Excerpt from an unfinished novel. “The Charles Carver mystery hour. Book One : Looking for Alan Leach.”

Author’s note :  A few years ago my then agent Helen Donlon suggested I write fiction.  I don’t consider myself a novelist, I wish I was, but I just can’t get with it. It doesn’t turn me on. Still below is an excerpt…Tragically I recently found out that Helen died.  Far too young.  R.I.P. Helen and thanks for the push.  At least I found out I’m not a real writer…”

 

I am Charles Carver and I’m tired.

Camden, London. It’s five to eleven on a Tuesday morning in 1995 and I feel like I’ve never slept. I’m in my so called office above the Marathon Bar ‘Restaurant’- actually it’s just a kebab shop you can sit down and get fucked in at any time of day – and I’m fixating on the miles of sleep behind my eyes.

Somewhere, Sammy Davis Jnr. is playing but I’m fucked if I can find the source.

I know there’s a grapefruit and a half bottle of Blavod Black Vodka in the mini fridge in the corner but if I start drinking now, after an initial lift I’ll get even more tired. By the afternoon I’ll have to sleep or score some coke to knock me straight and I can’t do either because I need to work. There’s a client coming in at one. And I do need to work. I need to work so I can maintain an office to work from… And to buy Vodka to make me feel better when I’m not working.  And when I’m working. And to buy blow to make me feel awake when I’m drunk and working. So I need to work so I can afford to get drunk on Blavod and score coke to stop me falling asleep on the job.

And…Fuck this Dante shit.

Where’s Henrik’s number? I’ll fix to score some Coke at noon and have a vodka now. Fuck the grapefruit, too. I need a drink. I’m tired. Really tired.

Sammy is singing ‘Spinning Wheel’ but again, I’m fucked if I know where from.

“What goes up/Must come down.” Sing it Sammy…

I need a drink before I call Henrik, who unusually for a dealer, has multiple other interests and gets up early. (Henrik is even in possession of a time machine for fuck’s sake. Yes you heard right. A thing that looks like a Porta – loo in his office that can take you back in time. Not forward. And not through space either…You can go as far back as you like but you’ll still come out in Camden. How’s that for a plot device? More of which later.)

Anyway. Nothing personal, Henrik but I’m already dreading calling you. I don’t feel like talking to anyone so early. Fuck it, the Blavod will take care of that. It’s one minute to eleven and so what? Like Ma used to say : “The pub’s are nearly open…”

I negotiate my way through the various boxes of old copies of Sounds, Look-in, Deadline, Ritz Magazine, Escape, Blitz, Weirdo, New sounds-New styles, Elle, Starlord, Spare Rib, Toxic, Crisis, Revolver, Inter-View and Time Out… the open files, the unopened mail, the closed files, all shadowed by the dead plant I never knew the name of that I bought in a fug at Woolworth’s two Christmas Eves ago.

I bend to the mini fridge and feel a sting in my lower right side. A pain I’ve had for five years that despite a Cat and ultrasound scan remains un -diagnosed. I’m so tired. So very very tired. Can I be out of breath already? I’m 34 years old and just starting to lose what looks I had, but not my health already, surely. Anyway. I open the fridge door. And there it is : The Vodka bottle chill against my hand. It feels like home, it feels like shaking hands with Henrik Kissinger in 1967 whatever that means. I’m starting to feel better already.

I don’t wait until I get back to the desk. I pour the Black stuff into a dirty promotional ‘Menswear’ mug that’s festering on top of the mini fridge. Menswear are a sorry bunch of mugs but as alcohol receptacles go they’ll do. The Blavod is so cold as to taste of nothing. It burns my throat and sets off a cosy black depth charge in my stomach, scouring the inside of my chest as it goes down. ‘Boof’ it says to my stomach. ‘Take that’!’  ‘OOf’. ‘Bam’ ‘Karplunk’ Et Al. Huge captions behind my eyes, cartoon bubbles in my gut. Like in the old Batman shows. I take another chug from the bottle. Black milk. The years of sleep behind my eyes momentarily disperse and then resettle into new patterns further away. I shake the sleep up again with another slug from the bottle. An Orchestra is tuning up in my skull. Another slug. This time there’s an uppercut to my esophagus. ‘Kapowee’! It’s a welcome pain. It reminds me of something…

Holding the bottle in my left hand I walk back to the desk and attempt to find Henrik’s number in one of the various address books I keep losing and replacing. I’ve got an hour to get to Henrik’s and back to prepare for the client. By prepare, I actually mean repair. Somehow, after another extended chug, I’ve spoken painlessly to Henrik – a conversation I’ve already forgotten – and am taking another gasp from the bottle which is now coming out in condensation. Sammy is singing “For once in my life/I have someone who needs me” somewhere on the periphery of something while I seem to have misplaced the Menswear mug. I find a multi pack of cafe crème on my desk and attempt to open the wrapper with my left hand whilst still holding the bottle in the right. A false economy. It doesn’t work and the multi pack scatters to the floor. But in doing so some flyers on the desk are moved about and I spy a pack already open. I plug my mouth with one. I’ll light it later. I fold the packet into my navy blue Cardin Blazer pocket. I need to be out of the door. I need to go. I don’t know where my keys are. Where’s my wallet? I take a final – for now- shot from the Vodka bottle that is alarmingly approaching room temperature. I think about taking it with me but it looks bad, a man of my reputation slugging from a bottle in the street at this hour.

Who am I fucking kidding…

I find room for it on the magazine spunked thing that was once a desk. I tap the bulge atop my thigh. That’s my wallet. Forget the keys, I’ll leave the door open. I hope I have a lighter on me somewhere and then somehow am finally out of the door. When did leaving anywhere become such a military fucking operation? I’ll buy some more Blavod on the way back. Or maybe on the way there. Details. The devil is in the details…

Did I mention I was Tired?

Outside the morning is catching up with me. In fact, it’s gone already.  I wade through a fresh afternoon that still looks like morning. I move onward searching for a lighter as the pavements below turn from Camden to Chalk farm but then I decide against the off licence and they become Camden again. The pavements are losing their morning sheen. The sun is upon us. The air is still nearly new. I kid myself it all is. This fresh Tuesday. New, I mean. The buses are running. People are starting to shop. The Birds above it all.  The sky above them…My mind is wandering. I light a Cafe crème as I await a gap in the traffic, crossing the too wide road to Camden stables puffing as I go, feeling old yet ageless. No, aged. Feeling fucking tired.

Life has long since lost it’s lustre.

“Charles! How are you my friend? How’s business? You look exhausted. We have a cure for that. Ha ha.” Henrik lets me in and goes to the computer thing on his desk to tap the keyboard. He then looks up, takes off his tiny round glasses and rubs the lens with the sleeve of his purple hoodie. Somewhere a bass drum is pounding. Joss sticks fill the air with a Cunty bloom. Henrik is into cyber- something. His cave place is full of tubes that light up and things called glow sticks. He likes Sven Vath. I don’t know Sven Vath but I’m sure if I did I would hate Sven Vath. Henrik is friends with The Aphex twin. Or one of them, at least. I don’t know much about the Aphex twin apart from what a client told me once. The Twin lives in a converted bank, gets stoned and projects “Pong” (an ancient video game) onto the bank wall opposite his. Someday I’d like to pay Mr Aphex a visit…

“Charles?”

“I’m fine Henrik. The usual. Please”.

I think Henrik is Norwegian. Or Scandinavian. I’m not sure what Scandinavia is. I have a vague idea it’s cold and Ash Blonde. I’m not big on Geography. Or Maths, physics or economics. But I’m especially dumb when it comes to Geography. I don’t know my North, South, East West either. Don’t know where they are I mean. Why the fuck would I…

“OK, Charles. Just a moment. Please.”

Henrik’s place is big and full of stuff, but unlike my office you get the idea that everything here has a purpose and he knows where everything is. He stoops to the computer keyboard once again and then gets up from that and the fibre glass desk and walks to a filing cabinet that’s just in front of the Porta Loo/Time machine.

“What’s this shit playing?” I ask Henrik as he unlocks the third draw down of a filing cabinet that has a digereedo leaning on it.

“This is The Future sound of London, Charles.”

“Some future..sounds like…sounds like a knees up at The Tomorrow’s world Christmas party, circa 1980.”

“No. That’s what they’re called, Charles. The Future sound of London. And actually they’d take that as a compliment. Three?”

“Yeah three. My favourite number.”

Henrik returns. Puts three little bags of white stuff on the desk.

“Put it on my account, Henrik” I tell him, thinking one isn’t enough and four is too many.

“You mind?”

Henrik is already at the computer. “No. Its fine. Go ahead.”

I separate one bag from the others and bring out my Zippo. I bash the fuck out of that bag, crushing the rocks and the baby rocks. I know I should put a cloth over it to save the bag from splitting but I’m tired. Henrik pays no mind. I crush and obliterate some more and then reach into my left Cardin pocket where there are various McDonald’s straws cut down to size. Some cut with a scissors, some with a Bread knife, some bitten in half. I don’t bother racking up, just poke a straw into the bag. I sniff and gag. There follows a distant roar. Surf on sand. I gag again. Sammy flares in volume and shuts up.

I’m now very thirsty and not for water.

“Anyone used the time machine thing lately, Henrik?”

“Yeah. Some guys out of Paul Weller’s band. They went back to see a Small Faces gig or something. I warned them about the usual shit but they didn’t listen. When they got there they had no relevant currency. No money, I mean. Couldn’t get in the gig. The usual catastrophe…”

“Small Feces more like”. I return to the bag and gag again.

I’m slightly less tired.

Time to get to work…

Advertisements

EXCERPT FROM “The Impossible Dream : The story of Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers.”

Author’s note : “This was my first book and obviously a real learning curve.  It was fun to do although getting it published was tortuous.  Originally commissioned by Helter Skelter books, it’s publication was cancelled when the owner of that company tragically died.  It then went to Omnibus books where it was dropped at the eleventh hour, it’s subject matter being deemed ‘Old Hat’.  Eventually the wonderful Jawbone books picked it up.  I was delighted at the quality of the edition and yet still feel that this book never really found it’s audience.  (There was also a proposed follow up, covering Scott’s work from 1984 onward but that never came to pass either.  I still feel a decent book needs to be written on that period of Scott’s work.)

“The Impossible dream…” was written between 2004- 2005 and I was lucky enough to interview many people who are no longer with us.  Below is the final chapter. My only gripe regarding this chapter is that I was unable to find any photos of the boys at work in the studio.  Other than that, I like to think this is as definite an account of the recording of the last ever Walker brothers album that we’re likely to get…”

Chapter 16

Long Day’s Journey Into Nite

Now we’re writing our own material, finally, again, because we’ve decided to get off our asses because we’re basically very lazy, because the years have made us this way, because people would pay you a lot of money … not to write. So, you get very spoilt.”

