The Times, September 1995
BRING 'EM ALL IN
Going with his instincts changed Mike Scotts life. Alan Jackson reports.
To tell the story of Bring 'Em All In, the first solo album by Mike Scott, former leader of the Waterboys, you need look no further than the songs themselves. For example, take Long Way to the Light: "Id made it to Manhattan, built myself a nest, he sings. "I meant to get right back to doing, exactly what I do the best/Plugging in an electric guitar, Ieading a band/Well, if you want to give God a laugh, tell him all your plans!"
Because that was exactly how it all began. Resident in New York, and preparing for the promotional campaign in support of what would be his groups final LP, 1993's Dream Harder, the Edinburgh-born singer-songwriter felt a growing conviction that he was not doing the right thing. Ive always had strong instincts, but havent always gone with them, he says when we meet near his current home in west London. "And usually its when I ignore those instincts, when I do what someone else says I should, or simply act out of fear, that I land myself in trouble."
So, against the wishes of both record company and manager (his relationships with each were severed later), he ducked out of further auditioning of players for a projected world tour, and looked instead for a way of resuming a spiritual rather than a geographical journey, one begun a decade earlier. "Around 1983 and while living in Ireland, I'd experienced a great awakening," he says. "But I see now that it wasn't connected to anything occult or mysterious. The things I'd been learning were totally down-to-earth - manhood, a sense of tradition, the craft of songwriting.
Suddenly, Scott says, he felt a compulsion to look inside himself, confront a few ghosts. No religious precedent was at work: "I hadnt had a conventional Christian influence. There was no 'churchianity' whatsoever in my upbringing. But, despite having no inherited regime to work or kick against, he felt the need to know himself better.
First, he taught himself to meditate. Then, serendipitously, he was sent a video in which Eileen Caddy, founder of the Findhorn Community in northeast Scotland, talked about her life and work. Instantly I was rapt. It was what I had waited years to see and hear.
It had been sent by Scott's mother, who had attended two workshops within the Community. "And there was Mrs Caddy, essentially an ordinary woman, talking about gratitude, unconditional love, self-acceptance, stuff like that. Good stuff. And stuff that I really needed to hear at that point in my life. I knew then and there that I would end up going to Findhorn."
After devouring Flight into Freedom and all the other books Caddy has published, he went. "I shuddered in the Power, like a seedling in a storm," he sings on Long Way to the Light. "I'd been travelling to this place, since the moment I was born.
Any cynical reaction to this story is punctured instantly not only by Scotts artless sincerity, but also by the power and beauty of the album that has grown out of his experience there. He has written and sung each track on Bring 'Em All In, played every instrument, and co produced the whole in conjunction with Niko Bolas, best known for his work with Neil Young. The result is the most compelling folk album of the year, one which speaks to the listener with an immediacy and emotional honesty reminiscent of the earliest days of Scotts distinguished career.
"Ive completely changed my way of writing and performing, he says. "If I go back to my old records, I can hear a unsophisticated and open quality to my singing. But somehow between the first and second side of Fisherman's Blues (the fourth of the Waterboys' seven studio albums, released in 1988), part of me closed down. A self-protection crept in and I sounded suddenly a lot more controlled. It was the same on all the records that followed. On this one, though, I've opened up, because lve opened up as a person. There's nothing about me that I'm scared of.
"I've looked at everything inside, forgiven myself for the things I've done wrong and decided that I'm all right, that its OK to be me."
Hearing Scott talk so persuasively about his three months within the Findhorn Community, and of the further year he spent in the neighbouring fishing village from which it takes its name ("Its such a beautiful place, an ever changing tidal bay on the Moray Firth. Just magical") you find yourself itching to book a flight to Inverness, the nearest airport.
It is with self-deprecating grace, though, that Scott admits to having felt a little piqued that, there in his homeland, not one person recognised him as leader of the Waterboys, a band plagiarised by most of the country's buskers. "When they discovered I was a musician, though, I found myself backing various amateur singers, and playing with a little jazz band in the Communitys theatre on Friday nights."
Having written songs throughout his sojourn there, Scott decided that there was no real alternative but to record Bring 'Em All In in Findhorn too. Bolas arrived direct from the full LA experience of working on the latest Rod Stewart project, but soon adapted to the rhythms of the Firth. Not so at home with the resultant album, though, was Geffen Records, Scott's former label. "They said they knew it was good, but that they didnt know what to do with it, he says. Particularly, they thought American radio wouldnt like it. Which, effectively, was the same as branding it a dead duck commercially.
Chrysalis was foremost among a number of companies to disagree and, after coming to a financial agreement with Geffen in regard to the completed work, Scott is leaving it to the company to sell his most compelling work to date to the wider world.
Sitting in an office at Chrysalis, the man previously reputed to be curmudgeonly, cussed or just plain difficult to deal with beams as I gush about how good I think his record is and how I'm off to Waterstones directly after meeting him to buy one of Caddy's books. He wont even say anything bad about his former paymasters. I just hope they sell a few extra copies of Dream Harder as a result, he says. "Really, they were gentlemen to do business with."
And his face lights up with one of his new beatific smiles.
Bring Em All In is released on Sept 18 by Chrysalis. The title track is available now as a single. Mike Scotts 12-date British tour begins at the Redcar Bowl on Oct 14, and concludes with performances at London's Shepherds Bush Empire on Oct 28 and 29