Rhymes of goodbye

A few years ago, BBC Four broadcast an old episode of “Top Of The Pops” from late 1981. The Teardrop Explodes were making their second appearance to promote “Passionate Friend” which was obstinately stuck in the mid 20s of the chart, even though it sounded like the most perfect pop song ever, an endless climb of melody tied to words which made little sense, unless you knew the singer was singing about having a secret affair with the sister of his arch rival. But even so this was a very different Teardrop Explodes to the band who had appeared on the first performance of “Passionate Friend” a few weeks before. That first performance has become legendary simply through the telling of it in Julian Cope’s first volume of his autobiography “Head on”. Cope is off his head standing on a white grand piano, played by Jeff Hammer, while bass player Alfie Agius does his nerdy bop dance which always got the teenybopper girls squealing. But that was then, Agius and Hammer had gone, now Dave Balfe was playing bass, and for some reason Cope was away from the rest of the band – singing from a stand across the audience from Balfe, Gary Dwyer and Troy Tate. And Tate here was the revelation – a perfect mop top of tousled hair, shades and an enigmatic smile, while playing Cope’s beautiful cherry red Gibson 335-12 guitar. In fact Tate looked like he had been beamed in from the future – three years from this performance Johnny Marr would show the same mix of attitude and cool on the same stage. And don’t forget that Marr and Tate worked together – Tate produced the first version of the Smiths’ debut album in 1983, almost all of which was dumped and rerecorded.

But before the Teardrops exploded onto the TOTP stage, the show’s host Mike Read introduced the band with the line “It’s always nice to have a fellow Scott Walker fan on the show….” This is of course a reference to Cope and his much heralded fondness for Walker… by this point he had licenced some Walker songs for “Fire Escape In The Sky – the godlike genius of Scott Walker” on Zoo, which introduced Walker to the post punk audience who had either forgotten him or ignored him. However Mike Read also had participated in some kind of Walker revival. As a regular listener to Read’s breakfast show I had heard him spin a few Walker Brothers tunes along the way, though I remember him enthusing more about “l’ll keep on holding on” by The Action more. He also played “First love” by The Walker Brothers a lot, as part of a feature on first loves he had on his show and I knew that song because my mum had the first Walker Brothers album . By 1982 Midge Ure had hit the charts with a synthetic cover of the Walker Brothers’ mid 70s hit “No regrets” which itself was a Tom Rush song. And I didn’t know it at the time but Ultravox’s “Vienna” bore some resemblance to “The Electrician”, the highlight of The Walker Brothers’ final album “Nite flights” from 1978. Even without reading the music papers, I had the impression that Scott Walker was this maverick hermit who made some great records in the sixties and then disappeared. He was a genuine legend and he never issued any music at all.

So I was a little surprised when he issued a new album in 1984. I was an avid reader of Melody Maker by then, and devoured every page of every issue every Wednesday. Even if I didn’t know anything about the acts I just read it anyway. So I read “Julian – a suitable case for treatment” – an interview with Julian Cope to support “World shut your mouth” which mentioned Scott Walker. I was intrigued. And then the man himself turned up on “The Tube” interviewed by Muriel Gray, both looking uncomfortable. The video for the new single “Track 3” was shown too, but it didn’t sound like a hit single. Mike Read played the single too, but only once, and returned to playing “The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore” because that was what he expected Scott Walker to sound like. The album “Climate of hunter” came and went, to a puzzled review in MM, and then life moved on and nobody seemed to care. It was like a ghost from the past, dropping by, saying hello and disappearing again.

But the name Scott Walker kept being dropped all the time. Certainly by Julian Cope, but also by others too. Cathal Coughlan of Microdisney mentioned the album “Scott 4” as one of his favourites yet that album didn’t appear in my copy of “Guinness Hit Albums” besides Scotts 1, 2 and 3 which were all top three albums. How had 4 disappeared? The mystery deepened and so did the myth. There were rumours of Scott working with Brian Eno and that intrigued me even more.

Finally I bought a Scott Walker album. During the long grim silent summer of 1986 I chose “Climate of Hunter” from that quarter’s Gema Records list and hoped for the best. Gema Records was a peculiar mail order record store – every few months they’d send out a closely typed list of all the records available, we would pore over it with my magnifying glass, picking out gems and adding them to our order then post it off with a cheque and wait and hope and wait and hope. It was all a bit random, sometimes I’d get an avalanche of records, sometimes I’d get nothing at all. There’s a lot of Gema Records orders which had significant moments attached to them and I’ve mentioned them before on Goldfish (see the Durutti Column and Dalek I Love You entries). And again on 19th August 1986 a Gema Records parcel arrived smack in the middle of another dramatic day.

