Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Got Scott?

Aw man. Scott 4. A magic album slowly soaked in pathos and regret and towel-dried with inventive orchestration and outlandish arrangements. I’ve played it many a time, my old set of mp3s unearthed at the advent of broadband when the darkest corners of the internet begat a never-ending flow of everything one could ever need and plenty more besides.

I don’t have a copy. It’s easy enough to get of course, but I don’t want any old version, half-speed remastered or otherwise. It’s got to be an original ’69 copy, spinning in cavernous, timeless mono, its silver Philips label reflecting the handsome majesty of its creator on the gatefold sleeve. I keep looking, but those eyewatering prices don’t ever seem to drop. There is though a narrow space for it on the shelf next to those first three eponymous albums and one day it shall rest easy right there.

Scott 4 was the first album of all-original Scott Walker material. It was a commercial flop at the time, blamed partly on the fact Walker insisted it be promoted as a Scott Engel album, but more than likely it sank and was unceremoniously deleted due to the ‘pop’ climate of the time.

One-time teen idols didn’t release flamenco-tinged, brass ‘n string swept torch songs, especially not at the tail end of a decade where guitar solos, in direct proportion to the guitarists’ hair, were becoming longer and more outlandish with each release. As swinging London turned an autumnal burnt umber, Walker’s music was perfect, poignant and peerless, but it ultimately done for him.

Its influence is, naturally, immense. You’ll hear its echoes in the unexpected chord changes and deeper grooves of any Michael Head record. Marc Almond appropriated much of its tragedy, hammed it up and built a career around it. Bowie nicked his baritone. Leonard Cohen pickpocketed the wordy couplets and female harmonies. You could ask any number of your favourite artists and most of them would enthuse well into the wee small hours about the super soaraway Scott 4.

Scott WalkerThe Old Man’s Back Again

The Old Man’s Back Again is an extraordinary piece of music. In three and a half minutes, it takes on nylon-stringed acoustic guitars, wordless Gregorian chanting and a lyric about the repressive Czech government and melds it into a brooding piece of immense, orchestral art-funk.

The voice – we’ll get to that in a minute – takes centre stage, but its surrounded by the most disparate of collective parts. It’s the bassline you’ll notice first. An on-the-one groove, all frugging Fender, woody tone and rubbery stretch, it’s rumoured that the player is none other than Engel himself.

A veteran of the pre-Walker Brothers studio session scene, the young Scott proved to be no slouch across four strings and if the playing is indeed him, then he’s just gone up another 20 notches in my estimations. Rattling and rolling alongside the anonymous loose-limbed jazzer on the drums, it very much creates the sort of rhythm that forced Serge Gainsbourg to cock an ear, put down the Gauloises and get to work on what would become his Histoire de Melody Nelson album.

The case for the prosecution of Serge is further strengthened by the addition of a shimmering string section. Likely the work of Philips’ arranger du jour Ivor Raymonde, the strings – freeflowing and wild – give the whole thing a cinematic ambience, a feel that’s enhanced when those uhming and ahing backing vocals come creeping in from somewhere below Walker’s waistline.

Sensational stuff, and bang in the middle is the voice, as golden as its singer’s hair and effortlessly in tune. It’s the phrasing. And the pitch. And the tone. Walker’s range on The Old Man’s Back Again is actually fairly narrow, but the control he has over his singing as he tells a tale that could well have fallen from the page of a Tolstoy short story is quite the thing. Many will try, but on this form, no-one comes close. Or likely ever will. His vocal on Duchess is maybe even better. Go and find it..

Full fat voice, chicken-skinny legs

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, Hard-to-find

Bad Cover Version/Good Cover Version

There’s a strange bit of serendipity to this post. I’d spent a night last week putting some stuff together for my weekly article and then on his Sunday Service show on 6 Music, Jarvis Cocker played the very track I was planning to write about. In itself, that’s a happy coincidence. But the fact that I’d planned to introduce the record (which has nothing to do with Jarvis) by writing a wee bit about Pulp beforehand was a bit weirder. So, as you read this, imagine the Twilight Zone theme playing away ad infinitum in the background.

If you drew a trajectory charting the popularity of Pulp LPs, there’d be a massive, Everest-sized spike where Different Class appeared and sadly, not much else. Pulp were a proper, fully-formed album band, but save for their brief flirtation with mainstream success, not many (common) people would really know. Indeed, many folk probably consider them a bit of a one-hit wonder. Their last album, 2001’s We Love Life is one of Pulp’s very best. Crashing in at number 6 on the album chart, before crashing straight back out and never to be seen again a mere 3 weeks later, it was a real blink and you’ll miss it album. If you’ve never had the pleasure, you should make some time to acquaint yourself with it.

One track, Bad Cover Version, is a terrifically thought-out ballad that draws parallels between a failing relationship (“a bad cover version of love is not the real thing“) and the 2nd rate dopplegangers we often accept in place of the real deal – Top of the Pops compilation LPs (“the bikini-clad girl on the front who invited you in”), the Stones since the 80s, later episodes of Tom & Jerry when they could talk, the last episodes of Dallas, the TV series of Planet of the Apes, and so on. Amongst the things Jarvis lists is “the second side of ‘Till The Band Comes In’“.

Till The Band Comes In was the much-maligned and undersold 5th LP by Scott Walker (his 6th, if you count his Sings Songs From His TV Series LP). Much like We Love Life, the critics had the artist pegged as ‘past his best’, it too was a bit of a flop and never really got the attention it deserved. The line about the second side of Till The Band Comes In was a joke at Walker’s expense, given that it was he who produced We Love Life for Pulp. Are you still hearing The Twilight Zone music in the background? It’s a circle of life, as one piano player once remarked.

scott walker 70

Scott Phwoar

Back in the day before he was producing other people’s flop records and long before felt the need to create an approximation of melody from bashing hanging lumps of meat, Scott Walker reveled in making orchestral-rich pop songs. Like a baritone-rich Serge Gainsbourg he sang of syphillis, sailors and suicide and was nothing at all like yer average teen heart throb. On Till The Band Comes In, you’ll find Little Things (That Keep Us Together). Almost a companion piece to his own version of Jackie, though with less gallop and more gasp, Little Things finds Scott clinging to the coat tails of a melody as jabbing strings and tumbling toms race one another to the finish line. It’s great.

And as if that’s not thrilling enough, here come the Trashcan Sinatras, back in the days when they were The Trash Can Sinatras, faithfully gatecrashing Walker’s tune with all the ramshackle beauty of a wooden-legged man hurtling haphazardly down a hill and into the neighbour’s hedge while being chased by an angry slevvery dug. Which, metaphorically at least, the Trash Cans were round about then. They fairly clatter into Little Things; the old Roland Jazz Chorus set to maximum wobble in a thrilling rush of knee-trembling, reverb-soaked, John McGeogh-esque post-punk while a breathless Frank hangs on to the vocals for dear life.

My first recollection of the Trash Cans doing this was for a Billy Sloan session on Radio Clyde around ’91 or ’92. Like most of the Trash Can’s unofficial output from those days, I have it on a hissy, taped-off-the-radio C90 somewhere, but the version above is taken from the b-side of 1993’s How Can I Apply single. A lost nugget of a record from an era when every Trash Can’s release was packed-full of top quality songs from an apparently never-ending production line that put every other band to shame. But you knew that already.

tcs 93TCS, Shabby Road, 1993

*Trashcans fact!

Long before John started wearing the famous stripey t-shirt, he was awfy fond of a t-shirt bearing the cover of Scott 1. No pictures exist. Believe me, I’ve looked…