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The Waterboys, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham | reviews, news & interviews

The Waterboys, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

The Waterboys, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

A rousing 25th anniversary celebration of Fisherman's Blues

Mike Scott: forgiven for The Levellers?Paul MacManus

It’s now twenty five years since the release of the Waterboys’ most popular album, Fisherman’s Blues. To mark this auspicious occasion, Mike Scott has persuaded EMI to release a six-CD expanded version, Fisherman’s Box, which has 120-odd tracks of the type of music that, let’s not forget, did not receive universal acclaim in 1988 but has significantly grown in stature since then.

He’s also called in the guys who recorded these folk, gospel, country and bluegrass flavoured tunes and has hit the road for a proper celebration of their “raggle-taggle gypsy” years.

The Birmingham leg of the tour landed at one of the city’s more unlikely venues, the New Alexandra Theatre, which is more used to pantomimes and drama of a non-musical kind than born-again folkies. There was even a lady walking up and down the seats, selling ice creams, after Freddie Stephenson and Joe Chester had finished their acoustic hippy/folkie support set. Nevertheless, the place was absolutely packed with couples in their forties and fifties, with a sprinkling of younger people.

Mike Scott of The WaterboysJust before the lights went down, the DJ span a tune that seemed to mix the Captain Pugwash theme tune up with the Beatles’ “Tomorrow never knows”. It was a strange and neat little taste of the evening that we were about to enjoy. The main event began with Scott (pictured right), in his floppy hat and specs, striding onto the stage with his acoustic guitar, playing “Strange Boat”. He was joined, one-by-one, by violinist Steve Wickam, Anthony Thistlethwaite and his mandalin, bassist Trevor Hutchinson and Ralph Salmins behind the drum kit, who together made a rousing sound that filled the room.

Tracks from the Fisherman’s Blues album formed the main part of the band’s set, of course. “We Will Not be Lovers” and “Sweet Thing”, with its lift from the Beatles’ “Blackbird”, were particularly glorious. However, we were also treated to soulful covers of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country”, Hank Williams’ “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” and Ray Charles’ “Come Live With Me”, which the Waterboys have really made their own. Scott also let us into the tale of how, having recorded Brother Ray’s tune, he took an aeroplane to New York and played it to a woman with whom he wanted to get back together. She clearly had good musical taste as, apparently, it worked.

They lined up like a folk-rock football team photo, then they were gone Those of us who were keen to hear a bit of the Big Music of the band’s early albums were also not disappointed, as we were served up “A Girl Called Johnny”, their tribute to Patti Smith from The Waterboys (1983), and a radically reworked and sparse “Don’t Bang the Drum” from breakthrough album This is the Sea (1985). However, it wasn’t until the band’s final song, “Fishman’s Blues” that the crowd finally got on their feet and started shuffling around. Once up though, no-one was going to sit down, and after much clapping and stamping of feet, the Waterboys returned to wow the audience with stirring versions of “The Whole of the Moon” and “How long will I love you?”.

Fisherman's BluesFinally, Scott brought out support act, Freddie Stephenson and Joe Chester, to join the Waterboys for a driving “And a Bang on the Ear”. Having put their instruments down, the band briefly recreated the Fisherman’s Blues album cover (pictured left) on the stage, lined up like a folk-rock football team photo, and then they were gone. Someone recently suggested to me that the Waterboys, and particularly the Fisherman’s Blues album, are responsible for the existence of the Levellers. This seems a bit harsh but, even if it is true, on tonight’s evidence, they can be forgiven.

  • The Waterboys are touring the UK and Ireland throughout December 2013
Those of us who were keen to hear a bit of the Big Music of the band’s early albums were also not disappointed


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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