Tag Archives: Walker Brothers

1967 ➤ Secret of how Scott Walker achieved a new adult voice as he went solo

Obituaries, tributes, interview, Scott Walker, pop music,

Scott Walker in 1970: still transitioning from pop idol to icon

ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED singers of our age died on Friday in London aged 76: the US-born Noel Scott Engel, who became a British citizen in 1970.

I interviewed him as Scott Walker in 1967 at the very moment he was transitioning from teen idol into a more serious solo icon with his first album Scott, released in September and featuring the brilliant rendering of Brel’s angsty songs My Death and Amsterdam. For him the last straw had been to appear that April in the Walker Brothers trio on the Sunday-night TV variety show hosted by Bob Monkhouse at the London Palladium, and on viewing it Scott decided to split. Among his solo moves that December he released as his first single the risqué Jackie, from the new album Scott 2 (another Brel co-composition with louche themes that caused the BBC to ban it from airplay). As it headed up the UK pop chart, we met during rehearsals for Scott’s appearance on a TV Christmas special at ABC’s Teddington studios.

He lived in Marylebone at the time, had split from the Brothers (who were not actually blood brothers), gone into a monastery to study Gregorian chants and then set about starting an idiosyncratic solo career. He hated both the idea of being a pinup and his all too evident “pop-star” good looks. His most startling admission to me was that he was drinking “a bottle of wine and a bottle of Scotch a day” – in order to coarsen his baritone voice, he said! Scott recorded four seminal albums, Scott 1 to 4 and then disappeared.

In 1984 came Climate Of Hunter, the first of an experimental and challenging series of albums over many years, with titles such as Tilt 1995, The Drift 2006 and Bish Bosch 2012. All of them broke the rules of regular music and back in the day I listened to each album twice and remain gobsmacked today. (There’s a great video clip, shown above in the 30th Century Man trailer, of a percussionist punching a side of raw pork to achieve the exact kind of thwack Scott sought for the song Clara on The Drift.)

In recent years Scott could often be seen in my local supermarket in west London doing the shopping with his partner Beverly. Older and gaunter, he pulled his baseball cap down over his face but it was quite obvious to perhaps six other shoppers marking him that we knew who he was and as respectful fans we kept our distance. Scott is survived by his daughter, Lee, his granddaughter, Emmi-Lee, and Beverly.

BOWIE 1997: “MY IDOL SINCE I WAS A KID”

➢ Rock enigma Scott Walker dies aged 76 – BBC obituary

➢ Scott Walker, experimental pop hero – Guardian obituary by Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Obituaries, tributes, interview, Scott Walker, pop music, Jarvis Cocker

Scott Walker with Jarvis Cocker in 2017: a rich conversation about Scott’s life and times ensued (BBC)

➢ The Songs of Scott Walker – watch for this programme to become available at BBC iPlayer: Jarvis Cocker welcomes Scott Walker back to the Sunday Service ahead of the late-night BBC Prom celebrating his music, which took place at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 25 July 2017. Includes the moment Walker made David Bowie cry on air.

➢ 30 Century Man (2007), directed by Stephen Kijack: Comprehensive survey of Scott’s life from his early days as a jobbing bass player on the Sunset Strip in which he describes his “lost years” in terms of creativity. Premiered at the 2006 London Film Festival followed by the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. Available from Amazon on Blue-Ray and DVD.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The on-off brotherly rivalry that drove John and Scott Walker apart

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2011 ➤ The on-off brotherly rivalry that drove John and Scott Walker apart

Walker Brothers,

Frost is in the air at the height of their success in 1966: Walker Brothers John and Scott at front, with drummer Gary playing peacemaker

◼ IN 1966 JOHN WALKER was one of the biggest heart-throbs on the British pop scene as joint vocalist in a trio of sexy American dudes called The Walker Brothers. Their No 1 UK chart hits were the Bacharach and David song Make It Easy on Yourself and six months later, The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore) by Crewe and Gaudio. When John Walker died from cancer this weekend (Saturday May 7, 2011) at the age of 67, his former bandmate, the drummer Gary paid tribute to John as founder of the group and its original lead singer: “He was also a fantastic guitarist which a lot of people didn’t realise. He was a compassionate song-writer and a gentleman with lots of style.”

Sadly, as far as Google search can reveal, the third Brother, Scott, has apparently chosen to remain silent in the wake of John’s death.

Having relocated to Swinging London in 1965 when the UK ruled pop music, the soft-crooning Walkers were quickly besieged by frenzied female fans, whose adulation increased pressures emerging within the band. Scott’s soaring baritone voice established him as the lead singer, and the management persuaded both vocalists to abandon instruments onstage, leaving John stripped of a major aspect of his live performance. The band split awkwardly after a miserable farewell UK tour in 1967 which itself was hijacked by the “obscene and vulgar” supporting act, the Jimi Hendrix Experience (Jimi’s own quote). Scott’s disgust is vividly described in the 1994 biography Scott Walker, A Deep Shade of Blue.


