Waterboys: This Is The Sea Page 2

The album starts with 'Don't Bang The Drum', co-written with Wallinger. The song's intro is a tantalising minute or so of Roddy Lorimer's mariachi-style trumpet playing over an abstract wash of sound, before the song gets underway in dramatic fashion. Thistlethwaite's throaty tenor sax plays around Scott's scat singing, while the latter's rhythm guitar scrubs away underneath.


The band's current lineup live on stage during their Autumn 2021 UK tour

Sophisticated Sonics
Scott said in 2011: 'I think the recording technology of the day fostered the "big" sound. This was the era of big snare sounds, and newly developed reverbs and echoes that added depth and space to records. And after the primal return to punk of several years earlier, people – listeners and those who made records alike – were ready to have a more sophisticated sonic experience again.'


Mike Scott pictured in 1991

On the song, drummer Chris Witten plays a foursquare 4/4 with a big, gated reverbed snare. By the mid-'80s, employing this technique – like a snare drum on steroids – seemed to have become almost obligatory. It was intended to make the music sound more powerful, but had the effect of isolating the drum from the rest of the kit. Scott, who mixed the song, exercises a modicum of restraint here, unlike some of his peers, and the effect was only employed on a few other tracks on the album.


The sleeve of the band's 1984 single 'The Big Music'

Scott was particularly fond of W B Yeats and would go on to record an album in 2011 based on his poetry, An Appointment With Mr Yeats. But at the start of the group's best-known song, 'The Whole Of The Moon', he seems to be channelling William Blake with, 'I pictured a rainbow, you held it in your hands'. The production is layered, with Wallinger's keyboards set back in the mix. Lorimer was encouraged to adopt a more classical approach and his multi-tracked piccolo trumpets evoke the flourishes of Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto via The Beatles' 'Penny Lane'. Scott is urged on by backing singer Max Edie and Anthony Thistlethwaite's sax makes a late, dramatic entry.


Shot of Scott used to promote the band's 2021 box set The Magnificent Seven

'The Whole Of The Moon' is a five-minute mini-epic, but the album isn't all music for visionaries on windswept mountaintops. 'England Is Dying' is overtly political, an attack on the inequalities exacerbated by Margaret Thatcher's government. Scott describes the country thus: 'Its clothes are a dirty shade of blue/And its ancient shoes worn through'. Thistlethwaite gives an impassioned sax commentary to shuffling drums and an insistent piano figure, accompanied by tolling bells.


Scott is currently on tour with The Waterboys with dates in the UK throughout 2023

Imagine That
'The Pan Within' is a journey of spiritual self-discovery based on the elemental image of the nature god with some Dionysian fiddle playing by Steve Wickham. By contrast, 'Be My Enemy' has the edgy rockabilly feel of Bob Dylan's 'Tombstone Blues'. Scott runs through a series of near-biblical plagues visited upon the protagonist, who remains defiant throughout: 'They were all sent by someone, obviously you/Well if you'll be my enemy I'll be your enemy too'. Meanwhile, on the drumless, piano-led 'Trumpets', The Waterboys employ an unusual but effective combination of saxophone and celeste. It's a love song with impassioned imagery ('Your mind is like a church with wide open doors').

Van Morrison's influence comes across most clearly on the album's title track (which also closes the record). 'This Is The Sea' is a redemptive, rhapsodic excursion over a simple chord sequence. Scott sings 'Once you were tethered, now you are free/That was the river, this is the sea', over acoustic guitars, brass and Marek Lipski's violin.


The singer pictured in the late '80s

The album's nine tracks were just the tip of a creative iceberg that produced ideas for around 50 songs, and the many studio sessions yielded some top-quality outtakes, including the driving rocker, 'Sleek White Schooner' and the Bruce Springsteen-esque 'Beverley Penn'. Scott told Dave DiMartino of Creem magazine in 1986: 'It's about time I wrote a bunch of real great songs. The songs I've been writing are good, but they're not great'.

But they were good enough. This Is The Sea reached No 37 in the UK album charts, which was The Waterboys' first Top 40 entry, and although the group has reached the Top 10 since, it was this album that established their sound.

Folk Lord
Or did it? Scott surprised many by following the LP in 1988 with the more acoustic, folk-oriented Fisherman's Blues. Since then he's continued exploring both this rootsier style and a big rock sound, telling Uncut magazine in 2004: 'It's been a marvellous, magical, twisting, turning path and I follow my fascinations'. That's certainly in keeping with his original definition of The Waterboys as 'something fluid and ever changing'.