Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Desert Island Discs 20 Pagan Place by the Waterboys



20 Pagan Place by the Waterboys 1984

Some bands you come to late and some you are there near the start. Named after a line in Lou Reeds Berlin lp , I remember hearing Mike Scott's second single December on the Annie Nightingale sunday request show and thinking that it sounded like nothing else (as ever with age came the realisation that it sounded like a lot of other things that had gone before but hey). I was swept up in the semi mystical lyrics , big themes , big voice and self styled big music.

Reading his autobiography it wasn't until the 2nd lp that the music finally began to sound like what he heard in his head.  In a band where members come and go the Pagan Place had the best line up with future World Party Karl Wallinger on keyboards and Anthony Thistlewaite , the "human saxophone".

I'm not usually one for manifestos but sometimes it really can work . Mike Scott wrote detailed notes on what the lp should sound like , the feelings it should evoke , what instruments should feature before a note was recorded. He then got the band to play version after version until the sound matched what was going on his head . Songs were epic with dozens of verses until  eventually a usable core would emerge.

What is surprising is that the lp was actually recorded over 2 different periods with some of the songs made in the same sessions that led to the debut lp. It is a testament to Scott's drive and vision that you really can't see the join. The centre piece epic history lesson Red Army Blues was one of those recorded before Wallinger answered the nme add and joined the band (although he is playing on this live version)



There is something very male about this type of stirring chest beating music (I think everyone needs at least one such lp in their collection). What made this different from the likes of the Alarm , Simple Minds etc was that it pulled on a wide set of influences to make a sound that was its own.

It starts off with two rollicking sing along in A Church not Made With Hands and All the Things She gave , with images that would reappear in future songs. Both made to be sung/shouted along to . There is respite with a great break up song before we are off again.

Rags can only be described as a end of days whirlwind that ties itself up in knots until it crashes about itself with energy spent. I love it .

Rags - The Waterboys

Apparently this was one of the songs that started with about 20 or so verses before being whittled down.

Years later Mike Scott would release another version with some of the extra verses added in and I've always wished I had the ability to weave the 2 together

Rags (2nd instalment)

The lp ends in a swoon awash with acoustic guitars and Roddy Lorimer's crystal trumpet and Mike Scott lost in the music and lost for words

Pagan Place - The Waterboys

At the end of the lp Mike Scott, in interviews,  talked about being not sure what he would do next , of his song writing being stuck. .. until he dreamt of a rainbow.

Dated yes , overly mystical yes , a bit silly I places yes... but all the better for it

You can buy an extended version of a Pagan Place here

31 comments:

  1. This is the album that reminded me that I am NOT a child of the Dylan generation and I CAN have my own folk (rock) heroes. Mike Scott filled this work with many influences, but created a work that belongs with the Dylans and Springsteens and Reeds.
    I sometimes find myself, completely out of nowhere, singing The Big Music to myself. The first time I heard the track, it blew my mind. Take equal parts Dylan, Bowie, Steely Dan and add a post punk urgency and that Spectoresque production and mix well. The result is a song that wipes much of what came before it off the floor.
    Red Army Blues is a song that Dylan has been searching for for 40 years.
    A timeless record.

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    1. Nicely put Echo - especially as I've always had a totally ridiculous prejudice against anything King Bob has done!
      I'm not sure i hear the Steely Dan influence though??

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    2. It's in the keyboards for me...and the faintly jazzy bits on the album. You could also see this as Mike Garson/Bowie influence as well. I'm willing to be argued as in the wrong, but I think Steely Dan had a big influence on a lot of early to middle 80's pop...not just the obvious in China Crisis... There was a really solid pop sensibility to their folk/jazz leanings and they appealed to anyone for whom Prog was boring.

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    3. Def agree re influence on mid 80s British bands deacon blue and Danny Wilson the obvious other ones. And can hear some garson in the waterboys

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  2. Brilliant "not-so-obvious" pick and another fine write-up. I remember the first time I heard "Church Not Made With Hands" and being carried away by the overwhelming power of it all... I guess you're right, the "wall of sound" was nothing new, but even now to my ears, it sounds extraordinary and unique. My pick is one of the "obvious" choices, slightly higher.

