NICK DRAKE - A SKIN TOO FEW - 2002 2 / 4

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THE NICK DRAKE STORY - PART 2 / 4 - Nick DrakeFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to: navigation, search For the British poet and mystery writer, see Nick Drake (poet). Nick Drake Nick Drake in the late 1960s Background information Bi...

THE NICK DRAKE STORY - PART 2 / 4 - Nick DrakeFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to: navigation, search
For the British poet and mystery writer, see Nick Drake (poet).
Nick Drake

Nick Drake in the late 1960s
Background information
Birth name Nicholas Rodney Drake
Born (1948-06-19)19 June 1948
Rangoon, Burma
Died 25 November 1974(1974-11-25) (aged 26)
Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, England
Genres Folk, folk rock[1]

Occupations Singer-songwriter

Instruments Vocals

Years active 1967–1974
Labels Island

Nicholas Rodney "Nick" Drake (19 June 1948 – 25 November 1974) was an English singer-songwriter and musician who was known for his sombre guitar-based songs. He failed to find a wide audience during his lifetime but his work has gradually achieved wider notice and recognition.[2][3][4] Drake signed to Island Records when he was 20 years old and released his debut album, Five Leaves Left, in 1969. By 1972, he had recorded two more albums—Bryter Layter and Pink Moon. Neither sold more than 5,000 copies on initial release.[5] Drake's reluctance to perform live, or be interviewed, contributed to his lack of commercial success.

Drake suffered from depression and insomnia throughout his life and these topics were often reflected in his lyrics. On completion of his third album, 1972's Pink Moon, he withdrew from both live performance and recording, retreating to his parents' home in rural Warwickshire. There is no known footage of the adult Drake; he was only ever captured in still photographs and in home footage from his childhood.[6] On 25 November 1974, Drake died from an overdose of amitriptyline, a prescribed antidepressant; he was 26 years old. Whether his death was an accident or suicide has never been resolved.

Drake's music remained available through the mid-1970s, but the 1979 release of the retrospective album Fruit Tree caused his back catalogue to be reassessed. By the mid-1980s Drake was being credited as an influence by such artists as Robert Smith, David Sylvian and Peter Buck. In 1985, The Dream Academy reached the UK and US charts with "Life in a Northern Town", a song written for and dedicated to Drake.[7] By the early 1990s, he had come to represent a certain type of "doomed romantic" musician in the UK music press and was frequently cited as an influence by artists including Kate Bush, Paul Weller and The Black Crowes.[8] His first biography appeared in 1997, and was followed in 1998 by the documentary film A Stranger Among Us.
] Early lifeHis father, Rodney Drake (1908–1988), had moved to Rangoon, Burma, in the early 1930s to work as an engineer with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation.[9] There, in 1934, his father met the daughter of a senior member of the Indian Civil Service, Mary Lloyd (1916–1993), known to her family as "Molly". Rodney Drake proposed to Molly in 1936, though the couple had to wait a year until she turned 21 before her family allowed them to marry.[10] In 1950, they returned to Warwickshire[11] to live in the country, at a house named Far Leys, in the village of Tanworth-in-Arden in west Warwickshire, just south of Solihull. Drake had one older sister, Gabrielle, later a successful film and television actress. Both parents were musically inclined and they each wrote pieces of music. Recordings of Molly Drake's songs, which have come to light following her death, are remarkably similar in tone and outlook to the later work of her son.[12] Mother and son shared a similar fragile vocal delivery and both Gabrielle and biographer Trevor Dann have noted a parallel sense of foreboding and fatalism in their music.[12][13] Encouraged by his mother, Drake learned to play piano at an early age and began to compose his own songs which he recorded on a reel-to-reel tape recorder she kept in the family drawing room.[4]

In 1957, Drake enrolled at Eagle House School, an English preparatory boarding school in Berkshire. Five years later, he went on to public school at Marlborough College in Wiltshire, where his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all attended. He developed an interest in sport, becoming an accomplished sprinter (his record for the 100-yard dash still stands)[14] and captain of the school's rugby team for a time. He was also Head of House in C1, the College's largest house. School friends recall Drake at this time as having been confident and "quietly authoritative", while often aloof in his manner.[15] His father Rodney remembered, "In one of his reports [the headmaster] said that none of us seemed to know him very well. All the way through with Nick. People didn't know him very much."[16]

Drake played piano in the school orchestra, and learned clarinet and saxophone. He formed a band, The Perfumed Gardeners, with four schoolmates in 1964 or 1965. With Drake on piano and occasional alto sax and vocals, the group performed Pye covers and jazz standards, as well as Yardbirds and Manfred Mann numbers. The line-up briefly included Chris de Burgh, but he was soon ejected as his taste was seen as "too poppy" by the other members.[17] Drake's academic performance began to deteriorate, and while he had accelerated a year in Eagle House, at Marlborough he began to neglect his studies in favour of music. He attained seven GCE O-Levels in 1963, but this was fewer than his teachers had been expecting, and he failed "Physics with Chemistry".[18] In 1965, Drake paid £13 for his first acoustic guitar, and was soon experimenting with open tuning and finger-picking techniques.[14]

