Friday, July 28, 2017

When Scott Walker was Robbie Williams big

During the Scott Walker Prom at the Albert Hall on Tuesday night I looked around at my fellow concertgoers and thought, this is what most pop concerts will be like in the future - people gathering to enjoy a re-creation of something which was originated long before. A bit like the rest of the Proms in that respect.

The hall was packed with people who, by the looks of them, weren't born in 1967, back when Scott Walker was as big a star as Robbie Williams. In their eyes Scott Walker is a misunderstood genius, an indie pioneer, a prophet without honour, a man who apparently had to wait until today to get his due. This narrative is repeated by Luke Walker in a review in The Guardian.

It's not quite the way I remember it. Scott Walker was a very big deal in the Walker Brothers but he was still a very big deal as a solo artist. His albums were in the shop window. He was played on the radio. He had his own TV series. And it wasn't stuck away in late night. It was prime time BBC television.

As for "the albums struggling commercially", the first three were all top-three hits and the fourth might have done the same if he hadn't made it more difficult for himself by putting it out under his birth name Scott Engel. Then he made a few albums of covers just to run down his contract. As for his name fading he had a big hit with "No Regrets" when he rejoined the Walker Brothers in 1976.

Scott Walker was never actually forgotten. He was simply adopted by another generation and they preferred to think they were the ones who discovered him.


  1. No further questions m'Lud.

  2. I only relatively recently got my hands on a copy of Til the Band Comes In - the record upon which he employed Ady Semel to vet his lyrics and strike out " the words likely to harm old ladies".

    I don't know whether this statement was tongue in cheek, since the album includes - Thanks For Chicago Mr. James - a gay dear John letter from a rough trick to his industrialist sugar daddy.

    He was on a journey. I do enjoy his later stuff - The Drift in particular but there is a warm glow that hangs around those four early records.

  3. Spot on, David. A student once asked me if I listened to 6 Music. I told him I did, from time to time. He then recommended I check a great new band...The Kinks. Hmm...

  4. Good point David, but it depends on you being 'there' or being a few years late to the party. As a 16 yr old in 1981 I was very aware of the Walker Brothers but completely in the dark on solo Scott. When Julian Cope compiled Fire Escape In The Sky in 1981 those records had been out of print for a decade, the gap between Deja Vu and Flowers Of Romance, a pop eternity. It's something that's hard to convey now, but I'm guessing for most people roughly my age (Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley among them) Scott was as obscure as Tim Hardin or Pearls Before Swine at the turn of the eighties.

  5. (After falling in love with Fire Escape In The Sky it took me three years to find a copy of Scott 3, even though I bought Record Collector every month and lived next door to Beano's. How it got to no.3 in the album chart, I've no idea)

  6. gracenotes2:26 pm

    If you're into any music that's vaguely non-mainstream, you encounter this kind of stuff all the time. Anybody whose records don't get filed under 'Rock & Pop' is invariably described as 'obscure', 'unknown' or even 'invisible'. As you imply, this seems to be partly so that the writer can congratulate themselves on their discovery, when in fact it just shows that they're usually unable to see beyond the end of their noses.

  7. I just posted this on the Scott page on facebook, thought I would do so here too: "...the common image, spread by lazy journalists is that Scott Walker slipped into obscurity after 1969.

    We happy enlightened few know that Scott made 5 albums from 1970 to 1975, before the Walker Brothers reunion. Shown here together with my poor technical skills. Plus 4 compilations albums were released then (the last one here from slighlty after that period, 1976). So, 8 or 9 album releases in that period hardly mean obscurity.

    However, it seems that none of them charted in the top 100 albums in the UK. So, depsite the image being a cliche it does seem true that his popularity went down, to a very considerable degree, in terms of sales, TV and magazine apperances.

    But as an effort to record Scott's work for posterity, how about we make an effort to see what we can uncover from that period in terms of TV, magazine, newspaper and live appearances (from 1970 to 1975).

    For a start: does anyone know what the sale levels of those 8 or 9 albums actually were? No figures are given for them on the discography wikipedia listing."