Once Scott Walker was among the most reclusive pop stars with a profile that rivalled Syd Barrett. These days however, he seems a lot happier chatting to people about his music and his ideas.
There has been one area though which has been pretty much no go for awhile and that is live dates.
Back in 2008 Walker did organise a night at the Barbican where groups of musicians, singers and dancers, including Damon Albarn and Jarvis Cocker, re-created tracks from Scott’s Tilt and The Drift albums. Walker was tucked away in the back wearing a baseball cap and conducting and encouraging the entourage.
Now it appears that the the singer has plans for live dates – his first since the late 70s.
BLVR: Are you ever concerned that the studio provides you with such a particular kind of comfort with recording and playing music that you have forgotten how different music “feels” in a live setting?
SW: Well, I haven’t performed in so long, but live performance these days is fantastic. It’s formed from all the stuff you have in the studio anyway, so it’d be possible to actually re-create this. We did something at the Barbican a number of years ago, with three or four nights of my songs. They were performed by other people, and Pete and I did the sound. All the musicians we used were there and all the strings were there. It was pretty damn close. The problem with me now is that whenever I sit down to write, my imagination expands and suddenly I have this cast of thousands I’m carrying around with me. The music becomes very demanding. There are no guitar breaks. No soloing, that kind of thing. It would be a very demanding night to do, and it would cost a fortune. No one—none of the promoters—would make any money. And that’s not the idea of live performance these days. But every time I do this, I sit down with an intention of writing something that I can play live, because my manager, everybody, is on my back about it. Of course, it escapes me. But next year I’ll try again. Come February, I’ll start to work again, and maybe I can keep it down. One certainly hopes.
Well that clearly sounds like a man who wants to get back on the stage. Scott for Glasto? I wonder what William Hill would offer on that?
Seriously though I’d love a live performance of his more recent stuff, and if he were to thrown in a few of his 60s classics too, well I might spontaneously combust.
Quiet Loner is in fact the hugely talented Matt Hill who has released a series of excellent albums the latest of which, The Greedy Magicians is a passionate, politically charged suite of songs that has already got many incredible reviews.
Here is his list of other Quiet Loners
“He was a quiet loner who kept himself to himself”. So goes the media news reports as they explain the latest serial killer or lone gunman rampage, almost as if a withdrawal from society was reason enough to explain the murder and violence.
As a species we’re sociable creatures, so what about the ones amongst us who go their own way and won’t join in the party games? As the news reports show us, loners are feared, we are suspicious of them and we expect the worst from them. As a society we seem to find it hard to accept that someone might not want to belong.
In the last 30 years as we increase our knowledge of Autistic spectrum disorders like Aspergers Syndrome we offer up a medical model for some of the character traits and social awkwardness we often associate with loners. As if we fear it so much it is now something that needs to be “cured”.
Yet we also admire our loners. Author Tom Robbins thought them brave, he said “Courage is required to reject the secure blessings of society, in order to woo the unpredictable ecstasies of the solitary soul”. Loners say what the rest of us dare not to say. Their outsider status allows them to think the unthinkable and say the unsayable. Or it would do if they would only come out of their bedsits and talk to us.
Here are my top ten loners
In cultures across the world from the frozen wastes of the Arctic circle, to the deserts of central Australia, to the lush rainforests of the Amazon, Shamen were the original outsiders. Their journeys to otherworlds, through the use of psychoactive plants, and their contact and dialogue with the ancestral dead, placed them apart yet also at the heart of those societies. They were relied on for advice, counsel and for healing the sick. These early loners were essential: Respected, feared and revered.
Bill Hicks (1961-1994)
American comedian Bill Hicks was one of the 20th century’s greatest artists. As a jobbing stand-up Hicks travelled relentlessly playing in small clubs to audiences that mostly failed to understand him. Increasingly Hicks came to see himself as an old Wild West gunslinger riding into town tackling fear and injustice and blowing away the bad guys. Hicks the loner railed against mainstream culture for it’s superficiality, mediocrity and banality, seeing these traits as oppressive tools of the ruling class designed to keep people stupid and apathetic.
Mark David Chapman (b 1955)
Having just fatally shot John Lennon and seemingly unaware of what he’d done Mark David Chapman calmly sat down on the pavement and staring reading his copy of Catcher in the Rye, patiently waiting for the police to arrive. And so Chapman became the archetypal “quiet loner” of the media. He didn’t fit in, we shunned him so he got bitter and killed our hero to spite us. The truth of what really happened to Chapman is a little more complex and remains elusive.
