Dylan Jones: 'A Wild Holy Band is an unapologetic road song'

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In case anyone was in any doubt, magazine cover-mounted gifts have always been subject to the law of diminishing returns. I have rather a lot of previous in this area, and in my time have stuck CDs, videos, DVDs, books, memory sticks, posters, leather wallets, even sunglasses on the covers of various magazines I've worked for, and I've never known how effective they've been. Not only do many readers take free gifts for granted – is there any monthly music magazine that doesn't offer a free cover-mounted CD as a matter of course? – but as so many magazines offer them these days, they have long since ceased to be special. (Giving me a free memory stick? Can't I have a man-bag instead?)

Having said that, when I picked up a copy of The Believer's 2009 Music Special in a bookstore in San Francisco's Pacific Heights a few weeks ago, I didn't realise it included a free CD. I eventually pumped it into the car stereo, but, having been let down dozens of times before, my expectations were understandably low. As it was, the CD wasn't too bad, with various songs destined to end up on my iPod (including those by Beth Sorrentino and David Sylvian).

One song, though, crept up on me – possibly because it runs to over 10 minutes. "A Wild Holy Band" by former Waterboys frontman Mike Scott is a strange beast: minimally, almost sparsely produced, lyrically it is encumbered by cliché after cliché and sounds a little like an homage to any number of mid-Seventies epics. And yet, and yet, somehow it works. Haunting, deceptive, and engagingly pretentious, this is an unapologetic road song that almost wills you to dislike it.

"I wrote this song in my bedroom in Scotland at six in the morning, just up, in a songwriting mood, trawling through old notebooks and journals from the late 1990s looking for any ideas that might be lying there forgotten," says Scott. "To my surprise, I found the entire first verse intact on the page of a journal. The verse suggested more words, a lyrical theme, and in my head I heard a tune. The song followed." A song that sounds like someone wrote it 40 years ago.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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