In 1966, Drake won a scholarship to study English literature at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. He delayed attendance to spend six months at the University of Aix-Marseille, France, beginning in February 1967. While in Aix, he began to practise guitar in earnest, and to earn money would often busk with friends in the town centre. Drake began to smoke cannabis, and that spring he travelled with friends to Morocco, because, according to travelling companion Richard Charkin, "that was where you got the best pot".[19] Drake most likely began using LSD while in Aix,[20] and lyrics written during this period—in particular for the song "Clothes of Sand"—are suggestive of an interest in hallucinogens.[21]

[edit] CambridgeUpon returning to England, he moved into his sister's flat in Hampstead, before enrolling at Cambridge that October. His tutors found him to be a bright student, but unenthusiastic and unwilling to apply himself to study.[22] Dann notes that he had difficulty connecting with staff and fellow students alike, and points out that official matriculation photographs from this time reveal a sullen and unimpressed young man.[23] Cambridge placed much emphasis on its rugby and cricket teams, yet by this time Drake had lost interest in playing sport, preferring to stay in his college room smoking marijuana, and listening to and playing music. According to fellow student (now psychiatrist) Brian Wells: "they were the rugger buggers and we were the cool people smoking dope."[23] In September 1967, he met Robert Kirby, a music student who went on to orchestrate many of the string and woodwind arrangements for Drake's first two albums.[24] By this time, Drake had discovered the British and American folk music scenes, and was influenced by performers such as Bob Dylan, Josh White and Phil Ochs. He began performing in local clubs and coffee houses around London, and in February 1968, while playing support to Country Joe and the Fish at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, made an impression on Ashley Hutchings, bass player with Fairport Convention.[25] Hutchings recalls being impressed by Drake's skill as a guitarist, but even more so by "the image. He looked like a star. He looked wonderful, he seemed to be 7 ft."[16]

Hutchings introduced Drake to the 25-year-old American producer Joe Boyd, owner of the production and management company Witchseason Productions. The company was, at the time, licensed to Island Records,[26] and Boyd, as the man who had discovered Fairport Convention and been responsible for introducing John Martyn and The Incredible String Band to a mainstream audience, was a significant and respected figure on the UK folk scene.[16] He and Drake formed an immediate bond, and the producer acted as a mentor figure to Drake throughout his career. A four-track demo, recorded in Drake's college room in the spring of 1968, led Boyd to offer a management, publishing, and production contract to the 20-year-old, and to initiate work on a debut album. According to Boyd:

In those days you didn't have cassettes—he brought a reel-to-reel tape [to me] that he'd done at home. Half way through the first song, I felt this was pretty special. And I called him up, and he came back in, and we talked, and I just said, "I'd like to make a record." He stammered, "Oh, well, yeah. Okay." Nick was a man of few words.[16]

In a 2004 interview, Drake's friend Paul Wheeler remembered the excitement caused by his seeming big break, and recalled that the singer had already decided not to complete his third year at Cambridge.[16]

[edit] Career[edit] Five Leaves LeftDrake began recording his debut album Five Leaves Left later in 1968, with Boyd assuming the role of producer. The sessions took place in Sound Techniques studio, London, with Drake skipping lectures to travel by train to the capital. Inspired by John Simon's production of Leonard Cohen's first album, Boyd was keen that Drake's voice would be recorded in a similar close and intimate style, "with no shiny pop reverb".[27] He also sought to include a string arrangement similar to Simon's, "without overwhelming... or sounding cheesy".[27] To provide backing, Boyd enlisted various contacts from the London folk rock scene, including Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson (no relation).[28] He recruited John Wood as engineer, and drafted Richard Hewson in to provide the string arrangements.

Initial recordings did not go well: the sessions were irregular and rushed, taking place during studio downtime borrowed from Fairport Convention's production of their Unhalfbricking album. Tension arose between artist and producer as to the direction the album should take: Boyd was an advocate of George Martin's "using the studio as an instrument" approach, while Drake preferred a more organic sound. Dann has observed that Drake appears "tight and anxious" on bootleg recordings taken from the sessions, and notes a number of Boyd's unsuccessful attempts at instrumentation.[29] Both were unhappy with Hewson's contribution, which they felt was too mainstream in sound for Drake's songs.[30] Drake suggested using his college friend Robert Kirby as a replacement, although Boyd was sceptical at taking on an amateur music student lacking prior recording experience. However, he was impressed by Drake's uncharacteristic assertiveness, and agreed to a trial.[31] Kirby had previously presented Drake with some arrangements for his songs,[26] and went on to provide a spare chamber music quartet score associated with the sound of the final album.[32] However, Kirby did not feel confident enough to score the album's centerpiece "River Man", and Boyd was forced to stretch the Witchseason budget to hire the veteran composer Harry Robinson, with the instruction that he echo the tone of Delius and Ravel.

