'My dinner party guest would be CS Lewis but we would disagree on Christianity'
Mike Scott tells Barry Egan how he saw the whole of the moon with new wife Megumi, Japanese artist and mother of his son, born on the first anniversary of their meeting
First, you see the cowboy hat in the distance. And from beneath it, skinny stargazer, bohemian wanderer and poetic rock star Mike Scott seems to be propelled by an invisible force, up the side streets, before finally settling in the bar where we agreed to meet. The smile is wide and the form is good. There are, of course, substantial reasons for this. Mike has a new wife (internationally acclaimed Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi), a new baby (a seven-month-old son) and a new album, Out Of All This Blue, the best Waterboys album in decades, if not ever.
The fact that there are 15 love songs out of 23 on the new double album might also attest to the singer's present state of grace with the world and his beautiful, often controversial wife, with whom, and the new baba, he has set up home in Dublin.
Wearing the aforesaid hat which he bought in 2014 in Nashville, Mike outlines the fable of magic Megumi: a feminist artist whose work has in many ways challenged Japanese culture's fear (if not hatred) of women's bodies by celebrating the vagina.
The Japanese authorities arrested Megumi in July 2014 for alleged obscenity. The arrest generated huge global publicity. Mike heard about Megumi and became an admirer of her art and her attitude. He wrote a song supporting her, called Rok Rok Rokudenashiko, and sent it to her by email before her first court appearance. They soon began communicating through private messaging on social media.
In one of his messages, Mike told Megumi how he liked her romantically and asked if she would have dinner with her next time he visited Japan. "She replied saying it was too early to talk about romance because we hadn't met, but yes she would have dinner with me as a friend. So that's what we did," recalls Mike, who travelled to Tokyo in late January 2016 to see her.
"I didn't woo her on that first dinner. I just hung out with her and had a good time," he explains. "I knew that when we met face to face for real there might be no chemistry between us at all. I was realistic about it. But the opposite happened. The chemistry was great, we had a wonderful evening and I really, really liked her. It felt like she liked me too. So I asked for a romantic date 'next time' and she said OK." A few days later, Mike and Megumi had their first "official romantic date".
"We went to an art exhibition," Mike says referring to Takashi Murakami, "We held hands as we walked around it... then a Matt Damon movie, then dinner. When I saw her off at the subway station we kissed.
"And coincidentally - and to our great delight - our son was born on the first anniversary of us meeting," adds Mike of the fateful night of February 2, 2016. They were engaged in April. (A month later, Megumi was found not guilty of obscenity by a court in Tokyo District Court). She and Mike married at Setagaya Ward Office in Tokyo on October 21 last year, with Megumi - with characteristic chutzpah - congratulating the Japanese police for bringing her and her husband together. The bride-to-be even extended the Tokyo authorities an invitation to their wedding. "I would like to thank the police from the bottom of my heart for this relationship, because it all started when news about my arrest went viral," she tweeted. "For my wedding ceremony, I would like to invite the prosecutors who indicted me, as well as the police."
Scott is possibly the happiest he's ever been in his life. And the most unguarded I've known him.
He says that the one person - living or dead - who he would like at his dream dinner party is Belfast author CS Lewis. "I've always wished I could meet him. We would disagree about Christianity, which suited him and not me, and agree about love."
He jokes that his soul is "hovering about three foot above me at all times". He describes himself as "spiritual" rather than anything remotely religious. "Everyone has a spiritual side."
Even Donald Trump?
"When I was at Findhorn (the spiritual community on the west coast of Scotland), sometimes I would be in groups and use techniques to strip away all the layers of artifice with which we surround ourselves and get to the real core of the person. I can imagine Trump in one of those groups. It wouldn't be pretty but we would get to something."
What did he learn about himself in Findhorn? "Oh, this is all a long time ago. It is 25 years since I was at Findhorn. I discovered that in those days, I tried to make people like me."
And now? "I don't give a f*** now. But then, I would actually have been scared of what people thought of me. I don't care now. But that was my condition then."
How did he lose that? "By witnessing and acknowledging it. Laughing at myself."
What wisdom has he learned with age? "Live in the moment and trust yourself," says Mike who was born in Edinburgh on December 14, 1958.