Scott Walker (1977)

13428528_719507781525824_7897463299268248247_n

Geoff Calver (Producer of No Regrets and Lines) : “In the purest sense of the term, Scott was an artist. As his subsequent solo efforts have been “art for art’s sake,” they are in contrast with what we were doing with the Walkers, which was blatantly commercial. I think Scott, ultimately, felt he should do things for the right reasons rather than take the obvious commercial route … He kept the Walkers going as long as he did because, you know, a guy’s got to eat.

“I didn’t do anything with him after Lines. I think he found the commercial thing a bit distasteful. I think he was a serious musician who wanted to make serious music for serious people. I don’t think he really was happy doing the pop star bit or ever had been. Obviously, it had been his living but I think he’d been a very reluctant pop star and I think that’s why he wanted a change in direction, and go off and do the more esoteric stuff that he did after Lines.”

As it had been exactly a decade before, 1977 was to be a year of unequivocal change for The Walker Brothers. Since the initial split, all three had, to varying degrees, tangoed uncomfortably with their famous past, both in their personal and public lives. During 1977, many of those associated with that past would disappear. Producer Johnny Franz died on January 29, at the age of 54, his early death hastened along by a chain of countless cigarettes. That summer, former manager Maurice King also died, from a cocktail of whisky and barbiturates, in the flat above his Baker Street office.  Maurice King

14088475_947325358727266_904887429587818202_n

Photo :  Johnny Franz and Scott Walker, London mid 60’s.

Franz and King had helped drive The Walker Brothers toward pop immortality. As far as Scott, John and Gary were concerned, with these men went the last nicotine-tinted vapour trails of swinging 60s London. But perhaps their passing was a liberation for The Walker Brothers. The London of early 1978 was abuzz with both the energy of the previous year’s punk storm and the new wave which would follow. On a superficial level, the Walkers were set apart from such a climate – and yet, on another, unquantifiable, level, they were saturated by the zeitgeist. Scott, Gary and John were writing up a storm, with no thought of consequence other than ‘to hell with it’.

77r2

Photo : The enigmatic Ady Semel, early 70’s.

A further reminder of how the Philips years had dissipated came when the enigmatic Ady Semel retired as their manager. The Walkers’ (underworked) live agent, David Apps, would take over Semel’s role in a limited capacity. By now the trio were no longer living together, John and Gary having moved out of the flat above the King’s Road bistro, leaving Scott to write alone there. All three converged regularly, and Gary and Scott in particular still socialised frequently, clubbing into the early hours at London’s Tramp and Rags nightclubs.

Despite the tepid reception of everything since “No Regrets”, two years earlier, label manager Dick Leahy, who was about to sell GTO to CBS, was ever supportive. Consequently, the Brothers were in a position with nothing to lose. This freedom left them confident and energised. John in particular, going through one of his periodic dry spells, spoke with the conviction of a born-again. “Yeah, I’m teetotal these days,” he beamed optimistically, “I’m feeling in darned good shape too … Booze was my escape when I became a victim of The Walker Brothers’ success. Just as ‘No Regrets’ was sliding down the charts again, I found myself with some time to think. I woke up one morning and felt a new man. We’re going to be tremendously successful again and there’s no way success is going to almost destroy me this time round. I’m going to enjoy it. Already I’m writing some great songs and learning to play some good guitar again. We’ll make it because we’ve got something over most of the groups right now. We can sing and I can’t think of too many others who come into that category. Lots of acts put on a good show but have nothing for the ears. We’ll do both. I’m gonna love it – and I wont be looking for an escape through a whiskey bottle.”

The urge would, inexorably, return and John’s drink of choice throughout the coming recording sessions would eventually return to brandy and Cognac, while Scott and Gary, still perusing a strict health kick, threatened to overdose on a rainbow-coloured array of vitamin pills. Further ties with the more recent past had also been cut with regard to their place of work. The new studio of choice was Scorpio Sound, of Euston. Although it shared basic specifications with the Marquee studio (24 tracks at a rate of £500 a day), it was virgin territory to the Walkers and the crew manning the newly-assigned studio were all fresh faces.

Steve Parker was the mandatory teenage assistant engineer. It was obvious to him why the trio were not continuing with Calver. “Well, maybe because the first two albums they’d done with him hadn’t sold that great, it was obvious to try something new,” he reckoned. “I think with Nite Flights, Scott was trying to get an ‘off the wall’ vibe and Geoff Calver was very much a mainstream producer. Scott wanted a new approach and Dennis Weinreich, partly because he was from California, had a reputation at the time for having his own unique sound.”

Weinreich was an up-and-coming studio boffin whose already impressive resumé included big hits with Supertramp and Queen (including “Bohemian Rhapsody”).

A-90937-1521539430-9324.jpeg

Photo : Dennis Weinreich at mixing desk. Date unknown. Although judging by the funky apparel, probably late 60’s, early- mid ’70’s.

“I think Geoff was probably the better engineer,” says Weinreich tactfully. “I was probably slightly more ‘down and dirty’ than Geoff was. His stuff was magnificent, his orchestral stuff. I respected what he did. But I think maybe that what The Walker Brothers were looking for with this album was something a little edgier. Not that he couldn’t do it, but my kind of records, the kind of records I used to do with Jack Bruce, Jeff Beck, had a certain atmosphere that I was known for. People liked to work with me for the atmosphere.”

Scott would no doubt have gone out of his way to listen to Weinreich’s work before considering him as right-hand man. But an equally important factor in choosing Weinreich as head engineer was that he be ignorant of the Walkers suffocating past. The young Californian was fully qualified in this respect: “I have to admit to not knowing The Walker Brothers’ material beforehand. I was aware of the hits but I wasn’t a fan particularly. They were one of those bands that weren’t particularly successful where I was from.”

On first meeting Weinreich was struck by Engel’s presence and sincerity. Within moments of the ‘job interview,’ arranged by manager David Apps, Weinreich was already thinking ahead, like a man who had already bagged the job. “I remember Scott arriving at the studio in his orange Volkswagen Beetle,” he says. “He had a white pork-pie hat on. Real low over his eyes, all the time. He never took it off. Constantly playing with it. So he talked to me about making records and stuff and he said to me, ‘We need to work out how to record the vocal. Because the thing that pisses me off is that, when I’m ready to sing, I’m ready to sing right now. And I need to be able to perform once and that’s it’. So, I got this idea of [Scott’s voice] sitting very, very compressed on top of the record without a huge amount of dynamic. I felt, from listening to him talk, that he had a natural dynamic, that it wasn’t based on level. It was based on this intensity he had in his voice.”

Scott and Weinreich hit it off immediately. “I told Scott that once we had found a vocal sound, we’d keep it for the album and when we’re ready to go! And then I’d modify it for the song. I said, ‘But when you’re ready to go, I’ll be ready to go’.” The younger Californian had the gig. Things moved fast and sessions were arranged for early February. Scott’s attitude was one of fatalistic resignation. It was a state of mind that was, ironically, empowering. He knew before beginning that this would be the Walkers’ last stand and as such was going all out to please himself for the first time since Scott 4. “It had gone on too long, the reunion, all the awfulness … I thought, I’ve had enough. We were told the company [GTO] were gonna fold, so went back and pow-wowed and said, ‘Let’s do something we wanna’ do’. It was as simple as that.”

The ever-amiable Leahy was right behind them. “Dick backed us on this and he wanted us to do it,” confirms Leeds. It was agreed by all three at the outset that this record would contain no cover versions. In anticipation of the early February starting date, the trio worked apart and in seclusion, honing their pieces as best they could. Even Gary was writing up a storm. By the time they had compared notes and headed for the studio, they were as ready as they would ever be.

“Back then, records came in different categories,” states Weinreich. “There were those long and luxurious ‘let’s book a month and go into the studio’ [ones], and everyone arrives on the first day and you kinda get some sounds up and y’know, ‘Ok, what’s the first song gonna be?’. ‘Ah, well, I got this little riff.’ And, you know, it’s all very slow and mellow. Nite Flights was not in that category.”

Steve Parker remembers the sessions as being “well prepared; there wasn’t much rewriting in the studio. We would have spent the first week doing the basic tracks; drums and bass. And then strings and voices etc. [Musical arranger] Dave McRae would have a chord sheet prepared and we all would have worked from that.”

16938664_1099744003486250_6615130231452113299_n

Once again, the dynamic of the unlikely trio made a unique impression on the studio crew. Weinreich thought that, “Scott was nice looking but nothing special, kinda like the type of guy I went to school with. John looked like a real man, you know, kinda hunky. Gary … I certainly felt that of the three of them, the one who was in the strongest financial position was Scott. But he certainly wasn’t wealthy. John was living out of town, on a council estate, I think. Hard to tell with Gary. Gary was kind of, like Dennis Wilson had been in The Beach boys: he could play, as long as you didn’t dissect it, but he was no Hal Blaine.”

Scorpio soon became base camp Walker and although superficially all would assume the usual roles, this time round John and Gary would be much more involved. For the first time both Gary and John would submit their own material alongside Scott, who throughout the sessions sat beside Weinreich at the mixing desk, the sonic equivalent of an actor-director.

There was a buzz in the air as usual, but this time its accent was skewed, edgier. The Walkers had never worked together like this before. “I got the feeling that they all, Scott most of all, just wanted a total break from what had gone before,” noted Steve Parker. “They didn’t bring any demos. I mean you didn’t even have Portastudios back then. Scott would play us records he liked the sound of.”

While Scorpio Studios no doubt felt like a universe within itself during the six-week sessions, the record being made there would ultimately correlate with the prevailing musical trends of the day: punk and disco. And then, as RCA’s advertising slogan for the album “Heroes” went, there was old wave, there was new wave, and there was David Bowie. In an interview following the sessions, Scott would state that, “David Bowie, he’s a very smart guy. He comes up with the goods and makes sure of delivery right down the line. I thought, ‘Shit, if he can do it, so can I’.”

Parker affirms: “Bowie’s album ‘Heroes’ was the reference album while we were making Nite Flights. In fact, Scott himself bought me a copy when we started.” Parker also points out a major difference between the two albums. “[Nite Flights] wasn’t done in [the way] [Tony] Visconti, Bowie and Eno worked. We could have been more adventurous maybe. If we’d had an Eno character in there it would have been even more stunning I think.”

The man closest to the Eno role, Weinreich, explains that, “It’s not unusual in the studio to have a record that you refer to. You’re not ripping it off or plagiarising it, you’re using it as a reference point and Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ was like that. And Scott bought me a copy. Scott was like that. There was a classical music magazine called Gramophone and he bought everybody subscriptions to it. He had a thing about Gramophone. He insisted that you read it.”

Chris O’Leary’s peerless blog on the Walker/Bowie crossover.

Now that the core crew was established, it was time to draft in the players. Scott, working closely with pianist and arranger David McRae, chose to employ the cream of the session circuit. This would result in the appearance of some familiar faces and in some charming incongruities. “Mo Foster on bass, Peter van Hooke on drums; these guys were the top session men of their day,” states Parker. “But it meant that they did a lot of different things. For all I know, the day before they did [Nite Flight standout track] ‘The Electrician’ they would have been playing on ‘Disco Duck’ or ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’.”

