Rock enigma Scott Walker dies aged 76

Scott WalkerImage copyright
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Walker was a reclusive and often contradictory figure

Scott Walker, one of the most enigmatic and influential figures in rock history, has died at the age of 76.

The US star, whose songs included The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore and Joanna, influenced everyone from David Bowie to Jarvis Cocker.

He found fame as a teen idol in The Walker Brothers, but his dark baritone hinted at something deeper.

That was borne out in his experimental, psychedelic solo albums, which explored the complexities of love and death.

Walker’s death was confirmed by his current record label, 4AD, who called him “one of the most revered innovators at the sharp end of creative music“.

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Getty Images

Image caption

He first found fame as part of the Walker Brothers

Born Noel Scott Engel in Ohio, 1944, Walker initially pursued a career as an actor, before hooking up with John Maus and Gary Leeds to form the misleadingly-named Walker Brothers.

After a false start in the US, they relocated to England, where they caused a huge sensation, scoring number one hits with Make It Easy On Yourself and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.

For a while, they were as big as the Beatles, greeted by screaming fans everywhere they went.

“At first it was fine,” Walker told the BBC’s Culture Show in 2006. “I hate people in the business who bitch about the business.

“It was fantastic for the first couple of albums or so but it really wears you down.

“Touring in those days was very primitive. It was really a lot of hard work. And you couldn’t find anything good to eat. The hours were unbelievable.”

Orchestral pop

At the height of their fame in 1967, when Walker was still considered a heart-throb and a potential superstar, he called time on the band and ran away to a monastery. Not, as the rumour had it, because of a nervous breakdown, but to study Gregorian chants.

He remained disillusioned with the industry until his girlfriend introduced him to the music of Jacques Brel, whose literate, passionate torch songs inspired him to embark on a solo career.

Walker’s first four solo albums, all self-titled, juxtaposed lush, orchestral pop with dark existentialism; and his lyrics were frequently scattered with characters from society’s margins – prostitutes, transvestites, suicidal brooders and even Joseph Stalin.

“He took music to a place that it hasn’t actually ever been since,” said Brian Eno, who counts Walker as a key influence.

After a brief, largely unsuccessful reunion with the Walker Brothers in the mid 1970s, Walker bowed out of music for a decade after the release of 1984’s critically-acclaimed Climate of Hunter album.

“A friend of mine says I’m not a recluse, I’m just low-key,” said the singer about his extended absence.

“Generally if I’ve got nothing to say, it’s pointless to be around.”

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Media captionHighlights from the Songs of Scott Walker Prom.

When Walker returned in the mid-90s, it was with Tilt, a collection of fraught, uncompromising tone poems.

“Imagine Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen,” wrote The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone in a profile of the singer.

Walker went on to collaborate with Pulp, producing the 2001 album We Love Life, and recently completed the score to Natalie Portman film Vox Lux.

In 2017, the BBC paid tribute to the star with a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Tributes

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke said he was “so very sad” to hear of Walker’s passing, saying he had been “a huge influence” on both the band and himself.

The singer-songwriter said he had met Walker once at the Meltdown arts festival in London and found him to be “such a gentle outsider”.

Actor and writer Mark Gatiss responded to Yorke’s post with a plaintive “No!!” and a pensive face emoji.

Singer Marc Almond said he was “absolutely saddened [and] shocked by the death of Scott Walker.

“He gave me so much inspiration so much I owe to him and modelled on him even down to my early hair cut and dark glasses.”

Walker is survived by his daughter, Lee, his granddaughter Emmi-Lee, and his partner Beverly.

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