The Waterboys


At Netteswell School in Harlow, the end of the Christmas term was always celebrated thoroughly. The children left around 3 p.m. and the party started at 3:01. A couple of times, Ron and I arranged to get a barrel, a full barrel, of beer in the staff room a few days early to let it settle in readiness for the party. By 4:00 there was none left. Mind you, I’m pretty sure that the first pint was poured well before 3:00.

In 1983 I left Netteswell and worked at Chancellor’s school in Hertfordshire. At the end of my first Christmas term there, I drove back to Harlow and joined the party at my old school. By 1984, Netteswell had closed. At the end of the Christmas term 1984 I was rather bereft. I drove back to my flat in Conyers, arriving about 4 p.m. I had arranged to meet people in Harlow around 8:00 p.m. but it was the first time I hadn’t properly celebrated the end of a Christmas term.

Teachers have long holidays and are only in contact with children for 5-6 hours a day so to the outside, it looks like a pretty easy life. Only those who have experienced it can know what hard work it is, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas when everyone gets very excited and it becomes harder and harder to keep classes motivated. So the feeling of relief at the end of term is extreme. So on Friday December 21st, 1984, I had a few hours of solitude when all I really wanted to do was drink beer and talk rubbish. I got back to Conyers, switched the television on, sat in my lovely green armchair donated by my parents, burst into tears and fell asleep.

When I woke up, there was some great music playing. “The Tube” was on as it was every Friday night at this time. The song was “A Girl Called Johnny” by a group called The Waterboys that I had never heard of. I immediately reached for the remote control for my video recorder (rented from “Radio Rentals”). After I had untangled the long wire that connected the remote control to the recorder, I pressed Record and watched the next song which was “Savage Earth Heart”. I still have this recording on VHS tape. I’ve also transferred it to DVD. Now you can watch it on YouTube (see below). Start at 6:00.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I reckon I’ve watched the video of “Savage Earth Heart” 600-700 times. It was over 36 years ago and I’ve probably watched it at least 10-20 times a year. I used to have about 50 VHS cassettes all filled with music that I’d taped from the television when “The Old Grey Whistle Test”, “The Tube”, “Oxford Road Show”, “Rhythms Of The World” and even “Top Of The Pops” all had some great stuff on them. I have spent hundreds of hours cataloguing these videos. I’ve also spent a long long time transferring the best of these tapes to DVD and typing out contents. I have these DVDs here in front of me but most of the cassettes have been chucked out.

There are some great performances on these DVDs. “Honey Man” by Tim Buckley on The Old Grey Whistle Test, “Life In A Northern Town” by The Dream Academy on Top Of The Pops, “Between The Wars” sung live by Billy Bragg on Top Of The Pops with the audience wondering whether or not they should dance but resorting to waving balloons, “Shake Dog Shake” by The Cure on The Oxford Road Show, “Someone Somewhere In Summertime” by Simple Minds on The Tube, “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush on Top Of The Pops, “Radio Free Europe” by R.E.M. on The Tube, “Keep On Movin'” by Green On Red on The Old Grey Whistle Test, “O Bashako” by The Mahotella Queens on Rhythms Of The World, “Nowhere To Run” by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on a show whose name I forget as well as three full DVDs of Van Morrison music.

There were too many times when I used to force my friends to come into Conyers, ply them with Jamesons and make them watch my videos. The following morning as we staggered off to work, there would be 20-30 cassettes and their cases lying on the floor waiting to be cleared up when I got in that day, or maybe the next week. Often I would generously let John have my brand new bed in the living room whilst I hunkered down on the sofa bed in the bedroom in the West Wing of Conyers. Although, truth be told, the floor was probably softer than that bed.

My proudest cataloguing moment came when a few friends from Chancellor’s came to Conyers and Neil challenged me to find a song by Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. After a few quick flicks of the pages on my ring binder, a scan of my carefully numbered tapes and a lot of Fast Forwarding, there it was: “Resurrection Shuffle”. “That’s incredible, Mick ” I was told. “That only took 10 minutes” and he wasn’t being sarcastic.

Nowadays, all that cataloguing is completely redundant as we have YouTube. Within a few seconds, any performance from any time is available although I have yet to see “5 A.M. In Amsterdam” by Michelle Shocked from “The Tube” on YouTube. I did once upload it and after about 6 months had 40,000-50,000 views but then I got a final warning from YouTube about uploading illegal content. I don’t understand what’s allowed and what isn’t.

The Waterboys first album is good but of all their 13 albums, it’s the least interesting apart from “Savage Earth Heart”. The version on the album is excellent but the live version on The Tube is one of the most exciting performances available on YouTube.

It starts with Mike Scott strumming his electric guitar, while the rest of the band stand around looking menacing. “I wanna be a witness or a victim to your spell!” The camera pans back to show the audience, most of whom seem to be girls with “big hair”. Then the whole band kicks in and start rocking. I think it’s Roddy Lorimer on trumpet, Anthony Thistlethwaite on saxophone, Karl Wallinger on keyboards and I’m not sure about the bass player or the drummer. The presentation is typical of “The Tube.” Lots of quick cuts, unusual angles (Thistlethwaite and Lorimer are often shown from below at a 45 degree angle), pictures of the audience, close ups of Mike Scott and some great interchanges between the members of the band. In a quieter part, Wallinger plays some lovely keyboard after “Then I was taken smoothly by the vulture of the soul” and Mike Scott gives him a very approving look which considering they fell out badly a year or two later seems very improvident. The whole song achieves huge excitement by switching between quiet melodic sections and louder and faster full band playing. “That hideous strength/that numbs the tongue” – the band threaten to explode into something bigger – but, no, it’s gone quiet again – “And he led me like a cinder/through the fields of hell/to doubt my friends/and to hate myself” – now it’s building – “But when my savage earth heart cuts through/When my savage earth heart cuts through/Then my savage earth heart cuts through” – and its getting faster and the cutting between different cameras is getting faster – but, no, it’s got quiet again – “And the culture of the soul laid waste” – and now the piano and guitar are playing together the saxophone is playing – the drums are accelerating – the trumpeter is blowing hard – its getting faster – the girls with the big hair are grooving – its getting faster – Mike Scott turns to the drummer who is going wild – it’s so exciting – it’s faster and faster but sadly Mike Scott bends at the knees which means it’s about to end – the band free forms to a conclusion – the crowd goes mad and I’m a quivering mess.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

3 thoughts on “The Waterboys

  1. Your blow by blow description is almost as exciting as the video itself! Fantastic stuff. You’re right, this is an inspired performance by a great band that, to me, epitomises rock at its absolute best: passion, loudness, intensity, menace, excitement and, most of all, a wild mystical energy that carries you off into another dimension. I’ve never seen this version before, but I’m going to end up playing it 700 times at least. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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