A friend recently posted a question on social media asking about a song of exuberance, to celebrate to. I answered Gloria by U2 but it was a close run thing with The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues.
I have written before about my very favourite ever rock gig being The Waterboys at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on a magical April night in 1986. Fisherman’s Blues had not yet been released and it was a revelation of Mike Scott’s new hybrid of rock strut surrounded by Steve Wickham’s swirling dervish fiddle. My heart was full as it has been with every listen ever since.
Then… this past summer one of my favourite contemporary bands Dawes covered Fisherman’s Blues. It was a sonic shock, slowed down to an atmospheric lament. It jarred for a listen out two.
Then… it hit the spot. In its new musical habitat Fisherman’s Blues solicited different emotions. From a free flowing all is right with the world let’s dance sound this was now reflective and cathartic. It finally gets the blues of its title.
There might be a clue in the shift in feel when I tell you that the proceeds from the song are all donated to an NGO, United Nations Foundations’ Nothing But Nets campaign, attempting to help stamp out malaria. Taylor Goldsmith himself visited Rwanda to see refugees pouring over the border from Congo and Burundi. Perhaps it was the people he met in east Africa that influenced the mood of the piece.
I have been using it myself for my own mental, emotional and spiritual care. I generally carry a happy go lucky disposition but there are shadowy days. Vocation, health, pressure and anxiety can throw me into the dark.
Dawes version of Fisherman’s Blues has been like a Psalm that I have allowed to flow over me to bring salve and resilience.
The fisherman and brakeman in the song are going through their own trials. They are chained and tethered. Life’s circumstances have them down. They are wishing, dreaming, praying for soul, light and love.
Like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass that coincidently The Waterboys covered there is a sense that there are better days ahead. Days for Wickham’s fiddle after all:
Well I know I will be loosened
From bonds that hold me fast
That the chains all hung around me
Will fall away at last
And on that fine and fateful day
I will take me in my hands
I will ride on the train
I will be the fisherman
With light in my head
You in my arms
Now there is a dream of better days. Light. Love. Freedom from whatever. I have come convinced we need both versions, Dawes going through the valley of the shadow and The Waterboys after we have come through it.