The Waterboys say farewell to ‘the big music’: Fisherman’s Blues!

The Waterboys, Spiddal House, 1988 (

The Waterboys, Spiddal House, 1988


In 1988 The Waterboys shocked the music world with the release of their new album Fisherman’s Blues. Gone was the ’big music’, which front man and main composer Mike Scott had worked so hard and diligently on. The sound that drew more and more listeners in. Everyone was convinced that The Waterboys were on the verge of a major breakthrough and were on their way to becoming one of the truly great bands. It all turned out rather differently.

The Waterboys

The Waterboys - Logo (

The Waterboys – Logo

In 1983 Scottish musician Mike Scott founded the band The Waterboys. The name was inspired by the Lou Reed song The Kids (…And I am the Water Boy…). In March of that same year the band’s first release appeared: the single A Girl Called Johnny, which is a tribute to Patti Smith. The band’s first performance was in May of 1983: at the legendary English television program Old Grey Whistle Test. At the time of the show keyboard player and singer Karl Wallinger had just been enlisted. Their debut album The Waterboys was released in July of 1983.

The band toured extensively and worked on the successor, which was released in June of 1984: the beautiful A Pagan Place. The new album was preceded by a single: The Big Music.

The Waterboys - The Big Music (single) (

The Waterboys – The Big Music (single)

The title was used (by the press) to categorize The Waterboys’ music: grand, vivacious and emotional. After the album’s release touring commenced once again and the band played their first show at the famous Glastonbury Festival.

Recordings for album number three started early 1985. At the end of those sessions Steve Wickham was asked to play violin on The Pan Within (Scott heard him play at Karl Willinger’s home on a Sinéad O’Connor demo). The addition of Steve Wickham would have far reaching consequences on The Waterboys’ future and musical route.

October 1985 saw the release of the third Waterboys album: This Is The Sea, which was considered their best effort to date by many (A Pagan Place remained my favorite). It outsold both predecessors by far. The, beautiful, single The Whole Of The Moon became a hit across Europe and Asia.

The Waterboys - A Pagan Place (

The Waterboys – A Pagan Place

For the upcoming tour Steve Wickham was added to the band line-up. However, friction within the band escalated, mainly due to the solo behavior of Mike Scott, who didn’t allow outside contribution. Karl Wallinger came to the realization his future laid elsewhere and left The Waterboys to start his own band: World Party (more on that at a later time).

In the meantime the (musical) influence of Steve Wickham was growing. Scott moved to Dublin, Ireland, and got more and more involved in Irish folk music, country and gospel. The new line-up of the band, called the“Raggle Taggle band” by Scott, toured the United Kingdom and Europe in 1986.

The band played at the Dutch Pinkpop Festival on May 19th, 1986 and some time later at the Glastonbury Festival for the second time. The concerts showed that the music was changing. The influences, of which Scott was growing fonder and fonder of, were incorporated into the setlist and resulted in beautiful, inspired shows. In 1998 a summary of these “Raggle Taggle band” concerts was released on the very impressive double-cd The Live Adventures Of The Waterboys (see the corresponding paragraph below).

Everything pointed towards Mike Scott saying goodbye to his big music, something he openly admitted to later:

I had got bored with rock and I particularly hated the process of making rock music in the 80s. The clicky drums, the snare drum drenched in echo. You could even hear it on a couple of Waterboys songs where I was battling not to be blighted. Even the promo photos that bands would do against mottled backdrops, looking goody-goody. I just fucking hated all of that.

Mike Scott

The Waterboys were moving in a new direction.

Fisherman’s Blues

The Waterboys - Fisherman’s Blues (

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues

On October 17th, 1988, three years after This Is The Sea, Fisherman’s Blues was released (number 18 in my album top 50). I don’t remember why, but I bought it later, some three weeks after the initial release (on November 3rd, 1988).

As briefly mentioned before, this album was completely different from everything that had come before. The big music was replaced by ‘smaller’ songs and performances: less is more. The contradiction couldn’t possibly have been bigger. At the time it was far from customary for (promising) pop musicians to create a new sound which comprised Irish traditional, folk, blues, gospel and country. Once again: at the end of 1985 The Waterboys were on the eve of a big international breakthrough. The single The Whole Of The Moon had introduced the band to a much larger audience, that wanted more (of the same?). Scott’s idol Bob Dylan himself called Scott “the new poet laureate of rock ’n’ roll”.

The press was completely lost by the new direction and many tanked the new album immediately. In the end Scott prevailed, because Fisherman’s Blues is the best sold Waterboys album to date.


Three years went by before This Is The Sea‘s successor was finally released. Why? In 1986 more than enough songs were recorded for a follow-up album.

