Nick Drake Biography

Nicholas Rodney Drake, 19 June 1948, Rangoon, Burma, d. 25 November 1974, Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, England. Born in Burma into an upper middle-class background, Drake was raised in Tanworth-in-Arden, near Birmingham. Recordings made at his parents’ home in 1967 revealed a blossoming talent, indebted to Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, yet clearly a songwriter in his own right. He enrolled at Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, and during this spell met future musical associate Robert Kirby. Drake also made several live appearances and was discovered at one such performance by Fairport Convention bass player Ashley Hutchings, who introduced the folk singer to their producer Joe Boyd. A series of demos were then completed, parts of which surfaced on the posthumous release Time Of No Reply (1987), before Drake began work on his debut album.

Released in 1969, Five Leaves Left was a mature, melodic collection, which invoked the mood of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad. Drake’s languid, almost unemotional intonation contrasted with the warmth of his musical accompaniment, in particular Robert Kirby’s temperate string sections. Contributions from Richard Thompson (guitar) and Danny Thompson (bass) were equally crucial, adding texture to a set of quite remarkable compositions. By contrast, the following year’s Bryter Layter was altogether more worldly, and featured support from emphatic, rather than intuitive, musicians. Lyn Dobson (flute) and Ray Warleigh (saxophone) provided a jazz-based perspective to parts of a selection which successfully married the artist’s private and public aspirations.

Indisputably Drake’s most commercial album, the singer was reportedly stunned when Bryter Layter failed to reap due reward and the departure of Boyd for America accentuated his growing misgivings. A bout of severe depression followed, but late in 1971 Drake resumed recording with the harrowing songs that make up his final studio album Pink Moon. Completed by Drake alone in two days, its stark, almost desolate atmosphere made for uncomfortable listening, yet beneath its loneliness lay a poignant beauty. Two songs, ‘Parasite’ and ‘Place To Be’ dated from 1969, while ‘Things Behind The Sun’ had once been considered for Bryter Layter. These inclusions suggested that Drake now found composing difficult, and it was 1974 before he re-entered a studio. Five tracks were completed, of which ‘Black Eyed Dog’, itself a metaphor for death, seemed a portent of things to come. Four of the tracks (‘Rider On The Wheel’, ‘Black Eyed Dog’, ‘Hanging On A Star’ and ‘Voice From The Mountain’) were later released on the Fruit Tree box set, while ‘Tow The Line’ was only belatedly ‘discovered’ and issued on the 2004 rarities release Made To Love Magic.

On 25 November 1974, Nick Drake was found dead in his bedroom. Although the coroner’s verdict was suicide, relatives and acquaintances feel that his overdose of a prescribed drug was accidental. Interest in this ill-fated performer has increased over the years, with a number of official and bootleg releases being released. Drake is now seen as a hugely influential artist and his catalogue contains some of the era’s most accomplished music.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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