The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70) at Royal Albert Hall

John Eyles By

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Scott Walker
Royal Albert Hall
BBC Proms
July 25, 2017

Opportunities to hear Scott Walker's music performed in public are few and far between, the last notable events before this one having been at the Barbican theatre in November 2008. Featuring several performers, notably including Damon Albarn and Jarvis Cocker, that series of three concerts had focussed on Walker's two most recent albums at the time, Tilt (Drag City, 1995) and The Drift (4AD, 2006), with Walker himself being present behind the sound desk.

As the dates in the title of this event make clear, this one-off concert at the BBC Proms focused on a very different period of Walker's history, the years covering his first solo recordings during which his song-writing developed rapidly. The songs performed were all Walker compositions, drawn from the albums Scott (Philips, 1967), Scott 2 (Philips, 1968), Scott 3 (Philips, 1969), Scott 4 (Philips, 1969) and (breaking the sequence!) 'Til the Band Comes In (Philips, 1970), with the lion's share being drawn from the latter three, particularly Scott 4.

As at the Barbican nine years before, this concert featured multiple vocalists. Sharing the vocal duties equally were Jarvis Cocker of Pulp (whose 2001 Island Records album We Love Life Walker helped produce, arrange and mix), Sheffield singer/guitarist and one-time Pulp member Richard Hawley, US singer-songwriter John Grant and the welcome female presence of Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør. The frequent changes of vocalist kept the concert fresh and interesting, while allowing scope for its vocalist's style to match each particular song.

Accompanying and supporting the singers was the Heritage Orchestra, conducted by Jules Buckley, plus London Contemporary Voices. From the opening instrumental "Prologue," played by the orchestra alone, leading into Cocker singing the evocative "Boy Child," the arrangements by Buckley consistently created settings for the lead vocalists that allowed them to be heard to best effect and freed them to interpret the songs in their own ways. The conductor is becoming a regular and very popular fixture at the Proms, in 2016 having appeared in successful events with Quincy Jones, Kamasi Washington and Jamie Cullum.

One notable difference between this event and that at the Barbican was that there was no evidence of Walker himself here on the night. Although he had given his blessing to all those involved in the concert, he played no part in the preparations. As the compositions performed are about fifty years old, it is unsurprising that Walker chose not to look back; for years he has been pushing back frontiers and moving on, and his most recent album release, the soundtrack The Childhood of a Leader (4AD, 2016) shows this remains true. Nevertheless, such was the enthusiasm and affection shown by this audience that it seemed Walker should have been here to hear it; let's hope he did somehow.

For those who were not fortunate enough to be in the Royal Albert Hall on 25th July (and for those who were) the good news is that the concert was well documented, with excellent footage of most songs on YouTube. Here is a good place to start...

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