It was the day I returned to school to get my grade for my additional Maths “O’ Level, a halfway point through the two years of sixth form before moving onto my A Level in the upper sixth. Not a lot was expected of me, I’d had a dreadful report in July and had fallen into a deep dark hole of isolated depression, seeing no-one, writing and recording miserable songs and plotting … At school friends were picking up their results and saying “I got a U” or “I got an E”. I was expecting the worst. Don’t forget a week before this my brother had picked up his A level results and failed all three quite dismally.

So I nervously opened my envelope and read my result. I had a ‘C’. I looked again to check it wasn’t a mistake. No, definitely a ‘C’. I couldn’t believe it. I’d passed. I was over the moon. I returned home like a conquering hero. Then my brother said “Oh Brud the Gema Records order has come” and handed me three records – “Banal” 12″ by Bill Nelson, “Da Capo” by Love and “Climate of hunter” by Scott Walker.

It looked strange, to begin with, even before placing the record on my turntable. Scott with his hand in midair, as if in mid conversation with a friend (or the listener), and on the reverse a long list of credits, mostly names I didn’t recognise except for two – Billy Ocean and Mark Knopfler. At the time, the former was having hits like “When the going gets tough” and “Caribbean Queen” and the latter was leading Dire Straits around the world on the back of the multi platinum “Brothers in Arms” album. And they were working with Scott Walker? A genuine What The Fuck moment. And the song titles…. Half the songs don’t have them, just “Track 3”, “Track 5″… And opener “Rawhide”…. Will Scott really start singing “Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin'”? (Hat tip to the Froncos here, which will make at most two readers laugh)

No, he wouldn’t. A cowbell saunters across the stereo field as if a solitary cow is walking around the studio and then… it just starts. And stays there. So much of the album is static. Not white noise static, but stationary. The music hovers in midair, like Scott’s hand, never landing or ascending higher, a permanent statis. Strings don’t soar, they hum. The bass couldn’t be more mid 80s, sliding like Pino Palladino (but it isn’t, I discovered the other day the bass is played by the bass player in Ice, a late 60s Decca act who made two melancholy organ led psychpop beauties. Oh and he played in other bands too like Affinity. But Ice, man!) And then Scott sings at last, his voice sonorous and rounded. “This is how you disappear”. Yes Scott that’s my summer in five words. I’m not going to analyse the words too much, because whatever sense they achieve is beyond me. They have their own internal logic and it’s not for me to comment. Is he singing about a cow? Does it matter? Considering the piss taken out of Cope for his cow metaphor on “An elegant chaos”… Yeah but this is Scott. Slowly the song builds up, the tempo increases, the strings stir up but there’s no crescendo, it just returns to its initial hover state.

And that’s how most of the songs on the album progress. Hover to lift to hover again. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. “Dealer” hovers in mid air for five whole minutes. Drugs? Who knows. The only movement comes from the bass guitar. The first chord change appears after 90 seconds. Strange trumpet noises from names I didn’t know then. What the hell was going on? “Track three” was the single, so it’s kind of fast, but starting with a synth discord which runs through the whole song… Scott and Billy Ocean (a colleague from the mid 70s Brothers reunion – they were on the same label) harmonise, but Ocean’s harmony is so sharp and desperate and painful. A single? Are you kidding?

The side closes with “Sleepwalkers woman”, and this is probably the closest to what I was expecting a Scott Walker to sound like. Sumptuous strings and a harp and Celeste playing slow arpeggios, but still static – rising so slowly and changing so slowly. But the voice, oh the voice, oh the voice. It sounds gorgeous, even if I couldn’t work out what the words meant. It’s beautiful. Tears? Oh of course. Then and now.

Side two and three tracks without titles. “Track five” seems to encapsulate the whole album in one song, starting slow and moody, guitar harmonics and brushed percussion, uneasy synths, focusing on the vocal. After a minute the drums and bass burst in and while the song has propulsion the chords don’t exactly move far, Scott is almost shouting, it seems to link back to “Rawhide”. At two minutes strings and horns arrive, and suddenly there’s chord changes every four bars, which is a surprise giving everything else so far.

