Nick Drake

Nick Drake (June 19, 1948 — Nov. 25, 1974) was an English singer–songwriter and guitarist who released three albums on Island between 1969 and 1972: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon.

In 1974, he completed four songs for a proposed album before his death that year from a prescription-med overdose. The songs appeared posthumously alongside vaulted 1968–69 material on the collection Time of No Reply, released in 1986 on Hannibal Records.


Early Life

He was born Nicholas Rodney Drake on June 19, 1948, in Rangoon, Burma, the second of two children borne to English engineer Rodney Shuttleworth Drake (1908–1988) and poet/musician Mary Drake (née Lloyd, 1916–1993). The family was based in India at the time of Nick’s birth due to Rodney’s engineering post with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation.

In 1950, the Drake’s relocated to Tanworth-in-Arden, south of Birmingham, where Rodney became the chairman of Wolseley Engineering. Molly kept a reel-to-reel tape recorder in the house, where she wrote and recorded her own songs. A collection of nineteen vocal–piano originals from the 1950s comprise the 2013 archival disc Mary Drake, issued on Squirrel Thing Recordings. Titles like “Dream Your Dreams” and “Night Is My Friend” foreshadow her son’s later work.

Inspired by his mother, young Nick took up piano and songwriting. A collection of ’60s-era home recordings, one featuring his sister Gabrielle (b. 1944), appear on the 2007 Island archival disc Family Tree. (Gabrielle became an actress, appearing in the ’70s dramas The Brothers and UFO and later in the soap operas Crossroads and Coronation Street.)


Musical Start

Though he initially excelled in studies and sports, Drake’s interest turned solely to music during his time at Marlborough College, where he formed the R&B/jazz band Perfumed Gardens. By now, he’d learned saxophone and clarinet. Fellow pupil Chris De Burgh asked to join the band, but was deemed too middle-of-the-road for membership.

In 1965, Drake bought a Levin acoustic guitar and taught himself finger-picking techniques on open-tuning. For six months in 1967, he busked in France and Morocco, where he wrote lyrics drawn from his experiments with hallucinogens (ex. “Clothes of Sand”). After settling back in London, he immersed himself in the UK folk scene (Bert Jansch, Donovan, Van Morrison).

In February 1968, Drake opened for Country Joe and the Fish at the Roundhouse, where he was spotted by Ashley Hutchings, bassist of Fairport Convention. Hutchings introduced Drake to American producer Joe Boyd, who helped launch the careers of Fairport, John Martyn, and the Incredible String Band. Impressed by Drake’s four-track demo, Boyd secured him a deal with Island Records.


Five Leaves Left

Nick Drake released his debut album, Five Leaves Left, on July 3, 1969, on Island.

1. “Time Has Told Me” (4:27)
2. “River Man” (4:21)
3. “Three Hours” (6:16)
4. “Way to Blue” (3:11)
5. “Day Is Done” (2:29)

6. “‘Cello Song” (4:49)
7. “The Thoughts of Mary Jane” (3:22)
8. “Man in a Shed” (3:55)
9. “Fruit Tree” (4:50)
10. “Saturday Sun” (4:03)

Recorded May 1968 – April 1969
Studio Sound Techniques, London
Producer Joe Boyd

Nick Drake – vocals; acoustic guitar (1-3, 5-9); piano (10)

Additional musicians
Paul Harris – piano (1, 8)
Richard Thompson – electric guitar (1)
Danny Thompson – double bass (1-3, 6, 8, 10)
Harry Robinson – string arrangement (2)
Rocky Dzidzornu – congas (3, 6); shaker (6)
Robert Kirby – string arrangement (4, 5, 7, 8)
Clare Lowther – cello (6)
Lyn Dobson – flute (7)
Tristan Fry – drums, vibraphone (10)
uncredited – oboe, bass oboe, English horn (8)

Technical
Simon Heyworth – mastering
Joe Boyd – production
John Wood – engineering
Keith Morris – photography


Bryter Layter

Nick Drake released his second album, Bryter Layter, on March 5, 1971, on Island.

1. “Introduction” (1:33)
2. “Hazey Jane II” (3:46)
3. “At the Chime of a City Clock” (4:47)
4. “One of These Things First” (4:52)
5. “Hazey Jane I” (4:31)

6. “Bryter Layter” (3:24)
7. “Fly” (3:00)
8. “Poor Boy” (6:09)
9. “Northern Sky” (3:47)
10. “Sunday” (3:42)

Recorded 1970
Studio Sound Techniques, London
Producer Joe Boyd

Nick Drake – vocals (2-5, 7-9); acoustic guitar

Additional musicians
Dave Pegg – bass (1-3, 5-10)
Dave Mattacks – drums (1, 2, 5, 6, 10)
Robert Kirby – string arrangement (1, 3, 5, 10); brass arrangement (2)
Richard Thompson – electric guitar (2)
Ray Warleigh – alto saxophone (3, 8)
Paul Harris – piano (4)
Ed Carter – bass (4)
Mike Kowalski – drums (4, 5, 8, 9)
Lyn Dobson – flute (6)
John Cale – viola, harpsichord (7); celeste, piano, organ (9)
Ray Warleigh – alto saxophone (8); flute (10)
Chris McGregor – piano (8)
Pat Arnold – backing vocals (8)
Doris Troy – backing vocals (8)

Production
Joe Boyd – producer
John Wood – engineer
Nigel Waymouth – sleeve design and front cover photograph
Keith Morris – back cover photograph


Pink Moon

Nick Drake released his third album, Pink Moon, on February 25, 1972, on Island. It features eleven short songs (28:22 duration) self-performed by Drake on acoustic guitar.

1. “Pink Moon” (2:06)
2. “Place to Be” (2:43)
3. “Road” (2:02)
4. “Which Will” (2:58)
5. “Horn” (1:23)
6. “Things Behind the Sun” (3:57)

7. “Know” (2:26)
8. “Parasite” (3:36)
9. “Free Ride” (3:06)
10. “Harvest Breed” (1:37)
11. “From the Morning” (2:30)

Recorded 30–31 October 1971
Studio Sound Techniques, London

Nick Drake – vocals and acoustic guitar, piano on “Pink Moon”

Production
John Wood – engineer, producer
Michael Trevithick – artwork
Keith Morris – inner sleeve photography
C.C.S. Associates – typography


Discography:

  • Five Leaves Left (1969)
  • Bryter Layter (1970)
  • Pink Moon (1972)
  • Time of No Reply (1987, recorded 1968–69/1974)
  • Family Tree (archival, 2007)

Sources:

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