Mike Scott on ‘luck­ing out’

When a con­tro­ver­sial artist was ar­rested for vi­o­lat­ing Ja­pan’s ob­scen­ity laws, Mike Scott was in­trigued. Last year, he mar­ried her and now the Water­boys’ front­man has lucked out as a hands-on fa­ther-of-two pro­duc­ing his best mu­sic ever. He talks to Vicky

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FEW songs are more openly ro­man­tic than the ninth track on disc two of the lat­est Water­boys al­bum, whose cho­rus re­quests: “Rukade­nashiko, will you be mine?” Par­tic­u­larly when we know that the Ja­panese fem­i­nist sculp­tor and manga artist be­ing asked that ques­tion is mar­ried to Water­boys front­man, the leg­endary Scot­tish singer-song­writer Mike Scott.

In fact, Rukade­nashiko, whose real name is Megumi Igarashi and whose pseu­do­nym means “bas­tard” or “repro­bate”, hadn’t yet met Scott when he wrote the song, which in­cludes the line “the way that your smile out­shines the sun­shine”.

It was in 2015 that Scott, who to all in­tents and pur­poses is The Water­boys, first be­came aware of Igarashi. She’d been ar­rested for vi­o­lat­ing Ja­panese ob­scen­ity laws by cre­at­ing a yel­low kayak sculp­ture in the shape of her vulva and dis­tribut­ing 3D-scan­ner data of her gen­i­tals by email, and the trial made global news. Scott, who was in Amer­ica at the time, heard about it on US TV pro­gramme The Daily Show.

“I thought her art was very clever,” he re­calls. “She made per­son­i­fied ver­sions of the vagina in a very cute, funny way. I thought, ‘What she’s do­ing is fan­tas­tic and she’s funny’. Even though she’d been put in jail by the Ja­panese po­lice she was al­ways smil­ing. I thought, ‘Wow, what a per­son­al­ity’.”

In keep­ing with the man­ner in which some dig­i­tal-age friend­ships start, Scott be­gan fol­low­ing Igarashi on Twit­ter. She fol­lowed him back. He later sent her a pri­vate di­rect mes­sage. “I DMed her,” he re­calls, “as they say, and just told her how much I ad­mired her and I said I liked her as a woman too and would she have din­ner with me.”

Igarashi replied that it was too early to talk about ro­mance since they had never met but, yes, when next he came to Ja­pan it would be great to have din­ner as friends. “So that was what we did. Very smart re­ply from her. Spared us the tor­ment of one of these in­ter­net-only re­la­tion­ships.”

Scott’s mu­sic has long fol­lowed an ev­er­meta­mor­phos­ing jour­ney, trans­form­ing re­peat­edly through­out his ca­reer, and with an ever-changing band line-up. Each al­bum brings some new twist or rein­ven­tion, in a path that has taken him from early suc­cess with sin­gle The Big Mu­sic through the stun­ning tra­di­tional mu­sic record Fish­er­man’s Blues, an al­bum of Yeats songs, to col­lec­tions in­flu­enced by blue­grass and Nashville. The screen­writer Richard Cur­tis once de­scribed him as “one of the great­est pop stars who had ever lived” and his best-known sin­gle, The Whole Of The Moon as “one of the great­est pop songs ever writ­ten”.

Given all these twists, the sur­prise is that Scott con­tin­ues to sur­prise. The ear­lier tracks on the new record, Out Of All This Blue, seem like a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion from Mod­ern Blues, his ac­claimed 2015 al­bum. It’s bluesy, Amer­i­can, with a new hip-hop twist. But the last five tracks, all in­spired by Roku­de­nashiko, bring a shock­ing jolt of the new.

This is mu­sic lit up by her smile, by pop sounds and Ja­panese cul­ture, songs that thrum with the silli­ness and se­ri­ous­ness of love. So star­tling is the change that it al­most feels as if Scott has found the Yoko Ono to his John Len­non.

