So after letting the idea simmer for two decades, the Waterboys founder and frontman got around to making “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats,” which will be released in the United States on Proper American on March 26.
“I had to wait until I had enough really top class adaptations,” said Scott. “Every few years I’d go back to the poetry book and I’d set another couple poems to music, but it took a long time to collect the right number. Around 2006, 2007 I realized I had just about enough for a stage show and an album and that’s when I started working towards making it a reality.”
Containing 14 songs inspired by the legendary Irish poet, the album has already garnered critical and popular acclaim throughout Europe, with Scott and his North American version of The Waterboys hitting Town Hall on Wednesday, March 20, to play it in its entirety for the only time on the continent.
So why so long to get this project out?
“I only worked with the ones that suggested a tune to me,” he said. “I would sit at the piano or with my guitar and I’d have the poetry book open, then I’d flick through it and I’d read the first couple lines of each poem in my mind, and if it suggested a melody, I’d work on it and if it didn’t I’d go on to the next poem. So there was this natural selection.”
And along with the natural selection, Scott admits that only having to worry about the music of each song made life even easier for him.
“It makes it much easier. Lyrics is the thing that takes me the most time, and when I get a world-class lyric of the quality of W.B. Yeats to start off with, I’m flying, man.”
He almost makes it sound easy.
“When certain poems suggest a melody, it was easy, as long as I didn’t get in the way,” he laughs.
Perhaps surprisingly, it all works. You wouldn’t expect Yeats poems to fit into a pop / rock / folk frame, but Scott and company make it happen, with the tunes eclectic, yet accessible. What may be the biggest benefit of the project though is that someone may hear the album, love the lyrics, and go seek out the work of Yeats.
“That’s a nice bonus if it happens,” said Scott. “I don’t do it for that reason, obviously. I do it just because I love the poems and I want to explore what happens when I put music to them. But there are all kinds of little bonuses like that. A great thing happened recently in Ireland. A schoolteacher got in touch with me and said ‘I’ve been using your record to teach my class poetry and it really worked; they didn’t like poetry before but now that they hear the lyrics with the music, it catches their imagination.’ And I actually went out to the school and we did it with the television news cameras. We went to the school and we played some songs for the class and they asked us loads of questions, and it was great. They were so interested in poetry and what the poems were about and how did it feel to be the singer and what was it like putting them to music. It was a really nice experience, so I’m hoping that, because it was on the news, other schoolteachers in Ireland will get the same idea.”
Scott’s literary bent got put on display last year as well, with the release of his autobiography Adventures of a Waterboy. And in similar fashion to “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats,” this one was in the works for a while.
“I think I’ve done a lot of thinking about it over the years, a bit like the Yeats album,” he said. “It percolated for a couple decades. I first had the idea of a book in the early 90s, when I had been living in the west of Ireland and having all these adventures. I figured ‘well, one day I’ve got to put this down in writing, I’ve got to make a book about this.’ And I thought about it on and off for a very long time and I think I made my peace with the fact of writing lots of very open things about my whole life in advance.”
With two very personal projects now out of the way, it’s off to Town Hall on Wednesday, some festival dates in the summer, and what he hopes will be a proper North American tour in the fall. It’s a busy schedule, but hey, that’s the life of a Waterboy.
Mike Scott and The Waterboys play Town Hall on Wednesday, March 20. For tickets, click here