Remembering Jeff Buckley: ‘People would listen with their mouths open’

With the release of You & I, an album featuring tracks from 1993, three of his closest creative collaborators remember the late musician

‘There was a feeling that you had a very serious young man in front of you’ … Jeff Buckley. Photograph: David Tonge/Getty Images

Emma Banks of Creative Artists Agency, and Jeff’s UK live agent

I worked with Jeff from the beginning of his career until the end. We first met while he was staying with a friend in London during the Christmas holidays in 1992, at what was once the Dome cafe on the corner of Kings Road in London. He was a fairly penniless musician at the time, so I bought him lunch. The first meeting was almost like going on a blind date, not romantically, but we got on so well immediately. He wasn’t the most gregarious person, but we clicked and connected: we were similar ages and were both just starting out. I think we were in the cafe for about four hours.

During that first meeting, he said to me that he’d never want to play an arena, and if I expected to make any money off him, I was talking to the wrong person. He loved playing small rooms, which is why when we met he laid down the gauntlet for me to find tiny venues for him to play. I remember him saying to me that when people are talking in a venue he would try to use their noise to become part of the song, so the whole thing would blend together. But the reality is that nobody ever did talk at his gigs. They were completely silent. People would listen and watch with their mouths open half the time.

When I was working with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, who was a big Tim Buckley fan, I told her manager that I had this really good new artist that Chrissie might like to come and check out. She was in the studio close by when he played the legendary gig at Upstairs at the Garage, and she liked it so much she invited him back to her studio where he jammed with the band.

Another night he played at Bunjies in Soho: it was mobbed, and there were so many people still outside. So I booked a second gig for him to play at a different venue once he’d finished at Bunjies, because of the demand. I’ve never done that before, or since.
Essentially, though, Jeff was just a human, with human needs. He played Glastonbury in 1995 and completely forgot about sunblock on a blisteringly hot day so got completely sunburned. He looked like a lobster.

Glen Hansard, actor and frontman of the Frames

Jeff and I were both involved in the film The Commitments; Jeff was a guitar tech for the band. It toured America, so we travelled together a lot. We became pals pretty quickly, sharing a passion for Bob Dylan and spending a lot of time in hotel rooms playing songs to each other. At one point I started playing Tim Buckley’s Once I Was and I remember Jeff saying: “You know he was my dad?” I was like, “No way. Fuck off!”

One evening we were staying in a hotel on 57th Street in New York. I was a secondary character in the film so I wasn’t that busy. I was sitting in my room with Jeff when I got a phone call from an Irish guy who owned a cafe in the East Village called Sin-é (where Jeff would later hold his famed residency and record his Live at Sin-é EP). He was asking me if I could get the Commitments to play. When I said I couldn’t organise it he gave me and Jeff the midnight slot instead. All excited, we jumped in a cab and went to the venue. I did a couple of songs and during a cover of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing, Jeff came on stage and started singing. He blew the fucking roof off the place.

I opened for him during his Grace tour. The first time he came to Dublin he played in Whelan’s, which is a pretty small place. It was a typical, noisy Dublin gig; people were chatting away. I could see that he was trying to figure out how to win the audience, so he picked up a pint of Guinness and just swallowed the whole thing in one go. The room broke into a huge applause and he just started singing; the audience was under his spell. But by the end of his Grace tour he was a different human being. He was tired; he was down. There was a darkness in him that I’d never seen. He was playing a much bigger room. It was heaving and they were so excited to see him. I could tell he was struggling with himself. The band was rocking and playing almost metal versions of his songs – it was like he was mocking his own gentility. At the end of the show he threw himself into the crowd, which I hadn’t seen him do before. I mentioned it to him after the gig and he said: “Do you know what? I have so little in me right now, the only thing I could do was literally give myself to the crowd.”

I was living in a flat in Dublin in 1997 when I got a message from one of my flatmates saying: “Jeff Buckley called you this morning. Do you know him? Fucking hell! Do you know Jeff Buckley? He told me to say hello to you!” It was a surprise to hear from him – we hadn’t spoken in two years. A few days later I heard that he had died. When I think back, I’m grateful for the fact that I got to be a fly on the wall during a great moment of a young man’s life.

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