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The Wild Bee Keeper | Interview with musician Steve Wickham

The Wild Bee Keeper | Interview with musician Steve Wickham

The name Steve Wickham is one most people will recognise as part of the world renowned Waterboys success. The music created by this creative and unique electric violinist, songwriter and composer is instantly recognisable and here we talk to him about his work, his love for bees and how the west of Ireland influences his lifestyle.

Q. What brought you to the West?

I arrived by minibus in the middle of the night during the summer of 1984 playing a gig in the Baymount Ballroom in Strandhill with my band at the time ‘InTuaNua’. I was struck by the scenery, Ben Bulben in particular and the archaeology ( Our manager Mark Clinton was an Archeologist and brought us to see a court tomb). I moved here from Dublin in 1992 to Cashelgarron in North Sligo.

Q. Favourite urban aspect of Sligo?

Without doubt ‘Shoot The Crows’ public house where I meet to play music with my pals every wednesday when I’m in town. It was closed during the pandemic but I’m are looking forward to meeting again soon.

Q. Favourite wild aspect of Sligo?

There is a lot of wildness about Sligo, the mountains, the ocean, the lakes and forests and woods. I suppose the Ocean is my favourite aspect. We lived near Streedagh for a year. The winter storms and the roar of the Atlantic were immense.

Q. Favourite cultural aspect of Sligo?

A big part of my reason to move here was the traditional music scene, more particularly the rich fiddle playing tradition here. Over the years I’ve have become part of an extended cultural family here. Sligo is a relatively a small town so invariably we have a lot of cross pollination bewteen the disciplines. For example, over the years, I’ve been involved in projects working closely with poets, writers, film-makers, dancers and visual artists and fellow musicians.

Q. In what way does the wild nature of this part of the world manifest itself in your work/music/art?

I really can’t answer this definitively but I suspect I’ve written some music where an imagined seascape has been present and at other times birdsong and gales are probably the mix.

Q. How does your lifestyle here compare to other places you have lived? For instance: Are you busier? More relaxed? Balanced work/life?

I’ve lived in a good many places, but apart from Dublin, none for any meaningful extended time. It was a tough transition. Initially there were far less gigs so money was hard to come by. It took me several years to integrate into the community. We lived far from town at the time. I’ve always been busy so that is not really any different. I do appreciate the space to live. Cities are great, busy and cultural hubs but I find them claustrophobic after a while and I long for the silence and space.

Q. You have a new recording studio next to your house; is it inspiring to work surrounded by beehives and trees?

I had a studiospace in the Model Arts Centre for many years. It was a great bright room with plenty of artists nearby and over the years this proximity often lead to interesting collaborations. At the start of lockdown we had to move out. So I’ve had to work here at home and see how that flows. The new studio really is a modest space built for me by a great local carpenter Mike Harris at the start of the lockdown. Of course I love the beehives and trees and the fact they are always calling me away from the job at hand. I’ve recorded Oisin from the Lost Brothers down here and the NoCrows have done some work here but it’s really a space for my own practice.

Q. You are a Beekeeper; your 2017 solo album is called The Beekeeper; where did this fascination with bees come from?

I am an amateur beekeeper. Fr Tom Dermody in Kilkenny started me out with a hive ten years ago. Tom’s gone now to the great hive in the sky. Pat Finnegan is my Bee Guru and has helped me manage them over the years. I’ve four or five hives now that’s as many as I have time to care for, more than that and it becomes a chore or a business. I like it to remain a fascinating hobby.

Q.There is a lot of sacrifice for the greater good in being a bee, isn’t there! Do you empathise with their hive mentality and sense of selflessness?

I’ve tried but I can’t empathise with a bee. I do like to listen to their humming. I see the hive itself as a single organism and I respect the tiny being that can cause me so much pain. They have brought a lot of abundance to our garden. We love them.

Q. As well as being a working musician, you are also studying Fine Art at Sligo IT. How is that working out for you?

Yes that’s right. I’ve always made art and have been blessed with an artistic life. One good reason for going back to college is to learn the rules so that I can break again them with impunity.

Q. You are lost on Ben Bulben in the fog, and you need to build a fire to keep warm. All you have for fuel are three instruments: a fiddle; a mandolin; and a bodhran. You can burn two and keep one. Which do you save? (By the way – the fiddles’ strings are broken!)

I’ve been up Ben Bulben with my fiddle a few times. I am an inventive chap and what I’d do is strip four of the strings from the (eight stringed) mandolin and put them on the fiddle and keep the 4 others as spares and mournfully burn the mandolin and the bodhran.


Steve Wickham, electric violinist, songwriter and composer is an award winning Irish artist. He made his recording debut with U2 on “Sunday Bloody Sunday’ in 1982. He is a member of The Waterboys with whom he has toured the world and played on some of its great stages. His distinctive playing has been a contribution to the Waterboys sound for over 30 years.

Writing songs and music has been his life since his early days. He has continues to explore new musical territory. Whether it’s on film or theatre or live.
From a crossover with Sligo baroque orchestra and Congolese soukous band Tropicana Musica to his work with world music group NoCrows which incorporates gypsy jazz, classical and traditional Irish music, he’s always moving forward.

His solo work is a unique trip with a musician undefined and unfettered.
Two solo albums “Geronimo’ in 2006 and ‘Beekeeper’ 2017. Beekeeper shows an artist in full flow. His live show is full of incandescent playing, sensitivity and wit.

Interview by David North for wild ėden magazine


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