“Track six” is more uneasy listening, slow and dark. Actually I’ve just realised this album is.balanced – the songs on each side balance each other in mood and tempo (this applies to “Loveless” too if you ignore “Touched”). And at the first chord change what sounds like a flotilla of seals start chattering and continue to annoy. I’m presuming this is Evan Parker’s saxes (if Marcello is reading, please confirm). “Track seven” begins like background music for “Bergerac” – moody synth chords, before the gated drums kick you into the mid 80s, chugging guitars, and a wailing guitar solo. This is pure 80s. Even chord changes. It drops back and forth but this is probably the most normal song on the album. Still a mile or so from whatever else was happening in 1983. Ray Russell’s guitar wails as the song fades.

And finally after all the electricity, a plain acoustic guitar. Unmistakably Mark Knopfler, sounding tentative but deliberate if that’s possible. “Blanket roll blues” is the only song ever written by Tennessee Williams, and Scott and Mark make it their own. It’s quite beautiful. And today it’s making me cry. Is it the memories of the day? Or the song itself? Or the knowledge that Scott has crossed the river now? Even just ending the song on that discord is perfect and links back to the other discords on the album…

So that was “Climate of Hunter” – inscrutable, strange and oddly alluring. A puzzle within an enigma. No wonder the reviews were dismissive, even though it’s barely 30 minutes long it’s an album it could take a decade to fathom out. Thirty three years on it still baffles me, but I still love it. For one thing it reminds me of that August day, an unexpected glimmer of hope, and what would come after it. Even in my diary I mention it as “weird and great”.

I wanted more Scott Walker and in September 86 I found two albums in Kelly’s Records in Cardiff market but only had enough money on me to buy one. On one hand, an original mono copy of “Scott”, looking a bit battered around the edges. On the other hand “The best of Scott Walker”, an early 80s attempt by Philips to capitalise on the renewal of interest in Scott after Julian Cope had compiled “Fire escape in the sky” for Zoo Records. What did I choose? Fucking hell I chose the wrong one, didn’t I? Leaving “Scott” in the racks and hoping it would still be there the next time I looked (hint – it wasn’t) I took “The best of Scott Walker” home and gave it some in depth listening, while also checking the credits and getting confused.

You see back in those days there wasn’t a lot of information around on Scott Walker. The general story went Walker Brothers Scott 1 2 3 4 flop disappearance Walker Brothers reunion disappearance again Climate Of Hunter. There weren’t books or biographies around, and if the NME had profiled him then it was way before I started reading the music press. So I was mightily confused by the credits on “The Best Of Scott Walker”. If he had disappeared in the 70s how come “The me I never knew” had a copyright date of 1973? Also presuming Scott 1 was 1967, 2 was 1968 and 3 and 4 were 1969…. Were “The impossible dream” and “If you go away” (dated 1969) on 3 or 4? I did not get it, not one bit at all. Great music, great songs, but was this the Scott Walker I expected or the Scott Walker that the record company wanted me to think was Scott Walker? I mean… Some of these songs were like show tunes. How did the brassy glare of “Will you still be mine?” fit in? And how come Scott drops in little hints of his own in there, about Julie Christie and a self-mocking reference to singing in tune? It’s like he’s playing to an audience…. Of course not long after I bought this album I found “Scott Walker Sings Songs From His TV Series” and realised there were gaps in the discography and that’s where some of these songs came from.

Even still there was enough on “The best of Scott Walker” to make me beg for more. Even if the tempos are generally slinky and low, the arrangements obvious and a bit middle of the road… But then that was the dichotomy of Scott Walker, he may have been striving for importance and moving his music forward but he still had an audience of teenage girls and a weekly BBC show to produce. And probably a record company and manager breathing down his neck, as they always do. So “The Best of Scott Walker” is more Jack Jones than I expected. But I still loved it. Don’t forget that this was the period I was also delving into the Andy Williams back catalogue too. In fact I distinctly remember comparing Andy’s version of “The Impossible Dream” with Scott’s version and found Scott’s wanting. But that’s another story and I must not get distracted.

The best songs on the compilation were inevitably the songs I would eventually find on Scotts 1 to 4 (or 1 to 3 as it would turn out). “Montague Terrace (in blue)”, ‘Jackie”, “The lady came from Baltimore” and “If you go away”. “Baltimore” was weird, it sounded like country rock, but with Mellotron flutes. I only knew one other Tim Hardin song at the time, Rod Stewart’s version of “Reason to believe”. Or Andy Williams’ version. Don’t get me started again on that. But somewhere there was a kernel of truth throughout the songs which struck me in my situation of leaving something huge behind (see other Goldfishes). September 86 was empty like that. Of course the one song which hit home the hardest was “If you go away”, and that song ended up on so many compilation tapes for friends. And yes I did suppose it must be on “Scott 4” based purely on its brilliance and copyright date. Yes I was a fool, but only as good as the limited knowledge I had at the time. Jesus that song chills the heart.

