Playing with Jeff Buckley

February 10, 2009

I’ve just found something on youtube that I’ve been searching for for years – literally…jeff1

I’ve been so lucky to have been able to play the cello with some of the most amazing musicians, but by far the greatest was Jeff Buckley. Of course he’s shot up the charts recently through his beautiful cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah – surely the antithesis of X-Factor..?

This is Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament from Dido and Γ†neas. But listen to this – Just. listen. to. it…

I mean, no-one can sing like that. No-one should be physically able to sing like that.

Jeff Buckley singing, withpianist Catherine Edwards, violinist Ian Belton and me on cello, in Elvis Costello’s Meltdown Festival, July 1st 1995.

I remember, this singer arrived really late, just before the show, dishevelled, all cheekbones, cool hair, black jeans and the biggest boots you’ve ever seen supporting a rake thin body.

He apologised – got out his music – a kid’s exercise book with the lyrics of the songs written out in a crazy biro scrawl. – If a word was written high up the page, well then it meant it was a high note.

At one point he asked me what country he was in… he was confused between Germany and the UK that day as I think he’d flown in with little sleep.

And then he sang.

As Elvis Costello remembers;

When he started singing Dido’s Lament at the rehearsal, there were all these classical musicians who could not believe it. Here’s a guy shuffling up on-stage and singing a piece of music normally thought to be the property of certain types of specifically developed voice, and he’s just singing, not doing it like a party piece, but doing something with it.

That’s an understatement… I remember the lights being pretty bright and the silhouette of his frame as he bent almost double to wrench every ounce of meaning from a song written 300 hundred years ago. Better than any classical musician I’ve ever heard.

As he was singing, a photographer shuffled along past the feet of the audience in the front row at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to get a shot, unaware that they were for that second the most hated person in London, and got a good clout round the head for their troubles from someone who should remain nameless.

I can’t remember anything straight after that, but Elvis Costello wrote in Mojo:

My last memory of him was at the little party in the green room afterwards. There were all these people sitting round Jeff who’d never met before – Fretwork, the viol group, a classical pianist and some jazz player – all talking and laughing about music. He’d charmed everybody. I’d much rather remember that than anything.

I just wish i could find a photo…

Here’s an extract from a Radio 4 Documentary when I talked about it:

33 comments on “Playing with Jeff Buckley

    • Karin Sjoholm on

      Thank you so much for sharing this. Since I first saw the video, I’ve listened to it at least once a week. It’s beauty fills me with both joy and pain. I love your insight about technique versus ear and musicianship. The more you dig into Jeff, the more beautiful and painful it gets.

  1. Mojo Pin on

    Yay, that’s me who uploaded this stuff on youtube.
    This is a beautiful article, thanks for sharing this story with us πŸ™‚

  2. Claudia Cragg on

    I just sat – rapt, totally rapt – listening to BBC Radio 4’s Soul Music and hearing you speak about playing Cello for Buckley at the Festival. I could not move, such was the frisson that ran through me. I am a (very amateur but dedicated) cellist, but what you said about music and your epiphany on hearing Buckley really really stuck. Thank you so much.

  3. valerie bentinck on

    Rarely am I moved to ‘look up’ an artist to find out their background, and very sad to hear of Buckley’s early demise. Thankyou Radio 4, for such a moment of musical ectasy, so hope it will be released.
    Regards Valerie.

  4. Bucklberry on

    I’m suprised you never asked the producers of the Soul Music show (or more likely the engineers), if you could get a copy off them, as I know I would’ve!

    Was a tidy little interview mind you, you came across very well Phillip πŸ™‚

  5. judith seith on

    The soul Music programme was quite outstanding and your description of the Buckley effect is unforgettable, as is the rendering of the Lament. I am not a great Internet researcher but vowed to track down the possibility of finding out more and hearing this again. So thanks!! I can boast of my prowess to my son ( aged 33 )- not really what he expects me to be doing at my age!

  6. Ian Robertson on

    Like many others found the Buckley version of Dido one of the most moving. Have been looking to acquire a recording but they are not easy to find. Time for someone of influence to ask the companies to release this for the public to buy?

  7. elisabeth on

    Your account of your musical epiphany was so moving. I have felt the same way about technique versus ear for a long time but have never heard anyone else voice this opinion.

  8. LA on

    I’ve never met Jeff but I think of him almost every day as well. Literally the first time I heard his voice over 15 years ago (which I remember very clearly to this day) I was taken with it. Music has always been a huge part of my life and nothing had (or has since) moved me the way he did. The more I learned of him, by listening, reading, watching, the more he changed my life. I wanted nothing more than to see him play live and experience all that Jeff the musician was in person. My chance to do just that was coming up – I was heading to Memphis and planned to see him at Barristers where he played weekly. But he died just before that was to happen. Without ever meeting him Jeff had touched my life in such a profound way that his death was very intense and personal for me…

  9. gloria on

    Thank you so much for sharing. I love your story and learning little things about Jeff.
    You are so lucky to have met and performed with him. I linked this to my blog…

  10. Boston Jo on

    Thank you for sharing your encounter with Jeff. I think we all feel a strong connection to him whether or not we as individuals had met him in person. Reading your account of the rehearsal and performance gives me chills. I can almost see it. How I wish there was a video of the rehearsal and the show. I’ll leave you all with my favorite quote from Jeff-

  11. Roberto on

    I’m not usually an emotional man but when I heard this I had to stop what I was doing and my eyes filled up.
    Also thankyou for your recollections of the performance.

  12. Neville on

    Nice. Except Dido’s Lament is not about burying someone you love as you state. It’s sung by Dido Queen of Carthage just before she throws herself on her own funeral pyre, anguished over Aeneas’ – her lover’s – decision to leave her. It’s a suicide note, really. But thanks for posting this. I have been looking for it for years.

  13. Peter Tudor Miles on

    I remember this broadcast so vividly and the impact it had on Philip Sheppard. Also
    the ethereal purity of J.B’s voice.

  14. Cathi Iuliano on

    Thank you for this. I just discovered this performance today and I have to admit I am absolutely speechless. His death remains, 16 years later, a profound and unspeakable loss.

  15. nigel on

    I heard this a view years ago on Radio 4 while I was driving. I had to pull the car over and listen with my full attention. An amazing interpretation of an incredibly beautiful piece of music. Thanks so much for sharing.

  16. Stephen Gray on

    I remember hearing this on Radio 4 and was trying to park the car. I had to stop and listen as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Once heard never forgotten.


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