Sixties stalwarts Big Jim Sullivan and Alan Parker were also involved. Sullivan was glad to get the call and noted that the Walkers set-up was much more bohemian than it had been when he’d first encountered them back in 1965. So much so that he was under the impression that the Walkers were paying for the sessions themselves. “I just got the sense that they were going to do whatever it was they wanted to do,” he says. “It was much more experimental than it had been back at Philips.”

Weinreich remembers everyone being open to new approaches and technology. “Big Jim had a Roland guitar synth, one of the first,” he grins. “It was kind of a weird thing, it looked like a Les Paul, kinda, and I remember it being delivered, taken out of the box. I’d never seen such a thing! Nobody really knew how to use it but we had a lot of fun messing around with it.”

Sullivan: “I remember I plugged the guitar into the amp and it was set up in such a way that it started feeding back and the lead was crackling. I went to fix it and they said, ‘No! Leave it like that, it sounds great’. I didn’t go mad with effects, as I can recall, maybe some phasing. When I played on ’em, there was not much else going on. No strings, not much at all. So, I just tried to use my imagination. There was only a guide vocal, bass, drums, and perhaps keyboards here and there … And I don’t think the drums and bass were the finished article either. It was a bit different to working with ’em in the 60s. They were a bit looser now. Some of the things they’d ask me to do, you know, ‘Improvise! Go crazy! Make something up …’.”

Extract from my interview with ‘Big Jim’.

For those musicians new to the Walkers, it was essentially just another gig. Mo Foster: “It would have just been one session among many. I would have done my parts in about five days, recording two or three songs a session. One did the job as quickly as possible but also as well as one could … There was no ‘dark atmosphere’ though, no. It was lights full on and staring at music stands.” Foster also raised an eyebrow at the unique Walker trio dynamic. “Scott was the one who knew anything … the other guys weren’t that … they didn’t really play. Gary seemed lost.”

Weinreich, a perceptive Walker collaborator, is quick to defend the hapless Leeds: “The boys only came to the UK because of Gary,” he points out. “There was an incredible loyalty between the three of them. They all knew that the sum of the parts was greater than the individuals. From outside you may question as to why Gary was even there. But without him there was a key ingredient missing. John has a great voice but lacks focus. Step in Gary. Scott also took something … vital from Gary.”

Parker noticed that, “It seemed that Gary and Scott were mates and John was a bit outside of that … he was more ‘regular’. Scott and Gary had more going on between them I think. I could see Scott and John as a kind of Righteous Brothers thing, but I couldn’t see where Gary fitted in to that, although the outthere-ness of this album seemed to me to fit Scott and Gary more than it did John. Saying that, Gary was the most unlikely pop star in the world.

“With his denim, jeans and hair, you could see John out on the cabaret circuit but I couldn’t see him touring on the back of this. I think this shows in his songs too. Scott was obviously into his foreign cinema and all that but you got the impression that John’s favourite actor was John Wayne.”

13432161_719507674859168_8578954838611264339_n

While the studio was Scott’s domain, he dominated without any untoward expression of ego. As a producer, he was less ‘hands on’ and more of a conceptualist, describing what he wanted to the engineers in sometimes slightly abstract terms. This was ably backed up by McRae’s sound musical training – a unique mix that filtered well through the self-contained climate of Scorpio.

“It was an intimate place with a family atmosphere,” says Parker. “No ego stuff at all, just a nice bunch of guys.” McRae, a veteran of various homegrown progressive rock and jazz-fusion groups, was the latest in a long line of foils for Engel. Throughout the recording process, Scott had always referred to an authorative presence outside of himself. This seemed to have started seriously at Stanhope Place in 1965. The lineage included Franz, Wally Stott, Reg Guest and, to a lesser extent, Del Newman. These individuals were visionaries in their own right but, while technically advanced compared to Scott, they were also unified in respecting his vision.

“McRae is probably not credited as luxuriously as he should have been,” considers Weinreich. “He was the interpreter of Scott’s musical vision into something that the musicians could cope with. McRae was the bandleader. He’d go to the piano and say, ‘Do you want this chord or that chord?’. He was a great interpreter. Scott knew music, no question, but he wasn’t schooled in music. His references were obscure and McRae would translate them … he was so important, I thought of him as the producer.”

Once Scott had the laid down the foundations of drums, bass and guitar, he would begin to layer and experiment on top, as a painter building from a wash. For someone considered such a ‘serious’, artist his methods were often playful. “Scott wanted us to go to a farm in Hayward’s Heath and set fire to a piano,” grins Weinreich. “He wanted to record the ‘ping!’ of the strings as they heated up and snapped. I wish we’d done it … .”

One extravagance was the recording of the Royal Albert Hall’s huge organ for the track “Fat Mama Kick”. The RAK mobile studio was hired and Weinreich, Parker, Engel and McRae booked the Hall for the day. McRae played some thundering chords which would be ‘flown in’ to the track back at Scorpio. GTO were hesitant at such expense at first but ultimately acquiesced. “Leahy was good on this project,” says Weinreich. “A lot of people would lose interest in this kind of project as it started to evolve but Leahy maintained interest all the way through.” Leahy: “I let them get on with it. My only reservation was that it was more of a Scott Walker album than a Walker Brothers album.”

True to form, as the actual songs slowly materialised, it was the Engel compositions that did so most vividly. As with the recording of No Regrets almost three years before, one track began to stand out amongst the others. “The Electrician” was a huge leap in Engel’s writing, drawing a luminous, gossamer thread between “Boy Child” and his brotherless future. With John’s voice haloing the least romantic vocal Scott had ever recorded, this was the closest The Walker Brothers would ever get to the 1980s.

Steve Parker ruminates: “It’s interesting that Midge Ure apparently wrote ‘Vienna’ after hearing this track. If we’d had the technology that was around in the 80s, ‘The Electrician’ would have sounded more like ‘Vienna’. I remember we recorded two versions.”

“There is another version that we recorded first,” confirms Weinreich. “It was identical really. What happened was that we had a metronome in the control room. And while McRae was conducting, Scott was varying the tempo for McRae’s headphones – the metronome was going right into his cans. And McRae was chasing it. But Scott wasn’t happy … So we’d completed it, vocals and all and Scott asked to do it again. So we were recording another bunch of songs and Scott says ‘let’s squeeze it in’. So we tried and it was better except … we lost the great drum sound we had on the first version. I was disappointed with that aspect. But overall, Scott had been right. The second version was better.” This was not an album with an unlimited budget by any means. GTO could not afford to have orchestras just hanging around. Scott had to seize his chance when the moment presented itself as Parker explains:

“These were the days when if you wanted strings you had to get in strings, you had no samples. The orchestra would be booked well in advance. And real strings always give a track a new dimension. And I think once we put the strings on ‘The Electrician’, then you kind of hear where Scott and McRae were coming from.”

Scott was probably working to a preconceived vision that everyone else would have to trust him on. As the recording progressed it became obvious that not only did Scott know what he was doing but that he had chosen the right personnel to help him realise that vision. “The guitar solo on ‘The Electrician’ is just scrumptious,” says Weinreich. “Big Jim [Sullivan] had ‘been there, done that’, but he still performed with energy and passion. Everybody did. Most of the time with session players, you’d struggle to extract a performance out of it. They could play it but could they perform it? The band who played on Nite Flights had passion.”

Of the ten compositions, four each came from John and Scott and the remaining two from Gary. Individual contributions to each track were less democratic, with John adding harmony to all of Scott’s vocals but singing half of his own songs solo. Scott would be present throughout the entire album, adding additional bass, textural keyboards, and uncredited backing vocals to “Den Haague”. The session musicians, reading from lead sheets and chord charts, were not made aware of who wrote what and the basic tracks of the songs were recorded back to back under unified circumstances. When the time came to record vocals, each singer would complete the lead on their own compositions in batches.

By working apart conceptually – there was still no co-writing going on – even Scott’s definitive production could not impose a unified sound. The result would be more akin to a compilation album. “It wasn’t a conscious decision to be three separate people on one album,” allowed Scott. “John’s on all my tracks but I’m not on his. That’s just the way he heard it.”

Gary adds: “This was three people writing in separate rooms and bringing together this bizarre thing that really worked. I don’t know how that worked ’cause none of us knew what the other was writing, what the sound would be or what the thread was and it turned out that the three different colours made it more weird than it was.”

Nite Flights would be the first (and last) album to feature a serious contribution from Gary. His vocals were recorded first. True to his ‘wacky’ reputation, Leeds did not record vocals like anybody else. “Gary had a nasal problem,” chuckles Parker. “And we got round that by laying him on his back to do his vocals. Gary was very hunched and one of the things we tried was laying him down flat. It opens up the tubes. Helps his breathing.”

Weinreich: “Oh yeah, Gary would have enjoyed being strapped down! We had a big grand piano in the studio and we made him lay down on the piano and put sand bags on his shoulders. And that’s how he sang it.” A supportive Scott ably coached Gary and the results match those of the previous Engel/Leeds collaboration on “You Don’t Love Me”, all those years ago.

Next into the booth was John. Although the studio lights would be dimmed as a matter of course during vocal sessions, John still had to move within the deeper darkness of Scott’s shadow. Weinreich was sympathetic: “I felt sorry for John because by default he was bound to be compared to Scott … he had high values, he was a decent guy and I liked him. But he had this monkey on his back called The Walker Brothers. But he had a great voice … although John wasn’t a ‘one-taker’ at all. Not like Scott. But he was not far from it. John would ‘produce’ Scott’s vocals and vice versa. There was a trust. Scott needed someone in the control room to tell him if something wasn’t right, if there was a pitch issue … and the only person who had that was John. No one else could say that to Scott. I mean Scott is one of the greatest vocalists of all time! So, who can tell him to do that verse again because it wasn’t good enough? John. And it worked vice versa.”

When the time came for Scott to lay down his vocals (which were usually done last), he tried, as ever, to move fast. It was less about performing and more about attempting to capture something; a mood, a fragment of a moment. He would occasionally sing while hearing sound effects on his voice, but any such technicalities would have to be set up and ready to go. “Scott had no time for that shit,” exclaims Weinreich. “But … he was an incredible vocalist.” Scott sang in relative seclusion, with only Weinreich and Maus in attendance. Parker and anyone incidental were, as usual, prohibited from the studio while he utilised the most powerful and sensitive instrument at his disposal.

13312617_710541839089085_4808931224281230633_n

By the end of February, the album was complete and the mission accomplished. This was no follow-up to No Regrets or Lines … or anything else for that matter. The Walkers’ swansong is the most unique and daring album they ever recorded. It’s the sound of psyches crashing after the MOR indulgences of No Regrets and the aptly titled Lines. At its best, Nite Flights (working title: Death Of Romance) sounds like a comedown. Scott’s tracks in particular evoke the claustrophobic worldview that the worst drug and alcohol hangovers inflict. “I took drugs, but it was mostly cocaine in the 70s,” Scott would recall in the mid-90s. “It was mainly drinking that was the issue.” By his own admission, Gary states that he “Never really liked drugs. I like whiskey.” As for John: “In my bad days I was doing everything to excess, so if I’d gotten into drugs at all, it’s doubtful I’d have lived to tell the tale.”