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As the 80s became the 90s, Scott’s name was dropped more frequently. His absence was just considered to be normal. Would he return? Who knew? Meanwhile Scotts 1 to 4 increased in value and scarcity, legendary albums you never heard but heard a lot about.

Then Phonogram under the Fontana label began a reissue programme for the CD age. First of all were two compilations – “Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel” (all his Brel covers, obviously) and “Boy Child”, concentrating on his self written material across his first five solo albums (if we ignore the BBC album). For a start this was a surprise, there were more albums? But this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise really. I had come across a CBS cassette of his 1973 “Stretch” album on a market stall in Leeds in 1989 (I didn’t buy it, I bought a tape of “Crumbling the antiseptic beauty” and “The splendour of fear” instead) and was confused again… This wasn’t on Philips, he was smiling on the cover… And it was 1973. But “Boy Child” put the spotlight back onto Scott and his songwriting.

Now this is where it gets odd. My brother bought “Boy Child” around the same time he bought a new hifi in the summer of 1990, and I remember listening to it, but honest to God I didn’t take the blindest bit of notice of it because I can’t remember any of it actually engaging with my brain. Admittedly I had other things to think about musically that summer (I’m looking at you “Temple Cloud”, “Snowball” and “Skywriting”) but either I didn’t listen properly or … I dunno. It just passed me by. I wasn’t ready for it.

But the next summer I was totally ready for it. My brother’s copy had disappeared with him back to wherever he was at the time (somewhere between Hull and Stockport) and it was the best summer ever, a combination of perfect weather, an easy job, a ton of money to spend on a ton of records and finally a place in town to feel at home and oh yeah there was someone else too who I was trying not to crush on because it was going to spoil a good friendship. And in the middle of that I bought “Boy Child”.

Was it the revelation I was expecting? Yes it was. I won’t go through it song by song here because I will be repeating myself. But what I will say is that “The Bridge” hit me like a ton of bricks. So slow, so taut, so graceful… Even listening now takes me straight back to that summer. The surge into the chorus always brings tears, and the “before the bottle dulled my eyes” lines too. It was that kind of summer. In amongst all the great new music I was listening too (and summer 91 was great, don’t deny it) this music struck chords and pulled heartstrings and somehow felt totally relevant and part of that era. And there were connections too… Hearing the opening of “The war is over” – “Everything still, everything silent, as after the rain…” and realising that Eyeless In Gaza stole the entire line for “Lie still, sleep long”. And later that year hearing “Reprise” by Moose and realising it’s an amalgam of loops from “The war is over”, “Such a small love”, “Boy child” and many more.

The first four Scott Walker albums were finally reissued on Fontana in 1992, in groups of two if I remember correctly. Or I may be wrong in that one. I know there was quite a bit of publicity around them, and they received good reviews from the music magazines who cared or noticed. Maybe I think the albums came out in twos because that’s how I bought them that summer, and they fitted into my life quite snuggly.

Because the summer of 1992 was a time of great change. I’d finally found a decent job – a computer programmer in the Stats Office in Newport – and was one of two groups of trainees, one bunch of ten started in June, the second in July. I was in the first batch, and immediately started crushing on one of my fellow trainees. (I should point out that I have a tendency to crush on people when I’m in a new situation, like a new workplace or something like that. Of course it doesn’t happen any more) Then once the July trainees arrived I started crushing on one of them too, slowly but surely…. I’ve mentioned this before, right? Anyway that summer was finding my feet in a new town in a new job spending 90 minutes travelling back and forth and listening to a lot of music. And it was in the early stages of this that Scotts 1 to 4 arrived.

“Scott” – as I’ve already said – was his debut album from 1967 and he was already chafing at the chains of stardom around him. What other album cover from that psychedelic year would feature a black and white photo of the singer, hiding behind shades and a scarf, looking downcast? It looks like a surveillance photo, through a long telephoto lens. And in a way the album feels like that too, glimpses of Scott from far away, not quite in focus yet.

