Saturday, May 12, 2012

Influences: Nick Drake

It was late September of the year 2000 when mindlessly strolling through a music store, I stumbled upon a four CD Box collection of a singer I had never heard of before. His name is Nick Drake. As it turned out, I have heard some of his music prior to that evening of discovery on some late 80’s and early 90’s movies and television commercials. I just didn’t know who had sung them. Until now. On a hunch, and always on the look-out for something new, I decided to buy it. I haven’t been able to go too long since without putting all 4 of those CD’s in my five CD player at least once every few months. Music so inspiring, I even wrote my short story “Time Of No Reply” in honor of his work.


Born Nicholas Rodney Drake on June 19th, 1948, he died on November 25th, 1974. He was an English singer-songwriter and musician, known for his somber guitar-based songs. He failed to find a wide audience during his lifetime, but his work has gradually achieved wider notice and recognition. 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 Layer” and “Pink Moon“. Neither sold more than 5,000 copies on initial release. Drake's reluctance to perform live, or be interviewed, contributed to his lack of commercial success. (Sounds a little like me to a point)

He also suffered from depression and insomnia throughout his life, (sounds a lot like me) 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. (Again, sounds a lot like me) On 25 November 1974, Drake died from an overdose of amitriptyline, a prescribed antidepressant; he was 26 years old.

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. 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. His first biography appeared in 1997, and was followed in 1998 by the documentary film “A Stranger Among Us”. In 2000, Volkswagon featured the title track from Pink Moon in a television advertisement, and within a month Drake had sold more records than he had in the previous 30 years.


His 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. In 1934, Rodney met the daughter of a senior member of the Indian Civil Service, Mary Lloyd (1916–1993), known to her family as Molly. Rodney proposed in 1936, though the couple had to wait a year until Molly turned 21 before her family allowed them to marry. In 1950, they returned to Warwickshire 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. In particular, recordings of Molly's songs which have come to light following her death are remarkably similar in tone and outlook to the later work of her son. 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. 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.


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 still stands) 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. 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."

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. 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 favor 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". In 1965, Drake paid £13 for his first acoustic guitar, and was soon experimenting with open tuning and finger-picking techniques.

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 practice 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 traveled with friends to Morocco, because, according to traveling companion Richard Charkin, "that was where you got the best pot". Drake most likely began using LSD while in Aix, and lyrics written during this period, in particular for the song "Clothes of Sand", are suggestive of an interest in hallucinogens.


Upon 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. 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. 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."

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. 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. 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.


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, 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. 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.

In the months following Pink Moon's release, Drake became increasingly antisocial and distant from those close to him. He returned to live at his parents' home in Tanworth-in-Arden, and while he resented the regression, he accepted that his illness made it necessary. "I don't like it at home", he told his mother, "but I can't bear it anywhere else." His return was often difficult for his family; as his sister Gabrielle explained, "good days in my parents' home were good days for Nick, and bad days were bad days for Nick. And that was what their life revolved around, really."



He lived a frugal existence, his only source of income being a 20 Lira-a-week retainer he received from Island Records. At one point he could not afford a new pair of shoes. He would often disappear for days, sometimes turning up unannounced at friends' houses, uncommunicative and withdrawn. Robert Kirby described a typical visit: "He would arrive and not talk, sit down, listen to music, have a smoke, have a drink, sleep there the night, and two or three days later he wasn't there, he'd be gone. And three months later he'd be back.



Referring to this period, John Martyn (who in 1973 wrote the title song of his album “Solid Air” for and about Drake) described him as the most withdrawn person he'd ever met. He would borrow his mother's car and drive for hours without purpose on occasion, until he ran out of petrol and had to ring his parents to ask to be collected. Friends have recalled the extent to which his appearance had changed. During particularly bleak periods of his illness, he refused to wash his hair or cut his nails. Early in 1972, Drake suffered a nervous breakdown, and was hospitalized for five weeks.

