Jeff Buckley Tribute Concert - London Highbury Garage - 17/12/03

30 Jan 2004

intimate 'album-launch'/tribute to the late legend.

Jeff BuckleyAt this time of year, one normally halts for a quiet while, mulled-wine in hand, and reflects upon the previous twelve months. The highs, the lows and the factors that have changed themselves or the world (2003 = eventful). And, musically, this year has seen the tragic death of a clutch of artists: Elliot Smith, Matthew Jay and the great Johnny Cash to name but three.

And, while reminiscing, what makes proceedings tonight in the intimate Highbury Garage so achingly special is that so many still care about one man who has influenced many-a-singer in the past ten years. Jeff Buckley died tragically on 29th May 1997 after making just one album proper, 'Grace': ten songs all that were needed to make his mark such a substantial one.

This evening, a low-key tribute to Buckley, was organised by Jeff's mum, Mary Guibert, prompted by dozens of e-mails from England asking for a fitting tribute to be arranged in the UK to match those previously staged in the US. Artists and fans alike helped stage this gig as a small way of paying their respects to Jeff. Most of the planning was conducted via the Internet and a date and venue was agreed. All those starring tonight donated their services free, aptly, in the season for giving.

From the off, there is a tense atmosphere and a low buzz of excitement the second you walk into the Garage. As dealings kick off, we are shown two short films featuring the artist, the first containing some unseen footage in the studio and the second a snippet of the future film-release based on his life. Both are introduced by Mary and at the end of each, the whole crowd is in unison, beginning a misty-eyed arrangement of cheering and clapping. Movingly, Mary tells us that if she threw a stone into the crowd, it would no doubt hit an artist of some kind, all in attendance worthy of such a title having understood and respected her son's work over the years.

There is no restrictions on choice of songs (except Tim Buckley ones, apparently) and tracks featured as part of the show range from Van Morrison and Joy Division to the artist's own material. It's a packed line-up tonight and first up is David Caggiari from Apartment, who, for an unsigned artist, opens the affair raptly; his wispy voice accompanied by sole guitar is a chilling opening, much like the ensuing Martin Grech who does his eerily-like-Radiohead-but-with-an-angsty-twist shtick with rousing results.

Then came blues-folkster Carla Werner, the only female present onstage amidst the night, and she made sure it wasn't just a show for the mere boys, an engaging 'Lover, You Should've Come Over', fittingly dedicated to Buckley, the first signs of an epic eve. Then for something out of the ordinary. We don't think anyone in attendance would expect to see hugely successful, jazz-cum-pop crossover youngster Jamie Cullum live, but the boy done good. He opened his set with just a drum on the lap before moving to his trusted piano. For a lad trying to bring jazz kicking and screaming into mainstream rotation, he played the second version of 'Lover...' in his own unique style to a rapturous retort. Had we been wearing a hat, it'd have been chewed down to the rim by now.

Things kick up a gear as the tried and tested (and seldom failing) Ed Harcourt graces us with his presence. This man is so talented he almost invites the crowd to choose the songs for him, just to show he can do it. A soulful, soothing 'Last Goodbye' is the highlight of his set, but surprisingly he doesn't take an axe to his piano (a usual Harcourt sight). Finally, we have Mark Greaney of JJ72, who, we are told, begged and pleaded with Mary to be included in the line-up.

For sure, it's a comforting end to the night as Mark runs through some self-penned material, including 'Snow', and a beautiful 'Lilac Wine' (itself originally performed by Elkie Brooks of all musos). Emotionally, Mary closes this evening thanking each and every one of us for spreading the word of Jeff Buckley, and there ain't a dry eye in the house.

Sure enough, we have just witnessed something arranged by pure dedication alone and we all can take something away with us. And if one thing was learnt, it's the fact that true greats never die - they live on through their influences on others. Hallelujah, indeed.

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