Strange Boat by Ian Abrahams

by stephenpalmersf

Music author Ian Abrahams, formerly exploring space rock and counter-culture territory (Hawkwind, Free Festivals in Britain), now turns his attention to former ‘Big Music’ creator and all-round musical traveller Mike Scott, in a fascinating and comprehensive overview of this gifted artist. Originally published in 2008, this new updated version of the book adds much to the story of Mike Scott’s early days, while, at the end, including an article originally written for R2 magazine. Ian Abrahams is well placed to venture again into rock biography, being a journalist veteran of Shindig, Record Collector and R2 magazines, as well as being an author.

The tale of Mike Scott is one of music business good luck, bad luck, accidental meetings, many partings, and a long and winding road of musical ventures, from the early days of Another Pretty Face all the way through to Scott’s spiritual ventures, and the inevitable raggle-taggle solo career post-Waterboys (which, confusingly, included the Waterboys).

Brought up an only child in a family environment that allowed him to do pretty much what he pleased (a trait continuing through his career as a musician, a point well made by the author), Mike Scott was one of those people who, instead of playing at music, threw himself into it so that he could hardly fail. There were elements of fortune, of course: meeting long-time collaborator Anthony Thistlethwaite for instance, which gave Scott the impetus to create the early Waterboys albums, including the era-defining This Is The Sea. Meeting fiddle player Steve Wickham was a life-changing event. The choice of record company was fortuitous. But through this tale of success Ian Abrahams weaves a different tale, via the well chosen and comprehensive words of friends, colleagues and others: Karl Wallinger (himself a remarkable musician – Scott’s equal, undoubtedly), Roddy Lorimer (“trumpet for hire”) and Colin Blakey… and many more. Through these insights Scott emerges as a self-reliant, occasionally anti-social, confused and confusing man, a man who refused to do Top Of The Pops but who went on to court fans and publicity, as in the end all musicians must. The sense is very much of a man on a quest – via music.

Scott’s spiritual ventures are also well documented in the book, not least his reliance on the people and environment of the Findhorn Foundation. The latter years of the solo career, with all its genre twists and turns, is well handled by the author, through his own readable prose and through the contributions of those who know him, including such luminaries as Ian McNabb.

In summary: a particularly well assembled biography of a fascinating musician. No fan of Mike Scott or the Waterboys, of ‘eighties music, or of the many strands of Celtic music will want to miss this entertaining book. Definitely recommended.

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Strange Boat, Ian Abrahams