I received terrible news last night as I was reading The Guardian after dinner. The incomparable Harold Budd had died at the age of 84. Worse, as details filtered out this was another covid-19 related music death. Word came from the social media account of his long-term collaborator, Robin Guthrie. They had just released a new album last Friday that I wasn’t even aware of and now we’re looking at the proposition of a world without Budd adding his necessary sense of beauty.
Budd’s music is a regular feature of our household. My introduction to his music goes back to 1980 when chasinvictoria bought the “Ambient II: The Plateaux Of Mirror” album by Eno + Budd. I had heard a lot about Brian Eno but my first hearing of
Baby’s On Fire” was still another year down the road! He brought the album over and we plopped it on the turntable as we listened to it and immediately broadened our horizons. This new thing of non-Rock music that was… ambient. The furthest thing from a half naked guy screaming on stage. Okay! It’s a new thing… ambient.
I’d heard “The Plateaux Of Mirror” but didn’t notice any further Budd work until
The Pearl” was released several year afterward, but for reasons unknown, I never bought a copy even though I had liked the first Eno/Budd collaboration. The first Budd album that I came to have in my Record Cell came from the crossover with by that time, favorite band The Cocteau Twins in 1986. “The Moon + The Melodies” was not branded with the Cocteau Twins name; instead opting for the four names of the participants. Emphasizing that this was not a Cocteau Twins album. It was a collaboration of great merit that I was more than ready for.
The next Harold Budd album I bought came down the pike another six years later. I did not read about any work that Budd was releasing and in the pre-internet era, I was blithely unaware of much of anything going on with him. It remained until I was taking a trip across Eastern Canada with a video trading pal with similar tastes that we were shopping in the finest record emporiums of the Great White North. She saw “The White Arcades” and said “you have to buy this!” I looked and it was on Brian Eno’s label and there was Robin Guthrie involvement on two tracks, so yes ma’am! I bought that album and was rewarded with yet more beauty to luxuriate in courtesy of Budd’s synths. That was 1992, and the album had been out for four years already!
The next Budd wave happened when I met my wife and she took a shining to “The White Arcades” and then she began buying up all of the Harold Budd she ran across in the bins, which took a while. There has never been a surfeit of him in the stores, but we began buying [and special ordering] his albums going onward. By the new Millennium, we just always looked for any Harold Budd in every store. Then he started to make albums with John Foxx that were naturally on the fast track to my Record Cell! “Translucence/Drift Music” was down to Foxx editing and time stretching a Budd performance in the most abstract fashion possible.
Soon afterward, I read online of Budd’s “retirement” from music after a farewell concert at the Brighton Dome in the UK in 2005. The event featured: Bill Nelson, Steve Cobby, Steve Jansen, Theo Travis, Robin Guthrie, Jah Wobble, John Foxx and the Balanescu Quartet. [!] My only question, even now, is…who is Steve Cobby… because I have many albums by all of the other artists in my Record Cell! Fortunately, Budd’s retirement was short lived. Some have pointed to depression but his wife’s death by brain cancer around that time surely had some bearing on his state of mind. Within a few years he was active again.
Against all odds, we first saw him at Moogfest in 2012 with Keith Lowe. Then Budd + Lowe were scheduled for Big Ears 2015. We attended the day they played and were watching someone set up in the Knoxville Musieum of Art near midnight at what should have been Budd + Lowe’s performance only to discover that the 79 year old Budd had fallen and broken some ribs just two days prior and was in fact in his California Desert home at the time we were expecting his performance at the festival we had attended in order to see him! Fortunately, Bing + Ruth were possibly the closest thing to Harold Budd on piano, but finding out right then was a shock.
I can’t forget how long we looked for the highly desirable “Budd Box” that Opal Records released in 2015! It featured seven albums [many of which had never been on CD from the 80s wilderness period, and it was our obsession for the better part of that year! Not a single store my wife always asked the clerks for had one, until I was in out shopping in the Amoeba Records in Hollywood for the first time when I ran across a copy! And my friend Ron Kane would not hear of me buying a copy; he used his excess of store credit to buy it for my wife after learning how much we had looked for it.
In 2018, he was having a performance in Toledo, Ohio at the Toledo Museum Of Art and we surely would have gone there if it was not already at the same time as the Simple Minds concert that we had V.I.P. admission for in Atlanta. We inquired to his website about any other future performances and his son Terrence must have broken his NDA to reveal that they were looking towards another Big Ears Festival appearance, and within a few months it was apparent that he was not speaking out of turn!
In March of 2019 he had a residency at the Big Ears Festival with three performances in three days. What a luxury that was. First a perfomance with nief-norf and Mary Lattimore. Then a performance with ACME Strings. And the festival was capped off with a 90 minute performance of his “For As Long As I Can Hold My Breath.” Which was disc two of his allegedly ultimate “Avalon Sutras” album. What an incredible weekend for fans of this music!
Such a lyrically beautiful performer; and how was it that he collaborated with so many of my other favorite artists? There are recordings with John Foxx, Bill Nelson, Brian Eno, Cocteau Twins/Robin Guthrie, Andy Partridge. The album with the latter was more far more enjoyable than the last decade of XTC albums for me.
At first, information on Budd’s death was not forthcoming, but the Rolling Stone obituary last night cited covid-19 as the factor in his death. When I told my wife about this [she had asked up front if that had been the issue before I could confirm] she got very angry at how elite Republican pond scum flout safety rules, conspire against the public, and get the latest experimental drugs so they can resume their wrecking ball on society status, and this man who made the world more beautiful for his lifespan had to die like that! I wondered if he had played any other shows after Big Ears in March 2019 and there was a Kitchen concert scheduled in NYC for July of that year on his website, but that had been cancelled. So in an entirely appropriate gesture, his last live performance was a 90 minute version of “For As Long As I Can Hold My Breath” where he left the song in his son Terrence’s hands after the first 20 minutes and departed from the stage. You can’t get any more metaphorical than that!! That we were there to experience it was down to divine providence.
“Perhaps” was one of my favorite Budd albums and we got the CD when it came out 7 years ago. [It was originally a DL only at David Sylvian’s webstore] It’s an amazing album of an improvisatory concert in memoriam of his friend, composer James Tenet, who died in 2006. Only the pauses have been edited out of the improv, which is astonishing, considering it’s over 72 minutes of moving music recorded on December 8th, 2006. Fourteen years to the day that Budd himself, died. Our thoughts go out to his family, especially Terrence who was so considerate to us. Now play some Harold Budd right now.