December 14th: Happy Birthday to Mike Scott and Spider Stacy
Both men have played with bands that are sometimes squashed under the general category of “Irish music” or “traditional music,” which has some right ideas but is immensely wrong in the reduction. Scott, born and raised in Edinburgh, founded The Waterboys in 1981. With a rolling band of musicians, The Waterboys have changed members and shape-shifted through wide-ranging musical styles and ideas — but have always rocked and rolled. Their first single, “A Girl Called Johnny” (1983) is a punk tribute to Patti Smith; two of their best-known songs, “The Whole of the Moon” and “Fisherman’s Blues,” are only a few years more recent, but leagues apart, from that early start. “November Tale,” from their Modern Blues (2015) still showcases Scott’s distinctive glory of a voice, now with a band playing a rich, mellow sound. Longtime Waterboys fiddler extraordinare Steve Wickham (here playing, if you please, a hurley stick), Professor Ralph Salmins on the drums, Brother Paul Brown owning the keyboards, Zach Ernst of Austin, Texas on guitar and the epic David Hood of Muscle Shoals on bass are the band’s current lineup.
Stacy, with Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer, were based in London in the late 1970s. They once played together as The Milwall Chainsaws, if you would like to file that away as the punkest band name of all time. However, Stacy remains best-known for the group they formed in 1982: The Pogues. Their cast has included Cait O’Riordan and Joe Strummer, whose “Straight to Hell” still sets your heartbeat at the start of any Pogues show, and in the most recent iteration Philip Chevron, Andrew Ranken, Darryl Hunt and James Fearnley. After Chevron’s death in October 2013, The Pogues played a few dates in 2014 but have announced none since. Pray to whatever powers you like that, some day, you will get to see a live Pogues show.
Stacy’s tin whistle is the bright thread that anchors even those songs that seem most apt to spin entirely out of control; witness him with The Dubliners and The Pogues on the best version of “The Irish Rover” there will ever be. He’s not kidding around with that tea-tray on “Fiesta” — and “Tuesday Morning” shows you, every time, what a hell of a frontman he is.
Okay, you’ve guessed my fell purpose by now — not only to wish two grand musicians a happy birthday, but to give you all a lot of good music to listen to on a cold Wednesday in November. Spider and Mike, play us home, and thank you. First, Stacy and Steve Earle in New Orleans (where Stacy lives today), together in Treme with “Come Out, Ye Black and Tans”:
And, in a song that’s always fitting for a birthday, Scott and Sharon Shannon on RTÉ’s Late Late Show, live in Dublin (where Scott lives today) with Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”:
photographs by me