Mike Scott continues a decades-long love affair with the words of Irish poet WB Yeats on An Appointment with Mr. Yeats, an album of brilliant, mystical music worthy of Yeats’s immortal words. I bought the disc while in Ireland a few weeks ago and have been unable to listen to anything else since!
“The Hosting of the Shee” starts off the collection with a watery piano that fades in and slams into a wave of guitars that is the musical equivalent of a churning Irish Sea.
A soulful electric piano rolls under “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” a poem that Christy Moore and others have also put to song.
“Though I am old with wandering/through hollow lands and hilly lands/I will find out where she has gone/And kiss her lips and take her hands/And walk among long dappled grass/And pluck till time and times are done/the silver apples of the moon/the golden apples of the sun,” Scott sings as a gorgeous flute melody wafts into the mix and brings the song to a close.
As in many spots on Mr. Yeats, he is accompanied by Dublin singer Katie Kim who adds an ethereal, Wiccan vibe that blends perfectly with Scott’s mystical phrasings.
“I walked into a gig in Dublin three years ago and there was a support act with an exquisite-sounding girl singer, though the lights were so low I couldn't see her properly,” he explains on his chance meeting with the singer.
“I stood spellbound, listening to her totally nail every song in this beautiful, witchy, cartoonesque voice. I knew she was the female voice I'd imagined for Mr. Yeats; no doubt whatsoever. Next day I found her band on Myspace and sent her a message asking if she'd get involved in Mr. Yeats.”
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A shuffling bodhran and a muffled blues chord base accompanies “The Lake of Innisfree,” and in a stroke of sheer production genius, a screeching violin bent into notes that sound like they’re blown from a harmonica.
“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow/there midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow/I will arise and go now, for always night and day/I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore/I hear it in the deep heart's core,” Scott purrs.
Fans of the band will remember a majestic read of the poem “Stolen Child” which appeared on the immortal Fisherman’s Blues. Poems like “Love & Death” and “Song of the Rosy Cross” appeared on other discs.
“The ‘Stolen Child’ track proved to me that I could set Yeats to music successfully,” Scott says in an interview with journalist John Healy that is published on the band’s website.
“I had the fuller concert idea -- that came before the album concept -- in 1991 when I was one of several artists on the bill of a Yeats tribute at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which Yeats had founded in 1904.
“Specially for the show I set four more Yeats poems to music expecting the other artists to do the same. As it turned out I was the only person who did any Yeats material.
“I can still remember standing in the wings of the Abbey stage thinking that Yeats deserved a whole show dedicated to his poems. That was the first glimmer of the idea, though I didn’t realize then I’d end up doing it with my own band.”
Scott attributes his love of Yeats to his mother, who held the poet in the highest regard.
“The Irish kids get Yeats in school, but not the Scottish,” Scott says when asked by John Healy how he came to love Yeats.
“I heard about Yeats from my mother. I grew up with the impression of this master poet whose name was uttered around the house in hushed, awed tones.
“The very sound of that one syllable “Yeats,” rhyming with “great,” had a gravity, a power. And when I was 11, in 1970, my mum attended the Yeats Summer School and took me along.
“I don’t remember being at any of the lectures – though she assures me I was – but I remember my impressions of Sligo, the strange mountain Ben Bulben, and Yeats’s grave beneath it. We also visited the tower where he lived, Thoor Ballylee near Galway, which I loved.”
Scott left Yeats behind to make pop records but came back to read him a few years later, when he came across the poem “News for the Delphic Oracle” in his mother’s bookshelves.
“I didn’t really understand it, but I loved its invocation of the god Pan,” he says.
Unlike some songs, which are crafted in a studio before they get an airing onstage, Scott performed some of these songs in a series of concerts throughout the U.K. during the past year. He reports that the basic live arrangements were used, though the music evolved again during the recording process.
Mr. Yeats finds Scott collaborating with long-time fiddler Steve Wickham and British songwriter Freddie Stevenson.
“Freddie's a British songwriter of great skill and sensitivity -- and a wonderful singer too -- who lives in New York,” he explains.
“I sent him the lyrics of several poems, edited for maximum musicality, and he set them to tunes and sent them back to me. I made a few changes and wrote the bridges, and we were off.”
Scott has crafted musical soundscapes worthy of this classic prose. His “White Birds” has a majestic chord structure that expands into the open air, the sound of seagulls bobbing atop the guitars.
“A Full Moon in March” has a menacing alt-rock chorus as he describes how “Jill murdered Jack up the hill as the moon shone brightly.”
The track “Mad As the Mist and Snow” has a Celtic mystical blues vibe that is reminiscent of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing.”
If there is justice on this earth, this quirky, gorgeous disc will find its way into the same hearts that fell in love with Fisherman’s Blues.
“It’s a stunning experience working with lyrics of Yeats’ caliber,” Scott reports. “I’m well aware I’m sculpting with words of the very highest quality, and this spurs me to write music at the peak of my own abilities and expression.”
An Appointment with Mr. Yeats was released in Ireland and the U.K. but has an unnamed U.S. date.
This music is so good that this is worth tracking down and adding to your collection right now.
A good place to start would be the band’s website. Check out www.mikescottwaterboys.com
BBC interview with Mike Scott speaking about the new album: