Alasdair Malloy, longtime percussionist for Scott Walker, has added his voice to the many honoring the late icon, who died this week at age 76. Principal percussionist with the BBC Concert Orchestra for more than 20 years, Malloy is also a regular collaborator of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, played the glass harmonica for Björk on her 1997 album Homogenic, and has worked with a host of film composers, including Ennio Morricone and Vangelis.
Malloy collaborated with Scott Walker on the singer’s three final solo albums: 1995’s Tilt, 2006’s The Drift, and 2012’s Bish Bosch. They also worked together on 1999’s Pola X soundtrack, as well as Pulp’s final, Walker-produced album, 2001’s We Love Life. But his instrumental prowess may be best known from the time he punched a slab of meat in the studio during Walker’s sessions for The Drift, as documented in the 2006 film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.
In his genial Scottish burr, Malloy spoke to Pitchfork over the phone this week about Walker’s painstaking studio process, the notorious meat incident, and the career of a true musical trailblazer. “I never, ever heard any of the tracks that I worked on, in any shape or form, before I turned up to work on them,” he recalls. “It was always quite a voyage of discovery.”
What was it like working with Scott Walker?
Alasdair Malloy: It was really intense. Scott wanted everything to be absolutely in the moment. He wasn’t interested in using studio trickery. There were a number of times when I’d be three, four minutes into a track, and he’d suddenly stop, and he’d say, “Ally”—he used to call me Ally—“that one you, you dropped it a wee bit there.” And we’d we go right back to the beginning. What he wanted was everybody he was working with to be in the moment and to perform and deliver with the same kind of intensity that he did. And that was quite extraordinary.
How was that different from others you’ve worked with?
It was his integrity. And it was also the strength of his vision, which frankly, I didn’t always understand. I knew that he always had a vision. He wasn't experimenting. He would have a very clear idea, and he wouldn’t stop until we’d got it.
There’s that scene in 30 Century Man of you punching meat. I have a lot of questions.
Well, I can give you the honest answer. We’d been working in the studio, and I went into the control room to listen to something, and then I looked around and realized that everybody else had left the control room. It was just Scott and myself—which was unusual, really. He said, “Hey Ally, I have something to ask you.” I said, “Yeah, what is it Scott?” He said, “Come with me.” We went through into the kitchen, and he opened the fridge and he pulled out this kind of polystyrene box. He said, “I want you to play this.” And he opened it up and there was a side of pork in there.
I said, “Well, Scott, what do you mean?” He said, “I need the sound of punching, and I’ve been experimenting and this kind of does it.” And then he demonstrated it. And I said, “Oh, right. OK.” Now, I knew that whatever sound I managed to get out of this lump of meat, I would have to be absolutely consistent, and he wouldn’t stop until I’d absolutely done that. There was one other thing he did say to me before we opened the box. He said, “You’re not vegetarian, are you?”