Jeff Buckley & Me

Thursday 1st September 1994, and the one week shy of twenty-two year old me is digging through the boxes of seven inches on the counter of the Covent Garden Rough Trade shop. More hanging around than picking over which Palace Brothers import to spend my hard earned on. I’m skint due to the fact that I nipped into Ray’s Jazz Shop on my way here. Ray’s being a place where I tend to spend way too much time and money. Not that I was a huge jazz buff, far from it, I’d only just started to dip my toe into the murky waters of Heroin Jazz. Coltrane, Miles, Kirk and Mingus was where I was at, the further out the better. Pretentious white-kid jazz. Teenage Velvets-fan jazz. Not that I ever really bought jazz records at Ray’s anyway, I was there for the dusty boxes of oddness that the staff didn’t seem interested in. Old soundtracks and what at that time was termed ‘Easy Listening’.

Anyway, forget all that, since it’s got absolutely nothing to do with Jeff Buckley. Let’s get back to indie-kid me, all DMs, turned-up 501s and Brett Anderson haircut, looking at records, killing time before Jeff Buckley’s in-store set. As anyone who was around in London back then will attest the Covent Garden Rough Trade shop wasn’t big. Far from it in fact. It was located in the basement of Slam City Skates. The two shops being umbilically linked by a wobbly spiral staircase.

Thirty minutes before they’re due to play, Jeff Buckley and band descend said staircase, and after a brief chat with the staff proceed to set up their equipment in the corner of the shop that is used for such occasions. I’ve thrown a sickie in order to be here, and arrived early thinking it was going to be impossible to get in. But as is often the way with these things I needn’t have worried since there’s just a handful of people here and none of them seem that interested in the band who are now flicking through the vinyl racks. To be fair, outside the sun is shining, and when it’s warm outside it gets very warm down here. Plus it’s a Thursday and nothing good ever happens on a Thursday.

The band peel off upstairs, leaving Jeff behind browsing through the records beside me. Then the weirdest thing happens, Jeff Buckley starts chatting with me. At first it’s just about the records we’re looking through, just music chat, ‘what’s good at the moment?’, ‘what are you into?’, ‘have you heard this?’ sort of thing. Then we start talking about The Smiths. Turns out Jeff Buckley loves The Smiths. I love The Smiths. This is the best thing that could happen to me, if he’d started going off on a tangent about Nina Simone I’d have been lost, but The Smiths…

We chat, mainly about The Queen is Dead and about how Strangeways is so much better than people give it credit for. I can’t remember the conversation word for word, just the gist of it, this was over twenty years ago after all. What I do remember was that while we talked my mind kept wandering to the vinyl copies of Grace and Live At Sin-é in my record bag. I’d bought them along on the off chance that he might sign them. Despite the fact that I never really do that sort of thing.

We’re talking, the shop is empty and I’m thinking, this is how you want it to be when you meet someone famous. You want to have an actual conversation, not just some ‘oh, I loved you in that film’ or ‘your book saved my life’ gubbins, just an honest back-and-forth conversation. I’m still thinking about the records in my bag though, I can’t just whip them out and ask him to sign them can I? He thinks I’m alright, we’re talking about Suede and The Auteurs, I can’t let him down.

Then like a balloon being burst it’s all over. Michael Tighe, the guitarist in the band, turns up and drags Jeff away. Jeff waves goodbye and I think how that was a bit of a Kodak moment. Fair enough I didn’t get my records signed, but I got something way better. But then minutes later Jeff’s back, “Do you want a coffee?”, he asks, handing me a takeout coffee.

“Uh, yeah, cheers,” I reply and we’re back chatting again. We talk about the venue he’s playing at tonight, The Garage in Highbury, I tell him I’m looking forward to it and how it’s rare to see someone play twice in one day. Gradually the shop starts to fill, and it becomes apparent that it’s time for him to take the microphone and play.

The show was great. If you ever saw Jeff Buckley play then you’ll know what I’m talking about. All the times I saw him live, in all sorts of venues, he was always amazing. No one ever went to a Jeff Buckley concert for the guitar playing, it was all about that voice and the things he’d do with it. But since you’re reading this, I’m thinking you know all that already.

For me the stand out moment of the short gig was when Jeff broke off from the set-list and played The Boy With the Thorn in His Side. As he sang it he looked straight at me. Kodak moment number two.

Afterwards, swallowing my pride and like a total fan-boy I asked him and the band to sign my copy of Grace. Which they all did. I didn’t want to push my luck with Sin-é, so that stayed put in my bag. Then not wanting to take up any more of Jeff & Co’s time I made my way over to the other side of the shop to wait for the crowd to thin out a bit before heading back up to the surface.

The funny thing is that I then bumped into Bernard Butler, who was hiding out in the same corner as me. He’d not long exited Suede, a band I absolutely adored at the time, and wasn’t best pleased that I’d recognised him. Feeling on a high from the way my day was going I decided to go all or nothing and asked him if I could have his autograph. He begrudgingly said he would sign something, so I dug around in my record bag but all I had was a copy of that week’s NME. With mild embarrassment I handed it over to him along with my marker pen. He looked up at me as if to say ‘you’ve got to be fucking joking’. See the thing is that week’s cover story was on Suede and featured Brett Anderson sitting in a corn field playing a golden harp. I offered Butler a weak smile, “it’s all I’ve got,” I whimpered.

“How can I make him look like a paedophile?” he laughed, before deciding that wasn’t such a great idea and scanned through the pages instead for something more fitting.

That something turned out to be an advert for the latest Manic Street Preachers LP – The Holy Bible, which he drew a love heart around and signed. We chatted for a moment about what he was up to, but I could tell he wasn’t in the mood to deal with fan-boys, so I thanked him and said goodbye.

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