The most important cause was the new way of working. Steve Wickham: “I remember we once played all the way to Glastonbury, did the gig and couldn’t wait to get on the bus and start playing again. It was a vibe amongst Irish musicians: ’I am a musician, I play.’ But for Mike – who’d never experienced this in the London rock scene – it was revelatory.”.

Mike Scott & Steve Wickham 1988 (

Mike Scott & Steve Wickham 1988

Originally Mike Scott would stay at Steve Wickham’s house in Dublin for a few weeks, but the freedom and being “far away from dry land and its bitter memories”, made him decide to move to Dublin. Mike Scott and Irish music connected big time. Scott couldn’t stop writing. Song after song after song poured out of him. On the first day of recording (January 23rd, 1986) more than enough material was put to tape for an entire album, among them the song Fisherman’s Blues, which was played regularly at the European festival tour of 1986 (as was the case at Pinkpop 1986).

However, the playing itself was so inspiring that the recording sessions went on and on. When recording, many musicians and producers stopped by, with many of them contributing to the end result: hundreds (!) of recorded songs (and versions of songs) for the fourth Waterboys album.

Looking back Scott sighed: “If only I’d known we had enough for a really great album by then. But I was still searching.”. At times, the search for the right feel seemed endless. The song In Search Of A Rose was recorded a mind-boggling 99 (!) times.

But, the result is stunning. The title song, that opens the album, immediately sets the tone for the album: inspired, driven, melancholy and still uplifting. The whole album is soaked in an atmosphere of togetherness, playing together and having fun. It’s not hard to imagine why Mike Scott got hooked to that way of working.

Spiddal House, Galway (

Spiddal House, Galway

Spiddal House

The recording sessions that ran from March 30th to June 2nd, 1988 at Spiddal House, Galway are the most favorite memory of the band and Scott. The surroundings were idyllic. The band members were living in holiday cottages around Galway. They cycled to and from the recording sessions. Scott in particular looks back with love and fondness. The recording of the song The Stolen Child, a poem by W.B. Yeats proclaimed by Tomas Mac Eoin, accompanied by music written by Scott, marked the end of the recording sessions for the Fisherman’s Blues album.

N.B.: In 2001 The Waterboys would release the beautiful album An Appointment With Mr. Yeats: W.B. Yeats poems set to music..

Years later Mike Scott would acknowledge he lost sight of the end goal, and Scott was exhausted after two years of recording and reworking. Now the difficult task of reducing the hundreds of songs to an album, commenced. Scott thought it was the hardest thing he had ever had to do. He did feel a bit frustrated by the process, since he had to discard so many songs (this frustration would be relieved later on in his career).


All songs written by Mike Scott, unless stated otherwise.

The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues - Back cover (

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues – Back cover

  • Fisherman’s Blues *
  • We Will Not Be Lovers
  • Strange Boat
  • World Party #
  • Sweet Thing $
  • Jimmy Hickey’s Waltz
  • And a Bang on the Ear
  • Has Anybody Here Seen Hank
  • When Will We Be Married trad., †
  • When Ye Go Away
  • Dunford’s Fancy ^
  • The Stolen Child poem by W.B. Yeats
  • This Land Is Your Land ¥
Written by
*   Mike Scott, Steve Wickham
  Mike Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite
#   Mike Scott, Trevor Hutchinson, Karl Wallinger
$   Van Morrison
  Mike Scott, Steve Wickham, Anthony Thistlethwaite
^   Steve Wickham
¥   Woody Guthrie


Two singles were culled from the album: Fisherman’s Blues and And A Bang On the Ear (a phrase that can be translated to a peck on the cheek).

Mike Scott 1986 (

Mike Scott 1986


To be fair, initially I too was somewhat disappointed by this album as well. The fantastic Pinkpop 1986 show did offer a major clue as to where the band was going. But I wanted more of what had come before, great songs like A Girl Called Johnny, Savage Earth Heart, Rags, Red Army Blues, A Pagan Place, The Whole Of The Moon, Spirit, Old England and This Is The Sea.

However, it didn’t take long before Fisherman’s Blues became my favorite album by The Waterboys. I play it regularly and bought all the subsequent (re)releases. As soon as the first notes to the song Fisherman’s Blues sound I get happy and am looking forward to hearing the whole album again. From beginning to end this album is fantastic. The rich music, the beautiful lyrics and all-round atmosphere make this album simply irresistible. This album can not be praised enough!

