Mike Scott on Universal
Q. Why 'Universal Hall' ? And why Findhorn
"Universal Hall" because of the song, and because the album was recorded in
the studio under the Hall itself. Findhorn because I'm at home there, and
because I wanted to make another record in the charged atmosphere of the
Community. And to bring Steve and Richard back to work in Findhorn after the
atmosphere of our concerts there last year.
Q. This album again is produced by yourself, why is that ?
I liked the job I did on "Weary Land" and re-hired myself !
Q. What influenced you in the writing of the songs and the recording of the
The same things as always - what I feel, see and experience. This time I
consciously focussed on light-filled songs. "A Rock In The Weary Land" was a
record that came out of a period when I explored a lot of darkness - in myself,
in modern life, in history - and when I got to the other side of that there was
Q. What do you mean "light" ?
I mean I found myself in an uncomplicated bright place of the heart and soul,
with my road clear and the wind at my back ! I also mean "light" as in
spiritual energy or power.
Q. Can you tell us about the album cover and all these striking coloured
glass images ?
Yes, they're all from the front of Universal Hall - a huge stained glass
design by James Hubbell, a Californian architect and designer. It really is
unlike any other building anywhere. Pretty good venue too !
Q. Why do so many of the songs on the album have such short lyrics ?
Because I got a sense that was all that was needed to be said in each song.
I like when a cluster of songs comes with its own style or keynote - and the
short minimal lyric seems to be the style of this collection. I like the power
of simplicity too. These short lyrics work like mantras or affirmations;
phrases designed to be said over and over in order to inspire or transform a
state of mind. Or if that doesn't work for you, you can just groove out on the
Q. What is the "Silent Fellowship" ?
It's a group of people meditating in silence together.
Q. You mean in Findhorn ?
For me, yes, the song is inspired by early morning meditations in the
sanctuary at the Findhorn Community, but it could be anywhere that people meditate,
pray or work together in an unspoken sense of fellowship.
Q. Can you explain "E.B.O.L." ?
It's a phrase my wife uses : an "eternal being of love" - who each of us
really is, behind our everyday human identities. I find sometimes when I look at
someone consciously with a lot of love I can see the "ebol" part of them
shining through their face.
Q. What about "Seek The Light" ? It's so different to the rest of the album.
It's a lyric I had for ages - I got the idea from a little book I once read,
an "Acorn Book" - published out of Glastonbury in the 80's. Well, I had the
lyric but I had to begin to learn to live it before I got to put it to music !
Then last year I was listening to an old instrumental piece done during
"This Is The Sea" and found it fit the words. At the same time I was listening to
a CD I'd bought in Findhorn by May East and Craig Gibsone - really strange
instrumental music made on Didgeridoo and an instrument called the Sandawa,
which plays deep droning chords. I thought this would make a great backdrop to
"Seek The Light", so I constructed the track from these various elements using
pro-tools in a studio in London. The engineer was Mark Smith who played on
"Weary Land". It came out really wild and is a continuation of the "Weary Land"
sound - the last burst of that beautiful noise ! I included it on
"Universal Hall" because it fits lyrically, even if it's completely different
musically. It was hard placing it in the running order !
Q. Can you tell us about "Peace Of Iona" ?
I wrote this on the isle of Iona in Scotland, in the mid '90's. My
grandmother came from Mull, which is the neighbouring island, and from my childhood I
remember people talking of Iona as Scotland's sacred island. So I grew up with
this idea of Iona as a special place, a place set apart. When I went there
many years later I wasn't disappointed - it is a very special place indeed.
It's been a "sacred" island for a long time - an ancient Druid centre, then a
centre of celtic Christianity which was brought from Ireland by St Columba who
had his base on Iona, and it's still a magnet for seekers.
Q. What's so special about it ?
There's a presence of spirit there - at least that's been my impression - a
presence overlighting the place; you could say a healing presence of peace and
soul. Hard to express in human words ! I would say it's a combination of
the innate power of the place - Iona is believed to be one of the Earth's
centres of spiritual power - and the atmosphere created by the dedication of all the
seekers who've gone there over the millenia. I suspect it touches every
individual in a different way.
