5 Things you didn’t know about Nick Drake

Demien Dorelli 29 September 2021

Pianist Demian Dorelli shares some little known facts about the mysterious folk icon, Nick Drake

1. Who was Nick Drake?

Nick Drake

Nick Drake in 1971, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I think I’ve got to start here, briefly, just in case, as my daughter said while I writing this, “Yes ,but who is Nick Drake?”

Nicholas Rodney Drake is a gem from the English singer-song-writing history. During his short time on this earth he released three quite different-sounding albums on Island Records between 1969 and 1972: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and his last, the most bare, just that unique guitar style and quintessential English voice, Pink Moon. Luckily more tracks  would then be released posthumously.

His music is beautiful, profound, sometimes magical and sometimes haunting, his lyrics are clever and creative, often giving you an insight into where his state of mind was at the time.

Nick must have struggled with the seeming lack of success which may have ultimately contributed to his demise and early death from an overdose of antidepressants in 1974.

This is such shame as eventually his music would be recognised by fans all over the world. There is serious love and a passionate cult following of his music now. Famously during 1999, a Volkswagen commercial in America used his song “Pink Moon” which catapulted his fan base and record sales hugely. Many well known artists such as REM, Paul Weller, Beck, Kate Bush, to name a few, have covered his songs over the years. If only he were around now to enjoy the success.

"There is serious love and a passionate cult following of his music now"

2. Plaisir d’amour

Have you ever heard of a ghost track? Well it’s a lesser-known fact that on one particular reissue of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon album there was just such a track.

If you haven’t heard  of this exciting method of surprising a listener, it happens at the end of an album or EP. You  get to the end of the listed tracks, there’s a gap that seems like the close, then as if from nowhere an unexpected bonus track starts playing.

On that reissue LP, possibly from year 2000, there is a ghost track of Nick Drake playing solo acoustic guitar in a kind of classical style quite different from the rest of the album. It was actually a classical song originally written in 1784 called “Plaisir d’amour” by French composer Jean-Paul-Égide Martini. Apparently recorded during the original Pink Moon recording sessions at the Sound Techniques studio in London 1971 but never released.

I found out about this from a good friend who actually has one of these vinyl LPs. What treat for die-hard fans like us! Inspired by this I have recorded my own version of the song on piano that might appear later this year.

3. “You look to find a friend…”

For Nick Drake’s first two album releases Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, despite initial concerns from the producer, Nick used his good friend from Cambridge, Robert Kirby, to do the string arrangements.

I always liked this idea, as the production team could have easily used a well known arranger, and almost did, but at the last minute, on hearing Kirby’s first attempt they were “absolutely stunned” at how “gorgeous” it was.“You look to find a friend…”

After reading the Nick Drake biography Darker Than The Deepest Sea by Trevor Dann I finally discovered why, strangely, that the one song Robert Kirby didn’t work on, was my favourite ever Nick Drake track, “River Man”.

Apparently, he didn’t feel confident enough to take it on: “I know what Nick wants and I can’t do it”. Maybe he was right after all, as the final string arrangement by Harry Robinson on River Man is so harmonically unique, it creates that magical atmosphere beautifully.

4. Molly Drake and cakes:

During 1981, renowned artist Franco Matticchio, who famously designed the final New Yorker cover of the millennium in December 1999, made a trip from Italy to Nick Drake’s home in Tanworth-in-Arden, England. Too embarrassed to knock on the door for fear of not speaking good enough English he left wondering what might have been.

Seven years on during the Easter of 1988 and with Titola Istriana in hand (homemade traditional Italian Easter cakes), his three nephews, now great friends of mine, made the same trip all the way from Albizzate, Italy in a white Renault R4 Van.

This time they would find Molly Drake, Nick’s mother, cleaning the window above her front door. She invited the three boys, Andrea, Marco and Giovanni in for tea, shared cakes and they talked for a while.

"I only recently discovered Molly Drake’s own music and it’s fascinating to listen to"

Molly was curious to know what their favourite of Nick’s albums was and, if memory served them well, that Molly seemed more attached to Five Leaves Left, her son’s first album. They described to me seeing a dark wood baby grand piano in the background.

I only recently discovered Molly Drake’s own music and it’s fascinating to listen to. She played piano, wrote poetic lyrics and sang beautifully but always with that hint of melancholy which  Nick had too. One my favourite songs by her is “How Wild the Wind Blows”. They exchanged a few letters until she sadly passed away a few years later.

5. Nick Drake is still alive:

Well, for me he is. Sitting at my piano, studying and playing through the Nick Drake pieces,  I often have the feeling he’s there close by and that I’m playing for him. He helps me to let go and allow the music to take over. Through a piano this time, my mission now is to bring Nick’s music back to a live setting as soon as possible… maybe he’ll be there too!

Demian’s piano version album of Pink Moon, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon: A Journey on Piano is released on October 1 on Ponderosa Music Records 

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