Fisherman's Blues

Last updated
Fisherman's Blues
Fisherman's Blues Waterboys Album Cover.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 1988
StudioWindmill Lane Studio & Spiddal House
Genre Folk rock
Label Ensign, Chrysalis
Producer Mike Scott, Vinnie Kilduff, Bob Johnston, John Dunford
The Waterboys chronology
This Is the Sea
Fisherman's Blues
Room to Roam
Singles from Fisherman's Blues
  1. "Fisherman's Blues"
    Released: October 1988
  2. "And a Bang on the Ear"
    Released: June 1989

Fisherman's Blues is a 1988 album by The Waterboys. The album marked a change in the band's sound, with them abandoning their earlier grandiose rock sound for a mixture of traditional Irish music, traditional Scottish music, country music, and rock and roll. Critics were divided on its release with some disappointed at the change of direction and others ranking it among The Waterboys' best work. [1] The album was the Waterboys' best selling album, reaching a number 13 placing on the U.K. charts on release, and 76 on the Billboard 200.


Production history

Scott (left) and Wickham (right) collaborated on songwriting for Fisherman's Blues. Mike Scott Steve Wickham at The Hague 2002.jpg
Scott (left) and Wickham (right) collaborated on songwriting for Fisherman's Blues.

The history behind Fisherman's Blues begins with Steve Wickham's contribution to "The Pan Within" on the preceding Waterboys album This Is the Sea . Wickham joined the group officially in 1985 after This Is the Sea had been released. Mike Scott, The Waterboys' leader, spent time in Dublin with Wickham, and moved to Ireland in 1986. That year The Waterboys performed "Fisherman's Blues" on The Tube, which was the first time the new musical direction the band was taking was demonstrated.

The recording sessions for the album were lengthy and produced a great deal of music. The sessions began at Windmill Lane Studio in Dublin and lasted from January through March 1986. An additional session took place that December in San Francisco. From March to August 1987 The Waterboys were recording in Windmill Lane again. Scott moved to Galway and another year passed as the band recorded at Spiddal House, where Scott was living. The entire second side of the original record is made up of recordings from this 1988 session. The album was released that October (see 1988 in music). Scott describes the process; "We started recording our fourth album in early '86 and completed it 100 songs and 2 years later". [2]

More songs from the album's recording sessions were released on Too Close to Heaven , or Fisherman's Blues, Part 2 as it was titled in the United States, in 2002 by BMG and Razor and Tie Entertainment, respectively. Other songs from the sessions were unreleased for years, including one of the defining tracks of sessions, "Higher In Time", a cover of Bob Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", "The Man With the Wind at His Heels", "Stranger to Me", "Saints and Angels", and "Born to Be Together". [1] A remastered "Collector's Edition" with additional tracks was released in May 2006.

A 7-CD box set, containing 121 tracks from the album sessions including all those on the original record and subsequent editions, plus a further 85 unreleased tracks was released on 14 October 2013. [3]


The title track peaked at number three on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. The single for the song reached position 32 on the UK singles charts in 1989 and position 75, when re-issued in 1991. Country music song "The Lost Highway", featuring Liam Ó Maonlaí on piano, appeared on the B-side. "Fisherman's Blues" was used on the pilot episode of the TV series Lights Out , and has appeared on the soundtracks of the movies Good Will Hunting , Waking Ned Devine and Dream with the Fishes . Actress Emilia Clarke performed a cover version for the film Dom Hemingway .

"Sweet Thing" is a "surprisingly successful" [4] cover of a song by Van Morrison, originally from Morrison's 1968 album, Astral Weeks . The Waterboys' version on this album is a medley; the song ends with the unplanned addition of verses from The Beatles' "Blackbird", which Scott impulsively sang on the spot. A different recording of the song appeared on the second compact disc of the re-release of This Is the Sea.

"Strange Boat" lends its title to Ian Abrahams' biography of Mike Scott and The Waterboys, [5] while the song "World Party" was the inspiration for Karl Wallinger's band name. It reached position 19 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart, and was voted number 69 on the KROQ Top 106.7 Countdown of 1989. [6]

Jimmy Hickey, of the instrumental song "Jimmy Hickey's Waltz", was a member of the album's production crew. The track begins with a recording of some conversation and laughter, which continues in the background as a violin begins to play a short waltz. The recording ends with some applause.