“Mathilde” is a rollicking opener, setting the stall with blasts of trumpets in a fanfare and an uptempo jog, the first of Scott’s Brel covers, and a perfect fit. He sings like he’s already at the end of his tether – “Mama, can you hear me tell? Your baby boy’s gone back to hell” is such a moment. There’s a brilliant clip of him performing this on the Dusty Springfield show where he seems to collapse exhausted at the end of the song. Already the listener knows he means it, maan. The first sign of Brel. “Montague Terrace (in blue)” is lovely, Scott’s own pen sketching glimpses of fellow tenement residents stomping and shagging and dreaming, exploding into a chorus where hopes and dreams seem so close. A beauty. “Angelica” is another favourite, even though it seems nobody mentions it, Scott sings this heartbreaking tale with all the passion it deserves, he really inhabits the forgetful yet regretful lover, and I love it. “The lady came from Baltimore” is country rock before such a thing existed. “When Joanna loved me” is Scott doing Tony Bennett, he’s still the consummate entertainer. And then the second Brel song “My death”. And … Cough .. I don’t get it. It’s all very dramatic but it doesn’t move me. It’s a bit hammy, overacted and overplayed.

Side two then kicks off with “The big hurt” and frankly this sounds more like it. Even the arrangement has some nice touches, and Scott sings beautifully. “Such a small love” sees the arrival of a Scott trope, the hovering static string arrangement later seen on “Sleepwalkers woman”, and the song is great too. Images of a friend’s funeral (I presume), and the song only enlivens towards the end when happy memories start to swirl around the narrator. “You’re gonna hear from me” and “Through a long and sleepless night” are fine enough but nowt special, Scott’s vocal can make anything worth listening to, but these are just fine. They pass the time. Scott’s final self written song “Always coming back to you” is better, more memories of a past love, glimpses of happiness in rainfall, always in rainfall, and tossed off asides vocally, slowly building to the crescendo of loss. Finally “Amsterdam” and Brel and I still don’t get it. Sorry, Brel lovers, and Scott singing Brel lovers. But for now this does nothing to me. But bear with me, dear reader, because (spoiler alert) I promise I get some Brel eventually.

So that was the debut. About as unpsychedelic as you can get. It still reached the top three in the album charts. That was good enough to carry on, and “Scott 2” emerged a year later. This time the front cover is a shot of Scott in action, on stage (presumably), while on the reverse there are moodier shots of Scott looking pensive, and a sleeve note from “his friend” which we shall return to after examining the album itself.

It starts, as did “Scott” with a galloping Brel song. “Jackie” was already quite infamous, Scott’s debut solo single from 1967 and banned by the BBC, though I presume it was played on whatever was left of pirate radio. And he appeared on the Frankie Howerd show on ITV. But generally it wasn’t a huge hit so placing it at the start of the album was either a misguided attempt at selling it again, or a reminder of what could have been. All of which distracts from the song which is a wild romp. Though of course really he should have called it “Scotty”. (Momus got this right with his version “Nicky”). It’s still a breathless and rather funny tale. Straight into “Best of both worlds” which gives an idea of how a 60s Scott Walker Bond theme would sound. The arrangement here is lovely, there’s already progression from the debut album, more subtlety, and the song suits him well. “Black sheep boy” is another Tim Hardin song and has a similar feel to “The lady came from Baltimore”, and another tale of outsiderdom. Quite lovely. “The amourous Humphrey Plugg” is the first Scott written epic and moves gracefully, some verses narrated by the protagonist’s partner (I think) while others are the protagonist’s own words or thoughts or fantasies. An escape from the humdrum drone of life, dreams of seduction and sin. “Pavements of poets will write that I died in nine angel’s arms” is such a great line. And where is Channing Way? Bradford??? “Next” comes – er – next and suddenly I realise why I’m not fond of some of these Brel songs. It’s down to my brother playing Bowie’s “My death” and “Amsterdam” over and over when I was younger (and I never really had that Bowie moment everyone else had has, but I did have the Scott Walker moment …) And “Next” of course is my brother playing the Sensational Alex Harvey Band version at me over and over. And I can’t get past that. Scott does his best and screams and hollers but I still don’t like it. Maybe I’m a prude. Hmm. “The girls from the streets” almost makes up for it, another night of sin, being led astray… Admittedly from this distance it’s a bit dodgy. Even so, “don’t look sad, things aren’t so bad, they’re just more wrong than right” remains relevant under any circumstances. The move from thumping verse into the waltzing chorus is glorious. There’s a lack of morality amongst these songs, no denouncement of what happens, another outsider viewpoint on life, making no judgements but observing.

