This much I know: Steve Wickham

Steve Wickham says: “I’m a working musician. So, for me, there is still nothing that beats playing live.“

All music comes forth from silence — so first, you need to find the silence.

I wouldn’t say it was obvious that I had a great talent when I was very young. My granny gave me a fiddle when I was three and I broke it on purpose — but my dad thought is was an accident and brought me another one to make it up to me. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with music for years after that. All the practice got in the way of football and having fun. But then, when I was in my teens I had a Eureka moment and thought no, this feels good.

I’m a working musician. So, for me, there is still nothing that beats playing live.

I’ve always had a love for theatre — it incorporates physical movement and the mesmerism of drama — and I enjoy composing music for specific projects. I’ve just finished collaborating with Jack Galway and Mischa O’Mahony on the music for Pigeon, a wordless piece of physical theatre.

A whole new tune may come out of the fragment of an idea for something else.

I often come up with new ideas when I’m supposed to be working on a different project. It happens and you just have to consider it all as part of the creative process.

I went to the College of Music for violin lessons from the age of six or seven. But when I left school I didn’t go straight into music — I had a nice job working in the bank for three years and was in a band at weekends. Eventually, the band called me louder than the bank.

My folks were devastated — they had thought that they’d never have to worry about my future. But they knew I was doing what I wanted, so they were delighted about that.

We were a typical Irish family where everyone had to get up and do their party piece at family gatherings. One of my first memories of playing music is when I was around four years old and my granny ordered me up to play The national anthem one Christmas. Well, the Irish national anthem is quite challenging and I didn’t know it very well, so I decided to play the English one instead as it’s a much easier piece. It didn’t go down so well with my granny but everyone else was fascinated.

Mike Scott had already formed The Waterboys when I met him, through Sinead O’Connor. We were both in In Tua Nua and when Sinead got signed and went to London I joined her to help out on her demo. Mike listened to that demo and that’s how we met. We hit if off and have been friends ever since.

The Dublin music scene of the ’80s had a great energy. You could say it was my suggestion that Mike move The Waterboys over there.

Sligo is home to me now. I went West many years ago to record Fisherman’s Blues in Spiddal with The Waterboys. I loved the smell of turf fires and had a romantic notion about a slower pace of life in the West. Then, I really did fall in love with the place and was particularly drawn to Sligo, which has an amazing fiddle legacy.

I don’t meditate or anything before I go on stage, but I certainly centre myself and try to calm down and become present.

A major aspiration of mine is to leave the past behind and stop thinking about the future — and to live in the present. But I find it becomes increasingly difficult to do so.

Mike Scott describes Steve Wickham as “the world’s greatest rock fiddle player”. ‘Pigeon’ runs at Project Arts Centre from May 23 to June 2.


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