Tribute to Tim Buckley, Songwriter Festival, Royal Festival Hall

From: R Kid
Category: Other stuff
Date: 27 September 2001


The Royal Festival Hall is really a strange place to have pop music. They try so hard, they really do, with their festivals and big name organisers and eclectic mixes, but in the end it just seems to boil down to inviting along a suspiciously similar mix of old mates, has-beens, never weres and nobodies. Not to worry, though, because the self-conscious pretentious crowd are obligated to like it all in a really over the top, embarrassing way, shouting encouragement to acts it would be kinder to force off the stage in a hail of beer bottles. The ushers obviously feel they were hired for classier things than this, and maintain a frowning overview which, even when there was dope-smoking and dancing in the aisles at the meltdown last year, makes you feel like you're being naughty at school. They show you disdainfully to your uncomfortable seat with numbers cleverly designed to make everyone sit one seat to the left of where they should be. So, why do I end up going so often? I guess it's because the mixture of has-beens and never was-es strangely tends to include an awful lot of my favourite bands. And the toilets have paper towels, hand dryers AND towel rolls, which is sweet.

The theme of this particular festival is The Song's The Thing, and my new friends the Kashmir Klub have been let loose on the free stage near the bar, to cacophonous and occasionally tuneful effect. Tonight is a tribute to Tim Buckley, one of the finest singers, and with some great songs, though hard to cover. Each band gets two songs - a Buckley cover and one of their own. For me, this is something of an ideal gig format - you can't get too bored, bands have to make the effort to sell themselves, and there are bound to be plenty of songs you recognise. First up is an incredibly nervous Teddy Thompson, who impresses in the opening bars with his rich and flexible voice, but never exactly pulls off moments of Buckley beauty. He does his own song with much more gusto and energy. But a good and promising start. Then come Lowgold, an average-looking Camdenite indie band, who are obviously someone's mates and keep thanking whoever got them on the bill - repeatedly. They have o business with a Tim Buckley song and quickly prove it, although their own is up to bog standard. Next up Ben & Jason (some of the bigger names on offer!) with Buckley (and everyone else) collaborator Danny Thompson on bass. They do a passable version of the sublime buzzin' fly, but Ben (or is it Jason)'s voice is too weedy and high to do it justice. A rather obvious problem is emerging - Buckley was far better than any of these modern imitators. Lets see if Simon Raymonde can do any better (he was in the Cocteau Twins, you know). Don't know if he's the bearded guy playing piano and singing good backing vocals, or the chubby guy on a stool murdering the song. Don't care either because their own song goes on so fucking long. The woman next to me is emphatically and deliberately 'loving every minute of it', whispering to her prospective boyfriend arcane references to every song, so enthusiastic I'd swear it was false, but maybe not as she's Australian. I'm torn between telling her to shut the fuck up and keep still, and not wanting to cramp her style. The half closes with Susheela Raman doing an Indian song which is strange and beautiful and, she feels, similar in tone to the Buckley song. Like everyone, shes incredibly nervous and the twist of putting the non-Buckley song first doesn't help.

By the second half the thrill is going, but Relish meet the task with a new enthusiasm - a young, good looking Irish band with actual energy and actually able to sing a bit, they cover a soul classic Tiger Eyes before doing an obscure Buckley number possibly called the red flag. I'd happily sit through a whole concert of theirs, although they could really do with tightening up the drumming a bit. Jane Siberry, according to the blurb for her gig this Friday, has 'often been compared to Joni Mitchell or Suzanne Vega and quite why she has not sold as many records as either of them is a mystery'. No, its not - she's pretty crap. She has a decent voice but you couldn't imagine some less comfortable with herself, a vanishingly slight stage presence except that you have to look away because of the strange and pretentious way she moves her hands as though conducting herself. Buckley song absolutely embarrassing, then after a drunken heckle her own song sounds great, maybe she's just at the wrong gig. Then there's a bloke (Danny) from Embrace - some kind of pop combo I believe - who does a respectful and pleasant Morning Glory, and a pleasant but uninteresting song wot he wrote himself called Fireworks. Then a real name (this week anyway) - Badly Drawn Boy, short and very funny, trademark woolly hat and fag. A long amusing intro perhaps to hide nervousness, a half decent cover with at least some proper music playing as he improvises with Danny Thompson at the end, then after a heckler reveals they'd prefer him to play Jeff Buckley songs than his own, a half-arsed piss around some of the former's chords before he leaves. Eddi Reader steals the show. Her song was fine, a composition by the bloke out of the Trash Can Sinatras who duets and plays acoustic guitar. But she's being doing Dolphins (a Fred Neill song Buckley also covered) for years and it shows. What a voice, what emotions, what subtlety. Beautiful and a sad reminder of what we were hoping for. When you advertise a gig as a tribute to Tim Buckley, people expect something good for their 15, not unrehearsed and embarrassing half-efforts. Laziness all round. Th ensemble takes a curtain call. No enchores.

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