“Plastic Palace People” used to be disturbing, it certainly was for a long time until I realised… Billy is the balloon, isn’t he? The gentle rise and fall of the verse is lovely but slightly unsettling. God I still can’t listen to this, it’s still making me tear up. You see I can’t do metaphor, analogies and personification. I take everything at face value. The chorus is more traditional, those high static string lines again. And then at the end of the chorus it goes even more unsettled, Scott’s voice gets a delay effect and the song collapses… No, I can’t listen to this still. I do like how the song swirls into its own kaleidoscope of sound as it fades out, a hint of psychedelia, which hasn’t been touched at all so far in Scott’s music. “Wait until dark” is quite lovely after that, a gentle breeze of a song. Notice how the orchestrations have become richer but also there’s slightly more emphasis on guitar and drums. “The girls and the dogs” is my favourite Brel song so far, partly for the joyous music and the tongue in cheek lyrics, even with some quite terrible rhymes. And Scott absolutely smashes this one, his singing is so spot on and funny, as is the arrangement, as noted by Tim Worthington as “the Terry Scott Falls Through A Chair comedy trombone” at the end of the song. (Read Tim’s excellent Scott post here)

The change over from the jocular to the serious then for Bacharach and David’s “Windows on the world” is quite something. This song is one of my favourite Scott covers actually, the arrangement is sympathetic and quietly paced, Scott doesn’t over-emote, and the delicate glockenspiel figures which conclude each chorus are heart stopping. And the song itself is quietly stunning too – are there references to the call up in America in the second verse? And the third a reference to Vietnam? That it is followed by “The Bridge” – another emotional song for me – this final trio of songs killed me. (Have I mentioned I split 12 song albums into 4 groups of three songs?) Yes “The Bridge”… Sudden thought, is the name “Madeleine” an oblique Proust reference? Oh lord this song kills me. “Come next spring” is a hopeful end to the album, which needed to be after the last two songs.

In the sleevenotes written by his friend, Scott says of the album “it’s the work of a lazy self indulgent man. Now the nonsense must stop and the serious business must begin”, and in a way I feel he was right. At this point his songwriting has stepped up a gear, and the song choices are better but there’s still an angle of all round showbiz entertainer on the album, even if the emotional depth of the songs – original and covers – is greater. The next album would be self written, with three Brel songs at the end.

So “Scott” and “Scott 2” arrived in my life on the same day, and I loved them so much I wanted 3 and 4 as soon as possible. I ended up buying both in August on a trip to Bristol, where I also bought the first single by Medicine and a Jasmine Minks album (I’d bought “Creation Soup vol 3” the week before and was so impressed by “Cold Heart” that I wanted to hear what an album of theirs was like). By now the crush was establishing itself, slowly and surely and I was quietly besotted. Not that this has any relevance to Scott Walker, but it might have had an impact on how I listened to these songs.

“Scott 3”, a close-up of an eye with Scott looking pensive in the eye of the storm. And a pretentious sleeve note. Let’s just look at the music…

“It’s raining today” and the static dissonant strings hover, gentle strummed guitars… Loves lost and found and lost and memories of “summer and you”. Those strings don’t bloody move. Scary. A sudden stop and the song turns … Normal, Scott remembers and moves on, but the static returns and nothing is changed really. Let the rain fall. “Copenhagen” is more hopeful, built on harps and pizzicato strings. The surges are ecstatic, the music falls like snowdrops. Again the song stops before the chorus, and Scott feels innocent and warm and in love, the children’s carousel at the end feels light headed and giddy. “Rosemary” is already heartbreaking in its sadness, even though the music is upbeat, a savage string arrangement. Remembrances of a dalliance, memories of a incipient dream which have been dashed… The final lines where Rosemary speaks herself are so true. So true. “Big Louise”… I mean I know it’s about a transvestite but Christ almighty it’s so much more universal than that, is it just me who empathises with this song? Jesus I can feel myself welling up on the lines “because the world’s passed her by”. Christ this song HURTS. So many chord changes which twist and turn and hurt like hell. Sorry, I think “Scott 3” will be like this. Didn’t time sound sweet yesterday? That line. Absolutely slays me every time. How can people listen to this and not be moved? “We came through” is a strident blast of hope, though there’s so much death and despair in here. A fatalism worth fighting for. The fireworks at the end are surely ironic. (Whispers) I don’t really get this one. We’ll come back to this soon. “Butterfly” is a gentle song, a happy interlude here. I can hear Andy Williams singing this. Lovely. “Two ragged soldiers”, oh here we go again. Tears again. Thumps the bed with his fist. So many twists of the musical knife. Memories and the past shared by two. The last verse again is a killer. This could be the tale of any two friends. I can’t see the screen I’m typing on. Sorry. Stunning. I’m not doing well here. Sorry. “30 Century Man” is such a shock after all the strings and drums – just Scott and his guitar. Play it cool. I actually find this quite funny, but am I meant to? “Winter night”… Here we go again. Tears. There are so many little parts of the arrangement which kill me. He’s singing about someone who is frozen and it should be me. It should be me. I’m supposed to be the rock, the Asperger’s making me unemotional, but this stuff KILLS ME, absolutely kills me. I can’t explain it either. It just hits nerves, the music and the words… Even the surge around the minute mark turns to melancholy with “But I’ll never light them up again”. After this “Two weeks since you’ve gone” is just as bad, frankly. More heartbreak and pain and yes tears and haven’t we all been here? And those chord changes. “And if I walk these streets long enough will you happen to me once again?” The move to that section is amazing, the introduction of bass and distant piano. And the change from “walk these streets” to “close my eyes”, just the remembrance and hope is there, and the song fades out on the piano and strings waltzing into the distance. And here is one of the most perfect song changeovers ever, as “Sons of” starts with almost the same waltzing piano in just about the same key and it’s perfect. Now we are into the three Brel songs and fuck me if I’m not already in tears by the end of the first verse of “Sons of” and I didn’t know why then and I think I do know why now. I think it’s called growing up. “Sons of” builds up beautifully, a perfect arrangement, and so gently sung. Fantastic. An ending which still surprises. “Funeral Tango” is dark humour at its finest, and considering how I didn’t like “Next” I think this is far better. Well I think it’s funny. And to follow this with “if you go away”, amazing. Have I mentioned how this song kills me too? Yes? It’s an emotionally draining performance at the end of an emotionally draining album.

