As part of a new series at PopJunkie some of our writers are going to pen features about the songs that changed their lives. Over to you Vic Templar.
I write this at work, three days left before I get made redundant. Age 43 with the radio informing us by the day, the hour even, that yet more capitalists have lost their nerve at the first signs of a downturn. The downturn has grown into a recession that will possibly result in a depression. Like we read about in fourth form history. Hoovervilles and Buddy, can you spare a dime?
I have been at work since midday and barely done a thing. Tidied the desk a bit, deleted a whole bunch of emails. Written to book publishers to tell them I’d like to remain on their mailing lists. I haven’t even looked for any jobs or contacted any agencies. Perhaps I’ll do that tomorrow.
It’s scary. I’m scared. I have bills to pay on a house where I no longer live. I haven’t paid my way at my girlfriend’s place since August. She is supportive, as partners and people who love each other are meant to be. She’s not about to throw me out, but still I feel a need to contribute.
And whilst I type this I’m listening to Scott Walker.
But specifically, a song called The Amorous Humphrey Plugg.
In 1985 Bob and I got entranced by Scott Walker. He’d picked up Scott (1) from a secondhand shop and made a point of begging me to come round to listen to it. He had something to play me. He couldn’t live a moment longer without sharing this experience with me.
I knew of Scott, of course. I had the Walker Brothers Greatest Hits, which included the pretty splendid My Ship is Coming in. I knew of his rumoured genius via Julian Cope, whose judgement was to be trusted (in those days). Julian had compiled an album, two or three years earlier, called Fire Escape in the Sky~ The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker. If ever an album has understated its claims to greatness, this was it, as I would soon discover.
Back to Bob’s bedroom at his mum’s house, and in that house I heard Scott singing track one, side one of his solo debut. A pop star who had been part of, to use modern parlance, a boy band bursts out of the shackles of teeny bop (albeit great teeny, weepy bop) with a dark, barnstorming Jacques Brel cover, Mathilde. It shook me to the core. I wasn’t expecting anything like this. It got better. Side one concludes with another Brel cover; the dark, dark, dark, My Death. It was more than perfect.
Side two revealed the brooding melancholia of Such a Small Love, a song that would become way too pertinent to me before the year was out.
In those 20 minutes or so, my life had changed. Forever.
Scott immediately became an obsession. Bob soon tracked down Scott’s collected songs of Brel so we discovered Jackie (like a mark ii Mathilde), the Girls & the Dogs, Funeral Tango, Next and a few more. All were dark, all with lush arrangements by the wonderful Phillips arrangers who had all worked with Dusty Springfield. But this canon of songs was something else all together.
Next he found the Cope album, he borrowed it from Aidan Murphy. Starting with the slightly underwhelming homage to Bergmann, The Seventh Seal, the next track is the aforementioned tale of Mr Plugg. My memory is hazy, but I do not think that at first I regarded it to be any more outstanding than the rest. This is actually side two. Plastic Palace People and the Brelish Girls from the Streets would have been the standout tracks for the 20 year old.
I have already written too much. This piece is meant to be about The Amorous Humphrey Plugg.
A song that one autumn evening in Belmont Road, a month or two later, hearing the song for possibly the 20th or 30th time, I suddenly realised that it was special, for want of a better word. I brooded over that last sentence for a minute or two. I don’t want to lose my thread. Special does not say what I mean, but it’ll have to do.
It was the line “pavements of poets will write that I died in nine angels arms” that did it.
I was in love, my girl lived in London, two hours train journey distant. I immediately wrote to tell her that I’d been listening to the Amorous Humphrey Plugg and realised that out of these twenty or so nuggets of Scott genius that I’d thus far discovered, this was the one, the special one. I didn’t write much more than that, and then I went down the pub, with those lyrics running through my head.
And since that day, 23 years ago, a month hasn’t passed where I haven’t played it. Some days I have played it over and over again; perhaps a dozen times, maybe more. I have never tired of it. I have no idea how many times I’ve heard it. It has never left my Top 3 songs of all time, possibly never left the top One, though at times I think that accolade has belonged to Tin Soldier or The Kinks’ This is Where I Belong or waterloo Sunset.
I have played the song when sad, lovelorn, depressed, happy, content, in love. And I’m playing it again now. And it still means as much to me as it ever did.