Nicholas Rodney “Nick” Drake (19 June 1948 – 25 November 1974) was an English singer-songwriter. Although his music did not find a wide audience during his lifetime, he gradually achieved wider recognition and is now considered 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 Layter and Pink Moon. Neither sold more than 5,000 copies on initial release.
Drake’s reluctance to perform live or be interviewed contributed to his lack of commercial success. He suffered from depression and insomnia, topics often reflected in his lyrics. After completing Pink Moon in 1972, he withdrew from live performance and recording, retreating to his parents’ home in rural Warwickshire. On 25 November 1974, at the age of 26, Drake died from an overdose of amitriptyline, a prescribed antidepressant.
Groundbreaking British DJ John Peel once called him “the best kept-secret in the world of music,” but Richard Thompson has been flatpicking raging guitar solos for more than 50 years.
Groundbreaking British DJ John Peel once called him “the best kept-secret in the world of music,” but Richard Thompson has been flatpicking raging guitar solos for more than 50 years. He burst onto London’s swinging music scene in 1967 as the teenage singer and guitarist for Fairport Convention, the seminal folk-rock band that married traditional English songs with an infectious rock groove. In the ’70s, he began singing hypnotic duets in harmony with his then-wife Linda; their best-known album, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, was released in 1974.
In the early ’80s, the singer-songwriter went solo and has regularly put out albums ever since. Though he remains relatively under the radar, the press takes regular notice of him: In 2011, Time magazine listed his 1991 fingerpicking masterpiece “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” as one of their All-TIME 100 Songs, and in 2015, Rolling Stone put him at #69 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2011 for his musical contributions.
Last September, he released 13 Rivers, his 18th solo album. It features 13 thundering, mostly minor-key songs that Thompson vaguely describes as having been written during a dark time in his life. He brings the Richard Thompson Electric Trio, with drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk, to the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Feb. 14. Pasatiempo reached him by phone at his rented house in New Jersey, where he was resting up in advance of his 2019 tour.
Pasatiempo: The songs on your new album have been described as having a “grim urgency” and an “unflinching gaze,” which could also characterize much of your songwriting over your career. In the first verse of the opener, “Storm Won’t Come,” you sing, “I’m longing for a storm to blow through town/And blow these sad old buildings down/Fire to burn what fire may/And rain to wash it all away.” Are these songs for troubled times, or is this just business as usual for you?
Richard Thompson: It’s not that bad if you really listen to it. [laughs] I don’t think I’ve written literally about anything. I’ve been in this parallel world of song fiction. I’m sure all these traumas that my son has been through are reflected in there.
HAD HE LIVED, NICK DRAKE would have been 70 this year, and fêted as one of our greatest songwriters. Yet, as friends and peers explore in the latest MOJO magazine (in UK shops from Tuesday, January 23), he wasn’t made for his times, or built to withstand the pressures of the music business.
In MOJO magazine’s 17-page celebration, Richard Thompson, Bridget St John, Joe Boyd, Linda Thompson, producer Joe Boyd and engineer John Wood talk about their friend’s music and explore his enigmatic personality, while MOJO writers tell the stories behind his magical songs.
“It’s fashionable now to believe Nick was gay,” Linda Thompson tells MOJO’s Andrew Male, “but I think, he couldn’t really relate to either sex. Affection from him was hard won. If he kissed you, you never forgot it. You’d wake up in the night and remember it. Every fibre of his being seemed to be sunk into his music.”
“If He Kissed You, You Never Forgot It. You’d Wake Up In The Night And Remember It.” LINDA THOMPSON
Drake died in 1974, of a tragic overdose of antidepressants, long before his records were widely known. In fact it wasn’t until the mid-’90s that recognition truly dawned, as a new generation of artists, including Paul Weller, Beth Orton and others began a posthumous booster campaign, fuelled by MOJO magazine’s first Nick Drake cover story in January 1997 and sealed when the title track of Drake’s 1971 Pink Moon album appeared in a Volkswagen VW Cabrio advert in 1999.
Since his suicide 30 years ago, Nick Drake’s legend has grown and now the discovery of his final recorded song has cast new light on that fateful night in 1974. Family, friends and Drake’s former lover reveal for the first time the inner life of an other-worldly singer.
By Peter Paphides THE GUARDIAN April 2004.
Sheltered by a mighty oak tree in the village of Tanworth-in-Arden, Nick Drake’s headstone lies beside a well-beaten path. In accordance with the notice on the tree – ‘fans are requested to pay their respects by leaving only small tokens or flowers’ – the stone is surrounded by all manner of tiny ephemera. In March, 2004, these included a harmonica, two bracelets, a ring, a framed picture of a girl dancing on the brow of a hill and the reminder from a packet of Swan rolling papers that prompted Drake to call his first album Five Leaves Left.