52 albums – week 23

I’ve been thinking that it may be time for a compilation disc. I have a few ideas floating around so it could stretch out to a month of ‘Best Of’s’ but lets start here with Nick Drakes Way to Blue which was his labels official ‘retrospective’ offering.

Island Records released it in 1994, some 20 years after Nicks death. It was drawn from the only three records he made in his lifetime, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter & Pink Moon. The boy on the cover is a young Nick Drake and the photo was i imagine taken in the woods behind his home in Tanworth-in-Arden, a small village in Warwickshire. There aren’t too many photographs of Nick Drake available and NO live footage of him performing at all. In fact video or super 8 film of him as an adult simply doesn’t exist; it was never shot in the first place. Which in an age where instant gratification is only a few deft keyboard strokes away, can be a frustrating reality check;
Never Happened! … that’s a hard  brick wall!

Originally I had thought this would be a lengthy post. Sifting through his short but ultimately tragic life;
ineffably sad, born out of time, a fragile soul, what a waste, etc, blah, etc, blah, etc …
but the more I read the less I had the heart for it. If you want to know more can I politely point you in the direction of brytermusic or one of the scores of fan sites out there. But to put it in a nutshell he died at the age of 26 in the family home of an overdose of Amitriptylline. Whether it was deliberate or misadventure is open to conjecture.
The Coroners report would have shed light on how he died, the toxicity level in his blood, the number of pills found by his bedside etc (how you die leaving clues to your intent). But that information isn’t freely available and nor should it be.
For me as the humble fan it would just be ghoulish. I’ve always thought of Death as intensely personal; yes i know how ridiculous that sounds and the ripples that spread out from a death  should in the main, spread only as far as family and friends.
Suicide makes No Sense Whatsoever and All the Sense in the World and All in the same breath. Ultimately You stop while Everyone else goes on. This maybe a very reductionist perspective to place on it, avoiding painful questions and inadequate answers (if you are fortunate enough to even have those) but trying to impose sense on an individuals decision to end their life is ultimately a Sisyphean task. Chance and circumstance have as much to say about how we handle depression as resilience and fortitude; the end result is still the same. It’s a poor interpretation and what comfort it gives is cold but it does close a door. And there i will leave it.

Nick Drake sold less than 5,000 albums in his life time but was fortunate to have a wiley manager in Joe Boyd who to quote from the wikipedia entry “had a clause put into his own contract with Island Records that ensured Drake’s records would never go out of print.” It’s probably only been in the last 10 or 15 years that Nick Drakes star has started to ascend which is probably around the time when i first heard of him. Numerous artists cite him as a major influence, from devoted fans posting up their re-interpretations on YouTube to the brightest luminaries of popular music but i think it was The Dream Academy’s hit single, Life in a Northern Town (they directly credit Nick Drake as the inspiration for this song) where i first heard of him.

There are two songs.
The first is Black Eyed Dog which is the last but one on the album. I’ve listened to dozens of versions of this song and have yet to hear one that approaches the original. Some capture the strung out tension in his voice. Others the quietly mounting desperation. But in there also is an undercurrent of resignation and none of the covers I’ve heard acknowledge that. More than anything else in his back catalog this song seems to let you glimpse into his darkness.
The second is Northern Sky which would probably be his most well-known song. It’s the Polar opposite of Black Eyed Dog.  As weightless as a snowflake, As pure as driven snow and As full of light and joy as the Northern Lights that illuminate the Northern Sky

To close here is John Martyn. He was a contemporary of Nick Drakes and wrote this song about him.

Love Brett.

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