Greta Garbo (1905-1990)
According to a very knowledgeable friend of mine, patriarchy demands that women cannot be loners. The lone woman is feared as a witch or condemned as sexually predatory. No surprise then that the classic loner type is usually male. Yet occasionally there is a woman who bucks that trend. Swedish actress Greta Garbo was one. She is remembered for her famous line “I want to be alone” – so unusual and beguiling it became as famous as she was. Almost as soon after her career took off, Garbo became known as a recluse. And that mystery only made her more desirable. Throughout her lifetime she refused to do press interviews, she never signed autographs, she didn’t go to social functions and she never answered fan mail. The beautiful loner intrigues us.
James Bond (fictional)
Ian Fleming’s creation is a man who works alone. He has very little human contact outside of his work. He shuns company, seeks women purely for sex and is generally contemptuous of human beings. This makes him a great killer, and that’s what James Bond is – a hired killer. Yet despite his loner status we see rare glimpses of his humanity – his friendship with Felix Leiter, his admiration for M, and briefly his love for Tracy his wife. When Tracy is killed he becomes the loner again. Detached, cold and driven by his desire to avenge his wife’s death.
Brian Wilson (b 1942)
Brian Wilson is the classic artistic loner genius. At the height of the Beach Boys’ fame in the sixties he refused to go on tour and had to be replaced by Glen Campbell. Increasingly paranoid and frightened by the world, Brian retreated to the studio where he wrote and recorded his masterpiece “Pet Sounds”. By the next album “Smile” in 1967 he had retreated even further – to a sandpit under his piano. He didn’t come out until the 1990s.
Travis Bickle (fictional)
Travis Bickle is Robert De Niro’s lead character in Martin Scorcese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver. One of cinema’s most iconic characters, Bickle is a loner. A former Marine who served in Vietnam, Bickle has problems fitting back in to society. He is socially inept, and doesn’t have any friends. He takes a job as a night time taxi driver in dangerous neighborhoods where his customers are pimps, drug addicts, and thieves. He is disgusted by them, and begins fantasising about “cleansing” such “filth” from the streets. It can only end in tears.
Nick Drake (1948-1974)
Singer Nick Drake died tragically young after battling with depression for years. He didn’t tour much, he recorded very little and towards the end of his life retreated to his childhood bedroom at his parents home. And so Drake is often portrayed as a loner. His music has a wistful sad and indeed lonely quality to it. Yet friends speak of a gregarious and outgoing young man who was popular and sociable at school. Behind every loner cliché is a more complicated story.
Scott Walker (b.1943)
After a critical peak in the late sixties by the mid-seventies Scott Walker was back in caberet playing Working Men’s Clubs in the North of England. Then after 1978’s Nite Flights album he began a slow retreat into a period that saw him release only three albums over the next thirty years and earn himself a reputation as a Garbo-esque reclusive loner. More recently we have seen that this wasn’t quite what it seemed and that Walker is actually quite a sociable and funny man driven by his art but dismissive of mainstream pop culture.
Veronia Sawyer (fictional)
Portrayed by Winona Ryder in the 1989 film Heathers, Veronica Sawyer is your classic misunderstood teenager. She doesn’t fit in at a school where a powerful clique called “the Heathers” top the social pile. When she meets Christian Slater’s character J.D. she unwittingly gets embroiled in a spate of killings that spirals out of control and that only she can stop. Her loner status is assured when having witnessed Slater blow himself up with a suicide bomber belt, she walks to his smouldering remains and lights her cigarette on the flames and walks away alone.
It’s another Doors meets The Zombies keyboard driven gem this time with very spooky vocals and a really strange video. It is out today as a limited edition single and a download.
Listen too for the band’s two previous tunes – Amanda Lavender nails the darker side of sixties Brit psych brilliantly and Dandelion Eyes was Shindig’s single of the year last year – and that lot should know!