Q. And "This Light Is For The World" ?
Well, this is based on a meditation of consciously bringing down light -
spiritual energy - from the highest place we can inwardly reach, and sending it
into the dark places of the world, to heal and transform. If you believe, as I
do, that thought is an energy, a power, then it's not hard to believe that
concentrated thought, consciously and lovingly directed, can have an effect in
Q. A sceptic might say this is just in the imagination.
And in a sense they'd be right. Imagination is the beginning of all
creativity, all inventions, all civilizations, all human activity. Imagination is an
incredible vast power - its evidence is all around us. As to the question of
whether imagination harnessed in meditation has any effect, for me this is a
matter of faith. Faith is part of the equation. If I don't have it, my
meditation won't work. Belief or faith is the "fuel" that makes it go. At the same
time it's not enough to send love and light around the planet in meditation
if I don't give it to the people around me in daily life - and to myself. It's
got to be on all levels.
Q. I notice "I've Lived Here Before" was co-written with Liam O'Maonlai of
the Hot House Flowers. How so ?
Liam asked me to help him with some writing back in 1991 when we were both in
New York, and we spent 5 afternoons together. Mostly we worked on Liam's
ideas but while he was there I asked him to set a new lyric of mine to music. It
was "I've Lived Here Before" and he wrote the music in the style of the great
Irish composer Sean O'Riada and Cor Coolea - which is a famous choir based at
Muskerry in West Cork, Ireland. This music has a very distinctive style of
melody and musical structure and you can hear echoes of it in the song, though
my piano playing displays it less than Liam's would have. He did a beautiful
job, don't you think ?
Q. Yes. So do "Lived Here" and "The Dance At The Crossroads" mark a return
to the Waterboys' celtic music ?
I think the celtic music is always with the Waterboys - just more behind the
scenes now than in the "Fisherman's Blues" era. It's a root of our music. It
ain't going away.
Q. What was it like for you working with Steve Wickham again ?
As you can guess it was wonderful, a real musical homecoming. He and I are
so sympatico, and he adds wings to the music, a sense of uniqueness - nobody
else can do what Steve does.
Q. How much do he and Richard influence the music in the recording studio?
Well, I'm the director, but Steve and Richard take the music in unforeseen
directions by what they play. I may have an idea, but I can't truly imagine in
advance what they will do. I can encourage them, egg them on like a kind of
idiot producer-cheerleader, but only they know what's inside their souls and
wants to come out. And whatever that is can change the vision of a song. Like
on "Peace Of Iona" - I asked Steve to play whatever the lyric suggested to
him, but I couldn't have envisaged the wonders that came out of his fiddle !
Q. I like his string arrangement on "This Light"...
Yes, me too. This is an area of Steve's creativity we're only beginning to
explore. We touched on it a few times in the late 80's, but never a whole
arrangement like this one. He has such a skill for it, and his sense of melody is
so rich. I'm looking forward to more. And some from Richard too in the
fullness of time.
Q. What are all these strange instruments named on the album sleeve - the
tambron, the earth resonator, the micro-synth, the Indian Harmonium etc ?
The Tambron is a drum I got in an eastern musical shop in Camden Town - a
shallow drum with a skin on one side and lots of little cymbals in the rim, like
a tambourine. I play it bodhran-style, so I re-christened it a "Tamb-ron".
Earth Resonator is a mischievous name for a bass guitar. Micro-Synth is an
effects unit by Electro-Harmonix that enables the user to manipulate sound in
lots of different directions. I used it all over "A Rock In The Weary Land". A
wonderful tool. It's how the voice manipulations are done on "Seek The Light"
and the droning, shifting sound beneath "I've Lived Here Before". The Indian
Harmonium is a small keyboard with bellows and reeds, and it sounds like a
bright accordion. One hand plays the keyboard, the other pulls the bellows in
and out. That's it in the left speaker on "Silent Fellowship".
Q. Who are Scott Gamble and Finlay Grant ?
They're both musicians who live near Findhorn. Scott's an American, and a
master on several African percussion instruments. We played "Every Breath Is
Yours" together, holding the focus of the song through take after take till I
sang the definitive performance, with Scott providing the tension and the
anchor. Finlay is a drummer from Elgin who came in at the last moment to add fills
and cymbals to "Peace Of Iona". I would have got Geoff Dugmore to do it but
he's in London and there was only a few hours' notice. Finlay did a tidy job !
Q. Were there any songs you left off this album ?
Yes, there were several which didn't fit the mood, like "Vampire Man" which
has a darker lyrical edge to it. Also "On My Way To The Big Light" which would
have fit, but which I'd recorded too recently (with Ainars Mielavs) to be
fresh with .
Q. Can we expect to hear these songs on record in the future ?
Yes, you can. Every time we make a record, more songs go into the "for
another time" drawer. That drawer is quite deep now, and could make a strong album
or two. We'll see what wants to happen !
Q. Any last word on "Universal Hall" ?
I've said enough. Let the music do the talking now. Play on !