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The Waterboys: Frontman still Celtic rock's lead buccaneer

By Michael Conaghan

One of Rock's last great romantics, Mike Scott has led The Waterboys through the treacherous waters of the music business with a piratical glint in his eye, and a cutlass between his teeth.

From anthemic Eighties titans whose key song The Whole Of The Moon became a slow-burning monster hit which still blazes today, they took a rootsy left turn with follow-up Fisherman's Blues, reaping the rewards of a post-new romantic audience ready for some authenticity.

Those fans are still around, still listening to those original records and buying the CDs Scott has released in the intervening decades, and still turning up to see the renowned frontman.

The Open House Festival should then be a perfect match for a man whose most recent musical relationship was with one William Butler Yeats.

Perhaps only Mike Scott could get away with presenting the Lake Isle Of Inisfree as 12 bar blues, and the look last night was more Dylan circa Rolling Thunder than Celtic ragamuffin.

They opened with Sailing On A Strange Sea, with swelling violin intact, then straight into Fisherman's Blues, a rousing early fist-puncher.

Bands like The Who and Roxy Music have used the electric violin to thrilling effect, but played by Steve Wickham it came into its own as a lead instrument, wonderfully effective duetting with the band's echoing piano

"We're not a folk rock band," declared Scott emphatically if improbably, and it could be said without contradiction that The Waterboys are a damn fine Celtic blues soul punk combo with the odd jazz inflection from keyboard player Paul Brown.

He even threw on a bit of wild, hair-tossing, Keith Emerson-style Hammond organ.

What The Waterboys do have is a full sound that echoes the best of the Seventies legends that so obviously inspire them.

"I'm still a freak," howled Mike Scott over a pulverising Jean Genie-style riff, and this sounded like a badge of pride rather than a complaint.

A festival celebrating the best of Celtic culture can only be stronger by embracing an act which stretches the notion of the traditional to breaking point.

After all, what is more Celtic than gathering round the proverbial campfire to belt out out songs we all know and love, especially, when like a certain song, he knows the lyrics, but we sing the whole of the tune?

Four stars

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