Nick Drake looms large in our minds as the very essence of English melancholia.
He died in 1974 aged just 26, unappreciated and though loved deeply by his family and close friends, in relative obscurity.
The days of appreciation and discovery of his genius would come much later.
But a new book and a unique collection of records inspired by his songs have been released this year.
I first discovered him around 1992, thanks to my friend Dr Richard Bircher, the Stalybridge GP, and sometime contributor to this newspaper.
I can’t claim that I was any kind of early adopter, but Richard’s sharing of the Way to Blue collection was an absolutely eye opener and an appreciation of a masterful collection of atmospheric quintessentially English folk inspired songs.
Since then Nick Drake has been mythologised and studied, time and time again.
There have been documentaries, radio programmes - one notably by Brad Pitt - and collections of his music.
His life spans a colonial upbringing in Burma, childhood in Warwickshire, life at boarding school and then Cambridge and in London, then back to his parents' home in Tamworth.
There is no film of him in existence and his quiet folk style made his one live tour a disaster. His lack of success and gradual withdrawal end with his death at 26. The last two years crippled by depression.
This new book Nick Drake: The Life, by Richard Norton Jack has been released as close as it’s possible to be, an official account, or at least one compiled with the co-operation of Gabrielle, his older sister and Cally Calloman, who manages the Nick Drake Estate on her behalf, ensuring that is music lives on, in the right way.
It starts with the premise that in 1968 Nick Drake had everything to live for. The product of a loving, creative family and a privileged background, he was not only a handsome and popular Cambridge undergraduate, but also a new signing to the UK’s hippest record label, Island.
Three years later, however – having made three well-reviewed but low-selling albums – Nick had been overwhelmed by mental illness. He returned to live in his family home in rural Warwickshire in 1971, and died in obscurity in 1974, aged just 26.
In the decades since, Nick has become the subject of ever-growing fascination and speculation. Combined sales of his records now stand in the millions, his songs are frequently heard on TV and in films, and he has become one of the most widely known and admired singer-songwriters of his generation.
Nick Drake: The Life is the only biography of Nick to be written with the blessing and involvement of his sister and Estate. Drawing on copious original research and new interviews with his family, friends and musical collaborators, as well as deeply personal archive material unavailable to previous writers – including his father’s diaries, his essays and private correspondence – this is the most comprehensive and authoritative account possible of Nick’s short and enigmatic life.
It includes a foreword by Gabrielle Drake and over 75 photos, many rare or previously unseen.
Also out now is The Endless Coloured Ways, a collection of Nick Drake songs performed and recorded by over 30 incredible artists from a range of different backgrounds, genres, age groups and audiences. From Fontaines D.C to Guy Garvey, and Aurora to Feist, each artist has offered their own incredible take on a timeless classic.
“Cally and I embarked on this venture with one simple brief to each of the artists — that they ignore the original recording of Nick’s, and reinvent the song in their own unique style,” Jeremy Lascelles from Chysalis Records said in a statement. “It was really humbling to hear so many similar responses, with everyone saying how important Nick’s music was to them, and how much they wanted to be part of this project. As the results came in one by one, we were thrilled by the brilliance and invention that each artist had shown. They had done exactly what we hoped for — they had made the song their own.”
We played Cello Song by Fontaines D.C. on the show last week, and John Parish and Aldous Harding’s take on “Three Hours” the week before. They are works of great beauty, and we plan to share a couple more from the collection next time around.