Thus Nite Flights, their most narcotic-sounding album, was conceived and recorded, relatively clear-headed. “The sessions were 100 per cent drug free, as far as the band was concerned. Which was pretty odd for me at that time,” laughs Weinreich. “The focus was on health and well-being. Gary was not as committed to the healthy outlook as Scott. And John was not as committed as Scott. There was a bit of wine as I recall but it was no drinking session, either.”

Similarly, Parker remembers that, “They seemed to be clean-living boys, in the studio at least. Scott certainly didn’t smoke – I’ve no idea why he is in the cover photos of the album. John liked his brandy.”

Despite the influence of “Heroes”, Engel and Weinreich would only touch superficially on the innovative working methods employed by Bowie, Eno and Visconti on that album. No songs were improvised in the studio and little was left to random, certainly as far as composition went. Engel was still essentially old school and preferred to work quickly, using for the most part whatever tools were readily available. Scorpio, while new, was not specially equipped and the unique and progressive sound of Nite Flights was mostly down to the Walkers’ attitude and Weinreich’s imagination and technical know-how.

Nite Flights begins with the four Engel tracks. On “Shutout”, death goes to the disco. Scott’s lyrics are both vivid and impregnable: “There were faces bobbing in the heat / For some rising / From her zone / Moving / Hitting / Holding on … .” Driven by a crisp disco groove (Van Hook’s hi-hat work is particularly excellent), the effect is taut, powerful and punchy. The nightmare lyrics and ragged guitar work add a vague sensation of vertigo. John’s harmony work is perfect, hovering mosquito-like above Engel’s lead.

shutout

Another nightmare scenario, “Fat Mama Kick” makes the serious business of the opening track sound more like The Village People. The arrangement verges on the unmusical: Scott and John shriek above slabs of sound. Steve Parker: “That murky ‘wash’ sound is the piano chords left to ring and slowed down. The only effects we had really were delay and a harmoniser.”

Fat Mama Kick

“Nite Flights” is a perfect symbiosis of the album’s first two songs. It grooves more smoothly than “Shutout” whilst retaining the eerie undertow of “Fat Mama Kick”. It still sounds fresh and modern today, signifying some future that never was. John’s voices are as ever impeccable and Scott reports that the song was written with “[John] in mind [singing] above me all the time.”

Nite Flights

Dennis Weinreich: “Scott came up with basslines, musically he came up with everything. The blending of his and John’s voices was magnificent. You know, when you double-track somebody, you record a voice and then you say, ‘Ok, we’ll put the other voice over now’ and it’s always loose and you have to say things like, ‘Don’t say any S’s, only say the S’s on the first track’, because otherwise you just get a big ‘schh’, you know, it’s all funny-sounding, the overlap and all. But you never had to say that with John. If he was putting a harmony to Scott or the other way round, you never had to do that. They had something really quite special in that they knew how each other sang.”

“The Electrician”, according to Scott, is “about the Americans sending in these people who train torturers in South America,” and “I imagine these lovers in a conversation.” The lyrics are among the most explicit of Scott’s on the album. This piece is an epic in itself, starting off sounding like a painting of Hiroshima, before blooming into something akin to Rodrigo’s “Concierto De Aranjuez”. It was written by Scott, “In a flat in Fulham [sic], above a very noisy restaurant, late at night. No one could hear me so I could work.” Dennis Weinreich: “Don’t you love the castanets on it? We were trying to get that South American vibe.”

The Electrician

Gary’s ambiguous but sinister lyrics on “Death Of Romance” are a revelation; he clearly has a natural gift for the poetic and sounds surprisingly natural singing them, except on the chorus. For a drummer his timing is particularly awkward, however. Steve Parker: “The phrasing on the chorus does sound uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s meant to be … more that he couldn’t really sing.” Dennis Weinreich: “Gary was either writing from his experiences or from his fantasies. Either is possible. When Gary wandered off on his adventures, I didn’t go with him. So I don’t know.” An unreleased outtake features a three-part harmony vocal by Gary.

The Death of Romance

Leeds explained that his “Den Haague” is “about the seediness of Amsterdam. I tried to make a comedy of it.” It’s among the strongest tracks on the album, slithering along at exactly the right tempo, suggesting seediness, shame and self-reproach. It was apparently born of true-life experience. Steve Parker: “I remember Gary saying at the time that he was sitting in this brothel [probably run by the notorious Madame Xavier Holland] and someone actually did come in and ‘hang their coat over a statue of Christ’.”

Den Haague

The arrangement is pure Scott, static strings, treated piano, and even some backing vocals by Engel himself. The Bowie/Eno influence is plain in the harmonised snare and the pitch-shifted tubular bell. The slightly flanged bass sound is actually two basses. Scott played along with Mo Foster’s line. Foster wasn’t impressed by Scott’s bass chops: “He was more of a bass owner than a bass player,” says Mo. Gary: ‘We always wanted to do something a bit funnier, that’s why we did the ‘Den Haague’ thing. That was why we had that radical change into Nite Flights from the romantic stuff.”

Of John’s four contributions to the album, “Rhythms Of Vision” features a down and dirty, bass-heavy groove, over which Maus rasps: “She knows the hard well / And making it twitch / Just waiting to open / Her sacred stitch … / You’ve lost to the bitch.”

Rhythms of Vision

Dennis Weinreich: “Regarding the lyrics: yes, there were discussions that went, ‘just what the fuck is this about?’. I think they were looking to create images with the lyrics, not necessarily narrative. Scott is very naturally narrative so his songs do have that quality. John’s lyrics were more obscure and I recall on a number of occasions Scott turning to me while John’s vocals were going down with that ‘What the fuck!?’ look on his face. There was quite a bit of re-writing during the sessions. Scott particularly had visual links he wanted to make. John, I felt, was looking to try and shock.”

13407117_719507241525878_1739923762429680097_n

“Disciples Of Death” is a neutered, polyester-clad Satan, boogieing at Stringfellow’s … “I sing to the opening eye / Only fools live to die”. “Fury And The Fire” is more sadomasochistic MOR, with a faintly embarrassed Scott singing along gamely, almost inaudibly in the final mix, while Big Jim Sullivan et al provide moving, sterling performances.

Disciples of death.

The grand production on John’s “Child Of Flames” cannot disguise the vacuum at the heart of this song. At its best, it sounds like an outtake from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (and it’s a delight to imagine the bouffant John hand clapping along to a flamboyantly choreographed dance routine). To be fair, it suffers most its close proximity to Scott and even Gary’s compositions.

Child of flames

Dennis Weinreich: “My personal opinion: the lyrics were mostly contrived. Intended to cash in on some kind of punk/rock/glam ‘You can say fuck on ITV if you want to’ way. The four songs John wrote are not bad songs, but he was trying to do something, create some shock. They weren’t about anything. He was not comfortable in his own skin. A well brought-up, solid human being but you got the impression that all this wonderful stuff had happened to him and he wasn’t in control of it. He was looking for some control and I got the impression that this album gave him that. Y’know, ‘these are your four songs – go do what you want’. And Scott and Dave McRae helped him.”

By the summer of 1978, GTO was in a state of irreversible flux and about to be sold to CBS. As such, while Leahy had allowed the final indulgence of Nite Flights the general feeling at the GTO office was that Scott should have used the opportunity to record solo. Expectations for this record were the lowest of all three reunion LPs and such a pressure-free environment undoubtedly allowed the album to become what it was, a quixotic, three-headed mutant, the truest Walker Brother album ever recorded. But, whatever its pedigree, Nite Flights was still bona fide music-business product and GTO would process it as such.

 

Weinreich remembers the unveiling. “We had a playback for the album and everybody from GTO came down and it was really strange because it was like everyone was paying lip service. And no one was really listening to the record. It was more a social occasion. And we put the record on and that first side … it’s a funny side ’cause the first song is a good song but it doesn’t really do much. It doesn’t draw the listener in. And I had this horrible feeling that we lost them all. And after that everyone was completely blown away … until Gary’s song. And when ‘Death Of Romance’ came on, everyone was staring at each other thinking, ‘What the fuck is this all about?’.”

Gary: “Rod [Temperton, from GTO stablemates] Heatwave said that my two tracks on Nite Flights, were the best thing he’d ever heard. I liked him.” GTO pressman, Mike Peyton was politely understated in his response. “I remember hearing it and thinking that we were going to have trouble getting airplay.”

The album was released in the mid-summer of 1978. Although totally ignored by television and radio, the weekly music papers, by now staffed by those mostly too young to have properly experienced the Walkers first time round, were unusually perceptive and enthusiastic. Those that bothered to listen were duly intrigued and one can only speculate as to what may have happened if Nite Flights had been their first GTO release. The reviews, whilst refreshingly positive also matched the feeling of those at GTO, who felt that the album was not so much an LP by The Walker Brothers but more a Scott Walker EP with six B-sides. They weren’t far wrong. Nite Flights was less the death of The Walker Brothers and more the reincarnation of Scott Engel.

Weinreich: “It was a fun album to make. There were no jerks in it, the record company left us alone, Scott was great, John was great, Gary was … great. Musicians were great.”

Apart from the alternative vocal version of “Den Haague” and the alternative version of “The Electrician”, already mentioned, there were a couple of songs recorded during the sessions which never made it to the final release. Mistitled due to an admin error (the title actually belonging to a quite different, reggae song), “The Ballad Of Ty And Jerome” is one of the best things Maus ever wrote. Finally released on the If You Could Hear Me Now CD compilation in 1998, Maus also re-recorded it as “The Ballad” in 2005. Although of a higher standard than anything else by Maus on Nite Flights, this smooth AOR ballad would not have sat comfortably on the finished record.

The Ballad…

Scott’s futuristic, ARP-heavy instrumental “Tokyo Rimshot” owes more to Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds than anything from “Heroes”. It too was finally released, as an instrumental, on If You Could Hear Me Now, although a vocal version was apparently recorded.

Tokyo Rimshot

The Nite Flights cover, an abstract gatefold designed by the trendy Hipgnosis, attempted to depict all three reborn. Hair lightly permed and darkened, sucking earnestly on full filter cigarettes, the trio stare meaningfully into the bleak blankness of tomorrow. Maus, borrowing the jacket Bowie wore on the cover of “Heroes”, draws on his Camel Light whilst leaning against some corrugated iron, a man with no particular place to go. Scott’s facial expression veers between psychotically-wounded horror and that of a distracted model in a Marlboro advert. Gary looks like an existential icon; or at the very least like a sexed-up, world chess champion. Appearing like a set of stills from a Beckett-scripted version of Starsky And Hutch, the cover once again fails the record.

Covers

GTO had the balls to release a single, “The Electrician”/“Den Haague”, that July, but it and the album itself would go nowhere commercially. Walkers fans of old just didn’t know what to make of it.

It didn’t even make release in the US. Gary: “If it wasn’t country, blues, rock’n’roll … [America] had to have a category. And of course, there was no category for this. They didn’t know where to put something that was this extreme.”

