Good lord look at the cover of Stretch (happily reproduced on this now double release). A smiling Scott, an image to freeze the blood of any young poet
The back catalogue of Scott Walker – part the third.
Scene one – last orders and Till the Band Comes In
The evening was drawing to a close. What few customers there were remained huddled and befuddled together, in lumpen indeterminate shapes; looking for all the world as if they had been glued irrevocably into position on their stools. They nevertheless exuded a strange aura of almost militant calm, temporarily resolute in the belief that the landlord would relax just this once and allow them to drink through the small hours.
However the landlord was having none of it. Grumpily, he essayed forth to the jukebox, denouncing the "filthy muck" it was currently playing, and pulled the apparatus's socket out of the wall with a flourish. Returning to the bar he grabbed a packet of crisps and with these to sustain him, he began to fill in a promotion leaflet sent by a local brewery. At intervals, crisps would be sprayed round the room as if in a yet undefined challenge to the dwindling band of revellers. It was obvious it would soon be time to go.
For Messrs Foster and Dawson however, this signalled that it was a time for further action. Scott's difficult period needed to be discussed. Mr. Dawson hatched a plan. "For a start I suggest we get as much beer as is possible and then we'll sort out Songs from the Shows & 'till the Band Comes In. Then we'll sort out Scott's Casino/Cabaret Years in the chippy. And I reckon the walk home should cover the Walker Brother's 1970s comeback". As a plan it had much to commend it to the two men. As long as they could muster enough energy for logical and concise thought between them – qualities that neither at this stage was entirely the master of – they should be fine.
Drinks were procured, despite Mr Dawson suffering a shower of chewed crisp and an angry glare. Mr Foster, supping gratefully at his mild, proceeded with his lecture.
Scott Sings Songs from His TV Series (1969)
With the successes of Scott 1, 2 & 3, and his "prime-time" TV show (in which Scott earnestly talked to luminaries such as Simon Dee) the record company bigwigs decided to keep interest at a high by releasing numbers sung on the show... (no Jackie or Next here I'm afraid) It's an album packed with standards that I've listened to about twice. I can't remember what's on it to be honest. An augur of mid-seventies Scott I'm afraid... Let us move on to more appetising fare.
'till the Band Comes In (1970)
A tricky one this...
As an album it's very clear that, in comparison to his other solo LPs control freak Scott has relinquished a fair amount of decision making on 'till the Band. The songs are credited to both (new manager) Ady Semel and Scott, and we have Esther Ofarim singing on Long About Now. In all fairness to Esther Ofarim, it's a pretty good track, but it's just not Scott, is it? In some ways it would have been better to have a full collaboration, with more songs sung by Ofarim; as it is, it just feels slightly shoehorned in. Elsewhere the addition of four standards after the Epilogue track (and LP highlight The War is Over) smacks of a desperate cashing in on a fading star by a record company. Let's be honest, Stormy is bad, bad, bad. Still, it is an engaging piece of work, in that it is (perversely enough) much more experimental sonically; the eerie silences of Time Operator and the gentle rag-time of Jean the Machine wouldn't have been comfortable on the first four LPs. Here, they do allow a certain emotional and sonic range to be brought to proceedings. As for the short acoustic number - Cowbells Shakin' well, that looks forward to similar compositions (Rawhide) on Tilt. The "big" songs, such as Thanks for Chicago Mr. James and 'Till the Band Comes In, do feel like a throw-back to palm-days Walker Brothers (such as My Ship is Comin' In). And there's enough loner-melancholy (as heard in Joe and Little Things) to keep any Scott fan happy.
Milds duly supped, and with a parting glare from the landlord acting as a token gesture of farewell, the two men struggled through the murk to the Golden City chip shop, which was in the process of closing. An angry altercation and a ludicrous attempt at bribery did however produce the last scraps of what was in the fryer, and with enough glutinous battered fish residue garnishing the chips to satisfy the most scrupulous gourmand, the lecture continued apace. Spitting batter freely in all directions, Mr Foster pulled a ridiculous sub dramatic pose in the middle of the street, waved a shining forefinger in the air and continued...
The Moviegoer (1972)
Now we move definitely into the cabaret years. Gone are the searing slices of sixties angst and melodrama, instead replaced by seventies mush and (almost) semi camp acceptance of the mundane. Essentially The Moviegoer is a collection of a collection of amiable but pointless movie themes. Any album that starts off with This Way Mary (from the long forgotten film Mary Queen of Scots is one that really shouldn't be countenanced. As it was his penultimate LP for Phillips, one wonders whether who was trying to have the last laugh... especially when you consider the cluttered, cut & paste original cover, where Scott sports a cowboy hat and vies for space with a huge cinema ticket. Still, his voice is always a delight; it just pains one to hear it go through such contractual hoops...
