Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (2006) is probably the definitive study of a strange and usually elusive musical giant. Or maybe make that two elusive giants.
The BBC showed a shorter cut of the documentary many moons ago, but I only caught the full-length version last week. You know the kind of thing: one of those dodgy online transfers, with big yellow Spanish subtitles that hide half the captions of the collaborators and fans being interviewed. Puede ser molesto, as they say.
Yet most of the captions weren’t needed. It was a veritable Muso Who’s Who, with the likes of Bowie, Eno, Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn, Ute Lemper, Neil Hannon, Gavin Friday, Cathal Coughlan, Johnny Marr and, er, Lulu.
In between the interviews and archive clips, Walker himself was shown working in the studio – on his increasingly hardcore later stuff – and talking at length about his music and his topsy-turvy career.
Yet the biggest, bestest surprise for me was a brief snippet or two of Angela Morley at the piano, recalling how Scott would try to explain the sounds he was looking for at the time: “I really hear Sibelius here,” or “a bit of Delius there” and so on.
Hold on. Angela who?
Born Walter “Wally” Stott in Leeds in 1924 (or eight years earlier according to Wikipedia), Morley became a sort of Zelig-like character both in London’s postwar music scene and – after finalising male-to-female gender transition through surgery in 1970 – on the other side of the pond too, in 1970s LA and Hollywood. Her output as a composer and arranger is gobsmacking. So where to start?
After leaving school at fifteen, Wally worked in bands up and down the country and soon found steady work as an arranger and conductor in “light music” or “easy listening“. OK, it’s a genre that’s not exactly high art – work that’s done to order, “purely commercial”, often verging on the kitsch and sugary, but the perfect grounding for what was to come. (And what’s wrong with a bit of easy listening now and then?)
Wally went on to provide a wide range of music for BBC radio, then TV and films, including Hancock’s Half Hour, The Goon Show, films such as Peeping Tom (1960), some early recordings of Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield.
After Wally became Angela, her credits – or sometimes uncredited work – included many episodes of Dynasty, Dallas, Falcon Crest, Cagney and Lacey and Wonderwoman, as well as arrangements and orchestrations for Star Wars, Superman, ET, Schindler’s List and The Empire Strikes Back – oh, and Watership Down after she was brought in at the last minute to do the score. Phew.
Alongside three Emmys, she was nominated for two Oscars (for The Little Prince and The Slipper and The Rose) and was the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Academy Award.
And there’s the Scott Walker stuff at the end of the Sixties. Wally came up with many of the outstanding arrangements for his “Scott 2” album and most of “Scott 3”. As some anonymous Wikipedian genius puts it, so superbly:
The dense, lush string arrangements by Wally Stott seemed to evoke a Vegas-style lounge crooner atmosphere, but one tinted with surreal drones and touches of dissonance.
That sounds painterly. It is painterly. Just take the opening track of Scott 3, “It’s Raining Today”…
It’s raining today
And I’m just about to forget
The train window girl
That wonderful day we met
She smiles through the smoke
From my cigarette…
But try to ignore the lyrics about “train window girls” (above), and Scott’s vocals – if you can – and check out Wally’s strings arrangement. Those touches, tints and shimmers, particularly in the first verse. Not quite “easy listening” any more, is it?
Wally / Angela is usually treated as a historical footnote, someone on the margins, a supporting cast member in someone else’s story and history. It’s a bit like how, say, session musician Herbie Flowers is usually wheeled out for every biopic of Lou Reed and the making of “Walk on the Wild Side” and the “Transformer” album (those are all Herbie’s bass lines and tubas in there). Or how the producer and mentor Guy Stevens has a cameo role not only in tales of The Clash, Mott the Hoople or Procol Harum, but also in various madcap adventures with Ronan O’Rahilly, Island Records and half the mod bands of Sixties London.
Enough. It’s high time that Angela Morley got a big documentary in her own right.
(And Herbie Flowers too.)
And if there is one out there already, please let us know.