It was December 1974. I was home for the holidays from Royal Holloway and I thought I’d go up to London from Sevenoaks to wander round the record shops. It was a great pleasure to do this. My musical guru, Peter, had shown me what to do. Firstly you went to Tottenham Court Road tube station, walked through the rather odd clothes shop at the end of Oxford Street and up the stairs to the Virgin Record shop. Was it a “megastore” at this stage? It was the same shop that my Dad walked to in order to buy my Christmas present in December 1977 which was “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.” After browsing through the record racks, you walked down Oxford Street and turned left into Berwick Street. Sometimes there was a stall in the market selling singles. Just as it led into Rupert Street, there was a rather new and shiny shop on a corner that sold a few records at cut price – I got “Songs Of Love And Hate” by Leonard Cohen there without an inner sleeve for 50p. Finally you got to the brilliant second hand record shop on the right. It’s now called Reckless Records but the current owners are newbies having opened the store in 1984. There was a singles stall out the front and a great second hand shop inside. Peter showed me what to do when I bought “Recall The Beginning – A Journey From Eden” by The Steve Miller Band there. He told me to make sure I looked at the vinyl to check that there were no scratches and, in this case, to ask for the lyrics sheet – a blue piece of paper which I’m looking at right now, just the right size to fit inside the sleeve and still in surprisingly good condition. This was the record shop tour – occasionally followed by going upstairs in Dobell’s in Charing Cross Road.
So back to 1974 and, annoyingly, I can’t remember where I was but it was definitely none of the shops already mentioned. I can still recall walking towards a shop which had a display of record sleeves in the window and there was “Look At The Fool” by Tim Buckley. I was gobsmacked. I had no idea this record even existed. I bought the record without thinking at what I think may have been a slightly inflated “import” price and just wanted to back in my bedroom in Sevenoaks immediately so I could play it. I had to wait an hour or so before I could rush in past my Mum and put my new purchase on my Garrard SP25-II turntable.
A bit more about why this rather dull story about buying a record is significant to me. Firstly, I had all Tim Buckley’s previous eight albums. I started with “Starsailor”, the second best record ever and Tim’s sixth album. “Starsailor” was a very useful record to me at College because if there were ever people in my room and I just wanted them to leave so I could go to bed, I just put this on because everybody else I’ve ever met hates it. Everybody else is wrong. I had heard one track on the Alan Black show in 1970 and I had recorded it on my reel to reel tape recorder. It was the first record I ever bought by mail order – from Virgin Records as it happens. Peter subsequently told me he had seen Tim Buckley’s second album going cheap in Woolworth’s in Southgate and did I want him to get it for me. I seem to remember it was 75p or was it 15 shillings? I bought the rest of the albums over the next few years and then heard nothing. There was never anything about Tim Buckley in New Musical Express, Melody Maker or Rolling Stone which were my three sources of information. To see a record by one of my favourite artists that I had never heard of was so exciting. Of course, now we all have instant information about everything. I know about new releases by my favourite artists through the reviews and free CDs that come with MOJO and UNCUT every month. I’m increasingly finding that Spotify’s “Release Radar” knows more about what I like than Peter or even I do myself. And these days, artists put singles out a couple of months before the album is released. The War On Drugs put out “Thinking Of A Place” four months before “A Deeper Understanding” was released. (My current “Release Radar” has singles by Clem Snide, Lucinda Williams, Jason Isbell, Jackson Browne, Steve Earle, Lily Hiatt, Roddy Woomble and Chuck Prophet. They’re all excellent tracks.) So the idea that nowadays I could walk into HMV and see a CD by one of my favourite artists that I had never heard of is ridiculous.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing though. Trawling through the record racks looking to see what unknown goodies were simply lying around waiting to be snaffled up was always a great pleasure. Once, trawling through Parrott Records in Harlow, I came across “Live At Raji’s” by The Dream Syndicate. I thought they had only released one record, the magnificent “Days Of Wine And Roses.” It used to be that whenever I went into a record shop, especially a second hand record shop, I would go to the H section to see if they had any albums by Help Yourself. When all of their five albums were finally re-released on CD, one of my life pleasures was removed.
So what is “Look At The Fool” like? To be honest, I can’t recommend it. It’s definitely his ninth best studio record and if you include the nine live records, it’s his 18th best. It starts brilliantly with the title track. David Browne in his book “Dream Brother” describes it well: “Slipping and sliding from an Al Green-style falsetto to guttural moans, his singing on the vocal-showcase title song marks a potentially positive new direction.” I’ve played the whole album a few times today and, because I know it so well, there’s much to admire but nothing matches the title track. It’s quite funky, the background girl singers are quite prominent and there is a lot of guitar work by producer Joe Falsia. You have to admit, though, that his vocals are extraordinary. Lillian Roxon wrote “Nothing in rock, folk-rock or anything else prepares you for a Tim Buckley album, and it’s funny to hear his work described as blues, modified rock’n’roll and raga rock when, in fact, there is no name yet for the places he and his voice can go.” With this record, he was definitely trying to reach a wider audience but his instincts for what would be popular were misguided. His lack of fame was a constant source of diappointment for him and after making this album, he sacked his manager, Herb Cohen (who also managed Frank Zappa and Tom Waits) because he was dissatisfied with the way his career was progressing.
This was Tim Buckley’s last album. He died in June 1975. Should you be interested, I’ve written much more about Tim Buckley…..