Nick Drake’s “Bryter Layter” turns 50

by Laurie Hutcheson | Folkradio UK

Folk music was at the heart of the tumultuous late 60s and early 70s: troubadours created elaborate progressive folk; Al Stewart and Roy Harper employed diverse instrumentation; explorative basslines became ever more common; John Martyn and the Pentangle fused jazz rhythms and harmonies into hardwired folk, whilst Fairport convention produced angular, electric albums. Drake’s producer Joe Boyd was notably present, signing the prolific Incredible String Band, who along with the likes of the Third Ear Band and Quintessence developed another 70s folk direction. It was in this world of experimentation and musical fervency that Nick Drake recorded Bryter Layter.

Drake’s producers, friends and labelmates pushed at the forefront of experimentation as his iconic sound matured. But it’s easy to see him as apart or distant from this world. Even on the cover of Bryter Layter, his most collaborative work, he’s shrouded in shadow – a promise of the quiet, dark place we enter through his songs. Drake was described by his close, protective friend John Martyn as the most withdrawn person he’d ever met, whilst Nick’s long-time producers Wood and Boyd recall his hesitation to stamp his authority when recording ‘Five Leaves Left’ and his despondent frailty in the ‘Pink Moon’ sessions. Bryter Layter, however, is distinct, and with the benefit of distance that time provides, it is, I think, Drake at his most ambitious and coherent – proactively responding to the vibrant musical world around him.

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