In February 1974, Drake again contacted John Wood, stating he was ready to begin work on a fourth album. Boyd was in England at the time, and agreed to attend the recordings. This initial session was followed by further recordings in July. In his 2006 autobiography, the producer recalled being taken aback at Drake's anger and bitterness: "[He said that] I had told him he was a genius, and others had concurred. Why wasn't he famous and rich? This rage must have festered beneath that inexpressive exterior for years." Both Boyd and Wood noticed a discernible deterioration in Drake's performance, requiring him to overdub his voice separately over the guitar. However, the return to Sound Techniques studio raised Drake's spirits; his mother later recalled, "We were so absolutely thrilled to think that Nick was happy because there hadn't been any happiness in Nick's life for years.


By autumn 1974, Drake's weekly retainer from Island had ceased, and his illness meant he remained in contact with only a few close friends. He had tried to stay in touch with Sophia Ryde, a girl whom he had first met in London in 1968. Ryde has been described by Drake's biographers as "the nearest thing" to a girlfriend in his life, but she now prefers the description 'best (girl) friend'. In a 2005 interview, Ryde revealed that a week before he died, she had sought to end the relationship: "I couldn't cope with it. I asked him for some time. And I never saw him again." As with the relationship he had earlier shared with fellow folk musician Linda Thompson, Drake's relationship with Ryde was never consummated.

At some time during the night of November 24th/25th, 1974, Nick Drake died at home. He had gone to bed early the night before, after spending the afternoon visiting a friend. His mother stated that, around dawn, he left his room for the kitchen. His family was used to hearing him do this many times before but, during this instance, he did not make a sound. They presumed that he was eating a bowl of cereal. He returned to his room a short while later, and took some pills "to help him sleep". Drake was accustomed to keeping his own hours; he frequently had difficulty sleeping, and would often stay up through the night playing and listening to music, then sleep late into the following morning. Recalling the events of that night, his mother later stated: "I never used to disturb him at all. But it was about 12 o'clock, and I went in, because really it seemed it was time he got up. And he was lying across the bed. The first thing I saw was his long, long legs." There was no suicide note, although a letter addressed to Ryde was found close to his bed.


At the inquest that December, Drake's coroner stated that the cause of death was as a result of "Acute amitriptyline poisoning, self-administered when suffering from a depressive illness", and concluded a verdict of suicide. Though this has been disputed by some members of his family, there is a general view that accidental or not, Drake had by then given up on life. Rodney described his son's death as unexpected and extraordinary; however, in a 1979 interview he admitted to "always [being] worried about Nick being so depressed. We used to hide away the aspirin and pills and things like that." Boyd has stated that he prefers to believe the overdose was accidental. He recalled that Drake's parents had described his mood in the preceding weeks as having been very positive, and that he had planned to move back to London to restart his music career. Boyd believes that this levity was followed by a "crash back into despair". Reasoning that Drake may have taken a high dosage of his antidepressants to recapture this sense of optimism, he said he prefers to imagine Drake "making a desperate lunge for life rather than a calculated surrender to death". Writing in 1975, NME journalist Nick Kent comments on the irony of Drake's death at a time when he had just begun to regain a sense of "personal balance". In contrast, Gabrielle Drake has said she prefers to think Drake committed suicide, "in the sense that I'd rather he died because he wanted to end it than it to be the result of a tragic mistake. That would seem to me to be terrible."


On 2 December 1974, after a service in the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Tanworth-in-Arden, Drake's remains were cremated at the Solihull Crematorium and his ashes later interred under an oak tree in the adjoining graveyard of St Mary's. The funeral was attended by around 50 mourners, including friends from Marlborough, Aix, Cambridge, London, Witchseason, and Tanworth. Referring to Drake's tendency to compartmentalize relationships, Brian Wells later observed that many met each other for the first time that morning. Molly recalled "a lot of his young friends came up here. We'd never met many of them."


I’d like to think that he was either a hundred years ahead of his time, or a hundred years too late. Where his writing is concerned, he quickly became a later influence on my writing. Forcing me to focus more on my story telling than I ever had focused before. Musically, he opened the doors for expansion where my tastes are concerned. I wasn’t much of a folk song listener. Now, thanks to Nick Drake, it’s not half bad. And as for Nick’s music? It is sensational in my book. Absolutely amazing.

 
 


Source: Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Drake

This work is released under CC 3.0 BY-SA - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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