Also hailing from the north west is Bill Ryder Jones who you may remember was once of The Coral but a couple of years ago put out an excellent soundtrack style album If. He is back with an Eliot Smith/Ed Harcourt style singer songwriter album A Bad Wind Blows In Your Heart that in parts is amazing. You’re Getting Like Your Sister is a beautifully crafted minor key ballad that sounds like it would well have been an orphan from Figure 8. He Took You In His Arms is another absolute gem. In fact it feels like almost all of the best tracks on the albums are saved to the end.
Finally with six books about Scott Walker already on my shelf – four of which have come out in the last two years – I thought there was very little left to say about the genius 60s icon turned avant garde troubadour.
Well Paul Woods’ The Curious Life and Words of Scott Walker, which has just come out via Omnibus, is well worth a read. It is beautifully written, features plenty of new information about the star’s early days and some new pics too. Best of all, Woods is clearly a fan of Walker’s much maligned- though actually rather superb IMO – Til the Band Comes In album. You can get it here.
This one just about makes the cut because although it has been reissued on CD twice - it has only ever come out in Japan. If you want to hear it then you need the vinyl version. Along with Primal Scream, the Weather Prophets were the great hope of Creation Records after The Jesus and The Mary Chain left the label for WEA in the mid 80s. With a blinding single, Almost Prayed already a very big indie hit it seemed that the band’s take on the Velvet Underground’s fuzz rock to which they added a bit of Creedence Clearwater Revival swagger, would propel them into the mainstream. So McGee did a deal with WEA created Elevation Records and released the first WP album Mayflower. The record has had its fair share of stick over the years (hence its bargain basement price) as the performance, when compared gtop the band’s live act and their earlier incarnation as The Loft, sounded a little too clean, sanitised and commercial. So panned by the music papers and ignored by the mainstream Mayflower sunk without a trace and has never been afforded a proper UK reissue. Which is a shame as it boasts some amazing tunes. The singles, Almost Prayed, Naked As The Day You Were Born and Why Does the Rain are as good as mid 80s indie got. The Key To My Love Is Green and Swimming Pool Blue are fantastic uptempo pop tunes while the album’s closer is a gorgeous ballad called Sleep.
It has been a busy week for Scott walker. After releasing his brilliant but slightly bonkers new album on Monday and becoming our ultimate pop icon yesterday, he has also teamed up with Curzon Cinemas to choose his top ten films which you can watch at home.
Not surprisingly given his off the wall musical tastes, his film selection is also fairly offbeat and challenging, There’s a full list below with some words from the man himself.
If you do fancy watching them you can do on a Samsung Smart TV with the Curzon on Demand App on board or watch via your PC or iPad at CurzonOnDemand.com .
We are big fans of Curzon on demand at Brandish as it give you access to streaming thousands of art house movies priced at between £1.70 and £4. It is kind of like Lovefilm’s smarter, savvier film buff big brother.
Here’s the list with words from Scott
First of all let me say what a privilege it is to be asked to curate this mini season of films on Curzon on Demand for Curzon Cinemas. An invaluable establishment that has over the years offered and offers still to me and countless other ‘cinephiles’ the very finest of cinematic treasures in the most conducive surroundings.
Though this choice hardly represents a definitive list of my all time favourite films and is conditionally drawn from the Curzon’s embarrassingly impressive catalogue, it nevertheless contains some unmissable glories and current works that have impressed.
A film like Angelopoulos’ The Travelling Players, is a work I’ve not seen since its initial release in the 70s but have fond, if hazy, memories of, so the impulse here is re-acquaintance of which I’m very much looking forward.
There are others like Le Quattro Volte. A film that truly casts a spell. Extraordinary, as for stretches of time, seemingly nothing much is happening and there is virtually no dialogue. Still you find yourself utterly absorbed from beginning to end, only later to be left wondering quite how this magic was achieved. Or, The White Ribbon – a meticulous essay on the making of a Nazi. Haneke is one of the great film-makers of our time and The White Ribbon in my opinion is his finest.
Those familiar with the legendary works of Mizoguchi like The Life Of Oharu or Ugetsu Monogatari, will be able to witness one of his greatest and most influential pre-war films, The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemum, as well as the later wonderful tale of a ‘floating world’ artist, Utamaro And His Five Women.
There is Chabrol’s La Cérémonie. A work that has two outstanding central performances from Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire. A compelling crime drama that Chabrol has joked is “the last Marxist film” where once again the bourgeois get theirs in style.
