In Musical Praise of: Nick Drake

There is, admittedly, a bit of a trendy following of Nick Drake's work, and it seems a little strange that for someone who died at the age of twenty-six in 1974 and was relatively unknown, that his work has become relatively famous in the last decade. In fact, Drake was so unknown at one point that when I once met his actress sister, Gabrielle, some twenty years ago, I didn't know anything about him then!
But given the critical acclaim and my brother being a fan of his work, I have started listening out for Drake's songs in the past seven years or so and am impressed by his work, although his medative acoustic pieces aren't really the type of songs to just slap onto an iPod or CD Player, you have to be in a certain mood or setting to fully appreciate his work.
Drake was the son of an engineer and was born in Burma, although he was brought up in Warwickshire. He had a typical upper-middle class upbringing. Public school (Malborough), followed by Oxbridge (Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge), and like many of his generation developed an interest in music.
Drake was a fan of american folk music, and whilst at University, performed at coffee houses and clubs. He was then discovered by a member of the band Fairport Convention and they helped secure him a three-album contract with Island Records.
Drake's three albums have a lyrical resonance, mingled with unique guitar tuning. They also mingle folk acoustic ballads with chamber music (as brilliantly done in one of my favourite songs River Man) or mild Jazz. It is enough to give Drake the musical reputation he deserves, however it is a pity the acolades did not come sooner.
Part of the problem lay with Drake himself. He was pathologically shy and hated performing live. When recording he would play into the wall so as to avoid looking at people. This shyness helped ensure that his records sold poorly and in consequence it helped foster his growing clinical depression.
After completing his third album, Drake swore that he had retired from the music scene and would train as a computer programmer, albeit with occasionally writing songs for others. That said none of his plans materialised and Drake became more depressed. He would spend hours not speaking with the people he was with and was occasionally hospitalised, occasionally living with Françoise Hardy .
In early 1974, Drake felt confident enough to record again and in the course of the year recorded five new songs. It all came to an end that November, however, when he was found dead at his parents home with an overdose of the antidepressant Tryptizol. To this day there is a debate as to whether it is suicide or an accident. I personally (and I wish I was wrong), believe it was suicide. As Gabrielle said in a documentary, taking twenty-six pills of a precribed drug is not an accident, although she did state (which is very feasible) that it was probably a spur-of-the-moment thing.
If Drake was more confident, if he didn't suffer from clinical depression, maybe things would have been far different! But as it is, musically speaking he has left a legacy that leaves many gasping in admiration.


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