Long-time fan Margaret Waterhouse dutifully bought it but would rarely play it: “My first reaction on eyeing up the cover as the sales assistant was wrapping it was, ‘Oh my lord – have they lost the plot?’. These were not the same guys as on the two previous albums, which I had actually liked a lot. I really didn’t care for it on first hearing. I was disappointed because they had changed style from a soft, well-rounded image to an altogether sharper, jagged edge. I felt this was not for the better.”

Unlike No Regrets and Lines, the LP would become a sleeper, gaining a reputation of quality and influence in the coming years, way beyond the miniscule sales it reaped that year. The cooler press ‘got’ it. “Hip or otherwise, this is frontline 1978 rock and roll,” the NME declared. “Engel has always had similar interests to David Bowie, his European consciousness and Jacques Brel fixation predated Bowie’s by several years. If there’s any influence at play here, it is latter-day Bowie/Iggy Pop.”

Melody Maker: “Nite Flights makes Bowie’s Low sound ‘high’.”

Although there was no fast return investment, almost everyone involved in the record would ultimately be rewarded. “I got a lot of work from being involved with ‘The Electrician’. It’s a lot of people’s favourite piece of music,” says Weinreich. “As the 1970s turned into the 80s, I got calls from people saying, ‘I want you to work on this record I’m doing. Because you did “The Electrician”, right?’.”

11800116_512399122242349_8644792590284256107_n

Steve Parker would go onto work with some of the biggest names in the business but remains unconvinced by one of the most special entries in his resumé. “It’s strange that it’s seen as such a seminal album when the way it’s been done is a very traditional way to make an album. You would have thought Scott would have gone for an Eno-type character or a load of new musicians. Dennis was not a particularly ‘off the wall’ producer but he then was the most ‘off the wall’ guy they had probably worked with.”

Weinreich is philosophical. “The fact that Nite Flights didn’t do so well commercially at the time … well, there was a set of goals at the time of making the record that were either stated or implied. Whatever they were, there was a kind of honesty about the music you were gonna make. Only later did I add to the stated goals’ ‘commercial success’. It had nothing to do with the quality of the music.

“If we conveyed energy to you as a listener, 20, 30 years after the fact, then we succeeded in doing what we set out to do. We wanted to impact on an emotional level to the listener. This was the stated aim. We wanted to convey an emotion from the studio to the listener in their living room. Whether that was a good emotion, bad emotion, real, whatever. We wanted to impact. And there are moments on that record that do that.

“I don’t think it should have been a commercial success. I don’t think it was good enough to embrace a mainstream audience. I think it was slightly out of time. It was kind of … it was mature while trying to be young, youthful and dangerous. And it wasn’t … I recall a conversation with Dave McRae during the making of the album. I said, ‘I’d like to have an image of the guy whose gonna buy this record. I wanna know. Does he live in Essex, drive a Ford Escort, and have a banner across his windscreen that says “Brian and Shelly”? Or is he a guy in a blue suit with white collar and cuffs? I wanna know whose gonna buy this album because I’ve lost focus’.

“And Dave turned to me and said, ‘I have no idea, but it doesn’t make a difference.’ I said, ‘Well, it kind of does, because I want to make sure that what we’re doing satisfies that goal’. And I was completely dismissed. But I didn’t know who was gonna connect with [this] Walker Brothers record. And nor did they. It was their last go.”

Sadly, neither John nor Gary could seem to capitalise on what was, in effect, their debut Walker Brothers album. “It would have been fine if it made us some money,” bemoaned Gary. “The money would have given us that thing to be able to go a bit further … and do other things … it would have been good for the industry too. [But] it was a good stretch because it started Scott on the direction that he wanted, in a sense.”

John also felt an unfinished future: “We kind of went out leftfield and I think it was the beginning of something that could have happened – but it didn’t continue. The record company decided to sell itself to somebody else. All kinds of strange things were going on and none of it was conducive to actually doing anything beyond that point.”

One-time fan club president Chrissie McCall thinks that “Gary never got over losing it. He really enjoyed it all. It was his dream.”

For Scott, The Walker Brothers was all but over. Although as a unit they still had some unfinished business together, on stage, in effect, the dream was dead. Nite Flights was their flawed and warped swansong. In this respect, it suited the nature of The Walker Brothers aptly. And it was round about now that Scott Walker began to disappear.

13417498_719507334859202_1597861036783623158_n

Steve Parker: “I used to see Scott in Chiswick a lot after the album. We lived in the same area. I’d see him queuing in the bank with his hat on, or driving up and down Chiswick High Street in that orange Volkswagen Beetle. The last time I saw him was on a bench in the park. He’d just bought a gatefold LP and was sat there looking at it.”

Weinreich: “I saw him twice in the immediate aftermath. I have an image of the very last time I saw him. It was at the end of Parkway in Camden opposite a pub that’s been closed down now for years, opposite where Regent’s Park begins. He was in his car sitting at the traffic lights and as I drove past I honked my horn and he rolled down the window of his car and said, ‘I’m gonna call you and we’ll go for dinner’. I went, ‘Great, Scott’. And I haven’t seen him since.”

John: “It was kind of weird, we just drifted apart. We were kind of floundering around and didn’t know what we were going to do. It seemed like we just drifted apart. It was really odd. Nobody said anything … nobody actually said, ‘Oh well, let’s do something else, this isn’t working out’. We just kind of said, ‘Ok, let’s get together and we’ll find out what’s going on, yeah? Ok’. And then about three or four months after that I went back to America and I didn’t hear anything from Scott and Gary for a while. It just dissolved.”

Finally, abruptly, The Walker Brothers story had reached its conclusion.

John: “It was a real strange thing. I still don’t know what happened. We just … disappeared.”

 

From “The impossible dream : The Story of Scott Walker and The Walker brothers’, published by Jawbone press, 2009.

You can buy the book here – The Impossible dream…

Or here – U.S. Edition

Jawbone Books.

 

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE OF : ‘JAPAN : A FOREIGN PLACE’. A Biography of Japan, 1974-1984.

Excerpt from Chapter One : ‘Back in the beginning’.

Author’s note :  ‘Despite having a dislike of the ‘Origins’ sections of books, both as a reader and writer I eventually got into this chapter.  The grim atmosphere of Catford in the early 70’s reminded me of my own experiences growing up in Splott and Tremorfa in Cardiff during the 70’s and ’80’s – Bereft of culture and heavy with fear.  More than that, I was lucky enough to track down both a friend (Nick Huckle) and a Catford Boys teacher (William Newton-Norton) of Mick, David et al who were there at the time. Invaluable!  (You’ll have to get the book for William’s recollections). This segment begins at just over halfway in to this first chapter and ends at about three quarters through and deals with the brief period in which Japan were a trio, prior to the addition of Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean. (The Chapter title, is of course, a Mick Karn song from his fine album Bestial Cluster.’)

Japan_Catford_1974_Detail_2-1

Photo : Andonis Michaelides, unknown photographer and David Alan Batt, taken in Andonis’ brothers bedroom 1974.  David wears a badge bearing the logo of the Soul magazine, ‘Black Music’.

Catford, South East London, 1973/1974.

If the peerless glam pop of this era – made by working-class London boys just like themselves – provided a view on to a whole new vista, then maybe playing music seriously would provide an entry into that world. ‘It was the only open door on the horizon,’ says David, ‘I knew that I had to get out of that environment and that creating music was my only means of escape. Which is no good reason for making music. There aren’t that many noble ideas in a young boy’s mind, but at that time it didn’t matter.’ Looking the part would also help. ‘I remember when we were like 13 or 14,’ says David, ‘and Mick and I were getting our ears pierced at that time, and oh! the grief we got for it, you know, from everyone! The traditional, usual places, building sites and what have you.’ Changing their appearance was an important step towards self-sufficiency for David, and Mick in particular. ‘I would say there was a survivalist element to a lot of it,’ says David of the gradual manipulation of his appearance. ‘It was like putting on a spacesuit to walk on the moon. If you didn’t have it, you wouldn’t survive. That’s the only way it made sense to me.’

Around this time Stephen gave up his instrument of first choice –  the guitar: ‘Being left-handed I couldn’t keep up with the learning curve of chord shapes – everything upside down, with certain chord changes tough to implement because of having to use the wrong fingers – so unless I restrung the guitar it was too tricky.’ Steve ‘Playing’ guitar, 1987. ‘I then started to play an electronic organ for a while but it was too drab and limited the energy we were feeling and expressing. So I then got a set of bongos which were much more akin to the Bolan/Finn set-up, and things progressed from there.’

Bolan and Finn.

‘Steve was a pretty atypical younger brother,’ says Huckle. ‘He was in the same class as my brother who was two years younger than me. And my brother then was an embarrassment to me, but Dave and Steve hung out together.’ There was a moment when Huckle himself could have joined the trio, but he had already realised that while he loved music he wasn’t particularly musical. ‘Mick, of course, was learning the bassoon then,’ he remembers, ‘and I did try and join in musically. I took guitar lessons from an old granny down the road but I wasn’t very good – I didn’t have any talent! Unlike the other Catford boys, we weren’t into playing football at lunchtime . . . we used to go down to Dave’s house and listen to records. Either that, or hang out in a corner just talking music. It was literally just music, music, music.’ Mick, the most musically talented of all, struggled to find a place within Stephen and David’s musical activities. ‘I tried numerous ways to join David and Steve,’ he’d recall, ‘like taking up the Rosedale organ Dad had bought me a few years back, but it meant getting to know what chords are and all those black and white keys are terribly testing. I gave up on that and tried vocals next. David didn’t want to sing, so it would be easy once I’d learnt the words.’

With little money between them, finding their musical feet was an effort, mostly enabled by the kind of good luck that blesses the young. In a school corridor Mick had bought a battered bass guitar seemingly on a whim from Jack Stafford. In a seemingly random moment, Mick had found his calling. ‘It didn’t feel right until I got a bass,’ he’d say. At this point Mick was still concentrating on being a singer. Still, he reasoned that it wasn’t unheard of that a bass player could also be a vocalist. Although still nameless, Japan had begun. ‘In 1973, we formed the band and began to practise,’ confirms Steve. A few years later David would sum up their almost nonchalant formation: ‘We got together right, and I could only play a little bit of rhythm guitar right, and Steve could play a few percussion instruments. We said, “Mick, why don’t you try bass?” and that’s how it came about. None of us has been taught, none of us knows a technique. We only know exactly what we do now. That’s why we’ll be progressing for a long time.’ Now that Mick had an actual electric instrument, things were looking up. But this also posed a stumbling block. ‘I had no amplifier,’ says Mick, ‘so at the Batt household on Saturday evenings we used their hi-fi system, which enabled me to be just about heard against the acoustic guitar.’

thumbnail_15400523_1796481123898877_4933786611579247467_n

Photo: Steve with first drum kit. A rare occasion in a rehearsal room, 1974.

