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Scott Walker 1943-2019

Scott Walker’s death was announced today. As a small tribute, this is the introduction to a piece I wrote a couple of decades ago about the events of the year 1965. 

In 1965, things changed fast. It just happened. You didn’t even have to try. Here’s a little story from one day in the spring of that year. Perhaps it says something about what things were like, and how special it felt, even then, even in the margins.

It’s a Friday evening. In a house in the Midlands, an 18-year-old boy is waiting to take a 17-year-old girl to the opening night of Bob Dylan’s first British tour. He has two tickets in his pocket. Sheffield City Hall, grand circle, front row, seven shillings and sixpence each.

The television is on as they prepare to leave her parents’ house. It’s Ready Steady Go!, live from London, the weekly hotline to the heart of whatever’s hip. One of the presenters — either the dolly-bird Cathy McGowan or the incongruously avuncular Keith Fordyce — announces the appearance of a new group. They’re from America, they’re called the Walker Brothers, and this is their first time on British TV. Their song is called “Love Her”.

On the small black and white screen, the face of a fallen angel appears. The boy and the girl are already cutting things fine for Dylan, but still the girl freezes in the act of putting on her coat and, as if in slow motion, sits down to watch the 21-year-old Scott Engel, clutching the microphone as though it were a crucifix, delivering the straining, heavily orchestrated teen ballad in a dark brown voice borrowed from the romantic hero of a picture strip in Romeo or Valentine.

As the song ends and the image fades, the girl shakes herself lightly, refocuses on her surroundings, pulls on her brown suede jacket. OK, she says. Ready to go.

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have been reading your work for 40 years and never knew you came from Sheffield. I remember a similar(ish) moment in Sheffield when a tv sighting of Marc Bolan had much the same effect on a girl I knew.

    March 25, 2019
  2. Stephen Barrett #

    Richard. I remember that moment too (in Nottingham) His voice was a revelation and to this day stays with me……..Stephen

    March 25, 2019
  3. neil dickinson #

    thanks for the memory

    March 25, 2019
  4. Matthew Wright #

    Very sad, Richard – in the late 70s/early 80s he regularly visited us at Collets, often buying Coltrane records and taking a real interest in modern improvised jazz, in particular Evan Parker, who he was later to use on a couple of his albums. Polite and unassuming (he’d had a bellyful of stardom which as he said, didn’t suit him – I recall for some time during the mid 60s the Walker Bros were as popular as the Beatles), he would tie up his bike outside the shop, next to John Jack’s!
    He was to make several recordings often reflecting a willingness to take risks and experiment, but I have to admit to a fondness for his rich voice, especially when punishing the emotions on a Jacques Brel number or similar.

    March 25, 2019
  5. My elder sister had the first 2 solo albums when I was 17ish. Scott’s takes on Jacqes Brel and Tim Hardin were marvellous and in the case of the former, brave and inventive. He found his own ‘voice’ longer term but those 2 albums brought out that lovely tone and range.. Thanks, Richard.

    March 25, 2019
  6. Polly Fiona McDonald #

    What a lovely piece, heaven to read, so evocative. Thank you x

    March 25, 2019
  7. Peter Lerner #

    You’ve completely nailed it. Thank you.

    March 25, 2019
  8. tansey #

    Nice one., Richard. I bet there were a few households transfixed that night.

    March 25, 2019
  9. Tom Galloway #

    So sad to hear of the death of Scott Walker; one of the GREAT singers from th ‘60s.
    I remember reading your tribute as part of an essay in your book Long Distance Call, and I thought the original piece was one of the best evocations of the 1960s that I had ever read. Keep up the good work.

    March 25, 2019
  10. James Allen #

    A lovely,evocative piece of writing Richard.Took me right back to 1965!

    March 25, 2019
  11. Jane Elliott #

    That girl could have been me. Such a beautiful looking man and with a voice that sent shivers down my spine and still does. At one time he was engaged to Clare Bewicke of the Deborah & Clare bespoke shirtmakers in Beauchamp Place and where I worked briefly. Happy memories!

    March 25, 2019
  12. Grahame Painting #

    Very sweet

    March 25, 2019
  13. Richard Harris #

    I think we’ve led parallel lives. My then partner, same era, Lorraine, Ready Steady Go, stop look and listen too, thought Scott Walker was Gods gift, a Greek God vocally vocally and looks. “My ship is coming in etc”. I was then suitably mod sneering, “he’s not Ray Charles, he’s not Mose Allison and he’s ripping off Jerry Butler!” Ah, the jealousy. But, he had such a hell of a voice, excellent taste and could easily have been Sinatra-esque if he’d chosen that easy path. AND he booked the Ronnie Scott’s “New Band”, John Surman et al to work with him, and paid for Terry Smith’s first album. He may of sung passionately about donkeys dying in Turin a la Nietzsche in a much later life, but…whisper it now, Lorraine had a point. RIP.

    March 25, 2019
  14. GuitarSlinger #

    Truly one of the most under recognized and under apprenticed influential iconoclast geniuses ( influencing everyone from Bowie – to Sylvian – to Yorke ) of the 20th / 21st century . To paraphrase a quote from Brian Eno in the documentary ” 30th Century Man ”

    ‘ The pop music world still hasn’t caught up to Scott Walker and at this rate it never will ‘

    May he finally find the peace he never had while on this planet . And may his genius be re-discovered by a younger generation desperate for genuine ingenuity , creativity and individualism .

    March 25, 2019
  15. Corinne Drewery #

    Such an evocatively captured moment in time with a perfect soundtrack. Scott Walker was the boy girls wanted to love and boys wanted to be…he managed to be both popular and elusive..his unique musical style influential to many…X

    March 25, 2019
  16. John (Phil) Waller #

    Would that boy have been at Nottingham High School by any chance?!!

    March 25, 2019
  17. Jeffrey Farrell #

    That is the best memory of Scott that I have read today.

    March 25, 2019
  18. Stephen Holland #

    I rarely find the time to comment but just wanted to say this is a lovely vignette, and the extended version it comes from is completely evocative of the time and the mood of the times. Everything then was fresh and new and startling and yet if you were young and open minded seemingly normal at the same time; not ordinarily normal, but specially normal, each evening like the one described another small lesson in the art of living life to a new rhythm.

    March 25, 2019
  19. That’s a lovely little cameo Richard – but were you late for Dylan and did your girlfriend take to him as much as she did to Scott?

    March 28, 2019

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