Playing with Jeff buckley

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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 Æneas. 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:

And here’s an awesome set he performed at KCRW radio station…

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you so much for your memories about this event. They are precious. It means so much for me to hear and read that people like you admit that Jeff is a great singer, very powerful and soulful. Merci beaucoup.
    A friend of mine (contralto singer) told me that she was troubled listening to this song performed by Jeff and that it was the only version of this song really sung with soul, even if technically it doesn’t sound as perfect as the versions of some famous sopranos. Soul. Jeff is a precious soul and will be for ever.

    1. radiomovies says:

      I agree. I’ve never heard it sung with that much raw feeling.
      Spread the word!

    2. Claire Rickards says:

      I can’t agree more, it’s so beautiful and haunting. I heard this sung at a celebration of Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Lizzie’s (Pre-Raphealites) wedding in Hastings old town by a local soprano and it made me cry! I’ve been obsessed since and it just stays in my head….

  2. gareth says:

    god yeah – absolutely incredible song. lovely little piece too.

    “the blues wasnt invented in the 60’s you know”

    the world will never see Jeff’s like again.

    1. GD says:

      ….not one that will exude rawness like Jeff does

  3. Colin says:

    Perhaps you would be able to find a photo if someone hadn’t hit that photog in the head? or was that a statement of irony?

  4. Ceinwen says:

    Thank you for talking about this on R4’s Soul Music or I might never have heard it. As it is, I’ve been playing it over and over the last few days. No, he wasn’t technically brilliant, but that wasn’t the point was it – it was just amazing, magical even.

  5. Geraldine Legard says:

    So touched by what you said about Jeff Buckley and his performance of Dido’s Lament on the recent Radio 4 Soul Music. I have listened and re-listened to this on iPlayer and am going to feel bereft when it is no longer available. The combination of your descriptionof the event and its effect on you, and his singing, is quite overwhelming. I’d never been really aware of Jeff Buckley before, but he’s in my heart to stay…

    1. Claire Rickards says:

      And in mine too! I’ve been searching for versions of Dido’s Lament and this is the most poignant I’ve heard. Many thanks to Mr Sheppard for the broadcast!

  6. Karen Mac says:


    I too heard your piece on R4 and really thank you for bringing this piece of magic to wider attention. Beyond moving. I was already a Jeff Buckley fan but that performance was stunning!


  7. Chris Coleman says:

    Whilst I came to Jeff Buckley from the rock perspective, I tracked down a recording of your Soul Music contribution on recommendation from my (much more artistically astute) sister. She knew the one time I’d seen Jeff Buckley live (in Wolverhampton after the Grace album came out) I’d reckoned it to have been the greatest rock show I ever saw, and she wanted me to hear a “proper” musician (if that’s not too patronising) speak highly of Jeff as an innately and uniquely talented musician and singer. I thought you put across your stunned reaction to his rendition of “Dido’s Lament” quite beautifully and I’m just as pleased to see the piece on this blog.

    Am now following you on Twitter so we’ll see which new musical avenues that may take me down.


    Chris Coleman (aka @chrisseventeen)

  8. Claire Rickards says:

    Is there anywhere I can get a recording of Jeff Buckley’s beautiful version of Dido’s Lament please? I’d be so grateful for any information! Many thanks.

  9. Claire Rickards says:

    I would really love to possess a (legal) copy of this recording of Jeff Buckley singing Dido’s Lament – any help much appreciated. 🙂

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