Right on cue, Steve got his first drum kit. At 13 he acquired it for £30 (the equivalent of over £200 in 2015). ‘I was very pleased when I got them; they were delivered at night and I sat in front of them smiling until morning,’ Steve says. The gift was from his parents, the wisdom of which they would question. ‘My parents were kind enough to buy it for me; it didn’t seem like such a lot at the time,’ remembers the drummer. ‘My mum saw it advertised on the noticeboard where she worked. She could have easily kept quiet about it, bless her. I can only wonder how many days they spent regretting that decision when we turned electric in the upstairs bedroom. I remember constantly being asked to go light on the floor tom.’ Thus another problem hovered into view. ‘At first we had a difficult time finding places to rehearse,’ continues Steve, ‘so for the first six months we played in our house and for the next six months in Mick’s house. We played for two hours every day. It was very noisy and my sister got angry, especially with the sound of the drums. After that, we practised on the third floor of Mick’s father’s butcher’s shop. Huckle: ‘The Batt parents were good people. They didn’t have any money but they didn’t put up any barriers between Dave and his musical ambition. One of my favourite memories is when I went round their house to listen to music in the evenings and you’d always get beans on toast.’ Thus the legendary rhythm section of Jansen and Karn was born. It was pivotal that they began playing seriously at the same time. Mick: ‘A lot of it [the rhythm section’s unique chemistry] has to do with the fact that Steve Jansen got his drum kit at exactly the same time as I got my first bass guitar, which was a very cheap and nasty instrument. It only cost me £5 at school and the action [distance between strings and fretboard] was very high, which meant I had to use a lot of strength to press down the notes. Because we were learning our instruments at the same time, we were both constantly pushing each other forward, constantly showing off to each other going “I can do this, what can you do?” and trying to keep up with each other. We’d also insist the other person progressed all the time.’

2Japan_Catford_1974-1

Photo : Stephen Batt, Andonis Michaelides and David Batt rehearsing for the wedding gig. As evidenced by Steve’s bass drum they had now decided on the name. Photos again taken in Andonis’ brother’s bedroom. 1974. Note Bowie Pic on Fireplace and the steering wheel of MGC car owned by Andonis’ brother, most likely placed on door frame to avoid theft. (He still drives the car today). Nick Huckle : ‘Yeah I’m almost certain that’s Mick’s room. The door behind Steve is a cupboard, and whoever is taking the photo is sitting/standing on Mick’s bed. Unlike Dave’s or Steve’s rooms there are no posters on the wall. Micks parents wouldn’t allow the aesthetic of the flock wallpaper to be ruined by such things.’

In the spring of 1974, having given up on academia, David and Mick took to walking the streets of Lewisham when they played truant, dreaming out loud to one another. They would have looked an incongruous pair: the exotic looking Mick, still slightly overweight, brown eyes and skin gleaming beside the rail-thin, paper-white David. They often attracted aggressive unwanted attention and, even without make-up, were already labelled ‘weirdos’ and ‘poofs’. On one such wander, abetted by a recent photo of Bowie, they found a hairdresser who would give them a lookalike haircut. The crude mullets they now sported would have further alienated them from both skinheads and bus drivers alike.

guitpose

Pic : Japan in the Catford Gazette, summer 1974.

In late May 1974, Mick’s older brother offered them a spot at his wedding with only weeks to prepare. The trio were still rehearsing half an hour before the gig when the hired PA arrived. Barbieri was not involved at this point: Mick: ‘June 1st was Japan’s first ever concert. It must have sounded dreadful, but up to that point we had been writing music based around songs that David had written. We were only 14 [Mick was actually 15, David 16 and Steve 14] and I was the vocalist but it was only moments before the curtain went up that I froze and said, “David, I can’t do this – you should do it as they’re your songs and you know the vocals off by heart.” I was so nervous, I couldn’t even remember half of the lyrics. He reluctantly became the vocalist there and then.’

3e71b8af73ec9f4ea0b5b598dc692617

Photo :  David Batt in Bedroom, 1974. Taken from Mick Karn’s autobiography. You can buy it here – Mick’s book.

Such was the panic in preparing for their debut ‘concert’ that the trio had forgotten to call themselves anything. When asked who they wanted to be introduced as, a hurried discussion followed. David’s suggestion, apparently plucked from the ether, was agreed upon. Thus the trio were instantly christened ‘Japan.’ Mick recalls that they performed covers of songs by Bowie (‘The Jean Genie’ was the opener), The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, as well as original material with some pieces as long as twenty minutes. Other songs included ‘The Man Who Sold The World,’ ‘Queen Bitch,’ ‘I’m So Free,’ ‘Sweet Jane’, and a Batt original ‘Tongues of China.’ The trio played heads down until the wedding guests wandered off to the buffet. And then they played some more. ‘How I wish somebody had recorded the event,’ Mick would say, ‘it must have been awful.’ (In fact an ad for a reel-to-reel recording of the gig did surface in the mid 1990s). The name ‘Japan’ would be dropped and taken up again over the coming months. It held no particular meaning for any of its members. David: ‘The name? No reason whatsoever. We just needed a name because we were about to do our first show and I came up with the name. I didn’t know anything about the East – it was a temporary name because no one particularly liked it and it stayed; you just get attached to things and think “why bother changing it?” so it stayed.’ Mick: ‘It came from a fascination with the country itself. We planned to use the name only once.’ Steve: ‘The name was chosen out of innocence, we had no knowledge of Japan at all. It may have come from a lyric or something. I often think that the influence might have all come from one of Bowie’s lyrics, maybe even “Ziggy Stardust” [‘Like some cat from Japan’]. This was about 1974, and so we named ourselves Japan. In those days we listened to Bowie and Roxy Music and things like that, and I think that might have triggered some imagery – I think Bowie had some costumes and things like that and it all just filtered through, but our actual knowledge of it [the country] was very little.’

Another influence on the name?

Taken from ‘Japan. A Foreign Place. 1974-1984’. Published by Burning Shed Ltd.

You can buy the softcover version here – Japan biography

And here – Japan Biography/Ebay

There’s also a typically gorgeous Japanese version featuring expanded content and additional photos. Buy it here – A Foreign Place. (Japanese version).

ME AND IAN McCULLOCH

Ahh…I’m fairly fucked on a Sunday afternoon. Outside it’s September 2012. My Albanian Chum stopped by at 3pm and I’ve been swallowing Vodka and cranberry since an hour before that at least.
4175d676f055208bf377ec157260bfd8

I’ve got a gig tonight but it’s not my own, thankfully…

I always loved the odd Echo and the Bunnymen song but the only albums I really got into were ‘Ocean Rain’ and ‘Live in Concert‘. And, uh… ‘The Best of Echo and the Bunnymen’. I also had an aural hard on for ‘Candleland‘ and ‘Mysterio‘ back in the day. I’ve revisited the former lately and it’s aged well, probably because it was so out of time when it was released.

It’s a lifetime later that same September Sunday and I’m being escorted to the dressing room of the Globe theatre in Cardiff to meet Ian McCulloch.

I think the chap with me is a lovely, mellow fellow called Jon Mouse. I think he’s arranged the gig. By now I’m not sure of much.
Mouse and I are talking as we walk : Me : ‘I think I’m gonna talk to him about the dereliction of beauty that comes with age’. Mouse : ‘I wouldn’t if I were you’. Me : ‘How was the soundcheck’? Mouse : “I was surprised at how, um, fat he is. But it was interesting. At one point Ian was drinking a glass of red wine at the sound-check and when it finished (The glass not the sound-check) Ian just looked over to his Tour manager without saying anything and he ran over and topped it up.”

Maybe the sound-check was better than the gig. I’ve loved a lot of what McCulloch has done over the years. There’s a Shakespearean quality to his best work, whatever that means. He rocks that uniquely English thing of self-sabotage. Then there’s his voice. He has one and also knows how to sing. The two don’t always go hand in hand. The occasional immortal lyric…That stance of not trying to hard, in fact of fucking it all up but succeeding anyway. As a young ingénue many folk commented we looked alike. With the arrogance of youth I always thought I was better looking…But the gig. The gig was full of ugliness. Crowd baiting, heckling. McCulloch barely finished a song and seemed to enjoy talking more than singing. At one point I tell a loutish, loud bloke in front of me to ‘Let the man sing’ and am faced up by him in full fury until his girlfriend tells him ; “Anthony, calm the fuck down”. Anthony Versus Anthony. Weird. The bloke from the Lightning Seeds is accompanying McCulloch to no great effect. There are moments of beauty but mostly it’s just a heaving, broiling football hooligan vibe.

 

poster_2012-09-23_ian-mcculloch--echo---the-bunnymen--acoustic

Anyhoo, I’m still en-route to Ian’s dressing room. Heart beating like a fucked clock. Head full of feedback and foggy stars. I am the man in the moon. The man IS the moon. I’ve no idea how we came to be walking up these old cinema stairs – how me and Mouse met- or even how I got into the venue but I know I was on the list. “I wanna talk to Ian about the deterioration of beauty” I tell Mouse again tediously, my hand white gripping the Bannister. “Honestly, I don’t think that’s appropriate”  he replies kindly. Talking of the decay of beauty I’m not looking good right now. Apart from the gurning I’ve just had a skinhead. I make a mental note not to have any photos taken. Something I sometimes regret now.

I enter the tiny dressing room. Ian is sat calmly with a woman. I’m introduced by Mouse. Before sitting down I help myself to some of Ian’s Courvoisier. He takes this graciously. “What’s your favourite Sinatra B-Side, Ian”? I ask somewhat cryptically. Before he can answer I launch into an acapella version of ‘Forget to remember”. Ian laughs, turning to his companion. “Who the fuck is this guy”? I sit down. “I actually preferred Frank when he was a bit heavier, Y’know” says Ian.  This concludes our Sinatra talk but at least I don’t mention growing old et al

Up close he’s surprisingly attractive. Doesn’t seem fat. The overall impression will be that he’s mellow and kind. Not what I expected.

Around now we are joined by my new best friend, a chap called Degsy who I met in the toilets half an hour ago. Degsy sings in an Oasis tribute band but despite this he’s sound. He’s accompanied by his beautiful wife. With six people the dressing room is full to bursting. Degsy engages Ian full on. Despite my intoxication I’m basically shy. I rack up a few lines for us. Ian is cool about it. We share and imbibe.

Me : “What’s the best gear you’ve ever done”? Ian : “Oh. Straight off the boat in Liverpool.”
Me : “Shall I get some more? We can go back to mine and talk about Hunky Dory for eight hours”.
Ian : “Uh…maybe…will your guy take long”?
Before I can answer, Ian’s female companion buts in : “No! Ian. We have got to get up early in the morning. You need an early night.”
There’s a beat of silence.
Me : “You got any Gitanes”?
Ian : “Ha ha..no. Just Marlboro. Here you go. But I don’t think you can smoke in here…”
Me (Lighting up). “It’s OK. I’m running this place now.”
Ian chuckles and lights up himself. “If you say so. “You got any Gitanes” he mimics in his attempt at a Cardiff accent, chuckling some more.

