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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
THE WATERBOYS, Shepherds Bush Empire, London, February 3rd 2006
It would be easy to think that the Waterboys have been treading, err….water, since the release of their acclaimed Universal Hall in the summer of 2003, with only a moderately well-received live album, Karma to burn (2005) appearing since. However that would be to ignore the fact that the band have toured almost incessantly ever since, both as an ‘acoustic’ three-piece (see the review on this site from October 2004) with Mike Scott being joined by founder Waterboy, fiddler and mandolin player Steve Wickham and keyboards wizard Richard Naiff, and more recently as a full band, joined by a soul-infused rhythm section of Carlos Hercules (drums) and Steve Walters (bass). If the three-piece gig was an evening of crescendo-driven peace and love, then the full band provided a funk-tinged Celtic roots rock and roll night, with Mike Scott – truly a rock and roller at heart if I’ve ever seen one – leading the way with some piercing guitar playing, theatrical poses and typically cryptic interchanges with the audience. Never doubt who’s in charge when Scott is about.

Mr Wickham Snr and friend
We’re upstairs at the Bush – and it’s packed. I leave my seat for a minute (well about ten really, as the bar-staff were working to rule) and return to find the photographer deep in conversation with the two old boys next to us (she seems to have a thing about older men) who, it turns out, are Steve Wickham’s dad and his pal. Cowboy-gear clad Mr Wickham gives us a brief low-down on the history of the Waterboys (more of a collective than a band it’s a long story that lasts most of the interval, and of course features Steve right at the start in the early 80s, and then again when he rejoined in 2000) and what we might expect from the evening. Useful because you never can tell with Mike Scott – a feisty soul who has single-mindedly pursued his own path in a musical world that often seems littered with disappointing compromises.
It’s a great set – with a couple of new tunes (‘Everybody takes a tumble’ and ‘Crash of angel wings’) at the start and then a roll-call of Waterboys classics, with a few slightly less well known songs from the back catalogue. The band, it appears to me, is in cracking form, with all the drive and power you expect from them, but with just a slightly different rhythmical feel coming from the bass and drums. Steve Wickham (and I don’t just say this because of his Dad) was quite outstanding – and prompted a post-gig debate over a glass of tickle-tonic as to who, between he and Fairport’s ex Soft Machiner Ric Saunders deserved the top fiddler’s spot (actually for me it’s the slightly more subtle and sophisticated Saunders, but there you go).
‘Glastonbury song’, the wonderful ‘Peace of Iona’ (definitely best heard on the deck of a boat under the stars in Scotland), ‘When will we be married’, ‘The whole of the moon’, ‘Killing my heart’ (better known as ‘When you go away’), ‘Long way to the light’, ‘Song for the life’, ‘The stolen child’, a spine tingling ‘Red Army blues’ (an odd and old song from 1984’s Pagan Place, as you might as first hearing dismiss it as corny old tosh, but Scott seems to inject enormous power, emotion and sincerity into the lyrics that tell of the hapless career of a Soviet army recruit), ‘Medicine bow’, ‘The Pan within’ and to end ‘Let it happen’, a particular favourite of mine from the sometimes overlooked 2000 album, Rock in a weary land. There was a surprising first encore of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Independence day’, and finally the crowd pleasing ‘Fisherman's blues’. Actually that wasn’t quite the end – the band came back to the stage, but with no more songs to play set about a pub bar version of ‘Sergeant Pepper’ – at which point we took our leave of Mr Wickham senior and headed for the hills.

Mike Scott
Actually I have to say that I was pleased to get the photographer out before the end, because the most unfortunate part of this gig was the outrageous behaviour of a few drunks at the front of the balcony. I can only offer my deepest sympathy to those sitting right in the sight line of the fou, fat, foul-mouthed woman (they must still see her bottom every time they blink) who just couldn’t sit down. And to those (including I have to say, the stewards, who did their best but in the end were just intimidated by these frankly intimidating creeps) obstructed, abused and threatened by her two falling-over-drunk acolytes. It was all getting pretty much out of hand (I’m not sure if Mike Scott could hear the continual refrain from one section of the balcony of ‘Get your fucking fat arse out of the way’ – but if he did he must have been very confused) and looked sure to kick-off big time as everyone left. Such selfish and boorish behaviour is very unusual at the boisterous and friendly Bush, and what was more surprising was the suspicion that the culprits (do you have a word for arseholes in French Serge?) were there with the liggers on the Waterboys Guest List. I hope not. Peace and love from the Waterboys? Are you listening Mike Scott? - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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