"And a Bang on the Ear", in which Scott summarizes a past romantic attachment in each verse, finishing the song with a current "woman of the hearthfire", was released as the second single from the album. A live version of "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy" made up the B-side. A studio version of "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy" would appear on The Waterboys' next album Room to Roam . The single was chosen as a Radio One "Single of the Week", but failed to chart. Confusion amongst listeners about what a bang on the ear might be about prompted The Waterboys' Frequently Asked Questions page to note, more than ten years later, that it was "a term of affection". [7] A "bang" means a kiss and this Irish phrase of "bang on the ear" can best be considered equivalent to the more common phrase "peck on the cheek".

"Has Anybody Here Seen Hank" is a country music tribute to Hank Williams, listening to whom Scott described as "a life-changing experience". [8] The Waterboys had previously paid tribute to a different influence on Scott, Patti Smith, with the song "A Girl Called Johnny" on their first album, The Waterboys .

"Dunford's Fancy" was written by Wickham for Steve Dunford, brother to Waterboys producer John Dunford. [9]

"The Stolen Child" was the first William Butler Yeats poem that The Waterboys put to music. Another Yeats poem "Love and Death" appeared on Dream Harder in 1993. "The Stolen Child", spoken by traditional Irish vocalist Tomás Mac Eoin with backup vocals by Scott, remains the group's "most famous poetic rendition". [10]

The final song is only a brief snippet of the Woody Guthrie folk song "This Land Is Your Land" with some of the American place names replaced with Irish ones.


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg [11]
Chicago Sun-Times Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [12]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [13]
Mojo Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [14]
The Philadelphia Inquirer Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [15]
Q Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [16]
Record Collector Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [17]
Rolling Stone Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [18]
Uncut Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [19]

The album was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die . [20]

Track listing

Fisherman's Blues (1988)

  1. "Fisherman's Blues" (Mike Scott, Steve Wickham) – 4:26
  2. "We Will Not Be Lovers" (Scott) – 7:03
  3. "Strange Boat" (Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite) – 3:06
  4. "World Party" (Scott, Trevor Hutchinson, Karl Wallinger) – 4:01
  5. "Sweet Thing" (Van Morrison) – 7:14
  6. "Jimmy Hickey's Waltz" (Scott, Wickham, Thistlethwaite) – 2:06
  7. "And a Bang on the Ear" (Scott, Wickham, Thistlethwaite) – 9:14
  8. "Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?" (Scott) – 3:19
  9. "When Will We Be Married?" (Traditional, adapted: Scott, Thistlethwaite) – 3:01
  10. "When Ye Go Away" (Scott) – 3:45
  11. "Dunford's Fancy" (Wickham) – 1:04
  12. "The Stolen Child" (Words: W.B. Yeats, Music: Scott) – 6:55
  13. "This Land Is Your Land" (Woody Guthrie) – 0:56

Jimmy Hickey's Waltz not present on 1988 Ensign vinyl release. Though it is not listed at the back of the 1988 CD box, it features on the Ensign disc and in the booklet with full credits..

Collector's Edition Bonus disk track list (2006)

All tracks written by Mike Scott except as indicated.

  1. "Carolan's Welcome" (trad., arr. Scott, Wickham, Thistlethwaite, Gavin, C. Lennon, Finn, Hutchinson) – 2:48
  2. "Killing My Heart" – 3:52
  3. "You in the Sky" – 5:46
  4. "When Will We Be Married?" (trad., arr. Scott/Wickham) – 2:38
  5. "Nobody 'Cept You" (Bob Dylan) – 3:03
  6. "Fisherman's Blues" (Scott/Wickham) – 5:48
  7. "Girl of the North Country" (Dylan) – 4:24
  8. "Lonesome and a Long Way From Home" (Scott, Thistlethwaite) – 3:04
  9. "If I Can't Have You" – 3:30
  10. "Rattle My Bones and Shiver My Soul" – 2:38
  11. "Let Me Feel Holy Again" – 6:10
  12. "Meet Me at the Station" (trad., arr. Scott) – 3:22
  13. "The Good Ship Sirius" (Wickham) – 00:42
  14. "Soon as I Get Home" (Roscoe Corner) – 12:03

Fisherman's Box – 25th Anniversary Edition (2013)

