I was glad to get to watch a DVD documentary of the great Scott Walker called ‘30 Century Man, a title taken from a track that appeared on Scott 3
I like the fact that instead of using only conventional interviews, director Stephen Kijak also films people listening and interacting to Scott’s albums. I could live without the thoughts of posers like Sting and Alison Goldfrapp but most of the interviewees have something interesting to contribute.
A notable absence is Julian Cope who did so much to raise Walker’s profile with the post-punk generation. Cope opted not to appear although he wrote a letter endorsing the project.
Still, if the film consisted only of talking heads basking in their own egos and repeating ad-infinitum what a genius Scott Walker is, this would be pretty tedious fare. The main coup is in getting the notoriously reticent Walker to talk so freely about his life in music and in a film crew being allowed into the studio during the recording of The Drift.
Walker is an impressive and highly articulate speaker so you get some genuine insights into how the twists and turns of his unique career have unfolded. You also get a flavour of the intelligence and intensity that make his work so remarkable.
He is frequently depicted as an uncompromising artist who turned his back on the world of pop for forays into the avant-garde. What came out for me is that this is only part of the story.
For instance, when the brilliant Scott 4 unaccountably failed to find an audience on release, Walker was persuaded to make a series of lighter albums of popular tunes and cover versions. He has refused to allow these to be reissued but the fact that he made them shows that at that time he was willing to moderate his output in a bid to match the popular taste.
Fortunately, for him and for us, he clearly reached the point when such concessions were draining and demeaning. Only then did the true artist, wizard and star flourish again to produce the stark, experimental and disturbing works like Tilt and The Drift.
I confess that I had missed that the fact that hints of this radical direction were evident in the opening four tracks of The Walker Brothers’ one-off comeback album, Nite Flights. Hearing them now, they sound very like Low-Heroes era Bowie but also the sound is of someone stretching the boundaries of conventional pop music. I am particularly happy to be make the acquaintance of ‘The Electrician’ from this album.
Brian Gascoigne who worked on the orchestration and keyboards for ‘Climate of Hunter’ and ‘Tilt’ tells how recording sessions were often fraught affairs because he expects such a high level of emotional and technical commitment in order to reach and cross the line between “chords and discords”.
The studio footage of for The Drift give some idea of the demands he places on his collaborators. He makes use of unconventional sound sources like barrels, boxes and thimbles and at one point he directs a musician to get a flat percussive sound from a slab of meat. You wouldn’t have been surprised if the braying effects had been produced by a live donkey.
All in all the film is well worth seeing as it deepens your understanding on Scott the man without destroying the enigma.