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This week a concert will be held in London celebrating the songs from the pivotal and brilliant first four albums Scott Walker made. It's an ironic circumstance in many ways given the man himself refuses to go back musically, only ever moving forward.

Defying that too, Wind Back Wednesday flits to 2006 and in a rare interview with the mostly reclusive Anglo-American tips its hat to those records, and two later demanding and exciting albums.


Scott Walker released four masterful albums in his first three years as a solo artist between 1967 and 1969.

He began that period as a teen pop star, the wonderfully rich baritone voice and golden boy of the Walker Brothers. He ended it on the fringes, his grand arrangements and florid tales of prostitutes and tyrants, many of them songs by or in the style of the dramatic if gloomy Belgian writer Jacques Brel, sadly perplexing many more than they pleased.

By contrast Scott Walker has released three albums in the past 25 years. Beginning as a figure of curiosity, as his albums became less and less commercial, his music thornier and more unfathomable, he moved beyond even the fringes to the outlands.

And in the process he became one of the great cult figures of popular music, the musical equivalent of the reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick. Would he speak again? What would he do next? Would we understand it?

The new album from the 63-year-old born Noel Scott Engel, his first song collection since the challenging Tilt in 1995, is The Drift. A miasma of darkness and high drama populated by butchers, lovers and dictators, it is punctuated by the sound of fists hitting sides of pork and loaded emptiness.

Its lyrical opaqueness is matched by music which in some ways has more in common with contemporary opera than pop, spare of melody and orchestration but always pulsing with some inner coil of energy.

As Walker puts it himself, "these things are not particularly an easy listen". The man in conversation however, is anything but difficult.

Slightly quizzical that attention is being paid, he politely responds in an American accent unaffected by 40 years of living in the UK. Walker may hardly have spoken publicly in 11 years but he ranges widely, from the battered sense of self we carry to memories of the '50s novelty hit Donkey Serenade, from ugly modern war to Claretta Petacci, Mussolini's mistress and the subject of The Drifts' second track, Clara.

"When I was a child I was taken to the cinema by my aunt [and] before the main feature started they were showing some old newsreel footage from the Second World War and I saw these two bodies hanging there surrounded by this mob and it somehow stayed with me," Walker explains.

"It's an image that fascinated me mainly because it's such a strange love story. She's someone very much like a lot of people we have in our culture today, a very celebrity obsessed person. She papered her walls with pictures of film stars and him [Mussolini] in particular. And he used to have all these photos of himself in ridiculous poses. So in a sense she was defined as a bit of an airhead.

"When he was going to be arrested and he knew what would happen to him, he arranged for her escape and she refused. She became another person, she became someone who is more than ordinary. It's an interesting story, a love story, a fascist love story basically."

A woman whose one moment of individuality was in choosing to die.

"That's right, yes."

Walker's comments on this precursor to our celebrity-obsessed society, reminds us that he rebelled against that himself, retreating to the Isle Of Wight at the height of the Walker Brothers fame and later wilfully avoiding the obvious pop music paths.

"At the very beginning like all people who enter the pop arena, it such a strange thing to happen that you're thrilled by it because it's very intoxicating," he says. "But it can go on too long, that was the problem. And after a while it got to me. It was becoming a very unpleasant atmosphere, fuelled by a lot of drinking as well."

He adds apologetically. "It's hard for me to recall exactly what went on because of that."

Which is a fair point: it was 40 years ago. But then, you assume, it is the period most people turn to when they think of Scott Walker. Except that assumption is only part true.

For example it might have been expected that after Tilt in 1995 no one would be pursuing him to put out another complex, disturbing and different album which would not trouble even the lower reaches of the charts.

Indeed Walker thought so too, saying at the time: "I've become the Orson Wells of the record industry. People want to take me to lunch, but nobody wants to finance the picture."

But far from shunning him, independent labels such as 4AD, approached him to do "another Tilt" and were prepared to wait 11 years to get it, younger musicians began citing his influence, quality newspapers lined up to speak with him and now a film crew is following him around for a biographical documentary.

"Here's part of the way I think this happened," says Walker. "There are people who do prefer, believe it or not, the music now. When I did the Meltdown festival [a London arts festival he curated in 2000] I brought over for instance Bill Callahan from Smog and a few other American artist and those people were not really familiar with anything I had done in the past.

“They had come to me from Tilt and when they were familiarised with stuff from the past Callahan was one who said 'God I much prefer what he's doing now'.

"It depends I guess on where you come in and what your antecedents are."

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