- 15 Aug 18
As The Waterboys get ready to perform at Bulmers Live at Leopardstown, Steve Wickham ponders their endless push to avoid repeating themselves, and recalls an evening in the company of Shane MacGowan and hundreds of close personal friends.
From the byways of Edinburgh to the verdant reaches of the west of Ireland, via New York, Dublin, Memphis, Findhorn Bay and most everywhere between, what a long strange trip it's been for The Waterboys. As Hot Press catches up with the Celtic troubadours, their latest port of call is a village in the far south of Norway where the mountains are dramatic, the lakes dark and mysterious.
"The people here are very tall and very blonde," says violin player and long-time Waterboy Steve Wickham, "and they used to do this thing where they would clap slowly to show you how much they loved what you are doing. 'It's a slow handclap, but it means 'We love you'. When we first came about 30 years ago, they used to do it. Now it seems to have died out. They just go nuts like everybody else."
The Waterboys are not a band to sit still. Having more or less invented big-sky pop early in their career and later spliced epic rock and Irish folk on Fisherman's Blues, lately the group, led by the indefatigable Mike Scott, have set sail for even more eclectic waters. Memphis-style retro rock was the defining characteristic of 2015's Modern Blues, while last year's Out Of All This Blue incorporated hip hop, beatbox and electronica and yet somehow cleaved to the Waterboys' wonder-filled tradition.
"You can't please everybody," says Wickham. "We've been able to make records for the past 35 years. Mike's repertoire is huge. He has literally hundreds of songs. On the new tour, we do four or five classics - 'Fisherman's Blues' and so on. But it's really about what he is feeling at the time. We do get great joy out of new material."
The Waterboys were already a going concern when Wickham struck up a friendship with Scott. He'd learned violin growing up on the northside of Dublin and, even outside The Waterboys, has a claim a little piece of rock history, having played on U2's 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday'.
The story of how Wickham ended up on that record is fabulously Irish. A friend in school had told him about U2 and, spying the The Edge at a bus-stop one afternoon, the young musician walked up and touted his services. Some time later came a rap on the door of the Wickham family home in Marino - The Edge, wondering if he could take Wickham up on his kind offer.
As Scott's foil in The Waterboys Wickham is irreplaceable. He is behind many of the group's standout moments - most notably the keening solo on their great anthem, 'Fisherman's Blues'. As with any partnership the pair have had their ups and downs. Wickham can't, one imagines, have been especially impressed when Scott put The Waterboys on hold in the 90s to embark on a solo career. But today they are as close as ever and their creative partnership remains strong.
"We've known each other for 35 years. We've gone through a lot of life. As my sister says, we are brothers from another mother."
Wickham was back in Dublin at the start of the year to pay tribute to his old pal - and cousin through marriage Shane MacGowan, at the Pogues man's National Concert Hall 60th birthday bash alongside Bono, Johnny Depp, Nick Cave and others.
"It was a great honour to play with the Pogues," he says. "There's some energy there - an amazing punk energy. I know they are not Irish and are perceived as Irish ... But many [second generation Irish] in the UK are more connected to their identity than Irish people. It was great fun."
The Waterboys play Bulmers Live at Leopardstown tomorrow night, August 16.