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Date: 10/08/17

"Get Behind Me"

Scott Walker was always one of the more interesting figures in 60s pop. He reached heights of fame with the Walker Brothers (none of whom was related to the others, and none of whom was actually called 'Walker' - Scott Engel took it as his stage name), but after the craziness of that time palled on him, he recorded a quartet of LPs between 1967 and 1970 which were certainly 'pop' in the broad sense, but which also showed a depth of texture and darkness of mood which stood against the self-deluded sunflower mentality of the time.

In much the same way that Arthur Lee more than hinted at the darker side of the 'Summer Of Love' on the West Coast of the US, Walker often adverted to the shabbier side of 'Swinging London'. He was the prime exponent of the songs of Jacques Brel in English (his version of Jackie has long been a favourite of mine), but he also wrote songs of his own which combined a strong sense of melody with an equally pervading melodrama and density. They were the songs Andy Williams might have sung had he ever read Sartre or the Nihilists.

A brief reunion with his 'brothers' in the mid-70s aside, Scott Walker fell into obscurity for two decades or more, until modern-day performers and songwriters such as Jarvis Cocker 'rediscovered' him, and he began to gain the critical attention which had originally been denied him.

Last month, the Proms staged a special concert of material from the LPs Scott 1 to Scott 4 at the Royal Albert Hall which featured those songs played with a live orchestral and choral backing for the first time.

By vivid contrast with the execrable 'tribute' to David Bowie which featured in last year's Proms (in which nothing was proven except that Marc Almond still sings everything a quarter-tone sharp), this performance was little short of mindblowing. The four featured vocalists each did their take on some of the stand-out tracks of those years. Of the four, Jarvis was - as much as I like the guy and his attitude - the weakest of the four singers; Sprechgesang simply won't do for songs of such melodic vigour. Susanne Sundfør was new to me, and was quite impressive. Richard Hawley gave a good account of himself; but John Grant (of whom I also knew nothing) was a revelation, his voice being similar enough in tone and power to Walker's to almost make you think that the man himself was doing it (Walker was - surreptitiously - in the audience, and was by all accounts delighted with the evening).

All the material in the concert was new to me, and I have subsequently sought out the four albums in question on YouTube to give them a listen, at which point I had confirmed to me that Scott Walker was - and is - a major talent of the last fifty or so years.

What you are about to see (assuming you bother to click on it, of course) is the finale, featuring all four vocalists (with Hawley also giving good shred near the end) in a performance of Get Behind Me from 1969's Scott 4, in a deft and powerful arrangement by Tom Trapp.

Compared to what went out live - and was available on the BBC iPlayer - this version suffers from someone not turning the singers' microphones up to the proper level for most of the performance. But the four, backed by the Heritage Orchestra and London Contemporary Singers (both conducted by Jules Buckley), produce five minutes of musical magic. Enjoy!

Update: Except you can't, because the BBC (I presume) have pulled it.

PS: This is - I think - the 1500th post over the main three sections of this site. I say 'I think', because I goofed with what I thought was the one-thousandth, which turned out to be the one-thousand-and-first.