Maybe you don’t know much about Nick Drake – or maybe you do. If not, you can quickly make up for lost time. Nick Drake was a brilliant musician who died too young, but who made three perfect albums during his lifetime: the lush orchestral debut Five Leaves Left, the jazz tinged follow up, Bryter Layter and the stripped-back acoustic Pink Moon. Those records deserve to reach your ears, if they haven’t already.
Drake’s music was for the most part ignored while he was alive, but his body of work is now, quite rightly, acclaimed and revered. Acclaim came late, many years after his death, but he is regularly name-checked by a renowned group of musicians too lengthy to list out even in a book of this size.
Nick Drake’s story is a fascinating one, and it’s a story that appears completely incongruous by today’s standards. There is no known filmed footage of him as an adult at all – and so nothing of him performing has ever seen the light of day. This means that we don’t know how he moved, we can’t see his complicated finger picking guitar technique, how he held himself, his facial expressions – all the things that we take for granted with performers now.
I’m a late comer to Nick Drake, but like most people who first stumble across his music, I found myself sucked in quickly. He makes it easy, actually. Drake left a small, concise and perfectly formed body of recorded work that repays repeated listening. It is ‘grown up’ music. It takes a level of maturity for a 20 year old, still at University, to decide that he wants to include complicated string arrangements on many of the tracks on his first album.
The guitar was the backbone to his sound – clean, spare and regular. A six foot three inch product of the English public school system and Cambridge University, Nick Drake spoke with a cut glass accent and his innate Englishness pervades his music. Drake’s is not the England of bacon and eggs or fish and chips: his is the England of strawberries and cream, of tea at The Ritz.
When you listen to Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter or Pink Moon, you need to put all other distractions aside, slow down, lean in, and really listen. A couple of spins is all it takes and you are hooked. Thirty one songs, spread over three very different albums. Also worth seeking out are the five studio recordings made in 1974 and released posthumously. That is pretty much all you need to hear of the officially released material.
Once you have the music, then, inevitably you want to find out more about the man. Three essential but very different biographies by Gorm Henrik Rasmussen, Patrick Humphries and Trevor Dann tell the story, and are definitely required reading on the journey.
I saw Nick Drake fits in to the space that is left, adding the images that go with the words and the music.
I hope we can tempt you.
Guy White, publisher, Ormond Yard Press.