Sleevenotes by Mike Scott
This Is The Sea, released in October 1985, is the final, fully realised expression of the early Waterboys sound begun on the albums The Waterboys and A Pagan Place. I produced parts of the record myself, and the rest in collaboration with either Mick Glossop or John Brand - two English engineer/producers.
This Is The Sea was created from five principal sources. These were :
1) A year's songwriting
2) Outside musical influences
3) The contributions of my bandmates
4) The music that comes from my own head and hands
5) Lyrical and literary inspirations
The first song to be written for the album was "Trumpets", in spring 1984, the night before a BBC radio performance. During summer and autumn that year I wrote "Old England", "Medicine Bow" and "This Is The Sea". In New York in December, during The Waterboys' first American tour, I bought 2 huge hard-bound books filled with thick blank white pages in which to assemble my new songs. These "black books" were soon filled with lyrics, poems, dreams, artwork ideas, instructions-to-myself, sonic blueprints, manifestos-of-the-spirit and all manner of content pertaining to the record about to be made.
For the first two months of 1985 I worked on music and lyrics with acoustic guitar and electric piano in my basement flat at St Mark's Road, off Ladbroke Grove. By late February, almost all the familiar songs were written and ready to record. Some lyric choices were still to be made - for "This Is The Sea" and its alter ego "That Was The River" I had twenty verses to select from - but only "The Whole Of The Moon" was markedly unfinished when recording commenced. That song, begun with a scribble on the back of an envelope on a wintery New York street, was finally completed in May 1985 in a London studio, when the verse containing "unicorns and cannonballs, palaces and piers" was added.
The album was made from a bedrock of 35-40 songs. If you enjoy the previously unheard songs included in this edition you may wonder why some weren't included on the original album. The answer is that This Is The Sea had a will of its own - which I deciphered through my musical intuition - and it was clear that the nine songs on the finished record were the ones that were intended to be there. Those were my instructions and I obeyed them.
The outside musical influences that impacted on the making of This Is The Sea were the holy triumvirate of The Velvet Underground, Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" album and the 'systems' music of the American composer Steve Reich.
From The Velvet Underground I learned :
*inspired content wins over technical proficiency
*the elemental power of the two-chord song
*the glory of sustaining a single dynamic intensity for an entire track
*that untrained but self-aware playing has power and grace
From "Astral Weeks" I learned :
*the totemic song "Sweet Thing" and its tarra-ta-tarrat-ta-ta rhythm
*the delights of an expressively played double bass
*that string arrangements can be luminous and gossamer-light
From Steve Reich I learned :
*a new musical language not based on blues or celtic/american folk music
*intolerably beautiful 'brass hangings' - long sustaining chordals
*sudden short chord-bursts I call 'oysters'
*short melodic motifs repeated at strategic points, played seemingly without emotion, but with emotional value due to their placing and context
*teeming, organic strings playing disciplined phrases
*multiple tambourines playing disciplined rhythms
The contributions of my bandmates can be understood to a degree from the musician credits but require further clarification.
I'd worked with sax player Anthony Thistlethwaite since early 1982, and we developed a great empathy. On the sessions for This Is The Sea, Anthony is not featured as a soloist as much as on the previous album A Pagan Place, but he is still all over the music; in the brass sections on "Medicine Bow", "Sweet Thing" and "This Is The Sea"; bursting out of the comet with a sax solo at the end of "The Whole Of The Moon"; multitracked on "Sleek White Schooner"; baritoned on "Then You Hold Me"; blowing us out on "Don't Bang The Drum", "Beverly Penn" and "Be My Enemy"; playing free double bass on "Spirit" and "Sweet Thing" and the pumping electric bass on "Medicine Jack". And once, when I'd been working too hard, he turned up at my door to drive me off for a therapeutic day in the country.
Karl Wallinger joined The Waterboys in time to play piano and organ on half of A Pagan Place. I then became a regular visitor to "Seaview", his home studio in London, and several songs for This Is The Sea were demoed there, including "Old England". With skill and sympathy Karl doubled as recording engineer on all Seaview sessions, and it was there that he recorded his own first draft of "Don't Bang The Drum", for which he wrote the music. His version had a different rhythm and feel, but established the melody and chords that are on the finished record.
During all-night sessions at Seaview we recorded instrumentals exploring shapes, rhythms and sounds for the forthcoming album. Some of these are included on the 2nd CD here : "Towers Open Fire" has interlocking Reichian piano motifs and the "Pan Within" drum rhythm, including the climactic section where the snare drops out. "Even The Trees Are Dancing" features brass hangings a la "This Is The Sea", offbeat piano 'oysters', the melodic theme from "Spirit" and Karl's unique synth bass sound.
