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   Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday February 7, 2005


Nick Drake's gravestone
Who was Nick Drake?

He died at the age of 26, having only released three albums, played live a handful of times and never recorded a music video - so why has a boy from Warwickshire been hailed as one of Britain's most influential singer-songwriters?

Inside Out looks at the story of Nick Drake, whose musical career was tragically cut short before he gained the recognition he deserved.

Nick was born Nicholas Rodney Drake on June 19, 1948, in Rangoon, Burma.

Born into an upper middle class background, Nick was brought up in Tanworth-in-Arden, where his love of music was apparent from an early age.

Years later, he was discovered at a live appearance by Fairport Convention bass player Ashley Hutchings, who was blown away by his talent.

Ashley Hutchings
Ashley Hutchings noticed Nick's talent immediately

Ashley recalls, "I was spellbound at the voice, at the guitar playing, at the songs.

"I asked if he wanted success and I said I knew a man who could give him that - Joe Boyd, the producer."

At just 20 years old, Nick dropped out of university and signed a record contract with Boyd and Island Records.

His debut album, 'Five Leaves Left," was released in 1969.

Despite his obvious talent, Nick's debut album failed to ignite the charts, and went largely unnoticed.

After his second album, "Bryter Layter," failed to sell, Nick's producer and friend Joe Boyd left England for a career in America.

Joe's departure, together with the lack of commercial success, sent Nick into the early stages of a depression which would ultimately end his career.

A stab at success

Joe Boyd
Producer Joe Boyd was the man behind Nick's career

When the release of his third album, "Pink Moon," in 1972 failed yet again to bring him the success he craved, Nick's colleagues noticed a dramatic change in his disposition.

His producer Joe Boyd explains:

"I convinced him that we were going to make a fantastic record which everybody would love and it would sell and he would have a career.

"When that didn't happen he was very disappointed, as was I.

"He never expressed his anger at the time, he just shuffled his feet, mumbled and went home."

Even people he only met on occasion noticed the change in him, as photographer Keith Morris, who shot the artwork for his final album, recalls:

"It was quite shocking - I was expecting the old Nick and I got this very remote Nick who was within himself the whole time.

"I think it is reflected in the pictures we took - the condition he was in was such that you didn't feel you could ask much of him other than to record how he was."

Nick Drake's album cover
Nick Drake's songs hinted at what was going on underneath

Joe Boyd remembers the day he realised something was very wrong. He says:

"He could barely play the guitar and he couldn't sing.

"It was devastating. There are memories of Nick in the studio in '68, '69, '70 and to see him in '73 and '74 like that was very disturbing."

Then finally came the tragic news that marked the end of his career - Nick was found dead at his family home on November 25, 1974.

In one of his last songs, "Black Eyed Dog," Nick hinted at the depression which had consumed him in the final months of his life, something which his fans now believe was prophetic of his death.

The coroner's verdict was suicide, but to this day Nick's family still believe his death was a tragic accident, the result of an overdose on the antidepressants Nick used to control his moods.

A career reprise

Brad Pitt and Dave Barber
Brad Pitt in the studio with Radio 2's Dave Barber

Now, 30 years after his death, the church where Nick is buried has become a place of pilgrimage for his fans.

And a tribute has been held there in honour of his life and music.

Tribute organiser Denise Offringa says, "I just wanted to tell him how many people love his music now.

"It is what he would have wanted, I think - people want to come long distance to show him that it was all worth it."

And Nick's fan base continues to grow, with artists like REM and Elton John among the many admirers of his music.

Last year one of Hollywood's biggest names declared an interest in his work.

Award-winning actor and Drake fan Brad Pitt agreed to voice a Radio 2 documentary about Nick's life and music, which he recorded during a break from filming.

Dave Barber, from Radio 2, says, "I didn't want it to turn into the Brad Pitt show - he wanted people to know about Nick and find his music themselves."

And it's not just Drake's popularity which is on the up - his early records are now rising up in the ranks of the collectable recordings market.

Danny Reddington, who owns a rare record shop, explains, "Nick Drake has always sold but once Brad Pitt did the radio show everybody is getting in on it - they go for £150 now."

Musical legacy

Katie Melua
Katie Melua is just one young singer who has been inspired by Nick's music

As Nick's profile continues to grow, legions of new artists are discovering his music.

Katie Melua is just one of the young singers enjoying the sort of chart success Nick could only have dreamed of.

She says, "He was an exceptional artist - you can't help but be inspired by him.

"It's the effect his music has on you, like something warm going through your body.

"It's a shame he got what he wanted after he passed away, but he knew that, you can sense it in his music."

But there are those who believe that for some Nick Drake is less of a real inspiration and more of a fashionable name to drop.

Nick Drake - Discography
  • Five Leaves Left (Island: 1969)
  • Bryter Layter (Island: 1970)
  • Nick Drake (US Only - Island: 1971)
  • Pink Moon (Island: 1972)
  • Fruit Tree: The Complete Recorded Works (Island: 1979)
  • Heaven In A Wild Flower: An Exploration of Nick Drake (Island: 1985)
  • Time Of No Reply (Hannibal: 1987)
  • Way To Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake (Island: 1994)
  • Made To Love Magic (Island: 2004)
  • A Treasury (Island: 2004)

Source: BBC Music

Paul Leicester, from Uncut magazine, thinks that young musicians are using Nick's name to boost their credibility. He explains:

"We don't want to see artists grow old, we like people like Drake - he's got an air of romantic doom.

"It is a very fashionable name to drop, but if you know about Nick Drake you know it is impossible to be influenced by him because what he did was so peculiar to himself."

But Nick's legacy continues, with thousands of new fans enjoying the music he left behind for the world.

It looks like Nick has finally found the fame he craved so much.

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
Northern soul
A superstar silenced

Radio 2 - In Search Of Nick Drake
BBC Four - Nick Drake
BBC Music - Nick Drake

On the rest of the web
Nick Drake - Made To Love Magic
Bryter Music

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