The Waterboys “This is the Sea”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#992 in the Series) is The Waterboys, This is the Sea.

Hands up all those who remember “The Big Music?”

Don’t worry, you could easily be forgiven if you don’t! You’ll know the bands associated with it though.

The Big Music was a description thrown about in the early 80’s (here in the UK at least) and it was applied, mostly, to a small grouping of bands who were just starting to make an impression on the music buying public and who were all deemed to be making a similar grandiose, epic, “reaching for the sky” type music. You or I would probably just have settled for the term Stadium Rock to be honest ! Still, that’s music journalists for you eh ?

And as for the bands in question, well, do the names U2, Simple Minds, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Waterboys  ring any bells ? Slightly later, you could probably throw The Alarm and The Icicle Works into the mix as well.

Mike Scott

Needless to say, none of the bands in question were much in favour of this idea of lumping them all in together like this and were at great pains to point out that the whole thing was a (music) media fabrication and that they had a lot more differences than they had things in common.

Well, I don’t suppose any of that matters now, all these years later. What we’re left with, as ever, is the music itself and some of it was undoubtedly great, albums like “War” (U2) and “Ocean Rain” (Echo & The Bunnymen) in particular being more than able to stand the test of time. And, standing alongside those and more than capable of holding it’s own amidst such fine company, is this one This Is The Sea by The Waterboys.

It all starts wonderfully, with a gentle, meditative “Sketches Of Spain” style trumpet piece before the music burst forth and Mike Scott joyfully informs us :

“Well here we are in a special place”.

He’s not wrong ! A great start and the first of many highlights.

“Old England” a sort of “state of the nation” address, brutally lays bare the terrible impact that Margaret Thatcher’s early 80’s policies had on Britain’s industrial heartlands which were by this time a far from Promised Land and had become places  “where children stare, with heroin eyes”. There’s also time to savage the post-Falklands war jingoism which had helped sweep her to a second election victory in 1983.

The title track “This Is The Sea” is an anthem of empowerment, a message to all those who’ve grown world-weary and broken down. Here’s Mike to let them know that it’s all gonna be just fine if only they can keep the faith and a positive attitude. Which of course all sounds ever so slightly patronizing. Trust me though, it doesn’t really come across that way, his passion is infectious and pulls you in, by the end you’d  believe just about anything he tells you.

Karl Wallinger

“Spirit” is similar in intent. It’s the shortest track but still manages to make a big impression. It fades in, with Scott hammering away on piano, in a rush to get his message across, which is simply ;

“Man is tethered, Spirit is free…….what Spirit is, Man can be”

The songs brevity (1:48) undoubtedly helps get the point across.

And, of course, the crème de la crème..….”The Whole Of The Moon”.

Not only the high point of the entire album but also of Mike Scott’s entire career and one of the decade’s very best singles. It’s a wondrous, at times awe-inspiring, tune which simply brims with infectious energy. One of my personal all-time favourites without question, it’s become a radio staple and one of the rare examples of where familiarity most certainly DOESN’T breed contempt !

And there we have it, a fine album delivered and everything rosy in the garden. Well, maybe not. Band member Karl Wallinger ( a very talented man in his own right) left in short order and went on to form his own band, World Party. They made some damn fine music in the following years.

As for Mike Scott, well, after touring this one he decided to take a break and have  a rethink. He felt that  “This Is The Sea” was the culmination of all that he’d been working towards “since I’d first been in bands at 16 and 17 years old”. It felt like time

to take a step back from the cycle, there’d been three albums and numerous tours in three years. He moved to Ireland and got inspired by the music and the craic over there and when he came back in the late 80’s it was with a new sound (for him anyway), an intense blending of Rock and Irish folk music, no doubt inspired by the work of one of his great influences Van Morrison on albums like “Into The Music”. And it was a return which yielded two more great albums………..but that’s a tale for another time !

Mike went solo for a short while but resumed with the band name and The Waterboys are still going strong, an imminent new album promises to set the wondrous poems of W.B. Yeats to Scott’s music, something he’s dabbled with in the past to great success, I for one can’t wait to hear it..…..…….

Stephen Dalrymple, Glasgow, Scotland

Track listing

All songs written by Mike Scott except where noted.

  1. “Don’t Bang the Drum” (Scott, Karl Wallinger) – 6:46
  2. “The Whole of the Moon” – 4:58
  3. “Spirit” – 1:50
  4. “The Pan Within” – 6:13
  5. “Medicine Bow” (Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite) – 2:45
  6. “Old England” – 5:32
  7. “Be My Enemy” – 4:16
  8. “Trumpets” – 3:37
  9. “This Is the Sea” – 6:29


  • Mike Scott – vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, piano, percussion, synthesiser, drum machine programming, bells and effects
  • Anthony Thistlethwaite – saxophone, double bass, bass guitar, mandolin
  • Karl Wallinger – bass synth, piano, organ, keyboard programming, synthesiser, celeste, percussion and backing vocals


  • Steve Wickham – violin
  • Marek Lipski – violin
  • Roddy Lorimer – trumpet, background vocals[16]
  • Kevin Wilkinson – bass guitar, drums
  • Martin Swain – bass guitar
  • Chris Whitten – drums, cymbals
  • Pete Thomas – snare drum
  • Martin Ditcham – percussion
  • Max Edie – background vocals
  • Lu Edmonds – Bass
  • Matthew Seligman – Bass


Give it a listen below…

Posted by Stephen Dalrymple
I was so much older then , i'm younger than that now.........


  1. Ami (25 Aug 2011, 23:05)

    I remember seeing the Waterboys play the Glasgow Barrowlands at Hogmanay (New Yrs Eve) 1989 and have to say its still one of my all time fave gigs, Mike Scott was a terrific frontman and its a pity they never really got the credit they deserved. A truly fantastic album, Trumpets being my favourite track.

  2. James Eves (26 Aug 2011, 0:46)

    So here’s a group that I don’t recall from 85. Thanks for the lead and great post!

  3. federico (19 Oct 2012, 16:33)

    a fantastic album… I still have the vinyl lp. Thanks for the rev…

Leave a Reply

Before you post, please prove you are sentient.

what is 5 in addition to 6?