Welcome Back: The Waterboys

Equal parts mercurial, mystical and plain bloody-minded (in his 80s pomp he swerved away from superstardom to enjoy a reclusive existence in the west of Ireland), Mike Scott has been a charismatic torch-bearer for Celtic rock for more than 30 years. His circuitous path to success is reflected in The Waterboys’ latest album, Modern Blues. A swashbuckling return to the rootsy folk’n’roll of 1988’s Fisherman’s Blues, it’s the sound of Scott returning to his bombastic best.

Why did you record Modern Blues in Nashville?

In 2013 I put together an American version of The Waterboys so I could have one band for Europe and one for America. I was just being practical. But the American band had a wonderful energy I wanted to capture. Nashville was the obvious place to record. It’s in no way a country record, but I love the musical atmosphere there. Jack White was down the road at Third Man Records. It’s an inspirational place.

On the album you get a few things off your chest, not least on Nearest Thing To Hip.

That song is about how our high-streets are becoming so depressingly similar. All the shops with any individuality are disappearing. It’s like the lights are going out. Technology is changing the way musicians behave, too. We’re developing into a world where people make records in their bedrooms, all in their individual cells.

On a lighter note, in 2013 Ellie Goulding had a No.3 hit with How Long Will I Love You, a song from The Waterboys’ 1990 album Room To Roam. Was that gratifying?

Of course. She changed a couple of the lines. I’m not sure if she did it deliberately. I don’t think they’re as good as the original lines, but good for her. I do the same thing myself. I’ve changed Dylan’s words, so I can’t really complain if somebody changes mine.

Prince also did a solo cover of The Whole Of The Moon when he played at Ronnie Scott’s last year.

Someone told me that it was on the set list at one of his other surprise shows but he changed his mind at the last minute and didn’t play it. Then I got told he’d done it for real. Because he’s so strict about people filming gigs on their phones, no one’s posted it on YouTube. However, I understand it was a piano-and-vocal solo version. Boy, would I love to hear that.

Your autobiography, Adventures Of A Waterboy, came out in 2012. Did you find the writing experience cathartic?

It was something I’d always wanted to do. I figured I’d done a lot of things that no one else had done, especially choosing to leave London and the music business and immerse myself in traditional music. I’d finished with the big sound The Waterboys had on the first three records. I loved it, but music was driving me in different directions.

You’re in great voice on the new record. What’s your secret?

Well, I’m still young. Smoke hasn’t passed my lips in twenty-five years and I don’t take drugs, so I keep in good shape. I also sing every day. Music’s my life and I’m very grateful for that.

Modern Blues is out on January 19 via Harlequin & Clown.

Paul Moody is a writer whose work has appeared in the Classic Rock, NME, Time Out, Uncut, Arena and the Guardian. He is the co-author of The Search for the Perfect Pub and The Rough Pub Guide.