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Catching up: The Waterboys, Fisherman’s Blues

[The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues]

One of my favorite albums of the late ’80s is The Long Acre by In Tua Nua. At the time, I was frustrated by the band’s lack of press in the U.S. If they were mentioned at all, it was in passing.

U2 starts a vanity label! (Oh, and there’s In Tua Nua on the roster.) Sinéad O’Connor wrote her first songs as a teenager! (Oh, and there’s In Tua Nua who co-wrote the single.)

So in 1988, I read an article about the Waterboys in Pulse magazine, and it mentioned In Tua Nua’s former violinist Steve Wickham had joined the band. That alone got me interested in Fisherman’s Blues, but since these were the days when radio or record store listening stations were the only way to preview music, I had to calculate how badly I wanted to hear this music.

And it turns out … not that much, really.

I left the album on the shelf and thought little about it till recently.

Much like Tracy Chapman’s Crossroads, I would encounter Fisherman’s Blues as I hunted the used vinyl bins for other albums. Each encounter would scratch that decade’s old itch of curiosity. I eventually bought the album on CD before becoming enamored enough to grab an old vinyl copy.

I do know one thing — I wouldn’t have appreciated the album had I bought it when it first came out.

I hadn’t yet gotten my schooling in traditional Celtic music, and I would have found Mike Scott’s voice grating. And I don’t know if I would have found may way back to the album if it confounded me on first impression.

Bands such as Clannad and Capercaillie skew closer to the traditional side of their Celtic/popular fusion. The Waterboys are a rock band first. Wickham’s violin lines pull the band’s songs toward the past, but they never lose their footing in the present.

Teenaged me would have lost patience with the album’s longer tracks, but older me appreciates their length. The cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” quotes the Beatles’ “Blackbird”, a spontaneous moment that works well. “And Bang on the Ear” needs all seven minutes to get through its story.

The bonus tracks on the CD expand on the Celtic influence, but the fewer tracks on the original vinyl pressing give it clarity.

Upon its release, reaction to the album was divided — the Celtic direction confused some listeners and pleased others. I fall into the latter camp, but I had a lot of help to get me there.

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