Mike Scott is not like other rock stars. The Waterboys frontman has been creating great music for more than 35 years, hopping between rock, pop, folk and country, releasing 14 studio albums and scoring huge success with catchy singles and dynamic live shows.

Yet the Edinburgh-born singer-songwriter is self-effacing, almost shunning the limelight, and good to his fans – as those who joined his epic two-set gig in Oxford last month will vouch.

Next Saturday The Waterboys are back in the county and playing an even grander stage– the Great Court of Blenheim Palace for its Nocturne Live music festival.

The show will see them playing alongside Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe and is one of the highlights of a week which also boasts Nile Rodgers and Chic, Noel Gallagher with The Coral and Gary Barlow.

“I love playing festivals,” says Mike. “I like the atmosphere and I like competing with the other bands. I like steeling people’s fans – especially with an artist like Elvis Costello. I want to make things hot for him!”

And, he says, the band should feel right at home among the flamboyant 18th century architecture of the Duke of Marlborough’s ancestral home.

“A country house? We can adapt to that!” he says cheerfully.

“There’s something about country house architecture that appeals to rock & roll artists. In the 70s we all used to live in them!”

While the band scored their greatest singles success in the 80s and 90s – with anthems like The Whole of the Moon, Fisherman’s Blues, The Return of Pan and Glastonbury Song – their albums are as successful as ever. Most recent records Modern Blues and Out of All This Blue reached, respectively, 14 and eight in the album charts – the highest position since hit LPs Fisherman’s Blues, Room to Roam and Dream Harder in the late 80s and early 90s. Their live shows reflect this rich back catalogue, with only a smattering of older gems among the newer tunes.

Mike is intent not to see his act fossilise.

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“I am not in the market for nostalgia,” he says. “This is not an attempt to relive my youth. It would be an imposition if I did that and not quite right.”

He adds: “Some people do complain about the lack of older songs but I take great pleasure in saying if you want old favourites listen to the record. We are a band that’s evolving.

“If people want that, they should see a cover band. I do understand but don’t agree. Our posters don’t say ‘come and relive your youth’, they say ‘The Waterboys in concert’.

“If I saw Bob Dylan, I’d be more pleased if he played 10 new songs. That’s why I like Paul Weller.

“Music is a living force and a cutting edge – and that’s what keeps me happy.”

One time labelled Celtic-folk-rock, Mike has since taken the band in a more American direction, finding inspiration in the sounds of Nashville.

“Country funk is the big thing for me,” he says.

“I allow my music to keep changing. I don’t put it in a box. I like to keep going. I have loved funk and soul since I was a kid and now I only listen to funk and hip-hop – especially Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak, who is a new cat from California.”

The band have, in many ways, returned to their roots after their Celtic and folk journey.

“Rock and roll was my first love,” says Mike.

“I came late to Celtic music and it was only really going over to Ireland in the 80s that I got turned on.

“We’ve always been broader than a single genre though.”

The band’s 1984 tune The Big Music was co-opted at the time as a handy label for a whole genre of anthemic pop of the U2, Simple Minds, Big Country variety – though Mike says he never liked that. “The Big Music as a genre name is so lazy,” he says. “The title doesn’t reflect a kind of music and I don’t spend a second of my time thinking of them. We’ve always been broader than a single genre, anyway – though we’ve never been an indie or stadium rock band.”

He refers to the band, but really Mike Scott is The Waterboys – the single common thread that runs through the group and the creative engine at its heart.

“I’m the only constant but I’ve always tried to keep the same line-up,” he says. “This is the longest yet. I’ve had the drummer [Ralph Salmins] for seven years. We have had more drummers than Spinal Tap but seem to have put that to rest.”

Are there any other comparisons to the spoof rock band?

“No, I went to see it with Mick Jones and never laughed. Is it because it was too close to the bone? No. I couldn’t believe anyone could be that stupid.”

Though he admits to sharing one embarrassing moment with the mock rockers: getting lost backstage.

“The one thing that really happened to us was the ‘hello Cleveland’ moment. That’s happened to a lot of us,” he laughs. “I certainly don’t have any excesses left!”

So none of that fabled rock & roll lifestyle?

“When I lived on my own I worked on music all the time,” says the 59 year-old, who has a daughter with former partner Camille O’Sullivan and a son with his wife, the Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, whom he married in 2016.

“Now I don’t get as much time to do anything else as I’m daddying.

“I became a first time dad at 54 and it’s a constant juggling act making sure everyone has what they need. When I go on tour, that’s my holiday. It’s seven times easier work than daddying!”

But, he insists, his work is far from done.

“I’m still hungry and want to be the best artist, guitarist, singer and best live act and I’m still fighting.

“That’s when I’m happy.”

  • The Waterboys, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe play Nocturne Live at Blenheim Palace on June 16. Tickets from nocturnelive.com

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