Best albums of 1988: #3 The Waterboys “Fisherman’s blues”

In a previous post on these pages, I told the story of how I worked in the tool rental industry in the years immediately following graduation and during this time, met a guy named Chris, whose last name may now forever escape me, and with whom I shared musical tastes. Often while working together, we would talk music and share concert stories and recommendations and often with him, The Waterboys would be mentioned. I think the first time the name came up was after I told him about how much of a Wonder Stuff fan I was. After that, he would ask me, “Did you listen to them yet?” (‘them’ being The Waterboys), to which I would ashamedly shake my head in the negative. After a few weeks of this, I finally gave a listen to the title track off “Fisherman’s blues”, one of three albums he listed as recommended (“you’ll love any one of them”). I did enjoy the song but then, later the same evening, I heard it again during the opening credits of “Waking Ned Devine”, a film I had randomly picked to go see at my local rep theatre. It then seemed to me fated that I should fall in love with the song. I went out to buy the album shortly afterwards on CD and fell in love with the whole darned thing too.

The Waterboys are mainly the musical vehicle for creative force and frontman Mike Scott. He formed the group in 1983 and, save for a few years where he released work under his own name, the band has been a going concern with a rotating cast of characters. The only other long standing member that is with the group to this day is Irish fiddler Steve Wickham, who helped along the first change in sound after joining the force in 1985. Prior to the fourth album, which is the album of our discussion today, The Waterboys’ music was post-punk based with only hints of folk. “Fisherman’s blues” came out of lengthy recording sessions in Ireland and was heavily influenced by the traditional folk music of that country. It divided listeners at the time between those fans that wanted more of the ‘big music’ and those that loved the new sound. Nowadays, though, it is widely considered the band’s masterpiece.

The mass amounts of recordings that resulted from the year long sessions were such that, more than a decade later, Scott was able to put out a whole other excellent album, a sequel of sorts, from the pieces that didn’t make the original cut. That also means to me that “Fisherman’s blues” is a complete album, devoid of filler, and almost impossible to distill down to three picks for you. Still, I have managed a close approximation. Have a listen.

”Strange boat”: Track number three is a mellow number on the album. Acoustic strum, lazy beat and bass just plod along as a Mike Scott throws out a number of metaphors for this bizarre journey we call life. “We’re living in a strange time, working for a strange goal. We’re turning flesh and body into soul.” But if that sentiment’s not beautiful enough for you, Steve Wickham takes the song out of pedestrian territory with his heaven-meandering fiddles.

”And a band on the ear”: Track seven is nine minutes on the album and was released as the second single in a six and half minute version. It’s a lively, boppy jam that gives guest musician, Máirtín O’Connor, lots of room to prowl with his accordion and of course, Wickham to flail us again with his fiddles. It just begs for you to get up and dance. Meanwhile, Mike Scott regales us in each verse of tales of past loves, saving the best (and current) one for last. “So my woman of the hearthfire, harbour of my soul. I watch you lightly sleeping and sense the dream that does unfold (like gold). You to me are treasure, you to me are dear so I’ll give you my love with a bang on the ear.” And if you’re wondering, “bang on the ear” is not threatening violence but an expression of Celtic origin that refers to an affectionate kiss.

”Fisherman’s blues”: Though as mentioned above, the title track and first single off “Fisherman’s blues” was my introduction to the band, this is not the only reason it’s still my all time favourite Waterboys track. The other reason is more obvious than that, it’s just pure awesome. Here, Wickham’s fiddles are paired with Anthony Thistlethwaite’s mandolin. The two together create a raucous kitchen party all by themselves and the bass and drums can’t help but follow their jaunty lead and Scott yelps enthusiastic “Woo!”s in spite of himself. The lyrics describe Scott’s yearning for a simpler and freer life, like that of a fisherman or train engine driver, at the same time knowing that such a life is not without pitfalls. However… “Well I know I will be loosened from bonds that hold me fast, that the chains all hung around me, will fall away at last. And on that fine and fateful day, I will take me in my hands. I will ride on the train. I will be the fisherman.” It does sound very romantic in his words and music, doesn’t it? Woooo!!!

Check back next Thursday for album #2. In the meantime, 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”

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

Vinyl love: Crash Test Dummies “The ghosts that haunt me”

(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: Crash Test Dummies
Album Title: The ghosts that haunt me
Year released: 1991
Year reissued: 2019
Details: Black vinyl, reissue

The skinny: A couple of songs from this very album have already seen the light on these pages: the Winnipeg folk-rock band’s cover of The Replacements’ “Androgynous” and their first huge and at the time ubiquitous hit, “Superman’s song”. It was in that latter post that I went on about how I bought the cassette tape on the back of that song, how it spent a lot of time in my Walkman, and how I likely would’ve worn it out had it not been stolen first. I also mentioned how I would love to have it on vinyl and since that time, noticed that the Crash Test Dummies’ sophomore album, “God shuffled his feet”, was getting the reissue treatment. And yeah, it probably did better commercially but I was still partial to the debut so I held out. One day last month, I was scrolling through the Amazon Vinyl pre-orders list, as I sometimes do, and I found this sitting there for the taking. There was no hesitation. I received it a few days ago and it’s already hit my platter a few a go-rounds. Just like the old days.

Standout track: “The ghosts that haunt me”

Live music galleries: Spirit of the West with the NAC orchestra [2007]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

Spirit of the West with the NAC Orchestra, July 2007

Artist: Spirit of the West performing with the NAC orchestra
When: July 21st, 2007
Where: Orchestras in the park series, Lebreton Flats Park, Ottawa
Context: For the longest time, Spirit of the West was the band I had seen the most times live (that mark recently was surpassed by Stars), not just because they were a Canadian band that toured its own country frequently but more because they have long been one of my favourite bands. The second time I saw them live is also quite memorable because it marked the night Victoria and I got together and the rest of the times I saw them after that, we saw them as a couple. But I’m now talking about the final time we saw Spirit of the West and it was all the more special because they were performing a free show with the NAC orchestra as part of their Orchestras in the park series. The much loved Canadian Celtic folk rock band had released its final album, “Star trails”, three years before and was one year removed from releasing a career retrospective collection called “Spirituality”. That night, though, the majority of the set came from 1996’s “Open heart symphony”, an album they had recorded with Vancouver’s symphony orchestra, because, as they said, they didn’t often get the chance to perform those songs live as they were meant to be heard. However, they did perform a handful of their hits as ‘encore’, like “Home for a rest” and the song referenced below, “And if Venice is sinking”. As a special bonus, if you click on that link below, you can actually watch the performance of it from this very show through the magic of YouTube. Enjoy.
Point of reference song: And if venice is sinking

Hugh McMillan, Vince Ditrich, and John Mann of Spirit of the West
Geoffrey Kelly and Tobin Frank of Spirit of the West
Vince Ditrich, John Mann, and Geoffrey Kelly of Spirit of the West
Vince Ditrich and Tobin Frank of Spirit of the West – “That’s amore!”
John Mann of Spirit of the West

(P.S. For those of you living in Toronto or within striking distance, I strongly recommend you consider a tribute show being held a week from today at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, in the name of lead singer John Mann, whom many of you know is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. Last I checked, tickets are still available here. I would love to go myself, unfortunately, it’s just not feasible.)