Thursday, 19 January 2012

Nick Drake: (1948 - 1974)


Nicholas Rodney "Nick" Drake (19 June 1948 – 25 November 1974) was an English singer-songwriter and musician. Though he is best known for his sombre guitar-based songs, Drake was also proficient at piano, clarinet and saxophone. Although he failed to find a wide audience during his lifetime, his work gradually achieved wider notice and recognition; he now ranks among the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years. Drake signed to Island Records when he was 20 years old and released his debut album, Five Leaves Left, in 1969. By 1972, he had recorded two more albums—Bryter Later and Pink Moon. Neither sold more than 5,000 copies on initial release.
His reluctance to perform live, or be interviewed, contributed to his lack of commercial success. Yet he was able to gather a loyal group of influential fans who championed his music, including his manager, Joe Boyd, who had a clause put into his own contract with Island Records to ensure Drake's records would never be put out of print. Drake suffered from depression and insomnia throughout his life, and these topics were often reflected in his lyrics. On completion of his third album, 1972's Pink Moon, he withdrew from both live performance and recording, retreating to his parents' home in rural Warwickshire. There is no known footage of the adult Drake; he was only ever captured in still photographs and in home footage from his childhood. On 25 November 1974, Drake died from an overdose of amitriptyline, a prescribed antidepressant; he was 26 years old.
Drake's music remained available through the mid-1970s, but the 1979 release of the retrospective album Fruit Tree caused his back catalogue to be reassessed. By the mid-1980s Drake was being credited as an influence by such artists as Robert Smith, David Sylvian and Peter Buck. In 1985, The Dream Academy reached the UK and US charts with "Life in a Northern Town", a song written for and dedicated to Drake. By the early 1990s, he had come to represent a certain type of "doomed romantic" musician in the UK music press, and was frequently cited as an influence by artists including Kate Bush, Paujl Weller and The Black Crowes. His first biography appeared in 1997, and was followed in 1998 by the documentary film A Stranger Among Us. In 2000, Volkswagen featured the title track from Pink Moon in a television advertisement, and within a month Drake had sold more records than he had in the previous 30 years.
His father Rodney Drake (1908–1988) had moved to Rangoon, Burma, in the early 1930s to work as an engineer with the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation. In 1934, Rodney met the daughter of a senior member of the Indian Civil Service, Mary Lloyd (1916–1993), known to her family as Molly. Rodney proposed in 1936, though the couple had to wait a year until Molly turned 21 before her family allowed them to marry. In 1950, they returned to Warwickshire to live in the country estate of Far Leys, near Tanworth-in-Arden in west Warwickshire, just south of Solihull. Drake had one older sister, Gabrielle, later a successful film and television actress. Both parents were musically inclined, and they each wrote pieces of music. In particular, recordings of Molly's songs which have come to light following her death are remarkably similar in tone and outlook to the later work of her son. Mother and son shared a similar fragile vocal delivery, and both Gabrielle and biographer Trevor Dann have noted a parallel sense of foreboding and fatalism in their music. Encouraged by his mother, Drake learned to play piano at an early age, and began to compose his own songs, which he recorded on a reel-to-reel tape recorder she kept in the family drawing room.
In 1957, Drake enrolled at Eagle House School, an English preparatory boarding school in Berkshire. Five years later, he went on to public school at Marlborough College in Wiltshire, where his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all attended. He developed an interest in sport, becoming an accomplished sprinter (his record for the 100-yard dash still stands) and captain of the school's rugby team for a time. He was also Head of House in C1, the College's largest house. School friends recall Drake at this time as having been confident and "quietly authoritative", while often aloof in his manner. His father Rodney remembered, "In one of his reports [the headmaster] said that none of us seemed to know him very well. All the way through with Nick. People didn't know him very much."
Drake played piano in the school orchestra, and learned clarinet and saxophone. He formed a band, The Perfumed Gardeners, with four schoolmates in 1964 or 1965. With Drake on piano and occasional alto sax and vocals, the group performed Pye covers and jazz standards, as well as Yardbirds and Manfred Mann numbers. The line-up briefly included Chris De Burgh, but he was soon ejected as his taste was seen as "too poppy" by the other members. Drake's academic performance began to deteriorate, and while he had accelerated a year in Eagle House, at Marlborough he began to neglect his studies in favour of music. He attained seven GCSE O-Levels in 1963, but this was fewer than his teachers had been expecting, and he failed "Physics with Chemistry". In 1965, Drake paid £13 for his first acoustic guitar, and was soon experimenting with open tuning and finger picking techniques.
In 1966, Drake won a scholarship to study English Literature at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. He delayed attendance to spend six months at the University of Aix-Marseille, France, beginning in February 1967. While in Aix, he began to practice guitar in earnest, and to earn money would often busk with friends in the town centre. Drake began to smoke cannabis, and that spring he travelled with friends to Morocco, because, according to travelling companion Richard Charkin, "that was where you got the best pot". Drake most likely began using LSD while in Aix, and lyrics written during this period—in particular for the song "Clothes of Sand"—are suggestive of an interest in hallucinogens.
Upon returning to England, he moved into his sister's flat in Hampstead, before enrolling at Cambridge that October. His tutors found him to be a bright student, but unenthusiastic and unwilling to apply himself to study. Dann notes that he had difficulty connecting with staff and fellow students alike, and points out that official matriculation photographs from this time reveal a sullen and unimpressed young man. Cambridge placed much emphasis on its rugby and cricket teams, yet by this time Drake had lost interest in playing sport, preferring to stay in his college room smoking marijuana, and listening to and playing music. According to fellow student (now psychiatrist) Brian Wells: "they were the rugger buggers and we were the cool people smoking dope." In September 1967, he met Robert Kirby, a music student who went on to orchestrate 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, Josh White and Phil Ochs. He began performing in local clubs and coffee houses around London, and in February 1968, while playing support to Country Joe at the Fish at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, made an impression on Ashley Hutchings, bass player with Fairport Convention. Hutchings recalls being impressed by Drake's skill as a guitarist, but even more so by "the image. He looked like a star. He looked wonderful, he seemed to be 7 ft."
Hutchings introduced Drake to the 25-year-old American producer Joe Boyd, owner of the production and management company Witchseason Productions. The company was, at the time, licensed to Island Records and Boyd, as the man who had discovered Fairport Convention and been responsible for introducing John Marytn and The Incredible String Band to a mainstream audience, was a significant and respected figure on the UK folk scene. He and Drake formed an immediate bond, and the producer acted as a mentor figure to Drake throughout his career. A four-track demo, recorded in Drake's college room in the spring of 1968, led Boyd to offer a management, publishing, and production contract to the 20 year old, and to initiate work on a debut album. According to Boyd:
In those days you didn't have cassettes—he brought a reel-to-reel tape [to me] that he'd done at home. Half way through the first song, I felt this was pretty special. And I called him up, and he came back in, and we talked, and I just said, "I'd like to make a record." He stammered, "Oh, well, yeah. Okay." Nick was a man of few words.

In a 2004 interview, Drake's friend Paul Wheeler remembered the excitement caused by his seeming big break, and recalled that the singer had already decided not to complete his third year at Cambridge.
Drake began recording his debut album Five Leaves Left later in 1968, with Boyd assuming the role of producer. The sessions took place in Sound Techniques Studio, London, with Drake skipping lectures to travel by train to the capital. Inspired by John Simon's production of Leonard Cohen's first album, Boyd was keen that Drake's voice would be recorded in a similar close and intimate style, "with no shiny pop reverb". He also sought to include a string arrangement similar to Simon's, "without overwhelming... or sounding cheesy". To provide backing, Boyd enlisted various contacts from the London folk rock scene, including Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson (no relation). He recruited John Wood as engineer, and drafted Richard Hewson in to provide the string arrangements.
