Why WB Yeats' Poems Strike a Chord or Two with Waterboys Frontman Scott; One's an Esteemed Irish Poet, the Other a Gravel-Voiced Scottish Folk Rocker. but, While It Might Seem an Unlikely Pairing, the Waterboys' Mike Scott Told Nathan Bevan Why the Words of WB Yeats Have Been Music to His Ears

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Why WB Yeats' Poems Strike a Chord or Two with Waterboys Frontman Scott; One's an Esteemed Irish Poet, the Other a Gravel-Voiced Scottish Folk Rocker. but, While It Might Seem an Unlikely Pairing, the Waterboys' Mike Scott Told Nathan Bevan Why the Words of WB Yeats Have Been Music to His Ears


BOB Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon - plenty of rock star lyricists have been dubbed poets over the years by the fans who've found deep meaning in their songs.

Few though, like Mike Scott, are brave enough to take the words of one of the world's most famous poets and set them to an all-new collection of songs.

But that's just what The Waterboys' lead singer has done with the band's new album, An Appointment With Mr Yeats, marrying the poetry of William Butler Yeats to his own music in a passionate labour of love some two decades in the making.

"When I was 11 years old, my mother, who's a university English lecturer, took me to a Yeats summer school in Sligo, Ireland, and even then I can remember being impressed by the effect his words had on so many people," says the Edinburgh-born 53-year-old.

"And it's to my mum's eternal credit that she never tried to ram Yeats down my throat back then, because it's likely I'd have been turned off him for good if she had.

"She knew I loved music more than anything and, as someone who values artistry of all kinds, was totally behind the direction I wanted to go in.

"In fact, when I started up my first band as a teenager, she'd often help drive our gear to the gigs, bless her," he laughs.

However, despite being more in love with the punk sounds of The Clash than the world of academia by the time he reached college in the late '70s, Scott felt himself drawn once again towards the great Irish wordsmith he'd been introduced to as a boy.

"I started going back to his work and liked what I read. After that I ended up buying volumes of the stuff."

Waterboys devotees will be aware though that this latest record isn't the first example of Yeats' influence creeping into Scott output - the singer having adapted the poet's The Stolen Child for the group's 1988 release Fisherman's Blues, while later adapting Love and Death for 1993's Dream Harder.

But was there ever any trepidation about taking such esteemed work and crafting it into something as inherently different as anthemic Celtic folk rock? "No not really, not sure why," he shrugs. "Maybe it's because Yeats isn't with us any longer (he died in 1939) and can't pass judgement.

"But that said, it's almost as though his poems were winking at me and pleading to be turned into music, so I just went with it.

"To be honest, a lot of them are very suited to being turned into songs, with the presence of repeated verses and phrases that could almost serve as choruses," he adds.

"Then again, other pieces like News For The Delphic Oracle had no recognisable verse structure whatsoever - I don't care though, I like a challenge."

And with more than 600 poems in the Yeats canon, Scott explains that finding the ones that best fitted proved a painstaking process.

"Basically I'd put the poetry books on the piano stand and go through the contents of each one line by line," he says.

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Why WB Yeats' Poems Strike a Chord or Two with Waterboys Frontman Scott; One's an Esteemed Irish Poet, the Other a Gravel-Voiced Scottish Folk Rocker. but, While It Might Seem an Unlikely Pairing, the Waterboys' Mike Scott Told Nathan Bevan Why the Words of WB Yeats Have Been Music to His Ears
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