I spend the rest of our time talking to Degsy’s girlfriend about David Sylvian while Degsy corners Ian.
At one point Ian playfully says to Degsy “I think this bloke is trying to pick up your bird”.
I look directly at Ian. “I’m Gay Ian. In every way. Except sexually.”
More chuckles.

There was something I meant to ask him but it’s gone now. Forget to remember indeed.

Too much courvoisier later but all too soon we are on the stairs again. Walking down them this time. Mouse mentions to Ian that I’ve written a book on Leonard Cohen. “Oh! Why didn’t you say!” he exclaims properly piqued. In fact I meant to bring him a copy but forgot. I also forgot to ask him if he needed any help in finishing (starting)? His own autobiography, Silverfish which he did a deal for years ago. It still hasn’t appeared. Great raconteurs don’t necessarily make great writers.

Me : “I did a book on Scott Walker too. You into him”?
Ian : “Uhh. Some of it. Not all that plastic cellophane people shite though…”
Before we part he presses the pack of Marlboro’s into my hand. He sparks up his Cardiff accent impression : “Here ya go. Some Gitanes for ya”.
He disappears chuckling.
I vow to keep the Marlboros for evermore but smoke them the next morning.

 

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/showbiz/review-ian-mcculloch-globe-cardiff-2024261

 

(Archive) John Taylor Interview 2012

Conducted Via Telephone. Cardiff.

PmIsHX.gif

JT: Hello?
AR: Hello, John?
JT: (Obviously reading from Schedule) ‘Anthony’.
How are ya?
AR: Alright….You?
JT: Goodgoodgoodgood…..
AR: How long have we got?
JT (Emphatically) Twenty minutes.
AR: Ok. Right. Just to give this a bit of context, my first 12” was ‘Planet earth’.
And.There’s a pun in there somewhere…a Double-entente…

JT (silence).

tumblr_lrwr5lKtfs1qe29ymo2_500

AR: ?
JT: Hang on a min’ Anthony… (Goes offline to speak to someone else).
AR: OK.
JT : ‘jhfjghkjg’…., ha, yeah, and your accent really helps that too…

AR : ? And…Uh…I mean I bought that long after it came out, in ’85 but, more importantly it got me into Japan.
JT: What?
Are: Japan. The group. Japan.
JT: (The penny drops, perhaps he thought I meant the ‘Night version’ had got me into the country). Ah, right, yeah, yeah, yeah….’
AR: And it uh…kind of awoke my whole aesthetic, you know? So thanks for that.
JT: Glad to hear it. You’re welcome!
AR: You were a fan of that group too, right?
JT: Japan?

AR: Yeah.

JT: yeah, definitely, they changed my uh…uh…they changed….um…changed…my direction a little too…it…they…were in that Post-punk inter-zone…when it was clear that the aggressive…you know…that the Clash…it was…and…You know, I loved the Clash but…there was a certain amount of bands that were following in that kind of direction….led by The pistols and the Clash…and it was getting a bit tired you know, quite quickly…so one was looking in other directions to see what was happening…that was kind of interesting…and Japan were one of the bands that I went to see…in ‘78…at Barbarella s. I saw them on the ‘Obscure alternatives’ tour.
AR : Oh, so you got into ‘em before ‘Quiet Life’ which is seen as the ‘start’ of Japan in Some ways…?
JT : Oh, I loved Obscure alternatives. So, yeah this was Pre- ‘Quiet life’ and I hadn’t seen …you know I’d been going to a lot of gigs and I’d seen a lot of bands in that room. But, you know, I hadn’t seen anything with a rhythm section like that, you know? And I just loved it. And I didn’t know the first album, you know? And they played ‘Television’ and ‘Suburban love’ and it was music to my ears, you know? And..I’m just thinking if…if that was just about the time I was starting to play bass, you know? So I was starting to think about a rhythm section. And punk wasn’t about that it wasn’t rhythm section orientated…
AR : It was energy and attitude orientated more than anything, it seems to me…?
JT : Punk?
AR : Yeah.

tumblr_nb5rc75okm1tgfjh8o1_400

JT : (Unsure but too polite to openly disagree). Umm…Yeah..Yeah…there was a naïveté to it that was really …but…then the Pistols made great records. And the Clash were the band that I saw again and again and again…I mean, I liked Sousixe and the banshees too…
AR : Another band with a great drummer…
JT : Which one?
AR : Budgie.
JT : No, I never saw them with Budgie. I saw them with Kenny Morris. ..Which was…you know I never saw them after he quit. You know he…I saw them on the ‘Scream’ tour. ..Where the drummer and the guitarist just walked off the tour….right toward the end…and by the time they came back I was kinda busy doing my own thing…
AR : Japan were partly unique because they were untutored…I remember the first time I heard Mick’s playing, you kinda think..’Wow, that’s what I’d like the bass to sound like if I played it’ and of course you try and it sounds terrible, nothing like him…
JT : I think there was some tutoring.
AR : …Yeah…?
Mick was very open about his lack of formal musical training and in fact was almost ‘proud’ of it, saying he never learnt the names of the notes on his bass.
JT : Yeah..No? He played the saxophone too and you can’t play an instrument like that unless you’ve got a little bit of formal training…I think. But I may be wrong. I’ve been listening to a lot of Jaco Pastorius recently and I can really see where he’s coming from. And I really loved Steve (Jansen’s) drumming style. I really loved his playing.
AR : Yeah, it sounds so composed…
JT : You know who else is really good at that? Dave Grohl. And Stewart Copeland.They’re really drummers who play the song. And I like that, yeah.
AR : That was the beginning of an interesting era because obviously Roxy and Bowie were huge influences on Japan and Duran Duran and yet both Bowie and Roxy were still very active and…

giphy

JT : Um, that’s a different era actually.
AR : Yeah?
JT : Yeah, if we’re talking Japan we’re talking post punk, ’78 – ’80 and that’s a different era to Roxy…
AR : I’m saying we’re talking about an era where groups are really influencing groups that…
JT : Influencing me?
AR : Yeah.
JT : You’re talking of groups that I was influenced by?
AR : Yeah, what I’m trying to say is that there were a lot of groups influenced by Roxy, Bowie and Eno’s solo records and even Ronson and….it was all so quick..I mean…I’m trying to figure out the comparison that would be relevant today where groups are influenced by groups who are in themselves still doing some of their best works. So you have the influence and the influenced kind of operating at the same time, if you see what I mean…it was a unique period in that sense…like the groups influenced were superseding their inspirations who were still, in their own right making great records. Do you know what I mean?
(I phrased this observation very badly and no wonder JT was confused).
JT: But Japan had some other colours in there I think, you know? Actually the way the keyboard player…you know, they had Kool and the gang in there…and…a song like ‘why did you do it’ by Stretch. And Heatwave. There was a few English soul bands of the early 70’s and I can hear that in Japan.
AR : That is true for that period. They were into Hall and Oates early on, too, actually…
JT : Ahhhh…interesting!
AR : …but they dropped that kind of sound when…
JT : Duran Duran came along! Ha ha ha..
Ar : Aheh…
JT : I mean, it was about taking control, wasn’t it? I mean… I mean …’Tin Drum’ was an extraordinary record…
Ar: So you liked the later stuff too?
JT: You mean the later Sylvian stuff?
AR: …The later Japan stuff…
JT: Well I Loved the ‘Art of Parties’. Did they make an album after Tin Drum?
AR: Not as such…
JT: I Love ALL the Japan albums. They are all great in their own way…
AR: And they were at Air studios when you were recording your first album there?
JT: Ummm…who is this interview for again?
AR: Ha ha…yes, quite right. Let’s move on. So. The Book. Which I liked very much.

tumblr_n9hovnbjIs1sn5m16o1_400

JT: ….
AR : And uh, the …I write books too and the part I dislike most about writing biographies is covering ‘the origins’…the family….the history…
JT: (Laughs)
AR: And I was complaining about this to an editor once…you know…’Do we really need to know when His Granddad was born’ and he said ‘Ahhh, all the Charles Dickens stuff…’
JT: Ha ha…right….
AR: I love the bits of biographies when they start to lose it…about three quarters of a way through when they get into the Coke and the Brandy and start dropping babies at Christenings…
JT: Right.
AR: But I actually loved that part of your book. There was a lot of depth to it. It was very atmospheric too…I loved that line about you waking up in the morning and the first thing you heard, before anyone else, was the radio…
JT: Uh-huh.
AR: And I could really relate to that, you know? Coming from a pre-breakfast television generation…the radio was always on in the morning. I remember eating toast when I was nine and Lennon’s death was announced on the radio…Not the TV.
JT: Sure.
AR: And the end, where you speak about the death of your parents. Very eloquently put and so sad, that way, you know..? But anyway…You wrote the book quite quickly…would that be true?
Jt : Yeah..Yeah..I started last summer…(2011)..And uh…
AR : What was the impetus behind it?
JT : There was a three point impetus. One was dad dying. Coming up to the third anniversary of his passing. And selling the house that I’d grown up in and having to clear it out and finding that they’d…kept everything. And..So nostalgia started to rise and you know, and previous to that I hadn’t had time for nostalgia to rise. I don’t think I’ve been nostalgic for the area I’d grown up in until after I’d stopped going there. And uh, I’d been approached by Tom Sykes (society Diarist/writer) who I knew through his sister, Plum…I’d met him at the beginning of 2011 and he’d said ‘You know if you ever wanted to do a book I think we could do a great job ‘ and that got me thinking, ‘Hmmmmmm….’and then last summer , Simon (Le Bon) developed a throat problem and we had to cancel three months of shows. So I certainly had a lot of time on my hands. So I thought ‘OK. Let’s go for it. Let’s do it!’And Tom was brilliant. He was just…I got bogged down a few times and he just kept me moving you know…and I think the book has got a good pace to it…which I feel we need these days…we’ve got so little time..Everyone has so little time…we’ve all got ADD anyway…so, I hope it keeps things moving…
AR : Do you read much? Are you a ‘fan’ of biographies?
JT: I used to read a lot. But ummm…I haven’t so much the last few years…
AR ; ‘cos in a way, you’re part of a new phenomena where the subjects themselves are writing their own books. Keith Richards being a best example I guess.

