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On the 28th of July 1968 Tim Buckley took to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival after being introduced as an artist who “in the great Ogden Nash tradition of poetry, has been writing and singing his own songs, in a fairly modern idiom, which sits, however, very, very comfortably on a fine bed of old folk music.” It was a description that would have sent a shudder through Buckley.
Tim Buckley had always been a restless, questing musical spirit and he moved on from his work almost as soon as it had been recorded; by the time of ‘Happy Sad’ in 1969, he had started to feel his way towards the jazz direction that characterised the revolutionary, avant-garde rock of his ‘Starsailor’ period. However in the run-up to ‘Happy Sad’ Buckley had started to feel constrained by the expectations of both his audience and his record company, Elektra. Album sessions in ’68 had yielded a series of recordings that he ultimately abandoned and never released, many of which survived only from live performances until posthumous collections made them widely available.
The appearance at Newport in ’68 reflects some of Tim’s struggle over artistic direction; together with material from both ‘Goodbye and Hello’ and ‘Happy Sad’, he performs two songs, ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and ‘The Dolphins’, that were recorded and discarded during the ‘Happy Sad’ sessions. Indeed, it’s clear from another ‘68 performance of ‘The Dolphins’ on the BBC’s ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ that that song in particular was very much on his mind. And so this concert, broadcast live from Newport by radio stations across America, is a fascinating glimpse into the artistic muse of one of music’s most fertile and singular minds, at a key crossroads in his tragically short career.