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

100 best covers: #69 Cornershop “Norwegian wood (This bird has flown)”

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Chances are pretty good that if you haven’t heard tell of Cornershop, you’ve likely heard their huge, worldwide hit, “Brimful of asha”, bolstered in large part by the fabulous remix by Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook. The original version of that track appeared on Cornershop’s third album, 1997’s “When I was born for the 7th time”. The album was released just past the apex of the Britpop craze and though neither their sound, style, politics, or ethos necessarily matched up with others from the scene, they were still lumped in with that lot simply because they were there. It was likely thanks to their appearance in the British music magazines I was in the habit of purchasing when I had the coin, and the aforementioned ubiquitous hit, that I purchased the album on CD during my final days of university*. And though I did like a lot of its tracks, it took me a few years to really appreciate what Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres were doing. There was so much going on here – psych, funk, rock, dance, ambient, and traditional Indian music – and the culmination of all this was summed up in this fun cover of The Beatles’ “Norwegian wood (This bird has flown)”.

The original, I’m guessing, needs no introduction. Recorded way back in 1965 for the album “Rubber soul”, “Norwegian wood” is widely considered to be one of the first instances of ‘Raga rock’ and was also highly influential on the burgeoning psych rock movement. The song was written by John Lennon, apparently about an extramarital affair, with contributions from Paul McCartney, its composition inspired by the folk ballads of Bob Dylan. But it all really came together when George Harrison added a touch of sitar, an instrument he had just recently discovered and had started to learn, and all of a sudden, we had our first Western rock song to feature the Indian traditional stringed instrument.

So, in fact, it’s quite compelling that Tjinder Singh, whose band name was a play on the stereotypical vision of Indian immigrants in England, would choose to cover this particular track. Reportedly approved by both Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, his cover translated the words to Punjabi, upped the sitar focus, and in a sense, whether intended or not, reclaimed the use of the instrument and shone a spotlight on his heritage.

It’s never a fair game to try to rank a cover against a Beatles original but I definitely think Cornershop’s version of this track is worth your time. What are your thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

*”When I was born for the 7th time” eventually wormed its way deeply amongst my favourites of 1997, one of the greatest years for music (in my opinion), and landed on my top ten when I counted them down a couple of years ago.

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

Best tunes of 1992: #20 R.E.M. “Sweetness follows”

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If you were alive back in 1992, you knew R.E.M.’s  “Automatic for the people”. If not the whole album, at the very least, one of or a handful of its six (!) amazing singles.

I had already become a fan of R.E.M. by the time it was released, having discovered them with 1988’s “Green”, bought a copy of 1991’s “Out of time”, and gone back to explore their back catalogue, I was eagerly awaiting this album’s release. When I originally heard the first single, “Drive”, I knew we were in for it. And we definitely we. Now more than 25 years after its release, it is easily considered their finest hour. It was also a huge commercial success, selling millions upon millions worldwide and obtaining platinum status, in some cases multiple times over, in more than ten countries.

It was the singles that I loved from the beginning and they were definitely great but I’d be hard-pressed to point out a weak song on the album. And nowadays, it’s the less obvious that have stuck with me and become favourites. Case in point is today’s focus, “Sweetness follows”. It was never released as a single and is almost hidden on the album at track six, just behind the lone instrumental tune on the album. But it is there nonetheless. Beautiful.

I think its inclusion on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla sky”, almost a decade later, was what did it for me. The film itself wasn’t wonderful, a Hollywood remake of an excellent Spanish film, and starring Tom Cruise, but the soundtrack was a masterpiece. Glancing at the names, you might be forgiven for calling it eclectic. Listening to it, especially as a backdrop to the film, is a whole different experience and it almost saves the film, giving it its overarching mood and surreal feel. This song’s appearance late in the film was a pleasant surprise but while watching it play out, I realized that I may have not ever listened to it properly before that moment.

The reverberating and distorted cello shares a space with an acoustic strum, a sustained organ wash, and of course, Stipe’s inimitable vocals, forelorn, sad, and lost. It is all about death and loss and darkness and of course, the sun rising after the bleakest of nights, washing away the dread and sadness and the most heart-wrenching of nightmares.

“Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.”

Yep. Beautiful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.