ARCANE AND, PERHAPS, IN DANGER OF BEING FORGOTTEN COMPLETELY UNTIL A SUCCESSFUL COMPILATION AND THE LICENSING OF ONE OF HIS SONGS TO AN ADVERT IN THE 1990S, IN THE DECADES SINCE NICK DRAKE’S DEATH HIS MUSIC HAS ACHIEVED A LEVEL OF ACCLAIM FAR BEYOND THE MODEST APPRECIATION RECEIVED DURING HIS BRIEF LIFETIME. MYSTERIOUS AND TROUBLED (HE DIED ON 25TH NOVEMBER 1974, AGED 26, FOLLOWING AN OVERDOSE OF THE MEDICATION PRESCRIBED FOR HIS DEPRESSION), DRAKE HIMSELF HAS BEEN ELEVATED TO THE STATUS OF ICON; A SHORTHAND OFTEN USED TO SYMBOLISE THE CHARISMATIC MISFIT, THE ENIGMATIC STONER, THE SENSITIVE SOUL, THE DELICATE, TRAGIC, POET…
There have been many more books written about Nick Drake than he released albums, and though almost all of them have been noble efforts – labours of love – which have striven to locate some sort of deeper context for his songs or offer fresh perspectives on many of the long-held half-knowns and presumptions about him, each becomes little more than a mere footnote when measured against the new companion produced by his estate. Curated by his sister Gabrielle and Cally Calloman (head of Bryter Music, a company set up to manage Drake’s posthumous affairs on behalf of the family), man, musician and legacy are each beautifully served by REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE.
In her brief foreword Gabrielle Drake quotes a passage from Lucasta Miller’s 2001 biography of the Brontë sisters, concerning Emily: “Perhaps what was needed was a form of biography which was able to incorporate what Keats called ‘negative capability’, the ability to be ‘in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. The tone is set, and though REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE does contain a staggering amount of fact and reason (Peter Paphides reaches for a great deal of it in his brilliant series of lengthy essays on each of Drake’s three albums plus posthumous releases, for instance), the book is also impressionistic, allowing the reader to accumulate their own opinion by dint of its ‘scrapbook’ approach. It has been designed not as a definitive biography, Gabrielle writes, but as “a series of sideways glances; an attempt to cast a few shards of light on the poet, the musician, the friend, the son, the brother; who was also more than all of these”… There are five individual sections, following the imagery of Drake’s song FRUIT TREE, which do just that: THE SEED (early life at home and school); THE FLOWER (France, Cambridge, early musical forays); THE FRUIT (his studio albums); THE HARVEST (the posthumous rise to fame, and discovery by new generations); and THE STOCK (a comprehensive guide to all of his work).
Broken down further REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE features many previously unpublished photographs from across all eras, and reminiscences from several friends (from childhood, from the 1967 holiday in Aix-en-Provence, where Drake began to write his songs, and from days as an English Literature student in Cambridge). There is comment from those populating his life in London as an Island recording artist (key producer Joe Boyd, orchestrator Robert Kirby, musician friends and countless others discuss the writing and recording of FIVE LEAVES LEFT and BRYTER LAYTER, which all involved had anticipated might be a success), and there is writing on Drake’s output and legacy taken from previously published compendiums (Ian MacDonald’s EXILED FROM HEAVEN is of particular worth). There are technical overviews of each individual song (with notes on their curious tunings and explanatory interpretations of his unique guitar technique) and a brief guide to Drake’s all-too-few, often painfully shy, live performances (a total of only thirty or so between 1968 and 1973 – which included a 1969 date in the upstairs room of a pub in Hull, and a 1970 support slot to Peter Gabriel’s Genesis at Leeds University). There are reproductions of original handwritten and typed lyrics, some for songs which went unrecorded, plus rejected early ideas and mocked-up artwork for album sleeves, advertising materials and a series of full pages from his mother Molly’s scrapbooks which chart her son’s career (such as it was) through brief press cuttings; everything highly evocative of Nick Drake as artist.
There are letters sent between Drake and his parents throughout his life and many extracts (annotated by Gabrielle) from a diary their father Rodney kept after his severely unwell son returned to the family seat in Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, in 1972, following the release of final album PINK MOON. A remarkable new interview with Brian Wells, a friend and contemporary who eventually became a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, attempts to explain Drake’s mental condition and apparent suicide by interpreting the patterns presented in Rodney’s diary. His conclusion is “I’m inclined to think it was more a case of… I just want to go to sleep and I don’t care if I wake up!”… A brief line in his father’s diary from the day of death is simple and heartbreaking: “So ends in tragedy our three-year struggle”. It was not the end. Drake died in his childhood bedroom and, regardless of whether it was misadventure or an intentional suicide, the repercussions for his family spread like ripples for the rest of their days.
Perhaps most poignant of all is the correspondence between Rodney and one of Nick’s doctors. Writing almost a year after the loss of his son, he attempts to make sense of the worst tragedy that can befall a parent. The reply, which goes to great lengths to explain depression and posits the idea that Drake had actually been suffering from schizophrenia, is sincere and remarkably kind for being so. But the doctor’s personal compassion is astonishing: “In no way at all did you or your wife in your handling of Nick over the years contribute to or exacerbate his illness… …your lack of understanding in no way reflects upon you as parents”. During what remained of their own lives Molly and Rodney Drake – perhaps even with gratitude – would welcome the small but steady trickle of people who’d discovered their son’s music and, for whatever reason, arrived at their door. In this way they kept a connection to him, though they would be long gone themselves before his work found the wider consideration – and respect – it deserved.
There is unlikely to be another volume compiled which will have the same privilege of access to so many of the key-players in the Drake story, nor to the family’s archive; and, therefore, nor will there be another which conveys as much detail or is produced with such care. There is a surfeit of opinion, anecdote and information but little hyperbole, no sensationalism – at all – and no rewriting of history to accommodate the shorthand myth. Sometimes painfully honest, often emotional, occasionally funny, sometimes dry and scholarly – always deeply engaging – REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE is probably the most ambitious, generous and thorough volume about a musician to see publication. Put simply, this is the authoritative resource for fans and future historians who may find themselves considering Nick Drake. In its absolute integrity and its sheer dignity, it is second only to his music.
NICK DRAKE – REMEMBERED FOR A WHILE
Published by John Murray, 6th November 2014
Hardback / 448 pages / 20.3 x 4 x 26.7 cm / £35
Order the standard hardback edition here or the special Signature Boxed Edition, containing photographic prints and
a 10″ vinyl single containing the previously unreleased 1969 John Peel Session (limited to 1,000 copies only) here
~ Producer Joe Boyd talks about Nick Drake in the first of a two part edition of The Mouthcast, from 2013
~ Joe Boyd and Cally Calloman, manager of Bryter Music, talk about Nick Drake in the second part