Fisherman's Box: The Complete Fisherman's Blues Sessions 1986-88,
   The Waterboys (PLG)

Archive #828285
, Cabaret Voltaire (Intone)

Two box sets, two versions of the 1980s, two versions of pop; both a long time ago, both newly released into the world. The Waterboys' box gathers up a number of studio sessions which were then selected from to make a single CD, Cabaret Voltaire's box contains three live concert recordings, a welcome addition to the poorly recorded bootlegs online, and a complement to the Archive (Live 1982-1986) recordings which have been on the Intone website for a while but seem to have now disappeared.

Both releases come at a time when the bands were en route to somewhere else. The Waterboys were bored with 'the big music' of their first three albums, which had tried [and failed] to take on U2 and others as stadium rockers, and culminated in 1985's splendid
This is the Sea. They decided to get real, to reconnect with an idea of the spiritual, with nature, the soul of music itself, and in the bars and cottages of Ireland they found a live current of folk that they plugged into. Waltzes, reels, jigs and songs are attempted, re-attempted, re-versioned and improvised around; Fisherman's Box presents lively, of-the-moment recordings in a further attempt to deify what has already been self-mythologised by the band particularly Mike Scott, self-appointed bard of Findhorn and spiritual seeker and musician.

Truth be told, I always thought (and still do) that
Room to Roam, the Waterboys album after Fisherman's Blues, was a much stronger and more accomplished set. Fisherman's Blues is too ramshackle, it tried too hard to be loose and carefree. If, like me, you thought the original album patchy and uneven, then you will quickly tire of the 6 CDs in the box version. It's very much a 'you had to be there' collection: and I wasn't. Let's hope Mike Scott really will move on once he has collected the royalties on this: he has released several excellent albums of both solo and Waterboys music since the 1980s, and does need to dwell on the past or pretend to be the self-proclaiming raggle-taggle gypsy of days gone by. File Fisherman's Box under 'self-indulgent' and 'over-egged'.

Cabaret Voltaire were on route to a mainstream record label, minor chart success, and retrospective acclaim at the time of these 1980s concerts. Having started as noisemeisters and collagists they quickly became sonic terrorists and masters of cut-up and sound, with grim nervous backbeats and a political edge totally suited to the mid-80s in England. Whilst overwrought claims that Cabaret Voltaire invented English house music are besides the point, there's no denying their thirst for mainstream success and better recording facilities than their home-assembled studio in Sheffield had previously offered.

Mallinder and Kirk were funkateer pranksters, interested in edgy rhythms and provocative slogans, not to mention suburban angst and concrete euologies. They signed to Virgin records via a record deal with Stevo of Some Bizarre, and introduced William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, static and feedback to the mainstream. A number of superb 12" mixes crept out, but albums slowly got samier and samier, smoothed out and overproduced: the edge had gone from the studio recordings...  but it stayed in their live gigs, as evidenced here. These recordings feature rawer, darker, edgier music, only loosely connected to studio versions. Sledgehammer bass underpins Mallinder's apocalyptic rants and chants, synthesizers howl and scream, voices loop and echo in the mix. The music here is alive, flickering and mutating in front of your ears.

The 80s have been dreadfully airbrushed clean of indie bands and alternative musics. Whilst there was plenty of music I never want to hear again, Cabaret Voltaire were influential and accomplished, inspirers of a thousand four-track recording artists in bedrooms across the country. Recent releases of standout albums like Red Mecca are well worth checking out, but best of all is the noise and clatter of them live. What a thrill it is to hear these extraordinary concerts in crystal clear audio. Let's hope there are even more treats in store from Cabaret Voltaire.

   Rupert Loydell 2013