Scott, 58, wrote his propo­si­tion­ing song Roku­de­nashiko in De­cem­ber 2015. “It was,” he says, “just be­fore we met but af­ter I’d be­gun to fall in love with her from afar.” The ridicu­lous­ness of his in­ten­tions is en­cap­su­lated in the lyric: “When I told them my plan – they said, ‘Well is that so? But she’s in Ja­pan’.” Not long af­ter they made con­tact.

He re­calls: “We met up just as friends for din­ner [in Tokyo] and we had a won­der­ful evening to­gether, great chem­istry, and at the end of the evening I asked her if we could have a ro­man­tic date next time, so she said OK and two days later we met for a sec­ond date. Then on our third date I played her that song.”

What is most strik­ing is Scott’s ad­mi­ra­tion for Igarashi’s courage. “There was a mo­ment in her case,” he says, “when she was ar­rested. The po­lice came to her house at 6am and hand­cuffed her and put her in a car, and there were lots of pho­tog­ra­phers and the po­lice­woman said, ‘Drop your head’. Cus­tom­ar­ily when Ja­panese crim­i­nals are caught and pho­tographed they bow their heads in shame, and she re­fused to bow her head, and there are pho­to­graphs of her be­ing ar­rested with her head held high.”

Igarashi was found guilty of dis­tribut­ing 3D data and fined £2900. The pair mar­ried last Oc­to­ber and now live in Dublin to­gether with their sev­en­month-old baby son. Scott de­scribes this as “a re­ally good time in my life, a very ad­ven­tur­ous and thrilling pe­riod”. The cou­ple plan to go back to Ja­pan twice a

year, “to see Megumi’s fam­ily and friends and to take our baby”.

There are other rea­sons for Scott’s buoy­ant mood. One is his re­la­tion­ship with his daugh­ter Lila-Elodie, born four years ago to his then-girl­friend, the French-Ir­ish singer Camille O’Sul­li­van (now in­volved with Game Of Thrones star Aidan Gillen).

“Many of the songs on this al­bum came shortly af­ter I be­came a dad, and I’ve got a lit­tle daugh­ter, and that’s an end­lessly un­fold­ing fun ad­ven­ture with her. I’m mak­ing up songs for my daugh­ter all the time. It’s not so much that those then be­come Water­boys songs, be­cause they’re silly songs, lyrics like, ‘Your right foot into the right shoe, and your left foot into the left shoe’. But it does mean that my en­gines are run­ning, my cre­ative juices are on. It’s only a short hop from writ­ing ‘put your left foot in your left shoe’ to a pop song.”

Scott de­scribes him­self as a “hands-on dad” to his chil­dren, who both live in Dublin. “I’m in baby over­drive. It’s hard work, and it is bliss­ful and he’s a won­der­ful lit­tle chap, very happy baby, but, boy, is it hard work.”

How does he jug­gle things? “Hands-on dad and hands-on band leader at the same time. As long as I don’t get things mixed up and start teach­ing him songs and changing the band mem­bers’ nap­pies, things will be OK.”

Scott has spent much of his life on a quest to un­der­stand big fun­da­men­tal ques­tions. In 2002, he and his then-wife Janette went to live in the Find­horn spir­i­tual com­mu­nity. To­day, he says: “Fam­ily life is a very de­mand­ing and re­ward­ing spir­i­tual path as bil­lions have dis­cov­ered be­fore me. It took me a long time to re­alise this. I was a first-time dad at the age of 54. I re­ally wanted to have chil­dren, so I’m very happy.”

Born in Edinburgh, where he lived un­til his teens, Scott re­turned to the city aged 18 to study English and phi­los­o­phy. This summer, he was back in Edinburgh for the fes­ti­val. It’s a reg­u­lar fea­ture of his year that he goes there to visit his daugh­ter, who ac­com­pa­nies her mother, O’Sul­li­van, on a month-long stint at the Fringe.

“It still feels very much like my home town,” he says, “I was on Ge­orge IV bridge a lot on this trip be­cause we were stay­ing on the Royal Mile and I re­alised how many things have hap­pened to me in my life, on or around Ge­orge IV bridge. My first gig, for in­stance, of my first band was on Cham­bers Street.”