Initial recordings did not go well: the sessions were irregular and rushed, taking place during studio downtime borrowed from Fairport Convention's production of their Unhalfbricking album. Tension arose between artist and producer as to the direction the album should take: Boyd was an advocate of George Martin's "using the studio as an instrument" approach, while Drake preferred a more organic sound. Dann has observed that Drake appears "tight and anxious" on bootleg recordings taken from the sessions, and notes a number of Boyd's unsuccessful attempts at instrumentation. Both were unhappy with Hewson's contribution, which they felt was too mainstream in sound for Drake's songs. Drake suggested using his college friend Robert Kirby as a replacement, although Boyd was sceptical at taking on an amateur music student lacking prior recording experience. However, he was impressed by Drake's uncharacteristic assertiveness, and agreed to a trial. Kirby had previously presented Drake with some arrangements for his songs, and went on to provide a spare chamber music quartet score associated with the sound of the final album. However, Kirby did not feel confident enough to score the album's centerpiece "River Man", and Boyd was forced to stretch the Witchseason budget to hire the veteran composer Harry Robinson, with the instruction that he echo the tone of Delius and Ravel.
Post Production difficulties led to the release being delayed by several months. It has been alleged that the album was poorly marketed and supported, though the inclusion of the opening track "Time Has Told Me" on the Island Records sampler Nice Enough to eat brought him a very wide audience (a track from his second album was likewise included on the subsequent sampler Bumpers). Drake was featured in full-page interviews in the pop press. In July, Melody Maker referred to the album as "poetic" and "interesting", though NME wrote in October that there was "not nearly enough variety to make it entertaining". It received radio plays from the BBC's more progressive disc-jockeys such as John Peel and Bob Harris. Drake was unhappy with the inlay sleeve, which printed songs in the wrong running order and reproduced verses omitted from the recorded versions. In an interview his sister Gabrielle said: "He was very secretive. I knew he was making an album but I didn't know what stage of completion it was at until he walked into my room and said, 'There you are.' He threw it onto the bed and walked out!
Drake ended his studies at Cambridge nine months before graduation, and in autumn 1969 moved to London to concentrate on a career in music. His father remembered "writing him long letters, pointing out the disadvantages of going away from Cambridge ... a degree was a safety net, if you manage to get a degree, at least you have something to fall back on; his reply to that was that a safety net was the one thing he did not want." Drake spent his first few months in the capital drifting from place to place, occasionally staying at his sister's Kensington flat, but usually sleeping on friends’ sofas and floors. Eventually, in an attempt to bring some stability and a telephone into Drake's life, Boyd organised and paid for a ground floor bedsit in Belsize Park, Camden.
In August, Drake recorded three songs for the BBC's John Peel show. Two months later, he opened for Fairport Convention at the Royal Festival Hall in London, followed by appearances at folk clubs in Birmingham and Hull. Remembering the performance in Hull, folk singer Michael Chapman commented:
The folkies did not take to him; [they] wanted songs with choruses. They completely missed the point. He didn't say a word the entire evening. It was actually quite painful to watch. I don't know what the audience expected, I mean, they must have known they weren't going to get sea–shanties and sing-alongs at a Nick Drake gig!
The experience reinforced Drake's decision to retreat from live appearances; the few concerts he did play around this time were usually brief, awkward, and poorly attended. Drake seemed unwilling to perform and rarely addressed his audience. As many of his songs were played in different tunings, he frequently paused to retune between numbers.
