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