U.K.’s Waterboys are feeling poetic 

For three decades with his U.K. folk-rock outfit the Waterboys, Mike Scott has relied on his gut instinct. It was natural, then, to move full speed ahead with the most recent Waterboys idea: the left-field “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats,” an album of of W.B. Yeats’ poetry set to music, including adaptations from “The Rose,” “The Winding Stair” and “The Wind Among the Reeds.” Songs such as “September 1913” even include footnotes, explaining that “wild geese” were Irishmen who fled the country during the 1695 to 1727 penal laws. The deeper he delved, the more he learned.

In the “Appointment” liner notes, you thank Mary Conneely of Galway for giving you a complete volume of Yeats’ poems back in 1990. Did the book sit on your shelf for a while? No. That book was in service from Day 1, and I’ve used it as my reference copy for this project ever since. I was already a Yeats admirer, but I didn’t own a complete volume of his poems. And this was every piece of his poetry, including the poems that were more obscure that had only been published in journals. So I would regularly put that book on my piano and work through it, trying to set the poems to music. And every few months, I would do some more.

What about his poetry resonated with you? I like Yeats’ use of language. Even though I know that every line of his was sculpted and an ocean of thought went into each poem, they still trip off the tongue very lightly. I like the colors of his language; he seems to write in aquamarine and purple and dark blue and silver. And I also like his set of subjects — politics, myths, the mystic, Ireland, love.

Did this all start as a stage production? Yeah. I conceived of it as a show first. That was where the real thrill was for me, presenting it on stage. And my dream was to put it on at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which he had founded 100 years ago. And that’s exactly what we did.

How difficult was it putting his poetry to music? Well, I would have that book on the piano, or on a table with my guitar, and I would go through it, poem by poem. And I would read the first lines of a poem, and if it suggested a melody, I’d persevere. If it didn’t? I’d go on to the next one. And in every case, the music was suggested by the poem itself.

IF YOU GO

The Waterboys

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $26

Contact: (415) 885-0750; www.slimspresents.com

Note: The Waterboys’ Mike Scott and Steve Wickham also appear at 2:40 p.m. Saturday at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on the Porch Stage.

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Tom Lanham

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