle taggle gypsy
Mad as the mist and snow
The whole of the moon
I can see Elvis
Medicine bow
Don’t bang the drum
Encore:
Will the circle be unbroken

Vinyl love: The Waterboys “Fisherman’s blues”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Waterboys
Album Title: Fisherman’s blues
Year released: 1988
Year repressed: 2015
Details: 180 gram, black vinyl, 2006 remaster

The skinny: You might remember that this particular album hit the number three spot on the Best albums of 1988 series I did back in the summer. In that particular post, I spoke about how I came across the album and its incredible title track but I was remiss in not mentioning how obsessed I became with it and through repeat listens managed to get my wife into it as well. So of course, when I saw a 180 gram reissue of it on a record store shelf one day, I had to add it to my collection. It’s some great stuff for a Sunday morning spin.

Standout track: “Fisherman’s blues”

Best albums of 1988: #1 The Pogues “If I should fall from grace with god”

Yeah. These guys. You know them. You love them.

Though it’s likely they didn’t actually invent the whole Celtic folk punk genre, The Pogues certainly popularized it, inspiring a whole boatload of next generation musicians to form bands like Flogging Molly, The Dropkick Murphys, and The Mahones. Interesting, then, that the group was formed in London, rather than Dublin, and only ever included two Irish born members in their large and rotating contingent.

Getting started in 1982 with original members Shane MacGowan, Spider Stacy, and Jem Finer, their name evolved out of an anglicisation of ‘póg mo thóin’, celtic for ‘kiss my arse’. The Pogues released a total of seven studio albums before calling it quits in 1996. However, for many, there’s only two albums in their catalogue (their second and third) that really mattered and between those two, the debate rages on over which is the superior.

For me, “If I should fall from grace with god” only just wins out over “Rum sodomy and the lash” and it is the mere presence of one great, transcendent song that will surely be discussed a little later that does the trick. Both albums are solid and complete albums. Where “Rum” is slightly more focused on the Celtic folk punk sound, however, “If I should fall from grace” branches out quite a bit more, dabbling and cavorting around the world of music. Many of the band’s contingent have also pointed to this album as their favourite and best, agreeing that nowhere else were they as on their game. And it’s true that as varied as the songs are across the track listing, nothing feels amiss or disjointed. An amazing feat considering the varied sounds and instrumentation that make up its whole and the contributions that included an additional eight musicians to the eight players that made up the band at that particular time.

There are fifteen tracks in total on “If I should fall from grace with god” from which I could have chosen my three picks for you, and one was a given, leaving me two. It was an onerous task but I perservered. You’re welcome.


“If I should fall from grace with god”: From what I’ve read, the title track on the album was originally recorded for the “Straight to hell” soundtrack, albeit at a slower speed. I’ve never heard it but don’t think I’d want to. The pace of the version on the album seems perfect to me, a rousing bar number that feels precariously close to shambles. And that’s the beauty of The Pogues, especially on this album, where the musicianship is so tight it feels loose and free. And I feel a lot of the credit has to go to the frontman at the time, the notorious Shane MacGowan, a deceptively great songwriter whose growling and screaming vocals create an energy all of their own. The rest of The Pogues’ cast can only help but follow along, navigating such speeds by the seats of their pants. “If I’m buried ‘neath the sod but the angels won’t receive me, let me go, boys.” Indeed, Shane, indeed.

“Thousands are sailing”: Starts off haunting with a pluck on the banjo and a hollow, echoing flute, sounding like they’re being played by the ghosts in the profound depths of the coffin ship’s hull. The music gets more spritely from there, gentle on the verses, just enough to urge MacGowan along with accordion melodies and incidental drumming, but picks up substantially at the choruses, drumming heavy handed and accordion, mandolin, and banjo becoming a hootenanny, almost drowning out the singing. Phil Chevron’s words as sung by MacGowan, though, never stray from the heartbreak, sowing the tale of thousands of Irish immigrants and of those who never actually survived the trip to the US shores. “Ah, no, says he, ’twas not to be. On a coffin ship I came here. And I never even got so far that they could change my name.”

“Fairytale of New York”: Not only is this now considered one of the all-time great Christmas tunes, ranking up there with Nat King Cole’s iconic “Christmas song”, Bing Crosby’s ubiquitous “Little Drummer Boy” duet with David Bowie, and Band Aid’s fundraising theme “Do they know it’s Christmas time”, but it’s also one of my all-time favourite Pogues tunes. At it’s heart, it’s a story of love that’s lost and found again on Christmas day, all brought to life by the excellent imagery of characters created in the juxtaposition of the rough and raucous voice of Shane MacGowan against the beautiful pipes of guest vocalist Kirsty MacColl. Her call and response banter, matching MacGowan’s snarl and rasp with just the right degree of attitude and defiance, really makes this song the classic that it is. Her disillusioned muse ‘character’ holds nothing back, even the love that she unbelievable still feels for the character of her drunken partner in MacGowan. The lyrics are grittier here than you would normally expect from a heartwarming Christmas tune but these just make the softer moments all the more mind blowing. Witness below:

Kirsty:
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you…

Shane:
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you

Indeed, my wife Victoria loved these lyrics and the sentiment of building your dreams around someone you love so much that she insisted we work them into our own wedding vows almost 10 years ago. Who was I to argue?


In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”
9. Erasure “The innocents”
8. Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”
6. Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”
5. R.E.M. “Green”
4. Pixies “Surfer rosa”
3. The Waterboys “Fisherman’s blues”
2. The Wonder Stuff “The eight legged groove machine”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.