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Gabrielle Drake on Robert Kirby

Jon Lewis | 11:18 UK time, Friday, 1 October 2010

If, like us, you’ve loved the music left behind by Nick Drake, then the beautiful compositions of the late Robert Kirby will also hold a special place in your heart. His sensitive and evocative string and brass arrangements for such classics as Way To Blue, Cello Song and Hazey Jane II form an inextricable part of the songs’ charm.

Robert, who sadly died in October of last year, arranged for Nick’s albums Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter. He also contributed to albums by Vashti Bunyan, Al Stewart and Ralph McTell, and in the late seventies joined Strawbs as an arranger and Mellotron player.

Despite spending much of his working life away from music, he later worked on albums for Paul Weller and The Magic Numbers.

We thought you’d like to know that a Robert Kirby memorial concert is being held in London this weekend, featuring the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Teddy Thompson and Steve Ashley. Nick Drake’s sister, Gabrielle, has written a few words about Robert for us:

“In the early days, I knew Robert mainly from hearsay, and as the friend of my late brother, Nick Drake. The two met at Cambridge, and Nick, it seemed to me, instantly recognised in Robert the talent that would complement his own, writing home to his parents that he had “found a chap who was doing some arrangements to my songs” and who was “quite hip to my kind of music” (English understatement!). And he was right. Without Robert, Nick’s legacy of music would have been so much the poorer.  From their earliest days in Cambridge, and for the rest of Nick’s all-too-brief life, as well as over the years when Nick passed from obscurity to recognition and fame, Robert was his champion and true friend.

“It was only in the latter years of Robert’s life that I came to know him for myself, as a loving friend, always ready to help, always open to new challenges. The joy with which he spoke about any group or person with whom he was collaborating was infectious, and I’m sure he must have inspired, helped and encouraged many a new and perhaps wavering talent.

“I think he would have much preferred for his life to be celebrated than for his death to be mourned. And so I am sure that this concert, with so many of his friends performing, would have had his endorsement, and will be a unique occasion by which to remember a great man, and a fine musician.”

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