Although the publicity generated by Five Leaves Left was minor, Boyd was keen to build on what momentum there was. 1970's Bryter Later again produced by Boyd and engineered by Wood, introduced a more upbeat, jazzier sound. Disappointed by his debut's poor commercial performance, Drake sought to move away from his pastoral sound, and agreed to his producer's suggestions to include bass and drum tracks on the recordings. "It was more of a pop sound, I suppose", Boyd later said, "I imagined it as more commercial." Like its predecessor, the album featured musicians from Fairport Convention, as well as contributions from John Cale on two songs: "Northern Sky" and "Fly". Trevor Dann has noted that while sections of "Northern Sky" sound more characteristic of Cale, the song was the closest Drake came to a release with chart potential. In his 1999 autobiography, Cale admits to using heroin during this period, and his older friend Brian Wells began to suspect that Drake was also using. Both Boyd and Wood were confident that the album would be a commercial success, but it went on to sell fewer than 3,000 copies. Reviews were again mixed: while Record Mirror praised Drake as a "beautiful guitarist—clean and with perfect timing, [and] accompanied by soft, beautiful arrangements", Melody Maker described the album as "an awkward mix of folk and cocktail jazz."


Island Records was keen that Drake promote Bryter Layter through press interviews, radio sessions and live appearances. Drake, who was by this time smoking what Kirby has described as "unbelievable amounts" of marijuana and exhibiting "the first signs of psychosis", refused. By the winter of 1970, he had isolated himself in London. Disappointed by the reaction to Bryter Layter, he turned his thoughts inwards, and withdrew from family and friends. He rarely left his flat, and then only to play an occasional concert or to buy drugs. "This was a very bad time", his sister Gabrielle Drake recalled, "He once said to me that everything started to go wrong from [this] time on, and I think that was when things started to go wrong."
Although Island neither expected nor wanted a third album, Drake approached Wood in October 1971 to begin work on what would be his final release. The sessions took place over two nights, with only Drake and Wood present in the studio. The bleak songs of Pink Moon are short, and the eleven-track album lasts only 28 minutes, a length described by Wood as "just about right. You really wouldn't want it to be any longer." Drake had expressed dissatisfaction with the sound of Bryter Layter, and believed that the string, brass and saxophone arrangements had resulted in a sound that was "too full, too elaborate". Drake appears on Pink Moon accompanied only by his own carefully recorded guitar save for a single piano overdub on the title track. "He was very determined to make this very stark, bare record," Wood later recalled. "He definitely wanted it to be him more than anything. And I think, in some ways, Pink Moon is probably more like Nick is than the other two records."
Drake delivered the tapes of Pink Moon to Chris Blackwell at Island Records, contrary to a popular legend which claims he dropped them off at the receptionist's desk without saying a word. An advertisement for the album placed in Melody Maker in February opened with "Pink Moon—Nick Drake's latest album: the first we heard of it was when it was finished." Pink Moon went on to sell fewer copies than either of its predecessors, although it did receive some favourable reviews. In Zigzagmagazine, Connor McKnight wrote, "Nick Drake is an artist who never fakes. The album makes no concession to the theory that music should be escapist. It's simply one musician's view of life at the time, and you can't ask for more than that."
Blackwell felt Pink Moon had the potential to bring Drake to a mainstream audience; however, his staff were disappointed by the artist's unwillingness to undertake any promotional activity. A&R manager Muff Winwood recalls "tearing his hair out" in frustration, and admits that without Blackwell's enthusiastic support, "the rest of us would have given him the boot." However, following persistent nagging from Boyd, Drake agreed to an interview with Jerry Gilbert of Sounds Magazine. The "shy and introverted folk singer" spoke of his dislike of live appearances and very little else. "There wasn't any connection whatsoever", Gilbert has said. "I don't think he made eye contact with me once. If you wanted to be uncharitable, you could say he was just a spoiled boy with a silver spoon and went around feeling sorry for himself." Disheartened and convinced he would be unable to write again, Drake decided to retire from music. He toyed with the idea of a different career, even considering the Army.
In the months following Pink Moon's release, Drake became increasingly antisocial and distant from those close to him. He returned to live at his parents' home in Far Leys, and while he resented the regression, he accepted that his illness made it necessary. "I don't like it at home", he told his mother, "but I can't bear it anywhere else." His return was often difficult for his family; as his sister Gabrielle explained, "good days in my parents' home were good days for Nick, and bad days were bad days for Nick. And that was what their life revolved around, really."
