View Full Version : Nick Drake- 30 years ago today

Lazarus and the Gimp
25-04-2004, 09:56:20
I've submitted an article via the "News" link- any publishing assistance welcomed.


Scabrous Birdseed
25-04-2004, 18:14:26
It doesn't appear to have shown up on the list.

Lazarus and the Gimp
25-04-2004, 19:37:12
Arse. Can I PM it to anyone?

Lazarus and the Gimp
25-04-2004, 21:20:14
Oh well. I'll post it here while it's still in date.

"It was 30 years ago that Nick Drake died at the age of 24. He had been recovering from a nervous breakdown two years earlier following a year or two of depression.

In recent years, he appears to have become almost a cartoon charicature of the tortured singer-songwriter, so now's as good a chance as any to redress the balance. Drake released three albums in his lifetime, and very few of the tracks actually give any clue of his mental illness. While other singer-songwriters have built careers on picking at their scabs, Nick's songs were (in the main) gentle and wistful affairs, sometimes playful (Mayfair, Man in a Shed), sometimes optimistic (Northern Sky, For the Morning), sometimes obliquely melancholic (River Man, Three Hours). Only on a few of the tracks from his later work (Parasite, Black-eyed Dog, Things behind the sun) is there any sign of disturbing shadows gathering, and even then the songs are still as calm and measured as any others.

His songs barely sold at all in his lifetime- I think sales of 1,000 to 2,000 were the norm. This was largely due to the fact that he suffered from a form of stagefright linked to depression and became increasingly withdrawn- it left him unable to promote his work in any way. However his fame has grown constantly since his death- every year his records sell in greater numbers than previously. The reason for this is simply- you can't hide genius forever.

What was this genius? Nick Drake was, by absolutely any standards, a phenomenal guitarist. Even the most insanely competitive of axe gods will pause for thought and admit that Drake was very, very hard to top. Don't go expecting Hendrix-style guitar heroics- Drake never strayed from the Acoustic guitar, but just one listen to "Cello Song" or "Three Hours" is usually enough to convince. The commonest mistake first-time listeners make on hearing his work is assuming that there are two or three guitars being used. There isn't. The key to Drake's sound is his staggering right-hand technique- all four fingers and thumb being used freely, independently and with perfect timing and control- switching from flesh to nail constantly. Yet his technique seemed effortless, a clean, fluid rippling sound- it's only when one tries to reproduce it that it's realised just how insanely talented he was.

He also used complicated structures- songs switching from 4/4 to 5/4 or 7/8 from bar to bar, yet never once appearing strained in doing so. He wasn't trying to impress with virtuosity- he was just reproducing the sounds in his head, and he had the technical ability to do so perfectly.

Drake's voice was a gentle, slightly husky thing like a woodwind instrument, not given to displays of emotion. It just told the story and carried the melody. The lyrics were poetic in the 18th century sense- he owed more to Keats and Marvell than to any Folk or Rock lyricist.

The three albums have very different feels to them. "Five Leaves Left" (1969) is a clean and unforced work of wide-eyed wonder. It shows the very best of Drake's guitar work, and is balanced by wonderfully sympathetic string arrangements by his friend Robert Kirby. It's the most accessible of his albums and the one I'd recommend to anyone new to Drake- it's a simply beautiful album.

"Bryter Layter" (1970) is often mooted as his best album by critics, but I disagree. It's more complicated, and with more ornate arrangements featuring a number of top session musicians such as Richard Thompson and John Cale. The simple bass and congas of the first album were replaced by electric guitars, pianos, celestes and many more. I think it's over-arranged, and in losing the simplicity of the first album they created the only one of his work that can be obviously dated to the early 70's. It's ageing, rather than ageless. There are very strong songs on it, such as "Northern Sky", but I rate it as the weakest- it dilutes the very things that made Nick special.

"Pink Moon" (1972) has become a legend. Nick was in a very bad state when he recorded it- he'd been depressed for two years following the commercial failure of "Bryter Layter" and was only weeks away from a severe nervous breakdown. Recorded in two midnight sessions, with Nick facing the wall because he was too low and scared to catch the engineer's eye. It's just Nick and his guitar, with a sole piano overdunb (by Nick) on the title track. Yet the misery he was in does not come across in the music, even though it's undeniably a strange album. It's other-worldly, with apparently innocuous songs vaguely hinting at troubles beneath- "Pink Moon's gonna get you", "...and the movement in your brain/ sends you out into the rain". It's a haunting, stark and haunted album- most Drake fans consider it to be their favourite.

Whilst recovering in 1973 and 1974, Nick recorded a final session that was close to the feel of "Pink Moon". The signs of recovery were encouraging, but on the morning of April 25th he was found dead in his bedroom. He had overdosed on his prescribed anti-depressants. A verdict of suicide was delivered, but most Drake fans believe it was accidental- he had not taken any great number of pills, left no note and had seemed to be improving beforehand.

The most curious thing about Drake is that he's almost like some early Delta Blues artist out of his time. There is absolutely no film, TV or video footage of him- not one single moving image. For an influential late 20th century recording artist, that's bizarre. Likewise there are no live recordings of his performances, and only one very short recording of his speaking voice. Everything rest on those 3 albums and the handful of other session tracks.

I admit that Nick Drake is possibly the only recording artist I cannot be objective about. I am convinced that, years from now, he will enjoy a similiar level of posthumous fame to Van Gogh. If you've not heard his work before, download a track or buy an album and sample the works of one of the greatest lost artists in living memory."

25-04-2004, 21:26:49
all I need we need is a picture and the next person who has access will publish it. cheers.

26-04-2004, 00:20:09
You can use this if you want...


26-04-2004, 09:17:31

26-04-2004, 17:48:26
It's obvious you are in homolove with this guy.
Aren't there any living yet troubled artists you can love?

Good article...I'm still mulling this dude over...but he is good. I just bought the weakest album.

19-05-2004, 19:40:50
Quite an informative article for someone like me who's only heard the name Nick Drake here and there.

Lazarus and the Gimp
26-05-2004, 19:40:05
Incidentally, this week Nick Drake has just had his first chart hit. "Magic" is in the top 40.