Mike Scott

The Waterboys frontman reads from his forthcoming autobiography - but the audience want more

There is something of the Pied Piper about Waterboys frontman, Mike Scott. Reading from his memoirs in the Black Box as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Scott’s narrow-brimmed hat sits at a rakish angle over ragamuffin curls, and his body is acutely angular as he hunches over the sheets of his manuscript.

More than that, it’s the effect he has on his audience. They are rapt. They lean forward in their seats, watching and listening avidly as he recalls the people and places of his life. Scott isn’t just a respected musician, he’s a natural storyteller, and the audience happily follows wherever he leads.

His book, A Waterboy’s Adventure in Music, is published by Lilliput Press this autumn, and charts his progress from fledgling Edinburgh musician through to forming the Waterboys and beyond. Tonight, he is sharing extracts from the book, revealing the moments that defined the direction of his career.

Before Scott takes to the stage, music journalist Stuart Bailie introduces him, describing his work as ‘special’ and ‘magnificent’, particularly his recent project, An Appointment with Mr Yeats, in which Scott set WB Yeats’ poems to music. According to Bailie, he is ‘one of the few musicians to give you rapture,’ and I start to worry that this could all get a bit earnest.

Thankfully, Scott doesn’t take himself too seriously and his memoirs reveal a warm, self-deprecating sense of humour.

He describes his first naïve experience of a recording studio, his early and short-lived devotion to Johnny Thunders, the first time he really ‘got’ trad music in Kerry, and his pursuit of spiritual enlightenment at a New Age retreat in northern Scotland. Each new direction consumes and drives him.

Scott is not showy, but he is compelling, even when reading from a few loose A4 sheets. That’s why I suspect the experience of reading his book oneself might be different.

His is a memoir that is noticeably ‘written’, and while descriptions are vivid and original, I find the lyricism grating in places. Because Scott has made an effort to write well, clichés like ‘bold as brass’ and ‘the atmosphere was electric’ are surprising.

By the end of the session, we know much about what inspires Mike Scott’s musical vision, but little about Mike Scott the man. I wonder whether the extracts he read were those he felt would work best with an audience, or if the whole book has the same tightly controlled, slightly guarded feel.

Scott is known for being a private man, and he may not want us to know everything. But, going by the audience’s demands for more, they will never get enough.

Check out our What's On listings for information on all Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival events.