How prog is The Waterboys' Mike Scott?
Whether he was leading The Waterboys or going solo, this Scottish musician has always been unafraid to hold back, so now we have to ask: how prog is Mike Scott?
On this particular midsummer’s afternoon, Mike Scott, founder and sole permanent member of The Waterboys, is sat in a tucked-away café in his adopted home town of Dublin, recalling the specifics of his adolescent prog fixation.
“Around 1971, ’72, I was a big Pink Floyd fan,” he says, the lilt of his native Edinburgh still very much apparent in his voice. “My favourite Floyd album was Meddle. I was also a huge King Crimson fan and, I have to say, a teenage devotee of Blue Öyster Cult, and especially of their Spectres album.”
Not that Scott has ever made music that sounded remotely like the Floyd or King Crimson, much less the venerable American hard rockers. However, during 30-plus years both at the helm of The Waterboys and as a solo artist, he has followed his own path just as doggedly as, say, Roger Waters or Robert Fripp.
Now 58, Scott grew up in Edinburgh wanting to be a “heroic” footballer, before discovering Dylan, The Beatles and the Stones, and being moved to pick up a guitar. He passed through the typical litany of short-lived school bands and after an ill-starred year at the city’s university studying English Literature and Philosophy, he put together one that stuck: Another Pretty Face in 1978. They managed to get a record deal with Virgin, and Scott moved to London.
Another Pretty Face got as far as being on the cover of music weekly Sounds. Scott, though, restless even then, broke the band up and assembled The Waterboys to better realise his more vaulting aspirations. They became part of a kind of movement for the first five years of their existence, with Scott as one of its totemic figureheads. This was alongside fellow 80s trailblazers U2, Simple Minds and Big Country, under the banner of ‘The Big Music’, so called after the signature single from The Waterboys’ second album, 1984’s A Pagan Place.
The next year’s This Is the Sea was their watershed. Wide-eyed and rousing, it gave them a breakthrough hit, The Whole Of The Moon, which climbed into the UK Top 30 but stalled when Scott refused to lip-sync to get on Top Of The Pops. In any case, by then he was already looking ahead to a new dawn for the band.
Soon enough, he had jettisoned that line-up of The Waterboys and surrounded himself with another, decamping with this new group of musicians to a country house on the west coast of Ireland. There, Scott aimed to conjure music of a more pastoral, soulful bent, realised on the Fisherman’s Blues album of 1988. Now regarded as his masterpiece, at the time it baffled and shed a significant portion of his band’s audience.
“I grew up in the 60s and every time The Beatles or Dylan made an album, the frontier changed, because they moved it,” Scott says today. “In the 70s, it was Bowie and Roxy Music that went on changing their musical costume. I loved that. For me, that’s what one should do with music, and it’s a natural state. At the same time, I know it’s cost me a lot of fans. The music business also isn’t geared up for rapid change, but to reward repetition.”