The back catalogue of Scott Walker - part 1

Being the last Friday before Christmas, the local gasworks in Great Harwood naturally held its annual staff party in the nearest pub available. And, naturally, it was deemed that – as ever – the party should start with a late luncheon of pies and savouries at two o clock in the Royal public house, Great Harwood, Lancs.

 

 

The Back Catalogue of Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers.

 

Being the last Friday before Christmas, the local gasworks in Great Harwood naturally held its annual staff party in the nearest pub available. And, naturally, it was deemed that – as ever – the party should start with a late luncheon of pies and savouries at two o clock in the Royal public house, Great Harwood, Lancs.

 

Six o clock...

 

Outside the Royal, a gloomy rain-sodden evening was surrendering itself mournfully to an equally murky night. The fuggy, oily smells of the local repair garage occasionally permeated the gloom, adding a keen vaporous tincture to the damp, glutinous air.

 

Inside the pub, however, all was light and merriment.

 

Within the confines of it's walls, an evening tableau not too dissimilar to Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights could be witnessed. Sprawling, lurching bleary-eyed figures, moving with a strange mixture of excess caution and wanton abandon, clung together for mutual support around the pool tables. Other members of this raffish tribe - still wearing their luminous orange safety bibs - were sat slumped, insensate. Propped up in a corner, the already precarious grasp on their beer glasses made ever more doomed by the onset of a heavy drunken stupor.

 

Into this festive scene, glowering sullenly at the company shuffled both Mr Dawson and Mr Foster. Their presence cast an unwelcome chilly silence over the merry-making, though neither seemed to care for the glances of reproof and anger from the bucolic company by the gaming tables. The two men chose a draughty secluded spot near the lounge bar and settled down, removing their mufflers and capes. Clearly visible on Mr Foster's trousers were traces of the pie he had greatly enjoyed at dinner time. His efforts to extract the maximum amount of sustenance from the scrap of filling that had fallen on the knee of his Oxford Bags had resulted (due to the frenzied scrabblings and scrapings that ensued) in a stain that bore a remarkable resemblance to the outline of Australia. Not that he minded. After his first sip of mild he turned balefully to Mr Dawson and said, "this looks like a suitable time to discuss the work of Scott Walker".

 

To discuss Scott Walker's first sortie into fame and success (via the Walker Brothers) is, in effect, to discuss the bewilderment and eventual disillusionment of the singer.  This is a clearly audible development in the band's albums (just compare the song styles and attitudes contained within Portrait and Images respectively if you are not convinced). Things were clearly not right with Scott's status as pop icon, as these frankly ridiculous sleeve notes from Portrait testify.

In the accompanying photograph, and in stark contrast to John & Gary, Scott glares out balefully at his teenage fans.

 

"SCOTT – who lives too hard because it is the only way he knows how. The Existentialist who knows what it means and reads Jean Paul Satre. Scott who worries too much while he spends long hours striving for perfection in the recording studios. The Loner who haunts the late night London scenes and immerses his mind in the unfathomable depths of modern jazz...."

 

And, by contrast, some of Gary Leeds' portrait "The Humourist who plays Russian Roulette with cartons of cream cakes - the first one sick is out!"

 

 

Enough it is time to peruse the work from 1965 to 1967. The Walker Brothers.

 

 

 

Take it Easy with the Walker Brothers

Standard, rather shallow pop fodder, replete with the big hits Make it Easy on Yourself and My Ship is Coming In. Of course, Scott's voice is incredibly beautiful, whilst John has a terrific earthy rocky sound, and together they make a marvellous blend, but there are some howlers here, it is obvious they are still scraping for material. Both Tell the Truth and The Seventh Dawn are frankly woeful efforts. But by far the most heinous crime is when the lovely Young Man Cried with its moving lyrics and sensitive arrangement, gives way to the dreadful Everything's Gonna be Alright. Let us end this review here in merciful silence...

 

 

Portrait

It is time I feel to move onto Portrait, released early in 1966. The most complete recording in the classic Walker Brothers style, as an indication of what they did it is hard to beat. In the light of what was to come a lot of the tracks do seem rather narcissitic or frivolous; (cases in point are Saturday's Child and Hurting Each Other, not to mention Take it Like a Man) and at times contrived - Old Folks does seem rather patronizing in retrospect. There's certainly none of the edge that so marked the solo LPs out as special. But perhaps that is to be expected. This is ballad pop mid sixties style; indeed ballad pop extraordinaire. People Get Ready is the standard pop-tastic toe-tapper, and pointers to the grim artistic future are Old Folks (stylistically) and I Can See It Now (subject matter). A good recording indeed.

 

 

 

Images

Released as an LP in early 1968, Images marked the end of the original Walker Brothers. As if to symbolically bury the band for good, their trademark sound is now broken up in favour of more varied, brittle sonic palette. And the fractious state of internal band relations during these late recordings is noticeable in the very few songs the brothers actually sing together. Still, Orpheus and Genevieve are brilliant guides for the first Scott solo LP and for that we must be thankful - though somewhat surprised that they didn't end up on Scott 1 as before Images was originally released they had already broken up acrimoniously – surely Scott could have wrestled control over these tracks? Still, 'tis a small matter. There are a few extra bonus tracks on the CD reissue worth a mention at this point; Walking in the Rain is an incredible cover, possibly one of the seminal Brothers' recordings.

 

In addition there are numerous compilations of Walker Brothers hits, all about 50p/50 euro cents from your local charity shop. You need one of these in order to avoid buying the first LP...

 

To return to ancient history, the Walker Brothers ended their domination of the UK charts by splitting up in 1967 each to pursue their own solo career. Gary and John naturally chose to conform to the bright and breezy world of 1960s pop. It was left to champion loner Scott to tread the path less chosen...

 

A breezy cough interrupted Mr Foster at this point. A stranger stood, hunched and decrepit by the side of the snug, attempting to speak. Obviously he had something to say on the subject...

 

Till next month.

Words Richard Foster & Chris Dawson.