Scott still re­turns to Scot­land fre­quently to visit his mother, a for­mer univer­sity lec­turer, in Largs, but he sees him­self as rooted in Dublin for now. Nev­er­the­less, he makes no bones about the way he feels about the fact he wasn’t able to vote in the Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

“I would have liked a Yes vote on in­de­pen­dence and a No vote on Brexit,” he says, “But I didn’t get a vote. If I’d come from Al­pha Cen­tauri three months be­fore and lived in Galashiels for that time I would have had a vote. But, though I’m born in Scot­land, ed­u­cated in Scot­land, still a tax­payer in Scot­land, still a prop­er­ty­owner in Scot­land, be­cause I hadn’t lived in Scot­land for the past three months I didn’t have a vote. I think that’s shock­ing.”

He quips: “How could Scot­land make that dis­cus­sion with­out me and Irvine Welsh?”

Scott has spo­ken in the past about how his fa­ther left the fam­ily when he was just eight years old and re­mained in his life only un­til he was 12 – Christ­mas 1970 be­ing the last time they met dur­ing his child­hood. When Scott was in his 30s, he tracked his fa­ther down to Birm­ing­ham and knocked on his door, de­mand­ing that he be in his life whether he liked it or not.

They re­mained friendly and then, six months ago, his fa­ther died of a “con­flu­ence of ail­ments”. “I was glad to have some years with him,” Scott says now. “And we had a won­der­ful FaceTime on his birth­day, which was four days be­fore he died. We didn’t know that he was go­ing to die, and he was on great form in his house. We had a lovely half-hour con­ver­sa­tion so I’m very glad that hap­pened. We also spoke on the phone just be­fore he died.”

For Scott, these past few years have been among his most pro­duc­tive ever. There have been years, he ob­serves, when he has not writ­ten a sin­gle song. “The last while,” he says, “since 2014 or 2015, I’ve been writ­ing a lot. At one point, in the summer of 2015, I was writ­ing a song a day, which I hadn’t done since I was a teenager.”

Whether writ­ing songs or not, Scott has al­ways had mu­sic in his head. His au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Ad­ven­tures Of A Water­boy, be­gins with a de­scrip­tion of him drum­ming on the floor of a bus, tap­ping out the beat of the mu­sic in­side his head, only to be si­lenced by an an­gry bus driver. What sur­prised him most then was not the driver’s fury, but that this per­son didn’t also hear in­side his own head, the mu­sic that, for Scott, was al­ways there.

Does the mu­sic ever stop? I ask. “No, it’s a con­stant pres­ence. The mu­sic in my head just keeps go­ing re­gard­less of what’s go­ing on in my life.”

His love of pop mu­sic comes across in the new al­bum. It was, he says, what he grew up with in the 1960s, buy­ing a pop record ev­ery week. “I love black soul mu­sic, Motown, Stax, Sly Stone, Isaac Hayes. And they were all mak­ing pop mu­sic, they were mak­ing three-minute songs that had hooks and funky grooves, and I love that.”

It’s long been Scott’s view that the era in which he came to fame, the 1980s, was the death of mu­sic and a time when we lost our way po­lit­i­cally. What does he think of the cur­rent cli­mate? “We are in a time when both forces seem to be very ac­tive. I’d see one as an evo­lu­tion­ary force mov­ing for­ward, a pro­gres­sive force that pre­vailed in the 1960s and it’s still there in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and the way we’re more of a global com­mu­nity, but at the same time we’ve got this thing that was le­git­imised in the 1980s of greed and busi­ness mo­nop­o­lies and cor­rup­tion. There’s a very dif­fi­cult dance go­ing on be­tween them.”

Nev­er­the­less, Scott is op­ti­mistic. “I agree with Barack Obama and Martin Luther King that the arc of his­tory is long and bends to­wards jus­tice. Though shorter term I’m not op­ti­mistic. I think Trump some­how will fall, be im­peached, pros­e­cuted, re­sign, or be voted out, and it will not be pretty.”

