Mike Scott, the creative force that created The Waterboys, describes WB Yeats as “Ireland’s greatest poet”.
His devotion to the Nobel Prize winner has led to a new collection of songs and a memorable performance at the Sydney Festival.
An Appointment With Mr Yeats is the result and it is a triumphant collaboration.
WB Yeats words echo loud in the ears of those of us schooled in Ireland but, revisited via Scott’s eloquent Celt-infused rock, they take on a new life.
Yeats was a rockstar in his day and now, thanks to Scott, he is one again, presented to a new audience through song. And what songs?
Scott is respectful of Yeats well-chosen words and uses the existing metre of the poems to create rock verses, adapting some into choruses.
The result, in the State Theatre last night is even greater than the sum of its parts.
Scott, now 54, remains a charismatic front-man. Lean and hatted, he leads the band like a ringmaster and his voice is as riveting as ever.
Fiddler Steve Wickham from Dublin is the only other remaining member of the band from their meteoric 1980′s days but Aussie Sarah Calderwood makes an impressive cameo on flute and vocals.
Scott’s new Waterboys take us on a journey through Yeats’ best-known work. The poignant Politics, written, Scott explains, when Yeats was old and infirm, lamenting the loss of his youth when he sees an attractive young woman.
The Second Coming provides the show with its most theatrical moment as Scott dons a gruesome three-headed mask before a mellower rendition of the tender White Birds, in which Wickham skilfully mimics the seagull’s caw.
“I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee.”
They sound like words from, well, a Waterboys song.
The dramatic opening track The Hosting Of The Shee (Sidhe) sets the town for the show. Celtic rhythms with rock guitar licks are a perfect fit for Yeats words:
The Host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-bare;
Caolte tossing his burning hair
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Yeats purists might question the blues rendition of Lake Isle Of Inishfree but Scott’s interpretation of September 1913 is a perfect fit.
As the Scot says: “It was written almost a hundred years ago but it could have been written last week.”
“Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?”
An Appointment With Mr Yeats is a linking of kindred souls – the poet and the singer, the musician and his muse, the protégé and the master – separated by time and mortality, but united in their passion for words, for truth, for the sea, for Ireland itself.
While some Waterboys devotees at the State Theatre lamented the lack of back catalogue hits during the two-hour performance, Scott wrapped up the show with the unforgettable Whole Of The Moon – performed for first time in Australia at their Brisbane show just days before – and the irresistible Fisherman’s Blues.
A perfect finale to a great night.