    #20 - MOJAVE 3 - "EXCUSES FOR TRAVELLERS" (2000 - 4AD)

    - I wasn't a big fan of Neil Halstead's woozy shoegaze band Slowdive, so was hesitant to give his new British take on alt/country band a go, but I'm glad I did. Halstead constantly gets the "sounds like Nick Drake" tag which is not a bad thing, but it's not that obvious to my ears. The first two albums have some lovely tunes, but this one's packed with'em. Along with shadings of horns and banjo, Melvin Duffy & BJ Cole pop up again; frequenting M3's albums almost as often as MM's, adding colour but never overpowering in the garish "Nashville" tradition. Actually, I think anyone who enjoys Miracle Mile might find kindred spirits here. Beautiful, carefully constructed and softly sung melodies underpinned by sad, reflective words. I hope the likening is not an insult Trev...

    I'd also recommend Halstead's solo work. Even quieter than M3, the Drake comparisons are apt here.

    I don't expect this to be on others lists. Don't be thrown off by the alt/country tag. It's a hidden gem that I treasure and highly recommend...

    Again, I'm posting nearly every track, it's that good...

    Trying To Reach You: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbgkCJr99Gc
    Got My Sunshine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_T6Qk5_OD4
    In Love With A View: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgdvf4Mzkg8
    When You're Drifting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw4sldd53Dg
    Any Day Will Be Fine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcl8tPAC88A
    Prayer For The Paranoid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWT3JS5y0d0
    My Life In Art: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hh1_QAlVDw
    Return To Sender: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrPg0MgAOc0

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    1. My lawyers are checking this one out as we speak TT.
      Mel AND BJ? How very dare they...

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    2. Top choice - I love his solo O Mighty Engine. I must get this as for some reason I've only got Out of Tune which is music to melt to. God knows what he was thinking with Slowdive though!

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    3. BJ on early albums, Duffy later including this one. Have you ever thought of bringing them together on a song? Dueling guitars like Layla or Free Bird on a MM record would be interesting!!!
      TT

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    4. These tracks sound rather good to these ears. I've only got 'Puzzles like you' that I got after hearing the title track. Very good album and kept meaning to investigate further.Must check out his solo work too
      Phil

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    5. I have Sleeping on Roads Phil which was OK. I really like the sound of Halstead's voice on the newer 'Palindrome Hunches'. I have brought the Mojave 3's debut and Excuses for Travellers on TT's instruction.
      I've often thought about BJ and Mel together; they are so different in approach. Mel, quiet, studios, perfect. BJ, noisy and (quite brilliantly) all over the place... Mel gives you exactly what you want. BJ gives you what he thinks you need. There's a story of David Gray having to talk him back into the studio after Gray wanted him to play 100 notes a second on 'Caroline' which overheated BJ somewhat. Check out tat solo if you an. You can hear the steam coming out BJ's ears and smell the friction burns on his fingers...

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  3. I preferred This is the Sea but have to admit to immersing myself in it. It's another of those 'how did it miss my list?' ones.
    The bravado and passion was irresistible. And what an almighty, heavenly din they made...

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    1. It was a close call between this and This is the Sea, went to extra time and could have gone either way but in the end a hotly disputed penalty won it

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    1. Hi Iano - I think in their own way all of the first 4 lps are classics

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    2. I actually took 'This Is The Sea' out to the car with me after I read this. I feel better now!
      Funnily enough, the first two albums are very different from the second two. That is a given!! However, I like them ALL. Not many bands can create a totally different sound and get away with it.
      I see they are touring Fishermans Blues again at the moment. I also hear that Karl Wallinger is in toe this time round.

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    3. They're touring FB a bit later in the year- a box set of everything recorded for the album is being released in September.
      Sadly, no Karl- apparently fences haven't really been mended there....