On sessions for the album proper Karl plays synth parts on "The Whole Of The Moon", on which he also sings backing vocals, including the descending "How on earth..." line at the end. His keyboard bass features on several tracks. He plays piano on "Be My Enemy", "Sweet Thing" and "This Is The Sea", synthesised harmonium on "Old England", organ on "Beverly Penn" and "Medicine Jack", celeste (the tiny, bell-like sound) on "Trumpets", synths on "Spirit" and "Then You Hold Me", and drum-rolls and cymbal crashes on "The Pan Within". Having Karl in the studio was like having a one-man orchestra around. There might have been a This Is The Sea without him, but it wouldn't have been the same - or as good.
Roddy Lorimer played the trumpets on "The Whole Of The Moon" and led the brass sections on "Medicine Bow", "This Is The Sea" and "Sweet Thing". And he plays on the intro of "Don't Bang The Drum" - a luminous high flying freeform trumpet solo in the style of "Sketches Of Spain" by Miles Davis, set against a dark 12 string guitar and piano landscape. I forgot to credit Roddy on the original album for his backing vocals on "Moon" - as he loves to remind me - but that's he and I singing "You were there in the summer..." behind the "Unicorns and Cannonballs" section. Roddy's is the high falsetto voice.
Kevin Wilkinson and Chris Whitten play drums on several tracks each. Kevin's is a bright and angular, unusual sound; Chris's is more mainstream, bold and thundering. Max Edie is the lady who sings the "la la" backing vocal on "The Whole Of The Moon". I asked her to sing while imagining she was a carefree eight year old, which she did, admirably. Steve Wickham makes his debut with the strings on "The Pan Within". Adrian Johnston, drummer, film-score composer and bandmate from my Edinburgh days, plays the piano storm - from first sonic droplets of rain to final crashing thunder and lightning - in the instrumental of the long "Medicine Bow". Martyn Swain, our live bassist circa 1984, plays on "The Waves".
A note about Brand and Glossop : John Brand co-produced the early sessions and provided an environment where, with only he and I present, initial ideas and piano/vocal song-demos were laid down. He also recorded several master-takes including "The Pan Within". Mick Glossop co-produced the middle series of sessions. I asked for Mick because of his work with Van Morrison. I seem to remember that he and I never quite saw eye to eye musically, but because Mick got a great sound and I directed the music, it worked.
My own musical styles and techniques as heard on This Is The Sea - often 'naive' and always self-taught - developed between the mid 70s and 1985. These include :
*a desire to inspire
*a belief in music and song as forces of transformation and evocation
*the conviction that music can evoke landscape and the elements, inspiring a sense of place
*rolling piano & 12 string guitar walls of sound
*rhythm guitar - acoustic 12 string, electric 6 & 12 string
*naive rhythm piano
*two 12 string acoustics, split left and right, and sparking against each other
*multiple pianos playing improvised, complementary melodies
*bass notes playing descant
Inspirations on the lyrics of This Is The Sea include the American author Mark Helprin, whose long novel Winter's Tale I read shortly before the album was made. From Helprin I got a sense of infinite creative possibilities and without his influence I couldn't have written "The Whole Of The Moon", though it is not about him. Beverly Penn, in the song of the same name, and her lover Peter Lake are characters from Winter's Tale.
I must also mention the spiritual writers C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald, and the metaphysical author Dion Fortune, all of whom I was reading and re-reading during the era of This Is The Sea.
I was still in the phase when I would quote from other peoples' songs in my own, and therefore "Trumpets" bears a quote from Lennon and McCartney's "I'm Only Sleeping", and the final verse of "Old England" opens with two lines from the poem "Mad As The Mist And Snow" by W.B. Yeats.
The phrase "Old England is Dying" is from James Joyce.
I invented the place name "Medicine Bow", and discovered several years later that a real Medicine Bow exists in Wyoming, USA.
I wish to mention several other people who contributed to the making of This Is The Sea. They are :
*Felix Kendall, recording engineer.
*Nigel Grainge, Chris Hill and Doreen Loader of Ensign Records.
*Gary Kurfirst, manager, who ensured an interference-free atmosphere.
*Glorya Hall, London assistant to Gary Kurfirst.
*Jim Chapman, head of road crew.
*The great Tom Verlaine, who played lead guitar on "That Was The River" (The Secret Life Of The Waterboys, Chrysalis/EMI Records, 1994), the sole released song from these sessions not included on this edition.