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Too Close To Heaven: The Unreleased Fisherman's Blues Sessions(2001)

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The adventure began when I met the Fiddler. I was ready for him too. The sound had been in my head for months and I'd already tried a couple of players but when I heard Steve playing on Sinead O'Connor's demo tape I knew straight away this was the guy. I tracked him down in Ireland and he came to London and recorded "The Pan Within" with me. This was the last song recorded for "This Is The sea" in the Summer of 85 and it came out great - beyond my dreams. Steve was a great musician and an instant soul brother. Pretty soon he was on loan from his Irish band In Tua Nua and touring with us. Then sometime that Autumn he joined The Waterboys full time. We played all across Europe and North America together. When the tour ended I went to visit him for a week in Dublin and stayed six years.

In those early days he and I and our partner in mischief Anthony Thistlethwaite were listening to Blues, Cajun, Country and old Gospel music. And we played it too, on our acoustic instruments - guitar, fiddle, mandolin and sax, leaving behind the cinematic sound people thought of when they heard the name Waterboys. We played around Dublin in bars, hotels, homes and streets at the drop of a hat - usually Steve's - until one day in January 86 we booked a studio, went in with a bassist and drummer that Steve had found for us, played all day and night and recorded a dozen songs. The music we'd been playing informally around town blasted out of the studio speakers fully formed and a new era of The Waterboys was born.

That was the session we cut "Fisherman's Blues" and "Sweet Thing". And it was the first session for the album that was to be called "Fisherman's Blues". I'd finished with the layered sound of previous records, taken it as high and far as I could, and so from here on we played live in the studio, working with different values, learning how to use 'em. Values like improvisation, performance, personality and the capturing of moments. Many songs were recorded in one take - "Too Close To Heaven", "We Will Not Be Lovers", "The Ladder", Hank's "Lost Highway". The ultimate improvisations were the "composed in one live take" songs, which included "Saints And Angels", "Ain't Leavin, I'm Gone" and "Tenderfootin'" - made up on the spot as the tape rolled and sometimes never again played. And we explored new combinations of sound. Steve's fiddle and Anto's mando sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. And the fiddle and sax - firing off into the sky, like a two man improv orchestra. Trevor, our new Irish bass player, was adept at picking up songs instantly, with the knack of choosing the note most likely to fit whatever chord might be coming next. My songwriting exploded as I wrote for this new sound and band. I allowed my writing to move into Country and Blues, took old Gospel songs from the 20's and re-arranged them, simplified and purified my craft.

A producer called Bob Johnston, who'd made records with Dylan and Cash in the nineteen sixties had heard about us and came to Dublin to record us for a few days. He yelled and hollered and made us believe we could do anything, then recorded us doing it. "Hell, I'm gonna get that sound wide open then you can do anything you want" he said, and did.

Through the rest of that year we recorded whenever our concert schedule allowed. The tapes piled up through bursts of sessions in July, August and September. I produced the sessions myself, till in December we went to San Francisco and Johnston recorded us again for one wild week. The great Jim Keltner drummed. We played hours and days of music ; "Blues For Your Baby", "Lonesome old Wind", "When Will We Be Married ?", "Too Hot For Cleanhead", Minister Thomas Whitfield's "Soon As I Get Home", "Honky Tonkin'", a forty minute version of "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".

We could have stopped there. We had enough already for a killer double album. But the songs kept coming so we holed up in Windmill Lane back in Dublin for 4 or 5 months and recorded another motherlode of music including "Strange Boat", "World Party", "Custer's Blues", various versions of "Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?", "Killing My Heart", "Higher In Time" and dozens of others. Somewhere around the middle of 87, with fifty or sixty tracks in the can as well as hours of instrumentals, I lost perspective. I was in love with this music, utterly absorbed in it, but couldn't make the necessary decisions between songs or between versions of songs. We pulled out of the studio and took some distance. But still the music kept coming, the songs kept writing themselves, and as we rehearsed for some Dublin charity shows in the Autumn, our sound kept on changing ; Vinnie Kilduff's Irish pipes and tin whistle and Noel Bridgeman's subtle soul-fired drumming changed the way I felt about music - again. Then Steve and I went to the West of Ireland, plugged into the wild, ancient world of traditional music and the sound in our heads changed yet further.

On the shortest day of the year I remember sitting in my little flat in Dublin surrounded by boxes of tapes knowing I couldn't turn this ever-evolving ocean of music into an album. All I knew to do was to cut some fresh recordings of how we sounded now and put those out. So after a three month chill out in the West of Ireland, during which I finished writing some final songs for the record, we went where our inspiration was and set up a temporary studio in Spiddal House, near Galway.

This happily was a little golden age when we lived in holiday cottages on a high hill overlooking Galway Bay and The Aran Islands, among a people who spoke gaelic and welcomed us into their world ; when we'd cycle along the seafront to the studio every morning to spend the day making music. The traditional musicians of Galway - the finest in the world - honoured us by coming to play. Alec Finn, Frankie Gavin, Mairtin O'Connor, Ben O'Regan, Charlie Lennon, Tomas Mac Eoin - fabled names all in the wild West of Ireland sat in on the sessions. The music flowed clear. No band ever recorded in a more convivial or idyllic atmosphere or in an environment so full or character and magic. We cut "The Stolen Child", "And A Bang On The Ear", "When Ye Go Away" and many more - 12 tracks in all. Then we compiled an album of seven of them along with five songs - which I knew what to do with - from the earlier sessions.

It came out in October 88. I love "Fisherman's Blues" but it was a strange feeling touiring it round the world knowing that it told only a fraction of the story of the years and music since "This Is The Sea". A few further songs snuck out later on 'b' sides, but dozens remained unfinished and unheard - some of them among the best music we'd ever made. I knew one day I'd revisit the tapes and put out another album that set the record straight.

It happened later than I'd ever have guessed. It took me eight years and several lifetimes to slow down long enough to listen systematically to all the tapes, four more to get to working on them. At last I picked up where I left off on January 4th 2001. It was like stepping out of current time into a dreamspace. The work used me, absorbed me, took me deep into every song, into my cell memory of the music and the times, satisfied me, gratified me, sealed long unfinished business, burned off old karma, turned me on, made me yell "YES!!" in the studio again and again. In the end the ten tracks I'd chosen were mixed by myself and the great Irish engineer Tim Martin in London in May 2001.

And so, friend, "Too Close To Heaven", the belated second half of "Fisherman's Blues" is finally finished in accordance with the Waterboys musical vision of the time. I dedicate it to Steve, Anto and Trevor, my three great "Fisherman's" band mates, with an apology to them for taking so long to release our work, and to all of you waterpeople who have waited fifteen years to hear it.

Mike Scott.....On tour, Evora, Portugal, June 2001