Disc 1 'Dublin 23 January 1986'
  1. "Stranger to Me"
  2. "Girl of the North Country" (2013 – Remaster)
  3. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"
  4. "Fisherman's Blues (Piano Version)
  5. "Fisherman's Blues" (2013 – Remaster)
  6. "Meet Me At the Station" (2013 – Remaster)
  7. "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"
  8. "Born to Be Together"
  9. "The Wayward Wind"
  10. "World Party" (1st Version)
  11. "World Party / A Golden Age"
  12. "Sleek White Schooner"
  13. "Drunken Head Ghost of Rimbaud Blues"
  14. "Sweet Thing" (2013 – Remaster)
  15. "Sweet Thing" (Conclusion)
  16. "Saints and Angels"
Disc 2 'Dublin, March 22 To September 13, 1986'
  1. "We Will Not Be Lovers" (2013 – Remaster)
  2. "One Step Closer"
  3. "My Beautiful Baby"
  4. "She Could Have Had Me Step By Step"
  5. "When the Ship Comes In"
  6. "The Ladder" (2013 – Remaster)
  7. "Will You Ever Be My Friend?"
  8. "Too Close to Heaven" (Rolling Piano)
  9. "Higherbound" (Prototype)
  10. "Happy Birthday B.P. Fallon"
  11. "The Prettiest Girl in Church"
  12. "You Don't Have to Be in the Army to Fight the War"
  13. "Dee Jay Way"
  14. "Lonesome and a Long Way from Home" (2013 – Remaster)
  15. "Thistlethwaite's Declaration"
  16. "Strange Boat" (First Play)
  17. "Lost Highway"
  18. "Higherbound Blues"
  19. "Let Us Be Drinking and Kissing the Women (Sonny Brogan's Jig)"
  20. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"
  21. "Tenderfootin'" (2013 – Remaster)
  22. "Too Close to Heaven" (2013 – Remaster)
  23. "Space Out There, Trevor"
Disc 3 'Berkeley, California, 2–7 December 1986'
  1. "Steve and Anto's Overture"
  2. "Ain't Leavin, I'm Gone"
  3. "When Will We Be Married" (1st Version)
  4. "When I First Said I Loved Only You, Maggie"
  5. "Love Is Letting Go"
  6. "On My Way to Heaven" (1st Version)
  7. "You in the Sky" (1st Version)
  8. "The Secret Place of the Most High"
  9. "Too Hot for Cleanhead"
  10. "Wickham's Proclamation"
  11. "Blues for Your Baby" (2013 – Remaster)
  12. "Lonesome Old Wind" (2013 – Remaster)
  13. "If Jimi Was Here"
  14. "Soon As I Get Home"
  15. "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
Disc 4 'Dublin, 20 December 1986 To 28 February 1987'
  1. "Billy the Kid"
  2. "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down"
  3. "Come Live With Me"
  4. "I Miss the Road"
  5. "Higher in Time" (Two Pianos)
  6. "Too Hot for Cleanhead" (Fast Version)
  7. "Higher in Time" (Scottish)
  8. "Higherbound" (3rd Tune)
  9. "A Golden Age"
  10. "You in the Sky" (2013 – Remaster)
  11. "I Will Meet You in Heaven Again"
  12. "Nobody 'Cept You" (2013 – Remaster)
  13. "(He Hasn't Been the Same Since) Jimmy Shand"
  14. "Rattle My Bones and Shiver My Soul" (2013 – Remaster)
  15. "The Scotsman's Delight"
  16. "Killing My Heart"
  17. "Industrial Mr Brown"
  18. "Custer's Blues"
  19. "Shall We Gather By the River"
  20. "Higher in Time Symphony"
Disc 5 'Dublin, 7 March To 18 November 1987'
  1. "Higherbound" (3rd Version)
  2. "The Grief of Pan"
  3. "World Party" (2013 – Remaster)
  4. "Working On a Building"
  5. "If I Can't Have You" (2013 – Remaster)
  6. "Killing My Heart" (2nd Version)
  7. "Trunk Call"
  8. "Headphone Mix Song"
  9. "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (Reprise)
  10. "When Will We Be Married" (2nd Version)
  11. "BP's Bathtub Boogie"
  12. "We Will Not Be Lovers" (Sax Solo)
  13. "Heading Down the Highway"
  14. "Strange Boat"
  15. "Fisherman's Blues" (2nd Version)
  16. "Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?" (Bridgeman Version)
  17. "On My Way to Heaven"
  18. "Let Me Feel Holy Again" (2013 – Remaster)
  19. "A Home In The Meadow"
  20. "Strange Boat" (3rd Version) / "The Good Ship Sirius"
  21. "The Stolen Child" (Prototype)
Disc 6 'Dublin & Spiddal, 30 March To 2 June 1988'
  1. "On My Way to Tara"
  2. "Twa Recruitin' Sergeants"
  3. "Incident at Puck Fair"
  4. "And a Bang On The Ear" (2013 – Remaster)
  5. "Mr Customs Man"
  6. "Strange Boat" (Acoustic)
  7. "Spring Comes To Spiddal"
  8. "In Search of a Rose" (Band)
  9. "The Stolen Child" (Piano Demo)
  10. "When Will We Be Married" (2013 – Remaster)
  11. "In Search of a Rose" (Duo)
  12. "The Good Ship Sirius" (Set of Jigs)
  13. "This Land Is Your Land"
  14. "Jimmy Hickey's Waltz" (2013 – Remaster)
  15. "Live Aid and After"
  16. "Carolan's Welcome" (2013 – Remaster)
  17. "When Ye Go Away" (2013 – Remaster)
  18. "When Ye Go Away" (Frankie's Fiddle)
  19. "Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?" (2013 – Remaster)
  20. "The Stolen Child" (Vocal Demo)
  21. "Dunford's Fancy" (2013 – Remaster)
  22. "The Stolen Child" (2013 – Remaster)
  23. "Pictish National Anthem (Comati)"
  24. "Bo Diddley Was a Caveman"
  25. "The Last Jam"
  26. "Buckets of Rain"