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  5. I only have 'This is the sea', that hasn't been played for donkeys years. I really don't know why because it's an album I really like. Time to load it on to the mp3 player and listen on the way in to work tomorrow.
    #20 The Blue Nile - Peace at Last. Even at the dizzy heights of the top 20 I hear shouts of 'Too low' and maybe even 'wrong album'.I do love all BN albums, but Peace at Last is the one I listen to the most.
    I know I'm passing on 'Tinseltown in the rain' from their debut and 'Downtown lights' and 'Over the hillside' from 'Hats' but this album overall I think is stronger.The two opening tracks are two of my favourites. 'Happiness' and 'Tomorrow Morning' ,they then follow them with 3 tracks that I always think sound very Talk Talkish. I can imagine Mark Hollis singing them. Later on we get the intimate 'Family Life'.To knick a saying of Trevs, 'Just enough paint on the canvass'on this track.
    Excellent album .but there's 19 I love even more
    Phil

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    1. Intriguing Phil. Peace At Last due to be remastered soon. Should be a totally different dynamic from the glacial synths. Beyond the voice this is a warmer sounding heartache. Acoustic guitars abound. Cripes...

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  6. It s a top lp but it loses out for me as the 2nd half cant quite reach the dizzy heights of side 1 in old money. And yes too low from me

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  7. I find it very hard to drop a knee-jerk reaction to these. I always think of The Fatima Mansions t-shirts which had a silhouette of Mike Scott with a line through them saying "Raggle Taggle Nein Danke." I know it's not a fair criticism. I guess I found them too self-consciously EPIC, like a certain Irish band from Dublin's north side.

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    1. I can see your criticism of The Waterboys, but I think the "epic" thing wasn't really what they were about. Yes, the songs on A Pagan Place have a epic production, but the songs aren't so vast. They tend toward the emotional and inward. They always seemed to me very first person and not, as in the case of U2, anthemic.

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    2. Im with echo for some reason i found it a bit more genuine than u2 and the big brass sound made a big enough difference.
      i once saw microdisney play live along with 10 other people. To his credit cc did his usual intense in your face performance whilst the 11 of us in the audience shuffled about a little uncomfortably much to ccs delight

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    3. In think I was at that gig David. Was it the Mean Fiddler?
      I loved the intensity of Scott's vision; always seemed to be on a similar spiritual Wavelength as Van. Unsure if he even knew what he was reaching for but at least he was reaching. He could pen a tune too. 'Whole of the Moon' rattling the letter box as I write...

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  8. Phil: Peace At Last certainly a worthy pick! It would be in my Top 20 if rules allowed. It's more of an accessible pop album than Hats, with standout tunes. "Holy Love" kills it for me. If they'd chucked it and tucked in a couple of the stellar B-sides from the "Happiness" single - "Wish Me Well", "Lolita", "New York Man" or the lost track "Meanwhile" then PAL would probably be my choice.
    PS: Great to have you stretch your comments/reviews & climb into the ring with your passionate opinions...
    Re: M3... "Puzzles" was a major departure for the band...way rockier than earlier stuff. OK, but not my fave. I think you'll enjoy having a trawl through the back-catalog.

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  9. Ditto. A 'Ringo' compromise? Sounds like it was written by the drummer.

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  10. From now on i think we should highlight the ringo song on every lp!!

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    1. I think as time passes and we listen to a favourite album we begin to even love the 'Ringo songs'. For me listening to , say, 'Love' I never skip either of the turds. 'One and one' and 'Everybody is number one' now make Love what it is, a huge favourite. I remember Trev remarking on MM songs when 'Coffee and Stars' came out and saying he loved all his songs even the cross eyed ones or something to that effect, and this is true of certain songs on favourite albums.
      Phil

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  11. Ay, but you do need to send the odd scruffy one to bed early, no dinner... Tough love always pays dividends. It's often the quirky ones that take root in your ventricle...

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  12. This is a top choice and any band who can release an album of songs that they discarded which is better than most music out there like "Too Close To Heaven" - http://www.discogs.com/Waterboys-Too-Close-To-Heaven-The-Unreleased-Fishermans-Blues-Sessions/release/1308660 - has to be worth a mention. The re-issues also have so many lost treasures worth checking out. His earlier band Another Pretty Face were also amazing but sadly they never released an album and the 7" singles that came out on Mike's Chicken Jazz label are now sadly very rare finds.

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  13. Hi wally
    i bought all the reissues when they came out and some of the discarded songs and original full versions are great

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