tumblr_nb5rc75okm1tgfjh8o1_400

JT : Whose?
AR : Keith Richards.
JT : Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh…he definitely opened the door for a lot of us but I think Dylan opened the door for Keith. I think Dylan’s was really the one that …I mean…You read an interview with Dylan and he never says anything about his…personal life. He keeps to himself, he’s a very…private man. And so I thought his biography was a …revelation. By the time I’d finished I felt I knew the man and he was really something…someone…that had been written about so many times, with other people trying to figure him out and he remains an enigma….so…I was staggered by that book and I’m also really looking forward to Neil Young’s. He’s another artist that’s been obsessively been put under the magnifying glass….by innumerable journalists but rarely says much about himself himself.
But I think that when Dylan put his book out Keith thought ‘Ya know what? If he can do it, I can do it’.
AR : One thing I liked about Dylan’s book was that he didn’t just do a straight narrative….it was non- linear…
JT : I LOVED that about it! Loved it…and almost every chapter ended with something like : ‘At some point soon I was gonna’ have to write a song about my own…but not yet’. Ha ha…
AR : I loved the bit where he was signing his first contract and instead of talking about the boring stuff like percentages etc. he’s on about being transfixed by a secretary in the window of the office block opposite ….(I do pathetic Dylan impression : ‘Ehhhh..and I saw this woman..in a leopard skin..etc.…’).
JT : Ha ha ha….
AR : were you tempted to write your book in a more experimental, non- linear fashion?
JT : You know what? I did and I was advised against it.
AR : Ok. Ok. Uh, I figured it must be really difficult when you’ve been famous and successful and so…public…that it must be hard to tell apart from what you’ve read and seen about yourself and what actually happened…what you actually, authentically remembered…do the two get confused?
Was that an issue for you?
JT : Welllllllll….there was a lot of evidence on the table in front of me. To keep me on track. But to be perfectly honest with you, you know what they say about not letting the truth get in the way of a good story? I mean, the opening line in the book….(reads opening lines)….’and it’s a week after my 21st Birthday….’ And already, many fans have written in to correct me, saying ‘But that’s FIVE weeks after your birthday John…’but it doesn’t really matter. That’s not the point. And anyway, anyone that knows me knows I’m not a detail orientated guy. I’m…an impressionist. And obviously there are certain details you’ve got to get right so I thought ‘Oh God, what have I let myself in for…’
AR :Sure, sure. I love that Robert Evans quote ; ‘There are three sides to every story ; Yours, mine and the truth’. So, no Biography is pure, forensically…it’s also about atmosphere and dynamic and narrative…

tumblr_lrwr5lKtfs1qe29ymo2_500

JT : …
AR : Um. I’d like to touch on the rehab thing. That really struck a chord with me because I’ve been facing some issues lately in that department…(waffles on in too much detail about those issues).
JT : the thing that was really significant for me was that I was given a diagnosis (for being an alcoholic) when really, you know, before that I just thought I was an idiot…and I hadn’t been able to understand and for years and years of making what I thought were bad choices while everyone else were being sensible or relatively sensible…and on top of those bad choices, the making of those bad choices continually over the years starts bringing the shame on. So not only am I ‘stupid’ but I’m also ashamed of myself. Because you’re involved in behaviour that you’re ashamed of.
AR : And I’ve found that that can become a cycle. The shame makes you feel bad and so then you get fucked up again to ‘get away’ from the shame. How do you break that cycle?
JT : Well, I needed the brain washing. My brain needed a good wash. And I tried to put that across in the ‘rehab’ chapter. Not so much ‘This is what I was told’, but that there was the fact that there was a tremendous amount of expertise available. And I think that equally, if you make that commitment to walk into an AA meeting, and KEEP walking into an AA meeting (laughs)…
AR ; I couldn’t stand the ‘God stuff’ they lay on you in those meetings…
JT : Yeah. I know. I know. But…it depends on how much you want it. You know they say that ‘it’s not for those that need it it’s for those that want it’. And you have to stop fighting it… you know?

 -JOHN-john-taylor-duran-duran-32862388-113-120

Scott Walker Archive (Archive)

Below is an excerpt from a Diary entry from 15.07.2005.

During this time I was researching my book : “The Impossible Dream – The Story of Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers” which was eventually published by Jawbone Press in 2009. (I have a few signed copies you can buy direct from me at £20 (This includes P&P). Paypal is celie99us@yahoo.com). OR  You can buy it here.

A couple of years after this Diary Entry, some of these Outtakes were released on the sumptuous Walker Brothers Box Set

But a few songs heard that day remain in the vault. Read on…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are headed for a Universal owned tape depository/library in St John’s Wood, to listen to ‘Gulp’ unreleased, Scott/Walker Brothers stuff from the 60’s.
We get there late, of course, I’ve confused the directions no doubt, and am sweating cobs by the time the lovely Jane, whom I’ve only emailed up to now, escorts me and my very own Sancho Panza Paul Feneron and I to the playback suite.

With only an hour to go already, (We have very limited time here) I start picking Master tapes out of the box. I’m increasingly feverish..my camera battery runs out…balls, balls…
I do of course have a list of songs I need to hear, culled from the expansive tape and recording schedules I’ve been sent by Jane. (Where are they now? -ED) But even so, I’m surprised at what I find in this hallowed Box. Delighted…hypnotized.
I decide to go in easy and listen to something I’m familiar with. We run a tape with b – sides on… I ain’t ready for brand new stuff just yet..I’m getting a good rare vibe off of this…so true to form I’m prepared for imminent disappointment. The tapes roll via the lovely young geezer manning the board ; A Chap named Ben who recently remastered the (2004) Japan re-issues. (Synchronicity)!

The first thing that comes out of the speakers is the ambience. Having written so deeply these last few months about people I’ve never met, (Johnny Franz, Reg Guest, Ivor Raymonde, John and Scott)…I feel as if I’ve been haunting them. And yet as actual people they’ve been silent to me, until now.

All of a sudden, there they are, as if they were on the other side of the studio Glass. I hear keys clinking, pencils on paper, cigarettes being lit, bottles being screwed, unscrewed, mumbling : This is the sound of Philips Studios, Stanhope place, 1966! An orchestra member says something about the Musicians union and then a posh BBC voice right up front, cuts through the Ambiance..’OK, alright. Ready Scott’? And then right in your face, speaker left, Californian breathing, an amused air and the familiar low voice, although weirdly, sounding so young..’Uh, Yeah, OK Peter’? (Arranger Peter Knight)? Then a count in and oh heavens…The orchestra fills the room…The room fills with colour…and it sounds so present! So NOW. Having spent a decade in Studios perusing my own music I’m familiar with the process of hearing players while not seeing them, and it’s just like this…now…There’s no sense of time lapse. We’re all here now…its as new sounding as tomorrow…
And once my heart as caught up with my blood there’s another surprise; Scott’s singing. What we’re hearing is obviously a guide vocal, for the sake of the orchestra recording (Scott (and Dusty) would sometimes return illicitly to the studio in secret at night to perfect their vocal takes) and I’m surprised at the lack of natural commitment in the vocal. The voice, reverb – less and in your face, (I ask Ben to isolate the vocal, turning the orchestra right down) is frequently off key and wavering, the breathing all over the place. This means that Scott did make an effort when recording a master take, because I’ve never heard him sound like this before, even on tapes of live shows and the like. I had assumed that the perfect pitch, phrasing, diction and breathing came effortlessly…the other thing baldly apparent is that Scott sounds so young. I’m moved when I consider the balls of this 22 year old at getting his own composition through such a massive machine as the Philips recording set up, the massive mechanics and the ribbons of Red tape that Scott had to navigate to get his own glorious songs recorded. After all, is ‘Archangel’ (What we’re hearing now) pop?

What’s also apparent is how much John Maus would colour the tone. He is absent at this stage and you really notice it. But there’s something so…moving about hearing that naked voice in what sounds like a confined space while Reg Guest’s orchestra rages outside.
(And the lyric is ‘Rides in on the moon’. I always thought it was ‘Riding..’).
By the time the song has ended –and yes-you hear it end, the drumsticks clomping down onto Ronnie Verrell’s lap, the ambience returning, abhorring silence…Scott mumbles something and it’s as if I could open the door and he’d walk in now as he was then, Slip on shoes, corduroy jeans, red scarf (?)
Paul and I are stunned, ecstatic.
And then the researcher in me takes over and I check my spinning head.
On we go. What’s this? ‘Lovers’ at one minute seven seconds, recorded immediately before ‘Copenhagen’. Ahhh…a beautiful vignette, one of those sublime shorts Scott was so good at, like ‘On your own again’ and ‘Always coming back to you…’ The singing more handsome this time, more assured…but still surprisingly off key…This is followed by a few John songs, with a terribly recorded, distorted vocal, (sounds good actually) on ‘In the evening time’…then there’s more studio ambience and we’re back to Scott in the booth, the sound of keys rattling in the singer’s pocket as he waits impatiently for the Orchestra to get it together.
‘When am I going home’, a Tony Bennett vibe…unremarkable but followed by : What’s this; ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna shine anymore ’(Reject version)! Maybe this was the first version they recorded, with the ‘deaf guitar players’??
Alas no. Its as triumphant as the one that stalks the world even today, the only noticeable difference being the vocal harmony/phrasing during the break down…the harmonies so spot on, John’s voice circling like a halo around Scott’s Caramac croon…

Just as Paul and I are getting used to this endless conveyor belt of treasures we’re once again stopped in our tracks as a totally unknown song raises itself out of a sea of sound like a God surfacing from the Aegean Sea : ‘Overgrown Paths’, recorded during the same session for ‘Lights of Cincinnati’, perhaps intended as it’s original B-Side? Another – until this day – unheard Engel original.
‘Overgrown paths’ is absolutely beautiful and massive, as good as anything Scott did during those years, and the arrangement does indeed ramble along Escher like sonic paths ; It’s huge, sprawling and wordy, orchestral roads and vales…Obviously a forerunner or half brother of ‘Little things that keep us together’, with a similar melody and rhythm, but different words and arrangement… And Unheard all these years, gathering dust…

Jane comes in and says we can come back at a later date. (Why Didn’t you? -ED) Oh Boy! I guess our enthusiasm and sincerity has come across somewhat…but we have to finish today by 5-45 cos Ben is going to see Queen at Hyde Park. Time for just a few more. We play ‘I still see you’. I’d read that Scott was blitzed on Vodka during this and wanted to see if it came across in anyway…but no, if anything this is the best vocal so far..I guess it’s the final composite take.. Ah yes, this is the master….Languid and muscular, just superlative, baby…
One more, one more.
‘The Desperate ones’ from Scott 3.

The opening Piano chords are familiar, that Satie vibe but where have I heard this before? Oh my Sweet George.
Its ‘Les Desesperes!
! My favourite ever Brel Song!! Of course.
I put the headphones on for this. In his understandable excitement Paul is often talking over the songs and rushing up to me with new discoveries from the box, (There are Dusty Outtakes in there too) his sweet face flushed with excitement, bless him, so I need to hear this one all by myself.

Headphones transport me back to a room off of Marble arch, Summer 67…
This is just so great…I have never even heard an English version of this song….my favourite Brel, bought in Morlaix all those years ago…
Scott is totally into it and when not singing you can hear him humming faintly off mic, totally inside the song. (A true singer sings during the song even when not singing)…why wasn’t this completed? Ach…I just sit back close my eyes and enjoy, suffused with it. Oh, don’t end…please don’t go, as Dusty sang…

We’ll that’s it for me, lets end there.
Except Paul wants to listen to Dusty out-take. ‘Magic Garden’. Fine by me. I sit back, satisfied and imbued by all this rare, newly un- bottled beauty as Paul jitterbugs around the room.

I feel like we’ve let a Genie out of a lamp…and for a few minutes, the air is full of something rare and fine, magical, weird and good.

I reach out to grab it, put it in my pocket.  But it’s gone…