He told Mojo magazine recently that being a father has brought another aspect to his creativity as a songwriter. He has a baby son with Megumi and a young daughter from his previous relationship with Irish chanteuse Camille O'Sullivan (who took the photograph in New York of Mike for the cover of the new album).
Mike says that fatherhood changed "the rhythm of my days. I adjust things to suit my children as much as I can. And it's made me feel more complete as a human being. And more sympathetic to stressed parents in public places. Plus I know the songs from Frozen."
His own father Allan left the family home in Ayr at Christmas, 1970, when Mike was 12. He didn't see him again until 1998 when Mike turned up at his door and effectively restarted their relationship. "I thought he would be a bohemian wanderer living in lots of different places, maybe living quite an exotic life," Mike told me the last time I interviewed him in 2015. "And, actually, he wasn't. He had lived in the same, small normal house outside Birmingham for about 30 years."
Last week, I asked Mike does he see his father often now. "I'm sorry to say my Dad died earlier this year, after a long illness. I saw him a few times every year until then, either at his house or my shows, to which he often came."
He credits a holiday with his mother Anne in the West of Ireland in 2012 for inspiring the rollicking Connemara Fox on the new album. She came over on the hovercraft from Scotland to Larne in her car. Mike met her in a "wee hotel", and they had lunch, before embarking "on this marvellous journey" across Northern Ireland, stopping in Sligo to have dinner with long-term Waterboy Steve Wickham. (Intriguingly, many years before, Anne took the 11-year-old Mike to Sligo for the annual Yeats summer school; in 2011, Mike released his classic An Appointment with Mr Yeats).
Then Mike and Anne drove on to Connemara and Galway "and all my old memories started coming back to me. And I came up with the character The Connemara Fox - he's like the Scarlet Pimpernel transported into the West of Ireland, fighting crooked priests and the thought police."
Mike adds that he kept the idea warm for four years before the song landed. "At first it was in cow-punk double-time but was too much like late Eighties Waterboys, so I tried halving the rhythm. Suddenly, bang, it crystallised into something magic."
Equally magical are the two tracks Morning Came Too Soon and Love Walks In.
"Morning Came Too Soon is about an old love affair, and its scenes played in my head as I wrote the song. Love Walks In grew out of the chorus, which was the first thing to be written. It was inspired by a number of women I've known and loved. The you of the song is a composite."
Mike wrote in a 2007 article in a newspaper: "I started playing music not to become famous, but to make great work. I wanted to feel what The Beatles felt when they recorded the vocals on Eleanor Rigby. I wanted to experience what Bob Dylan or Van Morrison did when the first glimpses of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall or Madame George started to shimmer through their imaginations."
With what songs of his has he experienced something similar to Bob and Van when Hard Rain and Madame George shimmered through their imaginations?
"Well, it's a hard question to answer because, of course, to me as a fan, Hard Rain and Madame George loom large as songs I loved from the outside as it were, but all of mine I know from the inside. So I have to try and imagine what I would feel about my songs if I wasn't me, and which of them might affect me like those two did. And that's impossible. I did once have an experience along those lines, however..."
"I was walking up Grafton Street in Dublin, maybe 25 years ago, and I heard a busker singing a song. I couldn't make out the words but I knew the melody, yet I couldn't quite place it. I couldn't remember who the song was by, but I knew it was someone I was sympathetic to. Then the singer reached the chorus and I realised it was And a Bang on the Ear, my own song, and that the person I was sympathetic to was me.
"I've often wondered how I would have felt if, when I'd been trying to place the author of the song, I'd known it was someone I didn't like. I guess that makes me glad to be me, and I'm grateful for that.
"The question about songs shimmering as they land..." he says later. "Thinking on it, I've had that experience with almost every song I ever wrote. Not that they all shimmered as bright as Hard Rain or Madame George, but in the moment of every composition, there's a moment when the soul of the song, or its blueprint, or its landscape, becomes clear to the eye of my imagination, and I'm living in the song. That's the experience I wanted when I was a kid, and like Data in Star Trek, I made it so."
Beam me up, Scotty!
The Waterboys play the 3Arena in Dublin on October 26. Their new album Out Of All This Blue is out on September 8.