The Waterboys introduce ‘the big music’ on A Pagan Place

The Waterboys - The Big Music - Poster (waterboys.co.nf)

The Waterboys – The Big Music – Poster

I have heard
the big music
and I’ll never be the same

© Mike Scott

Introduction

Part 1 in the 5-part mini-series ‘Classic releases in the month of June 1984‘.

Like I wrote earlier in the article on Fisherman’s Blues, A Pagan Place was my favorite album by The Waterboys. The second album shows a significant change, or rather progress, when compared to the debut album. A short look back at a beautiful album, which would ring in one of the greatest months in the history of pop music.

The Waterboys

The first album by The Waterboys had been more of a solo endeavor by Mike Scott. The record label initially marketed the band as The Waterboys featuring Mike Scott. The first recordings were done in November 1982, with the help of Anthony Thistlethwaite and Kevin Wilkinson. Around the time of the debut album’s release a band was virtually non-existent.

Further recordings were done in 1983, around the time a band began taking shape. Besides the three names mentioned above, Karl Wallinger was added to the line-up and live performances could finally be contemplated. The very first gig by The Waterboys took place on February 19th, 1984.

A Pagan Place

The Waterboys - A Pagan Place (mikescottwaterboys.com)

The Waterboys – A Pagan Place

Recordings took place even before the first single (A Girl Called Johnny) and the debut album (The Waterboys) were released and the world was introduced to The Waterboys.

Two recording sessions yielded the songs:

  • November 1982 at the Redshop Studio in London
    recordings with Mike Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite and Kevin Wilkinson
  • September 1983 at the Rockfield Studio in Wales
    recordings with Mike Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite, Karl Wallinger and Kevin Wilkinson, later accompanied by session musicians

Mike Scott’s idea to create grand, compelling music was fully developed for the first time on A Pagan Place and it immediately gelled. It’s an impressive album with beautiful, oftentimes moving, songs. Mike Scott made an album that sounds exciting and exuberant to this day.

The music and atmosphere on the album varies from post-punk (yet soulful), folk and rock to ecstatic new wave. The main thing each listening turn leaves behind is the passion.

Church Not Made With Hands immediately sets the tone. Rich, spacious, enthusiastic, big and great lyrics.

She is in the head and heart
She is in the swing
She is in the seasons’ stately slow procession
Across great seas she travels
up through rising lands
She is everywhere and noplace
Her church not made with hands
Uncontained by man

© Mike Scott

The following two songs (All The Things She Gave Me and The Thrill Is Gone) deal with the ending of a relationship. Thematically, both songs should be turned around. In The Thrill Is Gone the singer says the things aloud, both lovers already know.

I’m too tired to deceive you
I can’t pretend there’s nothing wrong
Who’ll be the first to say it
that the thrill is gone
and we’ll never get it back

© Mike Scott

All The Things She Gave Me basically deals with the period following the break up. What to do with everything you built together, gave and received?

The first side of the (vinyl) record was closed by Rags. A highlight in The Waterboys’ body of work and (subsequently) on this album. Such power, such drive, such passion. A vicious rocker, that keeps on going. The musical outro is stunning and exciting. I am so happy to have seem them play this song live (during the impressive 2012 An Appointment With The Waterboys tour).

You and I are like two worlds
not meant to collide
Death to each other
in the unravelling of time
So tell me, how do you..how do you…
how do you…how do you like it?
What kind of…what kind of…
what kind of dream would you call it

to have one foot in Eden
one foot in Hell
to be always numb
plagued by demons
summoned by angels
at the same time endlessly?

© Mike Scott

Goose bumps!

The Waterboys - First show (mikescottwaterboys.com)

The Waterboys – First show

The original B-side to the album opened with skiffle/folk like Somebody Might Wave Back. Funny lyrics:

Somebody says
what are you waving at?
But what do I have to lose…
somebody might wave back

© Mike Scott

The musical theme song to The Waterboys’ music is summarized in The Big Music, see the lyric placed atop of this article. The optimistic song is addictive and emblematic to what is considered “big music”.

The next song Red Army Blues (officially called Red Army ★ Blues on the cover) is an important song, not just for The Waterboys.

Why? When the album was released the Cold War had reached its pinnacle. Mutual trust was at an all time low and the main consensus was that a full blown nuclear war was inevitable. The great thing about the song was that it gave a human face to Russia and its youth, with a story that harks back at the last great war (in the West that is): the Second World War. The lyrics are beautiful, thoughtful and takes the listener back to that era. A world feat.

When I left my home and my family
my mother said to me
“Son, it’s not how many Germans you kill that counts
It’s how many people you set free”
So I packed my bags and I brushed my cap
and I walked out into the world
Seventeen years old,
never kissed a girl

© Mike Scott

For those who are interested. Should you want to read the complete lyrics, click below.

N.B: Later, Mike Scott changed the phrase “Son, it’s not how many Germans you kill that counts / It’s how many people you set free” to “Son, it’s how many Germans you kill that counts / Go set your country free”. It seems Mike Scott changed the phrase after being criticized over the initial lyrics that were deemed too idealistic and unrealistic. (thank you to Michael Atkinson for providing this info).

The song had been previously released on the B-side to the 12-inch to the song December, which was released in 1983. The song is inspired by the book The Diary of Vikenty Angorov.

N.B.: Somehow I have always felt that the song was placed at the wrong position on the record. It may have worked even better as the closer to side A.

