BBC Proms 2017: The Songs of Scott Walker
To do justice to Scott Walker, an artist whom David Bowie described as his idol, is no mean feat. The avant-garde pop musician used his solo albums to break away from the tracks and the image which had made him famous. The unique narrative style of his lyrics and the often unsettling instrumental score they were recorded against combined to make art which resonated with decades worth of listeners.
The songs performed here for the BBC Late Night Prom (sung by John Grant, Richard Hawley, Susanne Sundfor and Jarvis Cocker) are renditions of these early solo works, reinterpreted by conductor Jules Buckley, with the help of the Heritage Orchestra and London Contemporary voices.
As the first performer, Jarvis Cocker initially seemed slightly at odds with his surroundings. For those of us not used to hearing his unique vocal style against the sweeping backdrop of an orchestra, it took a few minutes to acclimatise. However Cocker swiftly found his rhythm and swagger, moving his body and hands to the beat with the kind of casual abandon that comes when you know the songs you’re singing backwards and still relish them. It was in this manner that Cocker injected some welcome joy into the performance and put a smile on everyone’s face.
Another highlight of the evening was Susanne Sundfor. Her voice, while a touch shaky at the start, was simultaneously powerful and delicate, managing to completely fill the ample space of the Royal Albert Hall. Her sweeping rendition of The Amorous Humphrey Plugg was the high point of the evening, demanding outright that it needs more than one listen.
Many audience members with standing tickets simply sat on the very top or the very bottom floors of the hall, and it’s not hard to see why. The nature of the music and the lateness of the hour made for a very relaxing atmosphere. The lighting effects were simple, even almost unnecessary, as the music alone was surely enough for its listeners, many of whom were clearly long-time Walker fans.
Overall however, the effect was a great one. The music and the vocals were highly polished, just as one would expect from a night at The Proms, and the added enjoyment of seeing Jarvis Cocker casually gyrate with the backing of a full orchestra provided icing on the cake.
Photo: BBC/Mark Allan