If there’s one feel­ing that comes across in the fi­nal tracks of Out Of All This Blue, it’s a buzz of op­ti­mism – not nec­es­sar­ily po­lit­i­cal, but per­sonal. The al­bum hums with the thrill of dis­cov­ery, the ex­cite­ment of com­ing to a whole new cul­ture, the way it makes the world look en­tirely dif­fer­ent.

The track, Payo Payo Chin, re­volves around a Ja­panese ex­pres­sion for “good morn­ing”, and con­veys the thrill of look­ing at the world through new words, and a new love. It’s like a wak­ing up afresh to life.

Scott and his wife now mostly speak in English but while they were court­ing he took Ja­panese lessons. “Ja­panese, of course, has no root in Latin or any Euro­pean lan­guage,” he says. “It’s more dif­fi­cult be­cause of that, but also more fas­ci­nat­ing. It doesn’t have tense. When I’m talk­ing with Megumi she’ll say some­thing and I can’t tell whether it’s hap­pen­ing now or if it’s hap­pen­ing in the fu­ture. She’ll just say I walk to post of­fice, and I’m think­ing do you mean you’re go­ing to, or you did? There’s con­stant de­li­cious con­fu­sion in our con­ver­sa­tion.”

One mis­un­der­stand­ings that oc­curred be­tween them was over their wed­ding, which took place in the Se­ta­gaya neigh­bour­hood of Tokyo. “Be­cause of the lan­guage prob­lems,” he re­calls, “Megumi told me it was Se­ta­gaya post of­fice. And for the first six months of my mar­riage I thought I got mar­ried in a post of­fice. Then, one day in our con­ver­sa­tion, it be­came ev­i­dent that it wasn’t a post of­fice, it was a ward [mu­nic­i­pal] of­fice. I was very dis­ap­pointed.”

Yam­aben, a song on the al­bum was writ­ten for Igarashi’s lawyer, Takashi Ya­m­aguchi, who rep­re­sented her dur­ing the ob­scen­ity trial. “Megumi loves all the peo­ple that rep­re­sent her, and she wanted me to write a song for Yam­aben [the lawyer’s nick­name] and I think she thought she was go­ing to get a 40-sec­ond acous­tic gui­tar and vo­cal recorded down a tele­phone line joke song. But I worked on it all night and it be­came Yam­aben, this psychedelic pop sin­gle. And she loved it and it got sent to Yam­aben and he sent me the most in­cred­i­bly cour­te­ous, diplo­matic email, ask­ing me to change one word in the song – which I did. I was just struck by the el­e­gant cour­tesy of his email. Fan­tas­tic. Ja­panese cour­tesy.”

Yam­aben seems like noth­ing the Water­boys have cre­ated be­fore. In the past, Scott has said it be­comes harder with each al­bum to leave the weight of past mu­sic be­hind – yet here he seems to have cat­a­pulted freely into new pop ter­ri­tory. “Gosh I’d for­got­ten I’d said that,” he says now. “I re­mem­ber a time when I did feel that, but I don’t feel it any more.”

Why might that be? “Be­cause,” he says, sim­ply, “this record is a good one.”

Re­cently, he re­calls, he lis­tened back to his old al­bums in prepa­ra­tion for his forth­com­ing tour. “And it’s been very in­ter­est­ing be­cause the old al­bums have all got their charms, and some of them have more than oth­ers, but the new one’s got bet­ter melodies, bet­ter singing, bet­ter lyrics, bet­ter ar­range­ments.

“I think it’s the best Water­boys ever.”

All Of This Blue is re­leased on Fri­day (September 8) on BMG Records. The Water­boys tour the UK from Oc­to­ber 18, including a gig in the Glas­gow SEC Ar­madillo on Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 24 (Tick­ets: 0844 844 0444 www.tick­et­mas­ter.co.uk/event/36005278A9E93FA8)

Pho­to­graph: Getty

Megumi Igarashi with one of her gen­i­tal-in­spired art­works.

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