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The songs of Scott Walker at the BBC Proms – virtuosic and visionary

Scott Walker’s early solo records are the stuff of true genius. Conductor Jules Buckley explains why they fit right in at the BBC Proms.

In the history of pop music, find me a track that has got as much of a wigged-out opening as It’s Raining Today. Find me a track that has a more abstract relationship between the initial strings and vibes and crazy-sounding cluster chord, and the resulting guitar chord. It’s absolutely revolutionary. Everybody from The Last Shadow Puppets to Radiohead to Anohni would attest to something like that. There is genius on Scott Walker’s early solo records made between 1967 and 1970, and what better place to present that to the public than the BBC Proms. It’s a festival that has always supported diverse music and new music in the large ensemble setting.

Scott Walker meets Jarvis Cocker.

What occurred on these albums was a meeting between a very, very talented and forward-looking singer-songwriter, and a composer and arranger who was equally talented and visionary, and that was Angela Morley. Morley went on to compose the score to Watership Down, and she did a ton of film scores with John Williams. She goes down as one of the greatest 20th-century orchestral writers in the pop scene and in the movie scene. So she and Walker teamed up from the get-go and they went into the studio and realised these songs go together. And that’s the reason why it’s now deserving of an orchestral platform. It’s just incredible music.

All of this music hilariously has never been performed live with artist an orchestra before. I’ve trawled the internet, I’ve trawled records of gigs, and I’ve never found a single one. Walker was always moving straight on to the next thing.
 In 1970, legend has it he was offered the Royal Albert Hall and a full orchestra to play these solo albums but for whatever reason it never happened.

Jules Buckley, conductor of the Heritage Orchestra.

This is not going to be like the David Bowie concert last year. It’s going to stay very true to the original power of the music. One of the biggest challenges is going to be for the artists – how will they interpret Scott’s words and melodies? You wouldn’t believe the artists that have emailed us asking to be involved with this. Of course we’ve got four incredible artists with us in Jarvis Cocker, John Grant, Susanne Sundfør and Richard Hawley. I’m really looking forward to hearing how they will each
approach Scott’s material. Proms goers and listeners are going to hear and first-hand witness what can best be described as kind of a royal heritage of British pop music. They’re going to get to hear a top orchestra at its peak performing arrangements that were virtuosic and visionary in their time, and, of course, that ticks all the boxes of the Proms. It’s excellent, it’s expansive, open-minded thinking. It’s high time this concert happened in my opinion.

In the history of pop music, find me a track that has got as much of a wigged-out opening as It’s Raining Today.

We’ve been lucky enough that Scott has given us his blessing to do this. Scott is across everything and he knows what’s going on and he’s supported it. Will he be there? My answer to that is always – he’s Scott Walker, so he can basically do whatever he wants. If he’s there with us, then that’s amazing. If he’s in the studio writing some wicked new music instead, that’s also totally cool with me.

Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967–70) is on BBC 4, Friday, July 28 at 10pm, then available to watch on the BBC iPlayer

Jules Buckley was speaking to Malcolm Jack; @MBJack