The Deluxe Edition Box Set contains 6 CDs.

Disc 7 'Fisherman's Roots' (Super Deluxe Edition Bonus CD)
  1. Blind Roger Hays – "On My Way to Heaven" (Traditional), 1928
  2. Brother Williams Memphis Sanctified Singers – "Meet Me at the Station" (Traditional), 1930
  3. The Carter Family – "Can the Circle Be Unbroken?" (Alvin Pleasant Carter), 1935
  4. The Guitar Evangelist (Edward W. Clayborn) – "The Gospel Train Is Coming" (Traditional), 1936
  5. Woody Guthrie – "This Land Is Your Land" (Woody Guthrie), 1944
  6. Hank Williams – "Honky Tonkin'" (Hank Williams), 1947
  7. Two Gospel Keys – "I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore" (Jones, Daniels), 1948
  8. Hank Williams – "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (Hank Williams), 1949
  9. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – "Lost Highway" (Leon Payne), 1972
  10. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Mother Maybelle Carter – "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" (Alvin Carter, Ada Habershon, Charles Gabriel), 1972
  11. Planxty – "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy/Tabhair dom do Lámh" (Traditional; arranged by Planxty), 1973
  12. Dé Danann – "Maggie" (John McCormack), 1981
  13. The Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles – "Carolan’s Welcome" (Carolan), 1982
  14. Noel Hill & Tony Mac Mahon – "The Humours of Castlefin" (Traditional/Noel Hill), 1985
  15. Dónal Lunny – "Across The Hill/Gold Ring" (Traditional arranged by Dónal Lunny), 1987
  16. Tomás Mac Eoin – "An Cailin Alainn (The Beautiful Girl)" (Music: Traditional, words: Thomas Mac Eoin), 1987

The Super Deluxe Edition Box Set contains 7 CDs and a vinyl LP of Fisherman's Blues.


The cover displays a number of the contributors. From left to right, back to front, are: Jake Kennedy (crew), Colin Blakey, Pat McCarthy (recording engineer), Jimmy Hickey (crew), John Dunford (co-producer), Trevor Hutchinson, Fran Breen, Anthony Thistlethwaite, Mike Scott, and Steve Wickham. [7]


Chart (1988–89)Peak
New Zealand Albums Chart [21] 15
Norwegian Albums Chart [22] 7
Swedish Albums Chart [23] 18
UK Albums Chart [24] 13
US Billboard 200 [25] 76

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