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Walker Brothers, ImagesIn his 2009 book The Walker Brothers: No Regrets, co-authored with Gary, John Walker wrote: “Most people don’t realise that it was I who chose the songs that would become The Walker Brothers’ biggest-selling singles… I was aware that things had changed a lot: Scott had become the lead singer of the group… Now that he was singing lead, I enjoyed the opportunity to create some unusual harmonies.” Yet the new pecking order wrankled.

The charismatic frontman Scott Walker embarked on a solo career, putting out five albums between 1967 and 1969 with much commercial success, despite his confused mission to shake off the trappings of pop stardom. He had settled in Europe and during the ensuing decades adopted the lifestyle of a recluse, while his broody, inspirational voice and commitment to “serious” post-pop music has yielded further landmark albums and sustained a cult following worthy of a guru.

John Walker, Annabella, musicstack,60s popAfter the split, John released a single, Annabella, co-written by Graham Nash, which was a Top 30 hit in the UK, and an album, If You Go Away. Itchy feet and eager media reunited The Walker Brothers in 1975, and the hot comeback group released No Regrets, a single and album which proved hits for the fledgling GTO label. Two more albums followed in London to bring the band’s studio total to seven. But Scott’s legendary stage-fright resulted in lucrative tour offers being turned down, much to John’s exasperation.

Over the next couple of years, Scott says, “Everybody got sick of each other again”, while according to John the trio “just drifted apart”, after which he returned to the States and Gary Walker settled in England, both to assume lower profiles as musicians and producers. John Walker became a publisher and ran a recording studio in California, and in recent years resumed touring Britain as part of an annual Silver 60s show. His last appearance was at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls in May 2010, ending a 12-date sprint only months before his cancer was diagnosed.

John Walker, UK tour 2010, Dakotas,Just for the record, the Walkers were of course not really brothers but the stage name is how the world will remember John Maus, Scott Engel, and Gary Leeds. As a teenager John had worked with greats such Ritchie Valens, Glen Campbell and Phil Spector. As 21-year-olds in 1964, the three Californians came together in response to the feverish mid-60s pop scene where moptop hair and cheekbones to die for cast them as readymade pop idols. Their effortless balladeering backed by a huge lush orchestra brought to the UK pop charts much-needed sophistication, of the kind the US had in abundance, so success was less marked in their homeland.

There isn’t much good footage of The Walker Brothers live, but the Land Of 1000 Dances clip [above] from German TV in 1966 is sensational evidence of John’s own onstage talents as he emulates Jaggeresque gyrations (Gary on drums). Likewise, in the rarely seen clip from the California TV show Hollywood A Go Go in 1965 [V-0759, below, from 17 minutes in, with “Tiny” Rogers on drums], the rendering of Cottonfields displays Scott’s breathtaking insouciance on bass. He and John could easily pass for brothers and their simmering appeal is self-evident. Great moves by the studio audience, too.

In the end the tensions were always between John’s country instincts and Scott’s idiosyncratic wish not to be typecast as a popstar. (In an interview with me in 1967, Scott confessed that he drank a bottle of Scotch and a bottle of wine a day with the sole purpose, he claimed, of wanting to coarsen the voice he thought sounded too sweet.)

Mojo’s verdict on the Brothers’ 1967 album Images: “The swansong of America’s British chart crashers, too square for the freaks and too loose for the straights.” And of the second reunion album Lines (1976), AllMusic says: “Still uncertain of their true role in the exciting world of mid-1970s pop, the Walkers remained torn between the big balladeering which had served them so well in the past, and the more experimental (or, at least, new) stylings which Scott, at least, was imbibing elsewhere.” The Walkers made some great pop in their heyday, but were oh so vulnerable to the famously destructive power of “creative differences”.

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➢ Scott Walker has composed the music for a recital in music, dance and voice based on a Jean Cocteau monologue at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio, June 17–25, 2011… The ROH preview says: “Jean Cocteau’s monologues provide the inspiration behind an evening of opera and dance from ROH Associate Artist Aletta Collins and director Tom Cairns. They explore the inspirational synergy of music, dance and voice along with Cocteau’s themes of possession and abandonment. In Duet for One Voice, a world-premiere, Collins re-imagines Cocteau’s monologue Duet for One Voice for dancers, with a newly composed score by composer Scott Walker.”

➢ 2019, Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s: Tributes on the death of Scott Walker

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