Referring to this period, John Martyn (who in 1973 wrote the title song of his album Solid Air for and about Drake) described him as the most withdrawn person he'd ever met. He would borrow his mother's car and drive for hours without purpose on occasion, until he ran out of petrol and had to ring his parents to ask to be collected. Friends have recalled the extent to which his appearance had changed. During particularly bleak periods of his illness, he refused to wash his hair or cut his nails. Early in 1972, Drake suffered a nervous breakdown, and was hospitalized for five weeks.He lived a frugal existence, his only source of income being a £20-a-week retainer he received from Island Records. At one point he could not afford a new pair of shoes.He would often disappear for days, sometimes turning up unannounced at friends' houses, uncommunicative and withdrawn. Robert Kirby described a typical visit: "He would arrive and not talk, sit down, listen to music, have a smoke, have a drink, sleep there the night, and two or three days later he wasn't there, he'd be gone. And three months later he'd be back."
In February 1974, Drake again contacted John Wood, stating he was ready to begin work on a fourth album.] Boyd was in England at the time, and agreed to attend the recordings. This initial session was followed by further recordings in July. In his 2006 autobiography, the producer recalled being taken aback at Drake's anger and bitterness: "[He said that] I had told him he was a genius, and others had concurred. Why wasn't he famous and rich? This rage must have festered beneath that inexpressive exterior for years." Both Boyd and Wood noticed a discernible deterioration in Drake's performance, requiring him to overdub his voice separately over the guitar. However, the return to Sound Techniques studio raised Drake's spirits; his mother later recalled, "We were so absolutely thrilled to think that Nick was happy because there hadn't been any happiness in Nick's life for years.
By autumn 1974, Drake's weekly retainer from Island had ceased, and his illness meant he remained in contact with only a few close friends. He had tried to stay in touch with Sophia Ryde, whom he had first met in London in 1968. Ryde has been described by Drake's biographers as "the nearest thing" to a girlfriend in his life, but she now prefers the description 'best (girl) friend'. In a 2005 interview, Ryde revealed that a week before he died, she had sought to end the relationship: "I couldn't cope with it. I asked him for some time. And I never saw him again." As with the relationship he had earlier shared with fellow folk musician Linda Thompson, Drake's relationship with Ryde was never consummated.
At some time during the night of 24/25 November 1974, Nick Drake died at home in Far Leys from an overdose of a type of antidepressant. He had gone to bed early the night before, after spending the afternoon visiting a friend. His mother stated that, around dawn, he left his room for the kitchen. His family was used to hearing him do this many times before but, during this instance, he did not make a sound. They presumed that he was eating a bowl of cereal. He returned to his room a short while later, and took some pills "to help him sleep" Drake was accustomed to keeping his own hours; he frequently had difficulty sleeping, and would often stay up through the night playing and listening to music, then sleep late into the following morning. Recalling the events of that night, his mother later stated: "I never used to disturb him at all. But it was about 12 o'clock, and I went in, because really it seemed it was time he got up. And he was lying across the bed. The first thing I saw was his long, long legs." There was no suicide note, although a letter addressed to Ryde was found close to his bed.
At the inquest that December, Drake's coroner stated that the cause of death was as a result of "Acute poisoning—self-administered when suffering from a depressive illness", and concluded a verdict of suicide. Though this has been disputed by some members of his family, there is a general view that accidental or not, Drake had by then given up on life. Rodney described his son's death as unexpected and extraordinary; however, in a 1979 interview he admitted to "always [being] worried about Nick being so depressed. We used to hide away the aspirin and pills and things like that." Boyd has stated that he prefers to believe the overdose was accidental. He recalled that Drake's parents had described his mood in the preceding weeks as having been very positive, and that he had planned to move back to London to restart his music career. Boyd believes that this levity was followed by a "crash back into despair". Reasoning that Drake may have taken a high dosage of his antidepressants to recapture this sense of optimism, he said he prefers to imagine Drake "making a desperate lunge for life rather than a calculated surrender to death". Writing in 1975, NME journalist Nick Kent comments on the irony of Drake's death at a time when he had just begun to regain a sense of "personal balance". In contrast, Gabrielle Drake has said she prefers to think Drake committed suicide, "in the sense that I'd rather he died because he wanted to end it than it to be the result of a tragic mistake. That would seem to me to be terrible."