Any Day Now (1973)
Scott Walker covers Bread's If. That should be enough of a warning. In some ways it's fascinating to hear such an original voice do such bloody awful cover material in such a (frankly) limp dick way. A magnificently bad attempt at a Jamaican voice adorns the easy by numbers reggae on Maria Bethania, something that has to be heard to be believed. Still, When You Get Right Down to It isn't half bad I suppose. Phillips and Scott could now honourably part company.
Stretch (1973), We Had It All (1975)
Good lord look at the cover of Stretch (happily reproduced on this now double release). A smiling Scott, an image to freeze the blood of any young poet... It looks shockingly like Robert Redford advertising a keep fit video. Further horrors are contained on this two for the price of one CD, such as a version of a Bill Withers song. To summarise, Scott wanders into country territory, white bread country territory at that. In some ways, a country album and Scott wouldn't be a bad thing; after all he had hinted at it earlier, with Reuben James, and The Lady Came from Baltimore. The problem is that it is all very half-arsed. Furthermore, it's not real country, or real RnB. To explain my moaning, let me take you on a little musical diversion. When a similar solo artist (very "emotional" background, UK based, specialist in songs of loneliness and love lost) decided to "do" country and RnB, studios in Memphis were procured, a string of top-notch musicians (who knew their specialist craft intimately) were hired –and Dusty in Memphis was born. Sadly this is not the case with these two LPs. Indeed Scott tackles No Easy Way Down here and the comparisons with Dusty and Scott's approach are there for all to see. Still, Someone Who Cared, and The House Song are enjoyable. And I know I shouldn't but I do like his stab at Delta Dawn.
By now the two gentlemen had, (by a simple devise of ignoring the drunken cat-calls and pleas for communal violence) negotiated the grim, litter strewn streets of Great Harwood and were beginning to wander towards the more congenial area known as Harwood Bar. Soon they would part company; Mr Dawson headed for the Bar, leaving Mr Foster alone to somehow find a way through the dank, dark edifices of Clayton-le-Moors. It was obvious to both that the nights work was not yet over. "Let us turn our attention to The Walker Brothers reunion" said Mr F, somewhat hoarse after his (very affected) denunciations of Scott's mid-period solo efforts.
The Walker Brothers - No Regrets (1975)
Actually a pretty nice LP all round, despite the essential unevenness of it all; their come back single No Regrets is a winner and has all the more emotional force considering Scott's previous five year's output... There's a cracking cover of Boulder to Birmingham and the truly great version of Burn Our Bridges... John's version of Walking in the Sun ain't half bad if you're in the mood for light whimsy. Elsewhere though Lover's Lullaby doesn't exactly fill one with hope. The LP is worth a purchase for the stunning front cover - whilst John and Gary grin like loons, Scott, already regretting the reformation, puts a hand up to the camera, clasping a tin of Newcastle Brown Ale for emotional succour.
Pretty dreadful, nothing to impart of any value, save to say, don't waste your time. This may be anecdotal and may be a complete fabrication but when John Walker presented this LP as a present to his nephew, he was laughed at for his utter un-hip-ness. Nuff said.
Nite Flights (1978)
In which Scott wrests control... and decides he's had enough MOR schlock. The first four tracks, Shut Out, Fat Mama Kick, Nite Flights and The Electrician are absolutely unbelievable in their use of maudlin (and maybe drug-soaked?) imagery and very left-field take on what music should sound like. And, let it be said (not too often enough) these tracks had a tremendous influence on what was to come in the shape of the post punk sound-scape... It's no wonder that Eno & Bowie checked this LP out, nor is it any surprise that Julian Cope plundered Nite Flights to give The Teardrop Explodes a more cutting, less poppy edge. After the opening, the LP nosedives into familiar mid seventies WB territory, by simple fact that the other brothers need to be heard. Child of Flames isn't bad, but it's just not in the same territory as the first four...
With that, now fairly sober, Mr. Foster decided enough was enough. Scott's difficult later releases would have to wait till the two men reconvened over luncheon in the Grey Horse tomorrow. Mr Dawson headed towards the Bar, whilst Mr F traipsed through Lower Clayton, avoiding the contretemps that had worryingly escalated (and was seemingly in need of more combatants to further it's escalation) outside the Spa. Mr F mused that Scott would have kept his head down in such circumstances, and with this thought to guide him he trudged home.
Words: Richard Foster.