The Tim Buckley Archives

Album Reviews
Unknown UK publication

Once I Was

by Eddi Reader

From the first bars of The Dolphins riff leading to Tim singing "Sometimes I think about...." (which has to be one of the best opening lines of a song ever), the warmth and quality of what he did when he was here with us is clear. He took me through the music with such delicacy, such effortless gliding that when I started to draft these notes, I was tempted to write just one word: "listen".

I first heard Tim Buckley's music coming out of an old boyfriend's worn-out stereo speaker one rainy Northern afternoon, in the social experiment 60's council estate that was our home. I flipped the album cover round in my hands and I studied his incredulous face on the front of Sefronia. He looked too pretty to be making those ancient noises with his throat. It was 1978/9 and I was just finishing school, desperate to sing, learn and experience this amazing post hippie/punk world of song and songwriting, which was left for me to explore by all who went before me.

Tim Buckley had already left the planet, having died a few years earlier. I missed out on ever seeing him play but there were the albums; full and heavy with moving vocal and guitar shapes, overwhelming me with the wit of his improvisations. I understood and resonated so completely with what he was doing and have spent the rest of my life searching for the same fearlessness of expression from my own voice.

These eight songs define Tim Buckley's range and beautiful, eclectic choices, whether it be a very blues-influenced jam, typical of the early 70s singer-songwriters (Honey Man or I Don't Need It To Rain, and the tone of his album Greetings From L.A.), or delicately working a song around a fine folk/classical chord structure and arrangement as in Hallucinations / Troubadour. Listen to how Tim settles into Once I Was; it is mesmerising and resonates between the players, whose musicianship must also be acknowledged.

These are remarkable live recordings. Tracks one and two, Dolphins and Honey Man, were recorded for The Old Grey Whistle Test on the 21st of May 1974. The following five songs were recorded live for The John Peel Show on the 2nd of April 1968.

Best of all, included on this album is a never before released recording of I Don't Need It To Rain, a stunning twelve-minute long concert performance recorded in Copenhagen on the 10th of December 1968.

This song was found in a box of disintegrating reel-to-reels at Tim's home. It's a great discovery and a powerful listening experience, made even more profound when you realize, as I did, that the crowd made not one sound throughout the playing; no clearing of throats, no movement, all of them in the bliss of real listening and real ego-less calm.

About the song Tim's wife Judy remarks: "Tim would routinely do this vocal warm-up in concert in order to loosen up his voice, after which he would tear into his song list at full strength".

I can hear how he takes himself through the singing, like he's walking gingerly over seaweed rocks; he guides the listener. He was a fearless and truly intimate performer. I imagine how it would be if he were still with us, how magnificent it would be to actually witness him sailing over grooves at Glastonbury this summer.

At last Tim Buckley seems to be recognized and respected more than thirty years after his death. We are so lucky to have the little that exists of him on record.

As I said earlier, just listen…

Eddi Reader is a Scottish singer/songwriter.
© Reader/

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