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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Royal Albert Hall, London, May 11th 2007

Well who would have thought it? Less than twenty-four hours later and we’re back in the Royal Albert Hall, opened you’ll recall, in 1871, having been built at a cost of £200,000 – somewhat less than the current value of a two bedroom flat in London. Like all grand public building projects it was dogged by controversy and disagreement. Not everyone welcomed the thought of such a massive arena – three times Prime Minister Lord Derby was concerned in 1865 that it would end up as 'a mere place of public amusements, of which monster concerts would be the least objectionable'.

Lord Derby
We’re certainly here for some public amusement this evening with Whiskyfun favourites Mike Scott and his Waterboys (rather, one of my favourites, perhaps not Serge’s). The lottery of on-line booking has been kind; we’re down on the floor of the auditorium, row 18, almost stage centre. Perfect. Well almost. We’re surrounded by people who all seem to know each other. There are smiles and handshakes, and souvenir photographs being taken for websites. These are the hardcore fans of the numerous Waterboys message boards and forums. Actually they’re a jolly bunch, and it’s inevitable that we spend more of the evening on our feet than on our sit-upon. The dancing loons immediately in front depart stagewards early in the evening, leaving us with Ned and his partner Neddess.
Black Pudding “I’m from Stornoway, hen” he remarks to the Photographer in one of his loquacious moments (it’s never really quite clear who he’s talking to). “Nice black pudding” she replies at a stroke, much to his surprise.
The Waterboys have a new album to promote, Book of Lightning. It’s received a hugely enthusiastic response from the majority of critics, many choosing to describe it as the long-awaited sequel to their landmark 1985 release This is the Sea. It’s certainly a return to Scott’s ‘Big Music’ compared with the highly rated Universal Hall and the strangely overlooked Rock in a Weary Land - but on a par with This is the Sea – well, good ‘though it is, I tend to think not. And this was really evident in a set that drew heavily on both albums. Placed side by side the songs from This is the Sea stood the test of time in terms of both their lyricism and depth of feeling. It just seemed as though Scott was trying a bit too hard on the new stuff – for example, the rhyming in ‘She tried to hold me’ is a little strained, and sometimes his vocals were over theatrical. But that’s not to say that most bands wouldn’t fall over themselves to have material of the quality of ‘Strange arrangement’ or ‘It’s gonna rain’. It’s just not quite as good as some have claimed.
Mike Scott is on fine rock and roll form. He prods and goads the adoring audience with his quizzical observations and pointed questions. The sound is excellent and his voice soars through this huge auditorium as strongly as sidekick Steve Wickham’s (“Wigwam”) violin. The Photographer suspects he’s wearing dark eye-shadow, perhaps to help with some of his more extravagant thespian gestures. He switches between electric guitar (perhaps a few too many long solos if I may say so, Mike), acoustic and electric piano. At the keyboards he delivers one of the moments of the night, singing ‘Old England’s dying’, a pointed choice for this icon of Old Albion, with lyrics suitably adjusted to reflect ongoing events in the Middle East. It’s only four songs into the evening but it’s such a moment that he could have walked off stage and I wouldn’t have minded. Other highlights are ‘Dumbing down the world’, the transportational ‘Iona’, the W B Yeats poem ‘Stolen Child’ (another pointed choice) and ‘Red Army’. And I have to remember that Roddy Lorimer (whose playing helped to define the sound of This is the Sea) comes on to play superb trumpet, and that there’s a new rhythm session of Mark Smith and Damon Wilson. From there it got a bit bing-bang-bosh with ‘Medicine bow’ (Wickham and organist Richard Naiff donning masks from a Venetian souvenir shop for a very self-indulgent bit of musical sparring) and ‘Pan within’, and then rowdy encores ‘Be my enemy’ and finally ‘Fisherman’s blues’.
Mike Scott The fans are ecstatic – it’s quite a sight to see this place full with everyone on their feet applauding ¬ – more photographs, more exchanged digits and e-mail addresses. Objectively you have to wonder how long Scott can carry on producing this new stuff, how long his prodigious back-catalogue will continue to sound fresh and relevant, and how long before this informed and sometimes inspired “public amusement” loses its edge. But at the moment it seems to be working to everyone’s satisfaction even, I’ve no doubt, rocking Lord Derby, who in case you didn’t know had a group called the Derby Dilly and played at the Concert of Europe. Fact. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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