If David Bowie says that he based his career on you then you, sir, are quite clearly qualified to have ‘Legend’ stamped on your passport.
The career of Scott Walker, born Noel Scott Engel in Hamilton, Ohio on 9th January 1943, can be divided into four distinct eras:
- As the key vocalist in the 60s teen heartthrob group The Walker Brothers. They sold millions and were mobbed wherever they went.
- After the Brothers split he began a solo career creating four (perhaps five) absolute masterpieces, that sold in big numbers to begin with, but sales gradually tailed off to near-zero within two years. It is these four albums which have earned Scott the ‘legend’ tag.
- Thence came a wilderness period (roughly 1971-94). The odd album attempting to re-ignite a mainstream showbiz career, but eschewing his incredible gift for songwriting. The mid-70s saw a brief Brothers’ reunion which ended with the game-changing Nite Flights album.
- Following the direction began with Nite Flights and his 1983 Climate of Hunter, Scott cut four albums (plus the odd collaboration) over the next twenty years of seriously uncompromising boundary-pushing (but resolutely un-commercial) soundscapes. In doing so he cemented his well-earned reputation as one of the most innovative, important and influential of musical artists.
Aside from Bowie, Jarvis Cocker, Thom Yorke, Marc Almond, St Etienne, Neil Hannon, Julian Cope, Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen, and Alex Turner are among those admirers who owe him a debt.
In my life I can pinpoint maybe half-a-dozen events that have taken my life in different directions to that in which it was travelling. In the summer of 1985, my pal Bob came around to my house with a record he’d bought that day. ‘You have just got to hear this.’ We put it on the turntable. It was Scott’s first solo album, simply titled Scott and originally released 18 years earlier. From track one my jaw gaped open. I had never heard anything quite like “Mathilde”, one of nine Jacques Brel compositions that Scott would record on his first three albums. Within minutes, after hearing “Such a Small Love”, “Montague Terrace” and “My Death”, my life was changed.
Over the next few months I became truly obsessed by Scott, as did Bob, as we tried to track down any recordings we could find that bore his name. Scott’s rich baritone voice and tales of love and loss, mystery and romance, struck deep chords with me. At the time I was madly in love and, as that relationship crumbled towards the end of the year, it’s fair to say I wallowed in a Scott comfort blanket for quite some time.
Over the next twenty years barely a day passed without me listening to Scott Walker. I once calculated that I had listened to “The Amorous Humphrey Plugg” approximately 2,400 times, which, at four and a half minutes, means I’ve spent just over a week of my life listening to that one song.
Scott has seen me through thick and thin. I never met him, I never knowingly passed him in the street, and even though he died on 22nd March 2019 he remains a big and important figure in my life. And, thanks to 20th century technology, I can continue to listen to that voice whenever I want to right up until it’s my time to see what’s behind the door.