- Bryer Layter
Of all the album covers that I included in my quiz, this is the one that most people identified correctly. Which is ironic, because if I had done the same quiz 25 years ago it would have been the least well-known (after Blossom Toes). Nick Drake's three albums didn't sell "a shit" in his lifetime, and he died in November 1974 I must have been one of barely a thousand people who gave a shit, either.
I discovered Nick Drake via "Time Has Told Me" on the "Nice Enough To Eat" compilation, and as a result bought his then current album "Bryter Layter". It's absoultely gorgeous, as countless posthumous converts will now testify, and I bought the followup "Pink Moon" pretty much on the day it was released. Joe Boyd, the producer of the album, claims it is the only album he's ever done that he would not change in any way, and yet for many years in the 80s and 9s I hardly played it, or gave it a thought.
The reason for that is twofold - firstly, I have a strange reluctance to like anything that is "popular", or that other people like, so that when people around me were talking about Nick Drake I would just shrug and say "yeah, he's alright, I was into him years ago."
As I write this I am coming to the end of Nick's biography, and it has enabled me to identify the other reason why I was able to forget about him: those albums exist in a void, unrelated to anything else in my life or the world. Whereas I can point to loads of other records and say, honestly, that my life would have been different without them, that isn't true of Nick's three. I never knew him, never knew anyone else who knew him, never saw him live, never read an interview with him, and never knew anyone else who'd even heard of him (at the time). His three albums are extraordinary but if they hadn't existed it wouldn't have made the slightest difference. I have no memories or anecdotes associated with them, or Nick.
His biography must have been a diffult one to write, if only because there's so little to say about him. He was a normal boy who got into music, developed a unique style of guitar playing, recorded three albums, became ill and died as a result of an (accidental? Deliberate? Nobody knows) overdose of prescribed medication. The entire book says little more than that, although through the mouths of lots of different people - friends, musicians, contemporaries, modern-day musos who namecheck him. Nick was "a soul with no footprint" who left nothing behind when he died apart from three extraordinary albums and a bunch of people saying how sad it was.
Various other material has turned up over the years; four final songs that he recorded for a projected fourth album, various studio outtakes, poor quality home demos and stuff, but none of this (apart from one or two tracks - notably "Joey") is of much interest to me. While he was alive, Nick Drake recorded three albums and I bought them. I listened to the, I thought they wre great. But I have recently realised - and this is awfully sad - that in the end they didn't matter to me.
I've recently had a renaissance of interest in Sandy Denny, and they couldn't be more different. I'm reading her biography and enjoying the anecdotes, waiting for certain apocryphal moments, reliving the days when I was "in love" with her (I thought I was going to burst into tears on the tube this morning when I read the bit about "A Sailor's Life"). I met her (briefly), saw her in concert, knew about her and followed her and her career in the music press, had other albums that she'd sung on - Unlike Nick, she was part of a whole internal and external scene.
I remained dry-eyed throughout "Nick Drake, the biography".
If you're a musician you can admire his guitar playing (his technique and tunings), but even that is so disconnected from anything else that very few people have ever been able to figure out how he did what he did. I guess at least part of the reason that Nick's work is still admired - apart from the obvious quality - is that it wasn't connected to any "scene". It was completely personal, intoverted, and as (ir)relevant in 1972 as it is today. Three beautiful albums that you really ought to hear - but it probably won't matter if you don't.