File:Nick Drake Grave.jpg
On 2 December 1974, after a service in the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Tanworth-in-Arden, Drake's remains were cremated at the Solihull Crematorium and his ashes later interred under an oak tree in the adjoining graveyard of St Mary's. The funeral was attended by around 50 mourners, including friends from Marlborough, Aix, Cambridge, London, Witchseason, and Tanworth. Referring to Drake's tendency to compartmentalise relationships, Brian Wells later observed that many met each other for the first time that morning. Molly recalled "a lot of his young friends came up here. We'd never met many of them.

The Mamas & The Papas: California Dreamin' (1965)

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I really do love this song, it has the knack of picking me up when I'm down. "California Dreamin'" the classic song by The Mamas & The Papas, first released in 1965. The song is No89 in Rolling Stones' list of The 500 Greatest Songs of all Time. The lyrics of the song are about a man in a cold winter landscape longing for the warmth of California. According to John Phillips in a Bravo documentary, and Michelle Phillips in an NPR piece, the song was written in 1963 while they were living in New York. He dreamed about the song and woke her up to help him write it. At the time, the Phillips' were members of the folk group The New Journeymen which evolved into The Mamas & The Papas.
They earned their first record contract after being introduced to Lou Adler, the head of Dunhill Records, by the singer Barry McGuire. In thanks to Adler, they sang the backing vocals to "California Dreamin'" on McGuire's album This Precious Time. The Mamas and the Papas then recorded their own version, using the same instrumental and backing vocal tracks to which they added new vocals and an alto flute solo by Bud Shan k. McGuire's original vocal can be briefly heard on the left channel at the beginning of the record, having not been completely wiped. The single was released in late 1965 but it was not an immediate breakthrough. After gaining little attention in Los Angeles upon its release, Michelle Phillips remembers that it took a radio station in Boston to break the song nationwide. By early 1966, the song peaked at No4 and stayed on the charts for 17 weeks. "California Dreaming" and "The Ballard of the Green Berets" sharply divided the popular music market in March 1966.
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The song is used repeatedly in the 1994 Wong Kar-Wai film Chungking Express, in which a character played by singer Faye Wong obsessively listens to it. The original song by The Mamas & the Papas was also used in the soundtrack on the Academy Award and Golden Globe-winning film Forrest Gump. A version by the band The Bald Eagles was used for the remake of the movie The Hills Have Eyes. In the movie Congo the song is sung by members of an expedition as they prepare rafts for an ill-fated river trek.
"California Dreamin'", as covered by Bobby Womack (1968), features prominently in 2009 British film Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold, where the main character Mia dances to it and uses it as her audition piece. The collection CD on which the song appears also plays a role, and is "The Best of Bobby Womack" (2008), on which "California Dreamin'" appears on track 17, as Mia requests at her audition.
The song was also used in the South Park episode 201.
In the British time travelling sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart, one of the main characters, Phoebe, sang this song, thinking it had been written by her husband, Gary Sparrow. (Gary Sparrow travels from the 1990s to the 1940s and claims to write songs, which are actually songs from popular bands or singers, such as "Yesterday" by The Beatles, "Imagine" by John Lennon and "Back To You" by Brett Anderson.)
A cover of the song by Shaw Blades was used in the final scene of the season 2 finale of Californication.
The song is used in promos for HBO Films' Cinema Verite.
It was also used in a "Butter Menthol" Cough Lolly TV advertisment in Australia
In 2004 the Mexican bank Banamex use the theme for a TV Commercial.
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