- 17 Oct 19
31 years ago today, The Waterboys released their classic album, Fisherman's Blues. Recorded in Windmill Lane Studio and Spiddal House in Galway, the album marked a major new direction in the band's sound, incorporating elements of traditional Irish music. To celebrate, we're revisiting our original 1988 review of Fisherman's Blues.
Although The Waterboys are too conscious of rock'n'roll tradition to ever be regarded as 'seminal', the diversity that has marked their output thus far draws obvious parallels with the small cadre of artists who set trends rather than following them. While their first two albums boasted an aura of stark austerity, 1985's This Is The Sea heralded a new and vibrant urgency, driven by a full-bodied and crescendo-ing guitar sound. And Fisherman's Blues? Well, that's something else again...
The main development on this often epic voyage is the way in which The Waterboys have so completely embraced the Celtic Muse - which has ironically become such a vogue since Mike Scott first began to immerse himself in its mysteries. Indeed, it's hard to believe that an element now so intrinsic to The Waterboys' sound has never before been committed to vinyl and, to that extent, much of Fisherman's Blues will be déja vu to those who've followed the band over the last three years.
Both the title track and Van Morrison's 'Sweet Thing' are long-time favourites, for example, and are given fine renditions here, the former especially notable for Anto Thistlewaite's frantic mandolin and the latter for Mike Scott's powerfully soulful vocal excavations. But, as Jimmy Cricket would say, c'mere there's more… this time around, the 'Boys have expanded their musical vocabulary to the Wesht, judiciously plundering the rich heritage of that area in their effort to plunge ever more deeply into the mystic.
This influence is mainly evidence on Side 2, not surprisingly recorded in Spiddal in Galway, Captain Scott leads the way with the Connemara romp, 'When Will We Be Married?', before sailing on to more poignant territory with the hauntingly vulnerable 'When Ye Go Away'. The segue into Steve Wickham's onrushing fiddle instrumental, however, shows just how effortlessly The Waterboys can span the Emotional A-Z: what Paddy Moloney might call 'a lively little number', 'Dunford's Fancy' sounds like something even poor oul' beleaguered Peig might have shook a leg to, way back when.
Whether or not The Waterboys were instilled with a love of Irish Country music during their sojourn in the further flung regions of this fair isle, I do not know. What I can assert without fear of contradiction, however, is that my favourite tracks on this fine album are those with a country-tinged flavour. For its understated, self-effacing humour, 'And A Bang On The Ear' deserves specific commendation but the real gem is the utterly sublime 'Has Anyone Here Seen Hank?' With Steve's wayward fiddle substituting for pedal steel, Mike Scott is at his formidable best, wearing his heat unashamedly on his sleeve and singing like a demand: "I don't care what he did with his women/I don't care what he did when he drank/I want to hear just one note from his lonesome ol' throat/Has anybody here seen Hank?"
Although it has taken nearly three years of admittedly sporadic recording to complete, from here on, Fisherman's Blues seems set for fair weather and a storm-free passage to the upper reaches of the charts. It is, to paraphrase Carol King, a tapestry of rich and royal hue. Make sure it adorns your home.