Scott Walker

TrackAlbum
In My RoomPortrait
Montague Terrace (In Blue)Scott
JackieScott 2
Boy ChildScott 4
The Seventh SealScott 4
I Still See YouAny Day Now
Track ThreeClimate Of Hunter
The ElectricianNite Flights
RosaryTilt
JesseThe Drift

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Contributor: Robert Webb

No other artist has taken the route Scott Walker has, from teenage poster boy to avant-garde cult hero. Yet when Julian Cope issued his Scott compilation, Fire Escape In The Sky, in the very early 80s, few could recall the honeyed vocalist’s long deleted solo work. If anything, Scott was remembered chiefly as one third of the Walker Brothers, the Sixties act who only half a dozen years earlier had enjoyed a brief reunion and a chart hit with the Tom Rush song No Regrets, barely noticed by the under 25s. Fire Escape In The Sky was a revelation to many of the post-punk generation. Churning orchestral arrangements (courtesy of studio guys like Wally Stott) and elegantly enigmatic lyrics collided in brief, existential narratives. Walker’s tales of lonely landladies, rainy days and forgotten loves were like compact, four-minute dramas: thrilling, witty, poignant. Above all, there was the voice. Walker filled his songs with a rich, towering baritone. Could they really have been released in the late Sixties? Where had this extraordinary singer been in the intervening decade?

Since Cope’s compilation, itself now long deleted, Walker has resumed his solo career – albeit erratically – and his Sixties back catalogue has enjoyed something of a revival in the CD/download era, inspiring a whole genre of melancholia. His pre-solo albums with the Walker Brothers – when he was the quintessential pretty-boy pop idol, a rival to the Beatles for bedroom wall space – have also been exhumed and reissued. New fans pore over them for their occasional nuggets of brilliance where Scott took the lead: In My Room, Orpheus, Archangel, After The Lights Go Out.

But it’s his early solo albums – essentially Scotts 1 to 4, originally released on the Philips label – which are the essence of early Scott. They comprise a mix of astonishingly self-assured, self-penned compositions and carefully chosen cover versions: Montague Terrace (In Blue), Boy Child, The Bridge, Angelica, Plastic Palace People, The Amorous Humphrey Plugg. All transport the listener to another, indefinable time and place.

An early influence on Walker was the Belgian singer Jacques Brel, whose passionate, careering songs he discovered through a girlfriend during the Walker Brothers years and promptly snuck on to his solo albums. The canny listener may recall David Bowie’s 1973 B-side Amsterdam, written by Brel, but essentially a cover of Walker’s English-language take on the song. Some will also know that during the Ziggy Stardust years Bowie also covered My Death, another Brel song that came to him via Walker.

Sales of Scott’s solo albums began well and found their fans (Bowie among them), even returning him to the pop charts, with Jackie (another galloping Brel song) and Tony Hatch’s Joanna. But it was not to last. Following the commercial failure of the now iconic Scott 4 in 1969, just as Walker was getting into his stride, he was carpeted by the company and told to cut more playlist-friendly material, on the promise that once he had earned his keep at Philips, he could resume his idiosyncratic way along pop’s crazy paving. The decision marooned Walker in a lagoon of forgettable easy-listening covers for too many years. The fans soon moved on and Walker’s early Seventies albums – some of which have (sensibly) never been reissued – were unsurprisingly abandoned in the bargain bins.

In 1978, the Walker Brothers reunion provided Scott with the opportunity to get back to what really mattered. The trio’s final album, Nite Flights, contained one track which signalled the way forward. The Electrician, a dark, alarming, almost Kafkaesque song seemingly about paranoia and state torture, was closer in spirit to the edgy, contemporary work of David Bowie, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno than it was to the melodic, check-shirted country-lite covers he’d been associated with to date. Elsewhere, the vaguely menacing title track sounded more Berlin than Los Angeles. As Bowie put it around the same time: the European canon is here.

Another few years elapsed (Walker fans would get used to the long gaps between records) before he was back again with Climate Of Hunter. Released in 1984 this was his first album of entirely self-penned material for 15 years. This is where modern Scott begins and where I first noticed him. On this startlingly fresh album, synthesisers and electronic drums replace the lush orchestral arrangements of old (one forgets that as a musician during his Walker Brothers years, Scott primarily played bass, an instrument which features to the fore on this album, thanks to fellow bassist Mo Foster. Other guests on the record include Billy Ocean and Mark Knopfler).

Then silence again. Another decade on, during which Walker spent three years at a north London art school, came the alienating Tilt, followed by The Drift in the mid-2000s and Bish Bosch in 2012: collectively comprising a trilogy, according to Walker. In between there has been the occasional soundtrack project and, in 2014, a collaboration with the drone metal band Sunn O))). Each album is progressively more experimental and a further departure from the overcast balladry and middle-of-the-road album fillers of his younger days, all of which Scott now firmly distances himself from. When I interviewed him myself for The Independent on the release of The Drift in 2006, he stubbornly refused to be drawn into any in depth discussion of his back catalogue. Publically, Walker has been content for his work to stand for itself. Although he curated the Meltdown festival on London’s South Bank in 2000, he refused to take to the stage himself. Indeed, aside from the very rare television appearance and an enlightening film documentary, Walker remains a man firmly in the shadows.

 

Scott Walker on 4AD Records

Scott Walker biography (iTunes)

Robert Webb is a freelance writer and editor. His writing has appeared in The Independent and BBC Online. He is the author of The 100 Greatest Cover Versions and a forthcoming book on John Lennon.

TopperPost #397

3 Comments

  1. Justin Beattie
    Jan 8, 2015

    Great list, this would be my ten: Mathilde (Scott), Jackie, The Bridge (Scott 2), 30 Century Man, If You Go Away, It’s Raining Today (Scott 3), Farmer In The City, Bouncer See Bouncer (Tilt), Cossacks Are (The Drift), Brando (Soused)

  2. Peter Shallis
    Jan 9, 2015

    I can never get enough of Scott’s first four solo albums, I’d say 3 is my favourite. Every track is a standout imo. I often wake up with the lines from Big Louise in my head: She stands all alone/You can hear her hum softly/From her fire escape in the sky/She fills the bags ‘neath her eyes/With the moonbeams/And cries ’cause the world’s passed her by

  3. Peter Viney
    Jan 10, 2015

    Excellent piece. It’s had me listening to Scott Walker, mainly “Boy Child” the self-curated 1967-70 compilation. Compare it to “No Regrets: The Best of Scott Walker & The Walker Brothers 1965-76.” “Boy Child” has no Joanna, No Lights of Cincinatti, No Jackie, No If You Go Away. It seems Scott didn’t like his hits. I always found “Joanna” especially annoying because of the Tony Hatch-Jackie Trent writing credit: Joanna, I just met a girl called Joanna, and suddenly that name …” How come Leonard Bernstein never sued them? I need to investigate further. There is a new expensive box set of the first five solo albums.

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