I wish I was a fisherman, tumblin’ on the seas
far away from dry land and it’s bitter memories
castin’ out my sweet line with abandonment and love
no ceiling bearin’ down on me save the starry sky above
with light in my head with you in my arms…

© 1988 Mike Scott/The Waterboys

The sequels: Fisherman’s Blues parts 2, 3, 4 and 5

As stated above, Mike Scott felt rather frustrated that he had to leave so much music of the recording sessions behind. Luckily, sequels were released, on which large parts of those recordings did get released. A total of 4 more releases would follow, all containing recordings made during the period 1986 – 1988, be it live or studio recordings:

  • The Live Adventures Of The Waterboys (1998)
  • Too Close To Heaven / Fisherman’s Blues, Part Two (2001)
  • Fisherman’s Blues, Collectors Edition (2006)
  • Fisherman’s Box (2013)

The Live Adventures Of The Waterboys

The Waterboys - The Live Adventures Of The Waterboys (

The Waterboys – The Live Adventures Of The Waterboys

This live double album was released in August of 1998. Mike Scott classifies this release as a bootleg, because the company that released the album stopped paying royalties to Scott, yet continued selling it. Initially this album was part of the official discography (located at, but was deleted when the payments stopped.

After buying the album, it didn’t leave my player for months. I was (and still am) completely infatuated with this album. Besides the fact that it contains a cover of Purple Rain, written by personal favorite Prince, recorded at Pinkpop 1986, the album is filled with glorious versions of Fisherman’s Blues, This Is The Sea, We Will Not Be Lovers (“dedicated to Atilla the Hun, Adolf Hitler, Michael Heseltine, the Blue Meanies, the Joker, the Incredible Hulk, Mrs.Thatcher”) and the complete Glastonbury 1986 concert (including a genius version of Old England). I remember vividly bringing this album on cassette to Turkey, where I spent my 1999 summer vacation. I can still see myself sitting in the garden listening to this album on my headphones over and over again. Pure bliss!

Due to the legal issues this album is not available anymore, but should you come across it: buy it, immediately. Highly recommended!

Too Close To Heaven / Fisherman’s Blues, Part Two

The Waterboys - Too Close To Heaven / Fisherman's Blues, Part Two (

The Waterboys – Too Close To Heaven / Fisherman’s Blues, Part Two

On September 24th, 2001 the compilation album Too Close To Heaven was released. It contained recordings made during the Fisherman’s Blues sessions. Long desired by Mike Scott, his wish finally came true. Discarding songs when compiling Fisherman’s Blues fell hard on him at the time. This was his first opportunity to release extra songs and he seized it with both hands.

A year later, on July 9th, 2002, Too Close To Heaven was released in the United States under the moniker Fisherman’s Blues, Part Two. The album contained five extra songs, among which was a live version of Too Close To Heaven, recorded at the Paradiso, Amsterdam, The Netherlands on November, 19th, 2001.

Fisherman’s Blues Collectors Edition

The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues Collectors Edition (

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues Collectors Edition

According to Fisherman’s Blues Collectors Edition was released on August 29th, 2006. Other (European) sources state the months May and June. I am unable to pinpoint the exact release date. All in all, Fisherman’s Blues was released as a remaster in 2006. The Collectors Edition contained a bonus cd, which, once again, contained recordings from the Fisherman’s Blues sessions.

Once more, Mike Scott appeared from the archives with a truck load of recordings he wanted to make public. The reviews at the time praised the extra songs. It re-confirmed the status Fisherman’s Blues had reached in the meantime.

Fisherman’s Box

The Waterboys - Fisherman's Box (

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Box

On October 13th, 2013, Fisherman’s Box (subtitled The complete Fisherman’s Blues sessions 1986-88) was released. A box containing 121 recordings from the Fisherman’s Blues sessions spread over 6 cd’s. The process the band went through at the time can be witnessed at last. Despite the fact the box doesn’t contain everything that was recorded, the box still is an exhausting experience. It makes Mike Scott’s task of compiling Fisherman’s Blues from all those hundreds of recordings tangible.

It does provide a fairly accurate account of the journey Mike Scott went through. He keeps on digging deeper and deeper into traditionals, folk and country. The instrumentation gets ever more rudimentary. It’s an astonishingly beautiful document of a band searching for something different, something new. It is rather moving (or striking) to conclude how all those different stages are held together by that one defining factor: Mike Scott’s beautiful/powerful voice, which remains recognizable everywhere.

I can understand that Fisherman’s Box isn’t for everyone, but if you like The Waterboys, and Fisherman’s Blues in particular, you can find more than enough to enjoy on this box.

N.B.: Fisherman’s Box does not contain the end result Fisherman’s Blues!


