Though the excellent additional disc of out-takes accompanying this reissue is welcome, it is also, in a sense, redundant. Eighteen years ago, when Fisherman’s Blues was originally released, it was an album that communicated everything you were ever really going to need to know about it in the first 20 seconds, and this is still the case. There are few more purely thrilling openings to a record: the big pealing G chord that announces the title track, a whipcrack of Anthony Thistlethwaite’s mandolin, Steve Wickham’s fiddle sounding the charge, then the entire band arriving like cavalry behind Mike Scott’s delirious whinny.
In 1985, Scott, grumpy and reluctant about the stadium-filling fame that beckoned his Waterboys beyond This Is The Sea, had gone to stay in Ireland for a week. Three years later, he was back to tell us what a hell of a time he’d had. When musicians go scrabbling in search of roots, it’s usually an indicator of dwindling ambition. For Scott, his exploration of folk, country and blues became a madcap treasure hunt. Fisherman’s Blues encompassed orthodox country drinking songs (“Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?”), raggle-taggle whimsy (“And A Bang On The Ear”, presented here in a slightly longer version) and brooding, gothic balladry (“Strange Boat”), all played with astonishing technical virtuosity and infused with Scott’s trademark grand passion.
The extra disc included here is drawn from a similarly broad palette, including two Dylan covers (“Girl Of The North Country”, “Nobody ‘Cept You”; The Basement Tapes were an obvious inspiration) and alternate versions of “Fisherman’s Blues” and “Killing My Heart” (better known as “When Ye Go Away”).
It’s just a shame that Scott’s blazing-eyed crusade to reawaken the soul of Celtic folk was answered by such a knock-kneed crop of recruits. The musical legacy of Fisherman’s Blues amounted to little more than a couple of mildly amusing Wonder Stuff singles, The Levellers, and a plague of woolly-hatted young men with acoustic guitars on Grafton Street, eventually provoking Scott to sing, on 1995’s “Dublin (City Full Of Ghosts)” that “Dublin is a city full of buskers/Playing old Waterboys hits”. All that really matters is all that’s here: a fabulous, joyous riot.
By Andrew Mueller