In 1974, he completed four songs for a proposed album before his death that year from a prescription-med overdose. The songs were issued posthumously alongside vaulted 1968/69 material on the collection Time of No Reply, released in 1986 on Hannibal Records.
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 19 vocal/piano originals, dating 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.)
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 (1969)
- Bryter Layter (1970)
- Pink Moon (1972)
- Time of No Reply (1987, recorded 1968–69/1974)
- Family Tree (archival, 2007)
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