From U2 to The Waterboys, the ace fiddler has played on some iconic tracks. Now settled in Sligo, he’s named his new album after his beekeeping hobby, writes Ed Power.
Steve Wickham had waited and waited and when the call finally came he knew his life would never be the same again.
“I was living at home at the time — my father knocked on my door to say some guy was on the phone, calling himself ‘The Edge’.”
Wickham is best known for the haunting fiddle refrains gracing Waterboys hits such as ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ and ‘Bang On The Ear’. However, long before striking up a kinship with Waterboy-in-chief Mike Scott he had already carved for himself a piece of rock immortality. An early fan of U2, Wickham fast-talked his way into the recording sessions for their 1983 War album — and played on their iconic formative hit ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’.
“U2 had an amazing energy — I knew something special was going on,” he says.
“I had been aware of them for a while. A girl in my class at school had been in their first band. I knew they were going places. I also had a hard neck and one day I saw Edge at a bus stop. I walked up and said “Hey man — do you need someone to fill in on the new record? That’s how I ended up on ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’.”
Both parties would go on to greater things. U2 conquered the world while Wickham helped fuel the Celtic pop revival by persuading Scott to spend a summer immersed in the music and culture of the west of Ireland.
From this period of Yeat-esque contemplation would come Fisherman’s Blues, still the definitive Waterboys LP and a showcase for Wickham’s keening style.
“Mike and I are soul brothers,” says the musician. “It’s a special thing when you know somebody the way I’ve known Mike. We’ve been friends 35 years and have grown up together. We’ve gone through a lot.”
As it happens, The Waterboys are currently working on their next album. In contrast to 2015’s Modern Blues, an angry affair assembled in Nashville, the new LP is a homegrown project largely coming together in Scott’s Dublin studio. In parallel, Wickham recently unveiled his second solo collection, a contemplative outing entitled Beekeeper.
“I do in fact keep bees,” he says, his Dublin accent undiminished by decades in the west. “It’s a very educational experience. You have to slow your adrenaline right down. When you open a bee hive and see 50,000 bees, there is a primal fear. It’s like our fear of the dark or of a wolf… it’s a defence mechanism. You have to learn to calm yourself and bring your nerves under control. Bees sense it — the more fearful you are the more they will respond.”
Beekeeper consists of songs he has assembled across the past 20 years or so and features vocals from friends such as Scott, Camille O’Sullivan and the Lost Brothers. By turns anxious and contemplative, it’s an ideal stop-gap for Waterboys fans and also a winning piece of high-concept mood music. “I can sing but I’m not a singer. I’m violin player. Mike suggested I invite some of my friends to come along. The idea really began with him.”
He is happily settled in Sligo and appreciates the peace and quiet. However, Wickham also has fond memories of his time as a young musician in Dublin.
“It was just fantastic,” he says. “The Hothouse Flowers had started. Thin Lizzy had been around. U2 were on the scene. I had begun a band with some friends called In Tua Nua. There were five or six bands in Howth alone. And it wasn’t like Blur or Oasis. There was no rivalry or pettiness. You have all these groups and they were all hugely supportive of one another.”
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