For better and for verse: The Waterboys live at the Sage Gateshead

POETRY and pop music are surprisingly infrequent bedfellows, given how well they can work together.

Former disc jockey Mike Read’s occasional efforts to set the poetry of John Betjeman to music, accompanied by the likes of David Essex and Alvin Stardust, might be an acquired taste, but the Waterboys’’ latest crack at turning the verse of William Butler Yeats into rock songs is a triumph as undoubted as it was unlikely.

Their new album, An Appointment with Mr Yeats, is their fourth stab at covering WB Yeats, by my reckoning, following the inclusion of The Stolen Child on their 1988 album Fisherman’s Blues, Love and Death on 1993’s Dream Harder and band leader Mike Scott’s duet with Sharon Shannon on the 1997 various-artists album Now and in Time to Be.

This is the first time they’ve gone the whole hog, though, and it’s well worth the wait as, the ill-advised bar-room boogie supplied as a musical backdrop to The Lake Isle of Innisfree aside, their arrangements work so well the poems could almost have been written with them in mind.

A fair chunk of the regular album’s 14 songs featured during the band’s latest visit to the Sage Gateshead, the highlights being White Birds, Song of Wandering Aengus, Politics, September 1913 and An Irish Airman Foresees his Death.

The new album accounted for about half the band’s cracking two-hour set, the rest being selections from a back catalogue stretching back to 1983.

Kicking off with three songs from 1984’s A Pagan Place – Rags, All the Things She Gave Me and The Thrill is Gone – they proceeded to rattle through a selection of classics from the eighties and nineties, though, curiously enough, nothing released since they reformed in 2000, except the stuff from the new album.

Highlights included 1983’s The Girl in the Swing, 1990’s How Long Will I Love You? and Lonesome Old Wind, from the Fisherman’s Blues out-takes album released in 2001.

A Girl Called Johnny and The Pan Within and Glastonbury Song also both put in an appearance.

A Waterboys show wouldn’t be complete without their biggest hit, The Whole of the Moon, a No 3 in 1991, and, sure enough, it turned up during their first encore, preceded by a lengthy rendition of Don’t Bang the Drum.

Another of their handful of hits, the 1989 single Fisherman’s Blues followed, along with A Man is in Love, in a second encore, although a good few hundred of the sellout audience had left by then, wrongly presuming that that was that. More fool them as they missed a treat.

DARIN HUTSON