On the cover a part of the producers and musicians involved with the album, are mentioned. The complete list of musicians en vocalists who contributed to the Fisherman’s Blues recordings is:

Mike Scott (photo of the 'The Best Of The Waterboys 81-90' cover) (

Mike Scott (photo used on the ‘The Best Of The Waterboys 81-90’ cover)

  • Mike Scott – vocals, guitar, piano, Hammond organ, drums, bouzouki
  • Anthony Thistlethwaite – saxophone, mandolin, harmonica, Hammond organ
  • Steve Wickham – violin
  • Trevor Hutchinson – bass
  • Roddy Lorimer – trumpet
  • Kevin Wilkinson – drums
  • Peter McKinney – drums
  • Dave Ruffy – drums
  • Colin Blakey – piano, flute
  • Fran Breen – drums
  • Vinnie Kilduff – guitar
  • Noel Bridgeman – tamborine, conga’s
  • Jay Dee Daugherty – drums
  • Máirtín O’Connor – accordion
  • Alec Finn – bouzouki
  • Charlie Lennon – violin
  • Brendan O’Regan – bouzouki
  • Tomás Mac Eoin – vocals
  • Paraig Stevens – glockenspiel
  • Jenny Haan – vocals
  • Ruth Nolan – vocals
  • Rachel Nolan – vocals
  • The Abergavenny Male Voice Choir – vocals

After Fisherman’s Blues

The Waterboys - Room To Roam & Dream Harder (

The Waterboys – Room To Roam & Dream Harder

The band toured behind Fisherman’s Blues and returned to Spiddal House to record the new album. The fantastic Room To Roam was released in September of 1990. Unfortunately, during recording friction arose about the band’s future as Scott wanted to bring back some rock influences. Steve Wickham left before the Room To Roam release. The next tour was fulfilled with the use of an ever increasing number of hired musicians. By the end of 1991 Mike Scott was the only one left. Everyone else had left.

In 1993 Dream Harder was released. The music was recorded using session musicians. When Scott was unable to form a band for an upcoming tour, he left for New York and left the name The Waterboys behind: he started a solo career.

The solo career yielded two great albums: Bring ’Em All In in 1995 and Still Burning in 1997. Both albums are very good, to which the general audience remained oblivious.

But all was not lost for The Waterboys. In 2000 the name was used once more: a new album, A Rock In The Weary Land, a real rock album, and a tour was announced. The band was back. The new sound, which is best described as psychedelic rock, was not to everybody’s liking. In 2001 Steve Wickham rejoined The Waterboys. In 2003 Universal Hall was released, which seemed to hark back at Fisherman’s Blues times. In 2005 the live-album Karma To Burn was released, followed by Book Of Lightning in 2007 and a compilation of outtakes in 2008 called Kiss The Wind.

The Waterboys - An Appointment With Mr Yeats (

The Waterboys – An Appointment With Mr Yeats

The last song to be recorded during the two year Fisherman’s Blues sessions was The Stolen Child, a song that combined Mike Scott’s music with a poem by W.B. Yeats, Scott’s favorite writer/poet. For years, Scott walked around with the idea to follow up on that. In 2010 he finally got around to doing it. From March 15th to 20th, 2010, An Appointment With Mr. Yeats premièred at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, to which W.B. Yeats was closely connected during his lifetime. It was a huge success in Ireland.

The album version was released on September 19th, 2011. It’s a definite highlight in The Waterboys’ career. A rich album with beautiful music and lyrics (obviously). Scott himself called it “psychedelic, intense, kaleidoscopic, a mix of rock, folk and faery music”. The accompanying tour, which stopped by in Utrecht, the Netherlands on March 17th, 2013, was very impressive and I still consider it one of the best Waterboys shows I ever witnessed.

2011 saw the release of a second album, In A Special Place – The Piano Demos For This Is The Sea, followed by Cloud Of Sound in 2012, a cd containing previously unreleased material which was sold at concerts and were hand-numbered by Scott (only 5000 copies were pressed). In 2015 Modern Blues was released, in 2017 followed by double album Out Of All This Blue, which is also available as a three (!) double album. After all these years, Scott is still highly creative and productive.

Read more?

Mike Scott - Adventures Of A Waterboy (

Mike Scott – Adventures Of A Waterboy

Should you want to know more about The Waterboys, and Mike Scott in particular, I highly recommend Mike Scott’s autobiography, which was published in 2012, entitled Adventures Of A Waterboy. A very well written, honest, moving story. The same goes for his music: Purchase and enjoy!

In closing

By now, I have witnessed The Waterboys live five times and those were, by and large, beautiful concerts. The band is always tight, Mike Scott’s voice holds up perfectly and the songs as well. In short: what more can you wish for?

What’s your opinion on The Waterboys and on Fisherman’s Blues? Let me know, it’s highly appreciated!


Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!