Friday, March 1, 2024

Various Artists - The Hitmakers Sing Nick Drake (2018)

Nicholas Rodney Drake was born on 19 June 1948 in Burma, with the family, including his older sister the successful actress Gabrielle, moving back to England to live in Warwickshire in 1951. At school he played piano and learned clarinet and saxophone, and formed a band, the Perfumed Gardeners, with four schoolmates in 1964 or 1965. Drake contributed piano and occasional alto sax and vocals, and when Chris de Burgh asked to join the group, he was rejected as his taste was "too poppy". In 1966 Drake enrolled at a tutorial college in Five Ways, Birmingham, where he won a scholarship to study at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, but in his gap year before starting the course he travelled with friends to Morocco, returning to England in 1967 and moving into his sister's flat in Hampstead, London. That October, he enrolled at Cambridge to begin his studies in English literature, and in January 1968 he met Robert Kirby, a music student who went on to write many of the string and woodwind arrangements for Drake's first two albums. By this time, Drake had discovered the British and American folk music scenes, and was influenced by performers such as Bob Dylan, Donovan, Van Morrison, Josh White and Phil Ochs, and he performed in local clubs and coffee houses around London. After spotting him in one of these clubs, Fairport Convention bassist Ashley Hutchings introduced him to the 25-year-old American producer Joe Boyd, owner of the production and management company Witchseason Productions.  
Boyd was a respected figure in the UK folk scene, and he and Drake formed an immediate bond, with Boyd acting as a mentor to Drake throughout his career. Impressed by a four-track demo recorded in Drake's college room in early 1968, Boyd offered Drake a management, publishing, and production contract, and Drake recorded his debut album 'Five Leaves Left' later in 1968, with Boyd as producer. He sought to include a string arrangement similar to John Simon's on Leonard Cohen's debut, and to provide backing he enlisted contacts from the London folk rock scene, including Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson. Ultimately, both Drake and Boyd were unhappy with arranger Richard Anthony Hewson's contribution, and so Drake suggested his college friend Robert Kirby as a replacement, and he provided most of the arrangements for the album, including its centrepiece 'River Man'. Post-production difficulties delayed the release by several months, and the album was poorly marketed and supported, receiving little radio play outside of shows by more progressive BBC DJs such as John Peel and Bob Harris. Despite this low-key reception at the time, 'Five Leaves Left' has since become regarded as a classic album of the folk scene, and despite a push by Boyd in 1970 to get Drake's songs more well-known, by arranging a session by Elton John and Linda Peters (later Linda Thompson) to record some of them to be sent out to publishers, most of the best covers have appeared since the turn of the last century. These ten versions of the songs from Drake's debut album all capture the delicacy of the music while still allowing the performers to add their own personality to their interpretation of the songs. 

Track listing

01 Time Has Told Me (Elton John 1968)
02 River Man (Norma Waterson 1999)
03 Three Hours (Keith James 2003)
04 Day Is Done (Charlie Hunter Quartet featuring Norah Jones 2001)
05 Way To Blue (In Gowan Ring 2007)
06 'Cello Song (The Books featuring Jose Gonzales 2009)
07 The Thoughts Of Mary Jane (Vashti Bunyan and Gareth Dickson 2018)
08 Man In A Shed (Beatrice Mason featuring Leoni 2018)
09 Fruit Tree (Green Gartside 2013) 
10 Saturday Sun (Alexis Korner 1971)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for this and the Tomorrow Never Knows podcast.