The Waterboys : In A Special Place

They Say :- In a Special Place is a 15 track album comprising never before released demos from This Is The Sea, The Waterboys’ critically acclaimed, and fifth highest UK charting album. The demos featured were recorded on the first day of recording the 1985 album which Scott describes as “the record on which I achieved all my youthful ambitions”.

The majority of the stripped back tracks are Mike Scott at the piano with an occasional drum machine. All songs are written by Scott except “Don”t Bang The Drum” which he co-wrote with Karl Wallinger; this was the last Waterboys album with input from Wallinger before he went on to form World Party.

A number of demos on In a Special Place were subsequently recorded for the album; these include “Don’t Bang The Drum”, “Be My Enemy”, “The Pan Within”, “Old England” and the iconic “Whole Of The Moon” which reached number 26 in the 1985 UK singles chart, and later  number 3 in the UK singles chart when reissued in 1991. Other tracks never made the final album cut, and are heard on here for the very first time.

We Say :- OK, I know what you’re thinking… This is a rock and metal webzine, so what the hell am I doing reviewing an album by that pop band, you know, the one that did that thing about the moon or something.

Well, if you are thinking that, please go away now as you’re clearly a cretin.

The Waterboys are one of my favourite bands, they were the first band I ever followed round the country and I still rate their Glasgow Barrowlands date on the Fishermans Blues tour in my top three gigs of all time. And I’ve been to a lot of gigs 😉

It’s a love affair that started when I was given a tape of  A Pagan Place which was, is, a brilliant album. It was that which started to steer my attention away from my pop-music leanings (ok, it was 1984) towards real music played on real instruments, but for all it’s impact on the 16 year old me it was nothing compared to what was to follow a year later…

When the Waterboys released their third album at the end of 1985 my life-long love of “proper” music was well and truly established, and it was into a psyche dominated by Saxon, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest that release of This Is The Sea left an indelible mark. It was so different to anything else I was listening to, but there was just something about it.

You see when it gets right down to it music should be all about originality, good songs and passion and not just about image. Or volume.

Anyway, moving on….

There has already been an expanded edition of This Is The Sea with an entire CD of additional tracks from around this time, but In A Special Place is something different. By some amazing good fortune the initial demos for the album have survived and have been tidied up for this release. These were recorded in March 1985, with only Mike and his co-producer John Brand there. It is, for the most part, incredibly stripped down stuff consisting of only a piano, the soaring emotion of Mike Scott’s voice and the occasional drum machine sounding curiously out of place, a digital intrusion in an analogue landscape. The big music is laid bare and the songs give only an impression of the polished, familiar end result.

If you’re familiar with This Is The Sea (and if you’re not, you should be) it takes a few listens to get used to what you are hearing here. Songs are recognisable, but different. Between these demos and the final versions lyrics evolved, verses were added, dropped or changed, arrangements were modified and some songs were discarded completely, apparently lost forever.

Listening to some of those that didn’t make it you do realise how difficult it must have been for a band to cut tracks to make an album fit the 45 minute limit for two sides of an LP (ask your parents). Leaving out Paris In The Rain or Winter In The Blood must have been hard.

In A Special Place is, well, special. To hear Mike Scott singing embryonic versions of songs I have been listening to for the best part of 25 years is an odd experience. The quality of the songwriting shines through, the arrangements are simple and the performance is full of raw intensity. Even taken at face value this is a great release, but more importantly (to me, anyway) A Special Place provides a fascinating insight into how these compositions developed over the process of recording This Is The Sea.

And anyway, it’s a Waterboys album so obviously I HAD to have it 🙂