Scottish singer-songwriter Mike Scott’s latest album with The Waterboys, a collection of songs combining his original music with Irish writer William Butler Yeats’ poems titled “An Appointment with Mr. Yeats,” took almost his entire musical career to make.
In some ways, the project started even before The Waterboys existed. His fascination with Yeats began as a small child growing up in Edinburgh. At first, Yeats was exclusively the domain of his mother — the poet was talked about around the house in “hushed, awed tones,” as Scott has revealed in past interviews. But Scott just was too young then to appreciate the winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize for literature who died in 1939.
“I was more interested in toy soldiers and the pop charts and The Beatles and football,” he said recently from New York City while rehearsing with the U.S. version of The Waterboys. The band’s extensive U.S. tour, which kicked off Friday, heads to The Egg tonight.
“I remember finding a little book on my mom’s bookshelves with the poem ‘News for the Delphic Oracle,’ and I really loved that poem. I didn’t understand it, but I loved the language, and the scenes that it painted. I guess that stayed in the back of my mind as a seed, and then seven or eight years later when I was touring America I bought myself a volume of Yeats’ poetry, and that really began an adventure for me.”
Throughout the history of The Waterboys, which initially ran from 1983 to 1993 and was resurrected in 2000, Scott has referenced various poets in his work — the title of the band’s 1990 album “Room to Roam” was taken from a poem by Scotland’s George MacDonald. The songs “Stolen Child,” “Love & Death” and “Song Of The Rosy Cross,” all adaptations of Yeats’ poetry, were also released before “An Appointment with Mr. Yeats.”
Tradition seeps in
In 1986, shortly after longtime violinist Steve Wickham joined the group, Scott relocated the band to Dublin, Ireland. During that period, traditional Irish folk music began to seep into the band’s orchestrated “Big Music” sound, a name derived from one of the band’s songs. Being in the land of Yeats didn’t really lead to a greater interest.
When: 8 tonight
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
How Much: $49.50, $39.50, $29.50
More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org
“I didn’t really go deeper into Yeats until I got married, which was 1990, and a woman from the west of Ireland gave me a wedding present of a book of Yeats’ complete poems — it’s a very beautiful volume, and it included all his obscure poems, a lot of it published in journals or as parts of his plays, all the pieces that weren’t in his official volumes of poetry,” Scott said. “And I found that an incredibly alluring book. It was once I got that book that I really started putting them to music more frequently.”
Fast forward to 2010, and Scott had 20 “collaborations” with Yeats completed. “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats” began as an almost Broadway-styled show which premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin that year.
The long gestation period for the songs — the oldest, “The Faery’s Last Song,” was written back in 1990 — was essential for Scott.
“I had to take my time with it; it wasn’t something that I could have done quickly,” Scott said. “Yeats’ words are so great — they’re as good as any poetry in the world. It’s proper world-class poetry, and so I owed it to the poems not to be slapdash about it, to take my time and to wait until I was really sure I had a body of interpretations that were first class.”
The 10-piece band for those shows included Scott, Wickham, Irish singer Katie Kim, Irish singer and guitarist Joe Chester, flautist Sarah Allen, drummer Ash Soan, keyboardist Simon Wallace, bassist Marc Arciero, trombonist Blaise Margail and oboist Ruby Ashley. This is the same group that recorded the 14-track companion album soon after. Although released in 2011 in the U.K., the album didn’t see U.S. release until March.
“It’s fantastic to play the songs live first, because it means when the band is into the studio, they know the parts, and we can build up much more energy and power in the studio performances,” Scott said. “So it was a real blessing that we’d done the show first. I didn’t do the show first for that reason — I did the show first because I’d conceived of it as a show rather than an album. ‘Mr. Yeats’ is more like a Broadway show that has a soundtrack album, rather than an album which we then played live.”
In u.s., a sextet
The U.S.-based group that will join Scott on tour is considerably smaller at only six members, and is also different from the current European-based lineup. The long-tenured Wickham, who was with the band first from 1985-1990 and now through the entire reunion, anchors the group along with Scott, with guitarist Jay Barclay, bassist Malcom Gold, keyboardist Daniel Mintseris and drummer Ezra Oklan.
“It’s quite essential because it’s too expensive to bring a European band to America with four pieces, et cetera,” Scott said. “And it resulted in me always doing short tours of the States. ... I decided to hire an American band, which resulted in about 28 dates, so it worked.”
Over the course of the band’s career, upwards of 70 people have come through its ranks. Scott admits that it has been frustrating at times, but for the past few years the lineup has been relatively stable. And with Wickham still in the group, there’s also a level of continuity and musical camaraderie as well.
“It’s one of the great musical relationships of my life — probably the best,” Scott said. “He and I know each other so well by now, and we have a great intuitive radar going on, so he intuitively knows what to play around my voice and I know how to sing around his fiddle. And it makes it great fun as well, because we don’t get bored with each other, which is an interesting thing. It’s ever-fresh — I’m not sure why that is, but I’m glad about it.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.