But the best has been saved for last. A ludicrously good song, that moves me to tears. Mike Scott’s way of singing, the wall of (acoustic guitar) sound, supplemented with minimal percussion is ominous and inspiring. When he sings “Drink my soul dry / there is always more” and “Look into my face and see the heart of man”, I believe him.

The Waterboys - A Pagan Place - Ad (waterboys.co.nf)

The Waterboys – A Pagan Place – Ad

Review

After A Pagan Place nobody could discard The Waterboys. Besides The Cure, The Clash, U2, Echo & The Bunnymen and Simple Minds another band had risen that was potentially capable of reaching a large audience without squandering their artistic integrity. The talent was obvious, the passion unparalleled and the songs too good. The music, the band and the album are sincere.

In contrast to a lot of music from that era, A Pagan Place still doesn’t sound dated, 35 years later. Passion plays a part, but the use of analog instruments as well. The Waterboys would continue to create timeless music throughout their entire career.

Release date

It’s tricky to pinpoint the exact release date of A Pagan Place. Consensus on the month has been established: June 1984 (one of the most important months of all time release wise). In the liner-notes to the re-release Mike Scott himself states that the release took place in July 1984, but this is wrong. Some time ago I found a source (a site containing lyrics to the songs), which dates the release on May 29th, 1984. It is most certainly possible. Yet, I nominate June 1st, 1984. On the one hand due to the consensus on the month and on the other hand because of the fact that the first ads and reviews for the new album were publicly available on June 2nd praising the album.

The Waterboys - A Pagan Place - Singles (discogs.com)

The Waterboys – A Pagan Place – Singles

Singles

Three singles were culled from the album:

  • The Big Music
  • Church Not Made With Hands
  • All The Things She Gave Me

The last two weren’t released in the UK.

Songs

All songs written and produced by Mike Scott, unless stated otherwise

Song Recordings Musicians
Church Not Made With Hands Island, Autumn 1983
Advision, Spring 1984
Roddy Lorimer: trumpet
Mike Scott: vocals, guitar, bellzouki, piano
Anthony Thistlethwaite: bass, saxophone
Kevin Wilkinson: drums
All The Things She Gave Me Redshop, November 1982
Farmyard, Spring 1984
Tim Blanthorn: violin
Nick Linden: bass
Mike Scott: vocals, guitar, bellzouki, piano
Barbara Snow: trumpet
Anthony Thistlethwaite: saxophone
Kevin Wilkinson: drums
TV Smith, Ingrid Schroeder, Karl Wallinger: background vocals
The Thrill Is Gone Redshop, November 1982 Tim Blanthorn: violin
Mike Scott: vocals, piano, guitar, Rhodes piano, bass
Kevin Wilkinson: drums
Rags Rockfield and Farmyard, Autumn 1983
Maison Rouge, Spring 1984
Roddy Lorimer: trumpet
Mike Scott: vocals, bellzouki, guitar, bass
Anthony Thistlethwaite: saxophone, bass
Karl Wallinger: Hammond organ
Kevin Wilkinson: drums
Somebody Might Wave Back Redshop, begin 1984 Mike Scott: vocals, guitar, mandolin, vibra-slap
Karl Wallinger: piano, conga
The Big Music Rockfield and Farmyard, Autumn 1983 Roddy Lorimer: trumpet
Eddi Reader: background vocals
Mike Scott: vocals, bellzouki, guitar
Anthony Thistlethwaite: saxophone, bass
Karl Wallinger: piano
Kevin Wilkinson: drums
Red Army Blues Redshop, November 1982 Ingrid Schroeder: background vocals
Mike Scott: vocals, guitar, piano, bass
Anthony Thistlethwaite: saxophone, mandolin
Kevin Wilkinson: drums
A Pagan Place Rockfield and Farmyard, Autumn 1983 Roddy Lorimer: trumpet
Mike Scott: vocals, bellzouki, guitar
Anthony Thistlethwaite: saxophone
Karl Wallinger: piano
Kevin Wilkinson: drums

N.B.:
A bellzouki is a twelve string electric guitar, that was made in the 1960’s by the firm Danelectro.

Bellzouki (pinterest.com)

Bellzouki

Re-release

The 2002 re-release contained a number of extra songs, of which Some Of My Best Friends Are Trains was placed between Rags and Somebody Might Wave Back.

Mike Scott wrote in the liner-notes:

For this re-issue I’m delighted to include several tracks that weren’t selected then, and to restore the unedited versions of “All The Things She Gave Me” and “The Thrill Is Gone”. These two songs were cut at Ensign’s insistence in order to keep the lengths of the album sides down to 21 or 22 minutes (for sound quality reasons). But the full length versions have always been the “real” ones to me, and now, at last, they can be released.

© 2002 Mike Scott

The Waterboys - A Pagan Place - Re-release (stereomembersmagazine.com)

The Waterboys – A Pagan Place – Re-release

In closing

With the release of A Pagan Place The Waterboys demanded their own place in the 1980’s music world. The next album This Is The Sea and the single The Whole Of The Moon would fullfill the promise. Next, The Waterboys’ career took a u-turn, much to the chagrin of men in suits. Also see the story on Fisherman’s Blues.

What do you think about The Waterboys and A Pagan Place in particular? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Waterboys introduce ‘the big music’ on A Pagan Place. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

2 comments

    • Ivonne on 06/01/2019 at 10:19 PM

    A pagan place on my walkman when on the bike to school! I always remember that feeling! Still love the waterboys after all these years and saw them in the roundhouse in camden last friday and saterday in fopp in govent garden, love them always

    1. I agree, they are truly magnificent.

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