NO HALF NILS­SON

Stage fright pre­vented Harry Nils­son from per­form­ing in con­cert. Now fans can hear hits like With­out You live, thanks to Tim Freed­man

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - LIVE & LOUD -

Tim Freed­man wants to give fans of 1970s hit US singer­song­writer Harry Nils­son some­thing the orig­i­nal never did: the op­por­tu­nity to hear his mu­sic live in con­cert.

The erst­while Whit­lams front­man will re­turn to the Gold Coast tonight in a dif­fer­ent guise, as “a bedrag­gled, bearded, hun­gover singer-song­writer with the voice of an an­gel” in Freed­man does Nils­son.

“Un­til about two years ago I was re­ally only aware of his three big hits – Every­body’s Talkin’, With­out You and One – and I also had his al­bum Nils­son sings New­man, be­cause I’m such a huge Randy New­man fan,” Freed­man says.

“But I kept read­ing about him and re­alised he was a big fan of other peo­ple’s mu­sic — he was a very en­thu­si­as­tic, so­cial fel­low.

“I re­alised we had a lot in common melod­i­cally and pi­ano play­ing-wise, so I de­cided to have a bash at do­ing him.”

Nils­son had been try­ing to get his old record la­bel, RCA, to re­lease a boxed ret­ro­spec­tive of his work be­fore his death 20 years ago.

“I think he knew he was dy­ing ... he’d hit him­self so hard that he wasn’t well, even in his 40s,” Freed­man says.

“He was con­cerned about his legacy and he was proud of the work he’d done, although a lot of it had been un­her­alded.”

Brook­lyn-born Nils­son’s pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents were Swedish cir­cus per­form­ers best known for their “aerial bal­let” – which later be­came the ti­tle of one of his al­bums.

After work­ing with fel­low hit com­posers Phil Spec­tor and George Tip­ton, Nils­son got his own con­tract with Tower Records in 1966 and be­gan to have his songs recorded by artists as di­verse Glen Camp­bell, Fred As­taire, The Shangri-Las, The Yard­birds and The Mon­kees.

Even The Bea­tles be­came Nils­son fans, with John Len­non and Paul McCart­ney declar­ing him their favourite US artist.

Nils­son suf­fered from hor­rific stage fright and rarely made live ap­pear­ances.

“He had such a won­der­ful record deal that he didn’t re­ally need the money,” Freed­man says.

“That was com­pounded by the fact that he’d al­ways been very shy and also by the fact that after 1972, re­ally, he’d wrecked his voice par­ty­ing, stay­ing up for three days with co­gnac and cigars, talk­ing and try­ing to match John Len­non singing pri­mal ther­apy vo­cals.”

When he takes to the stage at the Sound­lounge tonight, Freed­man will per­form songs like To­gether and One, and Cud­dly Toy.

“I will be try­ing to sing as closely to Harry as I can, not do­ing my own way-off in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

“I’m try­ing to do what Harry would have done, on pi­ano.”

Pic­ture: STEPHEN BAC­CON

Tim Freed­man, above, sings Nils­son “with the voice of an an­gel”.

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