“Scott 3” is such a huge leap onwards from the first two albums, the Brel songs match the darkness of the original songs and there’s a consistency across the arrangements and performances. Just ignore the sleeve notes. “3” was issued in March 1969, while Scott’s TV show was on the BBC, and songs from the album were performed on the show – “Winter night” and “We came through” surrounding two Dudley Moore Trio songs on the 11th March, “Big Louise” and “Funeral Tango” surrounding “Girl talk” by Maynard Ferguson on 1st April. But the exposure must have helped the album which reached the top five again in March. It was followed in July by the “Songs from his TV series” LP and then “Scott 4” was issued in November and disappeared almost immediately.

“The Seventh Seal” sets out the album and already there’s a difference, the mariachi trumpet, spaghetti western feel and emphasis on thumping bass and drums and guitar show this is a different Scott to the orchestra led numbers on his previous album. Sure there’s a string arrangement here but it’s not foregrounded, and the insistent tambourine leads the way, along with the Russian boatmen chorus. And Scott basically provides a synopsis of the film, with numerous key changes. And .. oh god…. I’m not really that impressed. Again, we will get to this later. “On your own again” is a beautiful miniature, gentle acoustic guitars and Scott singing close and intimate, and the surge at 50 seconds is quite gorgeous. What exactly is going on here I’ve never figured out, really. There’s so many personal pronouns involved it makes it hard to follow, you and ours, he and I… Still the final line is a killer “I was so happy I didn’t feel like me”. Yep, know that feeling. “The world’s strongest man” is Scott at his most vulnerable, a bed of wobbly organ and a soaring string arrangement on the chorus and oh look the tambourine is back. Of course Scott isn’t strong, and that makes the song more human, and it brings shudders – “And I need your love, you know, I can’t pretend it any more”. Scott scats away as the song fades. “Angels of ashes” is stunning, it just is, and it’s another song to induce tears. I have no idea what it means, but sometimes you don’t need to have meaning, you can just feel the emotional resonance. So many great lines here, I’m not going to quote. Oh my. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I feel like I’m a fraud writing this stuff, you’ve waded through thousands of words and I can’t even tell you what the songs mean, but I can tell you what they mean to me. Or maybe I can’t even achieve that. But I try. Is that ok? I hope so. “Angels of Ashes” is perfect. Is that ok? Oh damn, I’ve got “Boy child” next. “Boy child” is like “Sleepwalkers woman”, static and silence, spaces and emotions, you don’t need me now, do you? It’s just heart stopping. Emotionally exhausting. The lyrics seem metaphysical, I suppose. Vague but close enough for the listening to make their own interpretation. “Hero of the war” at the start of side two is quite a change, rapidly strummed acoustic guitars, tribal drums and that tambourine again. There’s a lot of bass guitar on “Scott 4”, you notice. Is this deliberate? Scott of course was the bass player in the Walker Brothers. I do like the phased string arrangement. All of which diverts from the fact the lyric is a bit heavy handed and obvious. Scott scats again. “The old man’s back again”… Listen to that bass again. Oh I feel bad about this, you know.. I love so many songs on “Scott 4” but this and “Hero of the war” and “The seventh seal” aren’t my favourites. I think I find them too obvious, I don’t enjoy them as much as the more personal songs. Maybe it’s because I want escapism, I want something which touches me on a personal level, not someone talking about a film or a news story. I guess I’m just simple really, I’ve not read the books, seen the films, got the references. But sing about love or a relationship and it touches my soul. Case in point – “Duchess”. Absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking. It’s almost Dylan-esque, just around the corner from “Sad eyed lady of the lowlands”, and with as much florid language. And of course the final four words turn the whole song on its head. “Get behind me”. Who, the devil? The past? It’s whatever you want to escape. It’s some strange AOR music, female backing singers must be wondering what the hell they’re singing about. The queasy minor to major changes shift beautifully and the bizarre bass jumps up and down and fuzz guitar soars. Sounds like “Throw down a line”, in a way. “So we won’t feel the gravity of time” – trying not to grow old, trying to move on. Passionate performance regardless. And finally “Rhymes of goodbye”. Another song which can bring me to tears and I don’t know why. It just kills me.

