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Nick Drake: The Life

Nick Drake: The Life

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It wasn’t a diary that he was writing of old – he started it in March 1972 because he recognised that Nick’s illness was severe and that it was, as he put it in one of his entries, ‘going to be a long job’ (which I used as one of the chapter titles). He was one of the signatories to the famous Times advert against the criminalisation of pot, which the Beatles funded, and he was working on the fringes of the record business. So Bryter Layter was, in a sense, what he did instead of his degree, in the expectation that it would be released in the summer of 1970.

I would go so far as to say that you will surprise yourself in the next two years by the changes and development that will occur in your personality, your understanding and your outlook. There’s an entry from July 1974 that says something like, ‘Nick went to a rock concert in London this evening but left early and came home’. But speaking about Nick, I think it’s interesting to speculate, as a fantasy: had he been willing to play a concert in September, October 1974 and a promoter had said, ‘Yeah, sure’, what would the take-up have been? To Nick Drake fans who may baulk a little at the no-punches-pulled nature of the book, please remember he was ill and that the illness was not the person. Allow me to assure you it is not – but it is a terribly important time in the development of you as a person into something that you are going to start to be at about the age of 23.It’s striking that Nick was willing to perform alone and at close quarters in front of such an intimidating audience. Three years later, however - having made three well-reviewed but low-selling albums - Nick had been overwhelmed by a mysterious mental illness. So let’s just keep going, because if we don’t he might end up just being at home without much idea of what to do with his future next summer’, or whatever the timeframe was when they started worrying about this. Firstly, he had been led to believe by all of those on the inside of his career, and with all the right motives, that he was going to be very successful. It’s not because he went to boarding school, it’s not because he smoked too much dope, it’s not because his records didn’t sell.

But I would say, on a tangent of sorts, that another myth about Nick is that ‘Robert Kirby wrote the arrangements’, that the arrangements were just grafted onto Nick’s songs. I also feel that my book almost turns into something else, because Nick stopped making music in 1971, meaning that the last three full years of his life were not spent doing the thing that has fundamentally made people interested in his life. But I fear his outcome was inevitable, based on his illness: it was eating away at him to the point where he couldn’t see any plausible future.Robert referred to the artists or the composers that he and Nick had in mind – Fauré, Debussy, Delius, Vaughan Williams. Hotjar sets this cookie to know whether a user is included in the data sampling defined by the site's pageview limit. He didn’t do much to publicise himself, although he did play more concerts than is usually reported, about forty. Someone could have come back who may have had what he needed at the time, and the next day there would perhaps have been onward movement. RMJ: I’m sure it would have – but I think you’ve identified the problem with that in your question, because in those days you didn’t get recognition without touring.

Richard interviewed many of Nick’s surviving friends and associates, some of whom have never been on the record before, and they did a great deal to clarify Nick’s personality and musical achievements. There was a meeting at which it was presented and one of the Island execs present told me that he remembers Nick neither expressing pleasure or displeasure, just not saying anything – and that was that. I think the picture on the back cover, of Nick watching a car zooming past him on the Westway, speaks more of him in a symbolic sense than a picture of him holding a guitar does.In another letter he admitted: “The material on Pink Moon has always bewildered us a little (except From the Morning, which we love). And he knew that Things Behind The Sun belonged on that, not on Bryter Layter, with strings and drums and so on. After I had been turned down very politely, Bob [Drake’s friend Rick Charkin, so nicknamed because he was thought to resemble Bob Dylan], whose nerves seem to stop at nothing, proceeded to ring up the Stones’ suite and ask if they might be wanting a little musical entertainment! He was convinced straight away that this was a rare talent, and has openly said that he doesn’t understand why others didn’t feel the same way. I wondered why he’d bothered to record some of the tracks, and who had thought it was a good idea to let him go into the studio and do so.

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