The Tim Buckley Archives

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Bucketfull Of Brains - 1990

Dream Letters and Other Communications:
Tim Buckley - Live In Europe, 1968

By John Platt

With the recent release of the whole of the Tim Buckley concert from the Queen Elizabeth Hall, 1968, as a double album/CD by Demon Records (and Enigma Records in the USA) interest has suddenly focused on the career of perhaps America's finest singer-songwriter. And not before time.

My initial idea was simply to review said recording but closer examination revealed several errors in the information supplied with it which in turn led to an examination of his other European appearances that year, several of which have survived in one form or another. What this isn't, is a biography of Buckley, for that you should refer to Brian Hogg's piece in Record Collector no. 103 (March 1988). However, a brief introduction may be in order.

Buckley was born in Washington DC, but moved to the LA area when he was a child. Whilst still in high school he started drifting around various clubs, forming various bands and also performing solo.

Early friends/group members included Larry Beckett (who contributed lyrics for Buckley on and off throughout his career), Jim Fielder (who later played with the Mothers and Blood, Sweat & Tears and played with Buckley again later on in his career) and Van Dyke Parks (with whom Tim played on the first Byrds album).

In 1966 as a result of hearing a six-track demo (anyone got a copy?) Jac Holzman signed him to Elektra Records and his first album, Tim Buckley featuring the above musicians, plus Lee Underwood on guitar and Billy Mundi on drums, was duly released. It's a fine record, perhaps the definitive LA folk-rock album, but perhaps a tad naive and consequently a little dated. If nothing else it introduced us to Buckley's amazing voice.

Goodbye And Hello, which followed (1967) contains some wonderful tracks but is marred by overproduction and a tendency towards being just a bit too fey. From then on a distinct jazz element began to creep in, along with a maturing of his (and/or Beckett's) lyrics. Over the next two years he produced his two best albums Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon and his two strangest, Lorca and Starsailor.

The critical reaction (negative) to the latter's vocal excursions and often quite avant-garde music, led to Buckley retiring for nearly two years, before returning with 1972's Greetings From LA. The 'new' Buckley was similar to the old one, but harder edged and definitely funky and the lyrics reflected quite graphically his (new?) passion for pornography.

Two more albums followed, the flawed, but at times quite beautiful Sefronia (1974) and the weakest album of his career, Look At The Fool (1975).

Tragically, Buckley died of an overdose on the 25th of June 1975. Ironically, despite the weak last album, he was just starting to regain his old sixties popularity when he died.

And that is the Tim Buckley story in a nutshell. Now let's investigate a legacy of live recordings from 1968, one of the most fascinating years in his career.

The first trip-- April, 1968

Despite what it says in Lee Underwood's notes to the newly released Dream Letter, the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert was not Buckley's first visit to the UK. That first trip took place in the April of '68, and may well have been the prelude to a European tour. Whilst here he recorded (at least) a Top Gear session, two (possibly four) numbers for BBC2's Late Night Line Up and played at least two gigs: he headlined a night at Middle Earth (the 15th) and supported the Incredible String Band at the Royal Festival Hall. He may also have played at the Speakeasy.

I say he, but in fact he brought Lee Underwood and ace conga player Carter C.C. Collins with him. Danny Thompson was supplied by the musicians union (an inspired choice) to play stand-up bass (note: there was no vibe player).

The Top Gear session was broadcast on the 7th April and fortunately the master tape of it (including Buckley talking between numbers to the control room) survives. It is, quite simply, brilliant, capturing the music of Buckley's folk-rock period, but without the strings and over-production that mars the first two albums.

The 'early' tracks are Morning Glory, Once I Was and a sublime version of Hallucinations all from Hello And Goodbye. Hallucinations in fact segues into Troubadour (only now released on Dream Letter). The other two songs are Sing A Song For You (not released until 15 months later as part of Happy Sad) and Happy Time (released even later on Blue Afternoon). This set is every bit as good as Dream Letter (but subtly different) and all things being equal, it should be released sometime in 1991.

Even more miraculous is the survival of two numbers recorded for Late Night Line Up, broadcast the same week as the Top Gear session. The band performed excellent versions of Happy Time and Morning Glory, however the former is introduced by the presenter as Coming Home -- presumably it's original title. Unfortunately the surviving tape is only in black and white, despite being broadcast in color. Also, I suspect that they cut four numbers spread over two nights, with only this one surviving.

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