The band Alabama Shakes.
The band Alabama Shakes. Contributed

Alabama Shakes and The Waterboys talk fame, touring

THE lives of stars are often splashed in bright colours - celebrity, travel, flashy hotel rooms, hip people.

It's da bomb, right?

Heath Fogg laughs.

The Alabama Shakes guitarist can't help himself.

The Nashville four-piece is one of the hippest acts on the planet.

And, if Fogg is anything to go by, one of the most relaxed. Amused, even.

His record company has just flown him and the rest of the band to Paris direct from Alabama, plonked him in a hotel room and put him on the phone to someone in Australia.

"It is a little funny y'know," he says slowly in a southern drawl that's so broad it feels like he is putting it on. He isn't.

"I can't help but think someone didn't quite think this through."

More laughs.

He is in a smallish room somewhere near the middle of Paris: "I haven't had a chance to look outside yet to figure out exactly where we are … we've only been here a couple of t-eye-ms."

Mike Scott is a little more coy.

The leader and, at times, the only member of The Waterboys is in a Sydney hotel room.

"I suppose you'd say I'm on holiday," he says with nary a hint of Scottish accent - or irony.

Scott knows about hotels and fame and how fleeting it can be.

He has been playing his exception music since the punk and new wave seismic music shock rippled across the world from London and New York in the early 1980s.

Thirty years ago, when he was only 25, he wrote the inspirational flourish of Whole of the Moon, and before that created the "big music" that thumbed its nose at tearaway "mutability of all music" and created the stuff of more substance, all brassy and anthemic.

Only a few years later, he created the earthier Fisherman's Blues, which had critics in awe, calling him, an Edinburgh-born Celt, the saviour of Irish music.

Mike Scott of the band The Waterboys.
Mike Scott of the band The Waterboys. Contributed

"It was rubbish, of course," Scott says. "As if anyone could do that - anyway, Irish music never needed saving."

The 56-year-old lives in Dublin these days, trying to shun the spotlight unless it is on a stage.

Scott has become a father for the first time, though the London "rags" have followed the breakdown of his marriage with more vigour.

"I don't want to talk about family," he says, clipped. Definitely Scottish.

Back in the Paris hotel room, Fogg is eager to talk about his.

The 30-year-old, the oldest member of the Shakes, is talking about the band's Brittany Howard.

"She's a brilliant singer," he says, sounding like he is still in awe of the young woman whose band he asked to join four years ago.

"And, y'know, has an amazing stage presence … it's not sumpthin' you can learn, it's special."

Howard writes the songs, too - a measured, heady mixture of blues and country that a few years back seemed in danger of disappearing for all but small southern bars.

"Nah," Fogg says. "The music of Otis Redding and Hank Williams was never that far apart. And we've always loved both …"

Fogg does his part, too. He knows his stuff and can play it, his riffs deliberately tracing lines that go back to the '50s and '60s.

It gives the Shakes' sound authenticity. It's grounded.

And, Fogg reveals eventually, the Paris visit was not altogether bizarre: "I mean we are gonna play at a radio station jere t'morra."

Then it's off to London for a gig or two.

In Sydney, Scott's spending down time reading novels. Though he's written entire albums putting the poetry of Irishman W.B. Yeats to music, he is not a huge fan of poetry.

"I liked the rhythm Yeats' poems have, and I thought they loaned themselves to being put to music," he says.

The critics, by and large, agreed.

"But I'm not one to go off reciting poetry aloud …"

No "I wandered lonely as a cloud …" then?

"No, no."

Of the styles of music you've played, what do you consider the best?

"I'm proud of it all, though I listen to my ears stuff and I hear the faults, but I was learning then," Scott says.

"I wouldn't say Whole of the Moon was the high point, any more than I could say Fisherman's Blues was.

"I'm proud of a lot of the music I've done since, but its all relative."

And the music of the Waterboys, like that of Alabama Shakes, is far more enduring than a stay in a hotel room.

The Alabama Shakes headline the Mojo stage tonight at Bluesfest. They also play the Mojo stage tomorrow at 9pm.

The Waterboys play one show at Bluesfest only tomorrow at 6pm at the Crossroads stage.

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