Every three years I would make up a top 40 songs and put them on a tape, 1983, 86, 89, 92. September 9th, if you must know. “Rhymes of goodbye” was a top ten entry in 92 and it’s still up there in my favourite songs ever. Up there with “Statues”, “A winter’s dawn”, “All that love and maths can do”, this is hallowed company for me. I must dig out the tapes for 92, it’s a classic. But remember I’d only had the album less than a month and it made such an impression that it was a top ten song. It’s weird, it’s another song I don’t understand but I feel like I get comfort from it. A warmth, an understanding glow. This is my interpretation, it’s how it reflects on me. And it kills me. Absolutely every time.

It’s weird, looking back…. The songs on the four Scott albums had absolutely nothing to do with what I was going through at the time, how could they reflect that? And that’s what the Biff Bang Pow albums were for. And yes I’m over it all. A long time ago. Listen to “Past caring” and “Spoiling the grand design”. But the albums seemed to paint the atmosphere a dark shade of blue, infuse my life and thoughts with deeper meaning, even if they didn’t directly attach themselves to memories.

Of course “Scott 4” wasn’t the end of the story. At some point in 1992 my brother bought a battered copy of “‘Til the band comes in”, what could have been “Scott 5”. I was slightly less impressed. When it’s good it’s great – “Little things”, the title track, “Long about now”. I knew the latter from the Fatima Mansions version on “Bertie’s Brochures”. But the cover versions were ropey, and again Andy Williams does a better version of “It’s over”, Scott phoning it in while Andy makes you believe the world is over. Was I interested in lacklustre cover albums from the 70s? No. Was I happy to find a copy of “Nite flights” and finally hear Scott’s four songs there? Damn right I was.

But new music? That was a bolt out of the blue. “Tilt” in 1995 was so different, so strange, so alien… Again it felt like a lifetime’s worth of energy went into it, and it would take a lifetime to unfathom it. Scott appeared on “Later…”, alone with a guitar, passionate and deeply into his performance. And then disappearance again, though not fully. There was always music on the sidelines, on film soundtracks, Dylan covers. And like Halley’s comet a new album every so often, each time deeper and more serious and more impenetrable, but still that voice and that power. Always moving on to something new.

And now he’s gone. Two weeks since he’s gone and I feel like an idiot for not writing this before. I started this post years ago, actually the day after that 1981 Top Of The Pops broadcast. His music has touched my heart and soul like the best, most loved music in my life. The memories are there, the music is there. I may not be clever enough to understand it all, I don’t know my Camus from my Sartre, I’m as existential as a penguin. But when it cuts to the heart of the human condition, songs like “Big Louise”, “Sleepwalkers woman”, “Duchess” and “The Bridge” will always be there for me. Thank you Scott and goodbye, I trust the angels of ashes are taking good care of you.

3 thoughts on “Rhymes of goodbye

  1. Actually the MM review – Steve Lake? – was generally a very positive one, comparing SW to Henry Miller amongst others. I think Richard Cook also spoke highly of it at the NME. The saxophones on “Track Six” were indeed Evan Parker (he and Mark Isham also provide the horns on “Track Two”).

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