I’ve included Match Factory Girl. Possibly my favourite Aki Kaurismäki film though I am spoiled for choice as I find his work particularly appeals to my sense of humour. He’s Bresson with laughs. Not easy to pull off. I have also chosen his Take Care Of Your Scarf, Tatjana. A must for caffeine addicts everywhere.
There’s Il Divo. This is really what great cinema is all about. The director Paolo Sorrentino has taken a subject whose interest could easily find itself confined to Italy and the parameters of Italian politics and yet through amazing film making technique and fascinating use of sound, transforms into an unforgettable dream work that must be seen.
And, finally, Béla Tarr’s beautiful, spare, cinematic farewell,……The Turin Horse. I wouldn’t hold him to it though.
This week sees the release of a brand new album from 60s icon Scott Walker. And what a joy it is too with its instantly hummable tunes and striking yet subtle orchestration. It’s a return to his salad days and sure to be adored by anyone who loved his Walker Brother hits.
Well not quite. Bish Bosch is actually the third in Scott’s trilogy of albums which began with Tilt in the mid 90s and continued with The Drift a few years ago. It is unorthodox, unsettling, unpredictable, maybe even chaotic and in many ways stunning. Take the ‘single’ Epizootics which starts off with what sounds like a cow farting over a strange drum pattern in and it’s hook, for want of a better word, is strange fanfare over which Scott sings passionately. And that’s one of the more accessible tracks on it.
Oddly Bish Bosch does include a sleigh-bell infused Christmas track, but it shouldn’t dent Shane McGowan’s New York Christmas royalties cheque too greatly for The Day The Conducator Died (an Xmas Song) is a seven minute drone that focuses on the death of Romanian dictator Nicolau Ceausescu. It is a beautiful piece of music, but I doubt there is much karaoke mileage in it.
Like most other Scott Walker diehards I am utterly bemused by the album. In many ways I love it’s diversity and Scott’s sheer bloody mindedness in creating it, but I can’t help but wish that Scott would make an album a little more akin to the quintet of LPs that bore his name in the late 60s and early 70s. For Scott 1-4 along with the sadly neglected, even by Scott himself, Til The Band Comes In, contain some of the most passionate and majestic pop music ever written.
On those album the deep baritone singer, who could potentially have been the Sinatra of is generation had he stayed in the US, mixed his own stunning originals with covers of then little known continental artists like Jacques Brel and Michel Legrand. Scott’s voice is liquid gold, the orchestration courtesy of Wally Stott, is both dazzlingly inventive and beautifully subtle. And as for the melodies they swoop and soar before wrapping themselves around you,
For me though the main reason why Scott must just be pop’s ultimate thinking persons icon is that he was in many way so out of kilter with the time he lived. Although he was no stranger to the hip 60s clubs and was on good terms with the rest of British pop royalty Scott’s interest, passions and even the way he dressed made him stand out as a maverick, even then.
First up take the lyrics of his mid 60s hits. On thanks like Mrs Murphy and Montague Terrace In Blue Scott peers into the life of ordinary people in way that the recent new wave films – Saturday Night and Sunday Mon ring, Room At The Top, had a few years earlier. Very few others (ok Ray Davies) were writing in this way at the time.
Then when psychedelia hit and the Fabs and the Stones shared their worldwide messages of love, peace and optimism, Scott was singing songs about lonely men, evil dictators and the horrors of war – lyrics that were totally at odd with age.
And while San Francisco bands were pioneering a new kind of hip progressive rock music, Scott was rubbing shoulders with the squares featuring next to crooners like Val Doonican and family entertainers like Lulu on TV shows and singing the songs of MOR session hacks like like Tony Hatch.
He even looked different too. Not for Scott the Paisley and Kaftans that was de rigeur in the late 60s. Look instead at the cover of his Sings Songs From His TV Series album. Rather than hop aboard a fashion bandwagon Scott looked timelessly stylish in classic, shades, corduroy trousers, scarves and black jumpers. In many respects Scott was the James Dean of his era, an existential icon that seemed to be looking at the world in a different way to the rest of us.
Finally there is Scott’s huge influence. Bowie is obviously an enormous fan. And when Walker finally made a live appearance (of sorts) at the Barbican a few years back, British pop royalty, from Damon Albarn to Jarvis Cocker were queuing up to sing his songs.
So, I am voting Scott as pop’s ultimate icon. How about you?