Friday, 25 June 2010

Drive us all 'round the bend

I started collecting (rather than simply buying) records in 1984.

It was a very different world then.

There were plenty of record shops and masses of records, but no e-bay or, indeed, any internet at all. There were long photocopied lists, Record Collector ads, quarterly record fairs and trips up to London but, for the most part, your success in filling your collection was based on good luck or very hard work, not a couple of clicks and a credit card transaction.

The first artist I started seriously collecting was Scott Walker. The singles were easy, but the LP’s were hard going. His sixties solo albums had sold in great quantity (well, the first three had) but they didn’t seem to turn up very often, presumably still safe in the original purchasers home, or stacked up in shops in the North that I didn’t know existed. I got them eventually, of course, (though a ‘Scott 3’ eluded me for a ridiculously long period of time) and they meant, and still mean a lot to me today. A happy ending.

There were hundreds of frustrations and a thousand dark days along the way, however, and, in the absence of actual Scott Walker albums, I turned to buying Walker Brothers records instead. These were never quite as good (although they were occasionally great) but they were readily available, and I soon learned that a song credited to 'S. Engel' promised interesting things.

So, four such early gems, all showcasing Walker’s keynote style: overblown kitchen sink drama pop with heavy orchestration, psychedelic touches and bags of pretension. It sounds rubbish, I know, but it’s actually pretty incredible.

‘Archangel’ was the heavyweight b-side of fairly forgettable spy film theme tune ‘Deadlier Than The Male’ and features a church organ, swirling strings, sleigh bells and Scott standing in an echo chamber.

‘Mrs. Murphy’ continues Walker’s proto-Ballardian obsession with the erotic life of the tower block. This originally appeared as one of two tracks on an EP shared with his ‘brother’ John Maus called ‘Solo John / Solo Scott’, which not only sees into the near future (the band would split about nine months later) but perfectly encapsulate each artists style (John’s tracks are pleasant but forgettable standards; Scott is torn between creating moody masterpieces and banging out schmaltzy film theme covers).

‘Orpheus’ appeared on the final Walker Brothers album 'Images' but could quite easily have been on 'Scott One'. Reg Guest's orchestrations always have a touch of 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' about them, and this is no exception, sounding big and mystical from the Last Post intro to the sudden ending. I just wish I knew what it was about.

'Genevieve' (also from 'Images') betrays a very European influence and is, for Scott, almost romantic, despite the frequent insertion of a doleful spaghetti western bell and the wistful lyrics.

These superlative b-sides and album fillers are still available wherever records are sold or, if you prefer, with a couple of clicks and a credit card transaction. Let your conscience guide you.

1 comment:

Reimer said...

A great great talent, our Scott. Shame he's so coy and unprolific, whilst his celeb-fans are so voluble (that bloody awful '30 Century Man' docu) Must see if I can listen to the whole of 'The Drift'.