Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A fanboy writes

Readers, I was that teenage Waterboys fan. Straight up. Scout’s honour. I blame it all on Bill Graham, the brilliant Hot Press writer who sadly waltzed off this mortal coil in 1996. I blame dear old Bill for lots of …

Tue, Jun 12, 2012, 09:08


Readers, I was that teenage Waterboys fan. Straight up. Scout’s honour.

I blame it all on Bill Graham, the brilliant Hot Press writer who sadly waltzed off this mortal coil in 1996. I blame dear old Bill for lots of things. I’ll be honest: without him, I probably would never have been a music writer in the first place and you wouldn’t be reading this. I used to say that to wind him up when we’d meet and he’d groan aloud. I mean, there are a lot of things to carry the rap for and the shit I’ve written over the years is a damn heavy burden to bear.

Anyway, back to Bill and The Waterboys. In May 1986, he wrote a cover feature about the band’s now legendary spring tour of Ireland. This piece turned my world upsidedown. I’d been a fan before then – I’d loved “This Is The Sea”, I’d started getting into their back catalogue (something which was difficult to acquire in the middle of Tipperary’s lush countryside, believe me), I’d worn out the cassettes I’d taped from the radio of the band on the Dave Fanning and BP Fallon shows and I’d bunked off to go to Waterford to see them in The Bridge hotel on that tour – but this was serious.

Bill’s feature took my breath away. Here was someone writing with an unsurpassed degree of passion, fervour, belief, enthusiasm, knowledge and depth about one of my favourite bands. I must have read that piece about a hundred times. I had already heard the big music, but now I’d seen the big picture. I had found my career. And I had found the fever.

Fans are sad people. Yes, we are. Sad sacks who pin immature emotions and unrealistic expectations on a ever-shifting target. During my late teens, that target was the Waterboys. I probably saw them live more times than I’ve ever seen any other band in my life. I wrote lashings and lashings of copy for a fanzine dedicated to the band called Saints And Angels. I must have bugged the shite out of Mike Scott, Steve Wickham and cohorts turning up here, there and everywhere to gawk at them playing live, taking part in trad sessions or busking in strange places. I would have understood if they’d taken out a restraining order prohibiting me from going within 100 metres of them.

Along the way, I saw some awesome gigs (the one on the Greenpeace ship down by the docks in 1987, two shows in the Olympic Ballroom that same year, a gig in the community centre in Shinrone and a show in a hall on the Aran Islands come to mind), heard some great music (everything up to and including “Fisherman’s Blues”), met some great people and had some great times.

Sometime in the late Eighties, though, other music made an appearance on my radar and I moved on. We all do in the end because fandom is transient. Yes, it leaves a mark (an indeliable one in most cases), but you can’t maintain that degree of involvment or passion. Well, you can, but then you forego having a life. Me, I wanted to investigate the million other sounds which excited me every bit as much as the first time I heard the Waterboys. I saw a solo Mike Scott supporting The Sawdoctors in Tuam and that was where I decided to bail out.

Strange things happen, though, and I finally got around to interviewing Mike Scott properly for the very first time in September 2000. He was selling a new album, “A Rock In The Weary Land”, the one which was heralded as a return to form. Far better than any of his solo stuff (sorry, Mike), it had some of the bite and the passion of what attracted me to them in the first place.

That interview was nerve-wracking. I’d probably done hundreds of interviews before then with all manner of famous and infamous musicians, but this was different. I might have went in there a little blasé and ultra professional, yet the geeky fan in me was soon asking silly questions of the man on the other side of the tape-recorder. Lengthy, multi-faceted questions about ancient events. Nosey queries about the meaning of songs on albums released 15 years previously. Ridiculous enquiries about shows only about a dozen people can remember.

Fair play to Mike, he answered all the questions politely and thoroughly. We chatted afterwards about this and that. It was pleasant. It was nice. It had, I reckon, a sense of closure. Afterwards I went off, bought a packet of cigarettes and walked into Merrion Square park. I don’t smoke but I figured smoking a cigarette was the decent thing to do. The only thing to do. Don’t ask. You’ve got to mark seismic events and this was one, albeit one which had taken 15 years. From fan to man, we’ll leave our hero coughing and spluttering in the middle of Dublin.

But there’s a coda. There was always going to be a coda, I suppose. Tales like these usually have one or, at least, merit one. Last Thursday night, I found myself sitting in a dressingroom in Liberty Hall shooting the breeze with Mike Scott and Steve Wickham. Mike has written an amazing book, Mike Scott: Adventures Of A Waterboy, about his life and music and the Dublin Writers Festival have asked me to conduct a public interview with him to mark the publication of the book. As I walked into town to do the interview, I realised that Liberty Hall was the very first place I had ever met (which is a nicer word to use than pestered, harassed, hassled or annoyed the bejaysus out of) the pair many years before at a We Free Kings’ gig. See, fanboys never forget.

Mike read from his brilliantly written, honest, passionate, candid book, I asked questions and he answered them. He talked about making videos for “Glastonbury Song”, Sharon Shannon, Tom Zutaut, record labels, managers, Spiddal, “difficult Mike”, New York, Dublin, Yeats, the art of writing a book, the west, Findhorn, The War On Drugs, spirituality, Twitter, Irish Catholicism and a dozen other things. He talked about how he’d like to do a big music tour with a brass band and a Rolling Thunder Revue style tour. After a question-and-answer session with the audience, he read a lovely piece about meeting Steve for the first time. Then, the two of them played a bunch of tunes.

It was quite a night and one which reminded me of many other nights when I was thrilled skinny by the spell cast by this pair of musicians, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid armed with a guitar and violin. See, deep down, even cynical ex-fanboys are still fans at the end of the day. We might change and go off and head elsewhere for a time, but the passion always gets us in the end. Once you’ve heard the big music, you’ll never be the same again.

(Part of this piece originally appeared in dSide magazine in April 2002)