Scott Walker had a huge effect on post-punk Liverpool and David ‘Yorkie’ Palmer looks into the story behind Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker.
The Julian Cope compilation Fire Escape In The Sky: The Godlike Genius Of Scott Walker was released in 1981, and introduced a new audience to the gorgeous baritone of Scott – a voice that could inhabit a room.
As many of my age, the songs of The Walker Brothers were a part of growing up.
Classics such as The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, Make It Easy On Yourself, No Regrets, etc. still held a place in the young romantics hearts, but were often seen as a somewhat guilty pleasure, music from time somehow out of place in the grey post-punk world.
Paul Simpson, of The Wild Swans had discovered, or rather re-discovered Scott. Paul was always into enigmatic figures: Jean Cocteau, Jean Genet, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, etc. He was one of the most well read of all my peers and turned me on to loads of inspirational people. Scott seemed a natural addition to his list.
He played some Scott to Julian, who was equally enamoured. He set about trying to track down ‘the good stuff’, which was very hard in those days as all of the albums had been deleted for many years.
Even in second hand shops, the majority of Scott ‘product’ available was on compilations of The Walker Brothers.
The Teardrop Explodes were courted by a number of record companies at the time, and I think the deciding factor for Julian signing to Mercury Records was the fact that it was a division of Phonogram Records…the home of Scott Walker, and his first classic solo albums (Scott 1, 2, 3 & 4).
The head of the label gave him tapes of all the solo stuff that Julian had been hunting down.
Pristine copies. He was in heaven.
When the decision was made to release an album of Scott’s material on Zoo Records, Julian began the process of distilling the tracks down to Scott penned songs only.
And what a track listing. Culled from the first four releases, plus one track from Til The Band Comes In, Scott’s fifth solo album,
The album was beautiful. Both aurally and visually.
Julian wanted the cover to give nothing away of the content, so it came in a rather austere sleeve with the title split between top and bottom of the sleeve in green cursive typeset.
It was cold. Nothing could stop the cold.
It was wet. The rain permeated everything.
There was no heating in any of the friends flats I visited, nor in my own home.
The music we listened to was cold and brittle as well. Joy Division, Fire Engines, The Pop Group, Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, etc.
We would steel ourselves against the enveloping cold with this music as if it was strong enough to fight the encroaching bitterness. But in the evenings, just when the damp, freezing fog threatened to invade our homes we would fight back with something entirely different.
Fire Escape In The Sky: The Godlike Genius Of Scott Walker was our coal fire. Our central heating. Our hot bath. We immersed ourselves in its otherworldly beauty every single night. Scott Walker’s voice was big enough to fill an empty room.
It was uncanny. A voice that sang with wisdom, longing, joy and sadness.
Julian had gathered the material from the first five Scott solo albums and, for the first time ever, highlighted Scott as the great songwriter he had once been. No cover versions here.
We knew there was a legendary tale to tell about Scott, this “hombre invisible” to quote William S. Burroughs, but now was not the time.
If Julian had given us sleeve notes, they would have been precise, informative and gushing with the love and passion that only he could impart. But instead he decided to let the songs tell the story of Scott. This loner, this romantic, this sad young man who has finally gone away.
The enigmatic Scott and his enigmatic songs were wrapped in a suitably enigmatic sleeve that spoke volumes without actually saying anything.
Tiny Children came out as a single (from the magnificent Wilder album), and here was Scott re-imagined and inhabited by Julian. The Wild Swans commandant Paul Simpson was the person who turned Julian on to Scott… but it was Julian who presented this most elusive figure to a new generation.
Invisible no more he lives in the hearts of all those willing to let his warmth radiate inside.
Much love – Liverpool.
David ‘Yorkie’ Palmer