"River Man"

"River Man" is noted for its 5/4 time, harmonic changes and use of prosody. An early solo acoustic version recorded in Drake's Cambridge college bedroom appears on the 2004 compilation Made To Love Magic.[33]


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Post-production difficulties led to the release being delayed by several months. It has been alleged that the album was poorly marketed and supported,[34] though the inclusion of the opening track "Time Has Told Me" on the Island Records sampler Nice Enough to Eat brought him a very wide audience (a track from his second album was likewise included on the subsequent sampler Bumpers). Drake was featured in full-page interviews in the pop press. In July, Melody Maker referred to the album as "poetic" and "interesting", though NME wrote in October that there was "not nearly enough variety to make it entertaining".[35] It received radio plays from the BBC's more progressive disc-jockeys such as John Peel[36] and Bob Harris. Drake was unhappy with the inlay sleeve, which printed songs in the wrong running order and reproduced verses omitted from the recorded versions.[37] In an interview his sister Gabrielle said: "He was very secretive. I knew he was making an album but I didn't know what stage of completion it was at until he walked into my room and said, 'There you are.' He threw it onto the bed and walked out!"[26]

[edit] Bryter LayterDrake ended his studies at Cambridge nine months before graduation, and in autumn 1969 moved to London to concentrate on a career in music.[38] His father remembered "writing him long letters, pointing out the disadvantages of going away from Cambridge ... a degree was a safety net, if you manage to get a degree, at least you have something to fall back on; his reply to that was that a safety net was the one thing he did not want."[12] Drake spent his first few months in the capital drifting from place to place, occasionally staying at his sister's Kensington flat, but usually sleeping on friends’ sofas and floors.[39] Eventually, in an attempt to bring some stability and a telephone into Drake's life, Boyd organised and paid for a ground floor bedsit in Belsize Park, Camden.[40]

In August, Drake recorded three songs for the BBC's John Peel show. Two months later, he opened for Fairport Convention at the Royal Festival Hall in London, followed by appearances at folk clubs in Birmingham and Hull. Remembering the performance in Hull, folk singer Michael Chapman commented:

The folkies did not take to him; [they] wanted songs with choruses. They completely missed the point. He didn't say a word the entire evening. It was actually quite painful to watch. I don't know what the audience expected, I mean, they must have known they weren't going to get sea–shanties and sing-alongs at a Nick Drake gig![25]

The experience reinforced Drake's decision to retreat from live appearances; the few concerts he did play around this time were usually brief, awkward, and poorly attended. Drake seemed unwilling to perform and rarely addressed his audience. As many of his songs were played in different tunings, he frequently paused to retune between numbers.[41]

"Northern Sky"

"Northern Sky" features piano, organ and celesta performed by John Cale. Drake was reportedly in awe of Cale's musical ability.


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Although the publicity generated by Five Leaves Left was minor, Boyd was keen to build on what momentum there was. 1970's Bryter Layter, again produced by Boyd and engineered by Wood, introduced a more upbeat,[42] jazzier[43] sound. Disappointed by his debut's poor commercial performance, Drake sought to move away from his pastoral sound, and agreed to his producer's suggestions to include bass and drum tracks on the recordings. "It was more of a pop sound, I suppose", Boyd later said, "I imagined it as more commercial."[44] Like its predecessor, the album featured musicians from Fairport Convention, as well as contributions from John Cale on two songs: "Northern Sky" and "Fly". Trevor Dann has noted that while sections of "Northern Sky" sound more characteristic of Cale, the song was the closest Drake came to a release with chart potential.[45] In his 1999 autobiography, Cale admits to using heroin during this period,[46] and his older friend Brian Wells began to suspect that Drake was also using.[47] Both Boyd and Wood were confident that the album would be a commercial success,[48] but it went on to sell fewer than 3,000 copies. Reviews were again mixed: while Record Mirror praised Drake as a "beautiful guitarist—clean and with perfect timing, [and] accompanied by soft, beautiful arrangements", Melody Maker described the album as "an awkward mix of folk and cocktail jazz".[41]

Soon after the release, Boyd sold Witchseason to Island Records, and moved to Los Angeles to work with Warner Brothers in the development of soundtracks for film. The loss of this key mentor figure, coupled with the album's poor sales, led Drake to further retreat into depression. His attitude to London had changed: he was unhappy living alone, and visibly nervous and uncomfortable performing at a series of concerts in early 1970. In June, Drake gave one of his final live appearances at Ewell Technical College, London. Ralph McTell, who also performed that night, remembered that "Nick was monosyllabic. At that particular gig he was very shy. He did the first set and something awful must have happened. He was doing his song 'Fruit Tree' and walked off halfway through it. Just left the stage."[49] His frustration turned to depression,[50] and in 1971 Drake was persuaded by his family to visit a psychiatrist at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was prescribed a course of antidepressants, but he felt uncomfortable and embarrassed about taking them, and tried to hide the fact from his friends.[51] He knew enough about drugs to worry about their side effects, and was concerned about how they would react with his regular marijuana use.[52]

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