And the movement in your brain sends you out into the rain

I probably should be making a list right now (and presumably, checking it twice), although as tends to happen every year, suddenly I find there’s other things I want to write about. So, ground-breaking fresh music that surfs the cusp of the newest of new waves, or some old toot from days of yore…

Anyone who’s ever had even the most fleeting acquaintance with this Blog will probably have a fair idea which way this is going to go…

Nick Drake

Last Christmas, a friend gave me Patrick Humphries’ book about Nick Drake which it’s taken me almost a full year to pick up. Shame, it’s a pretty good read, and it gave me a much fuller picture of the man. We’re all well accustomed to the general picture of the shy, pained genius who gradually disappeared from view and eventually succumbed to his depression way back in the years of Rock History.

I wasn’t aware, though, of the recollections of his school friends who had clear pictures of Nick Drake playing rugby at Marlborough school and breaking sprint records; drinking and chatting in Cambridge pubs; careening drunkenly through France and Spain; driving obsessively around country lanes for the pleasure of time behind the wheel; his friendship with, love of and latter dependence on Joe Boyd.

The comments from family and friends are also pretty illuminating. Boyd and Island Records seem to have been pretty decent in their attempts to support him; John Martyn seems to the end to have been somewhat haunted by his own sporadic, fruitless attempts to draw Drake out of himself; Linda Thompson a wretched spectator at the gradual unwinding she witnessed; Danny Thompson an exasperated cajoler of the super sensitive songwriter (“and I thought all he needs is a bloody good bacon and chip butty, a kick up the arse and a couple of shags”); Drake’s own parents overwhelmingly generous, sympathetic but heart-breakingly powerless.

For me, I was first introduced to the gossamer-thin Drake catalogue by a girlfriend back in mid-eighties and I’ll confess to having listened to Five Leaves Left a lot in my teens but precious little since. And I’ve not really gone very deep into his other two records. Barely scratched the surface to be honest…

There’s of course nothing new to be added to the Drake story, least of all by this hapless blogger, but I’ve recently picked up Pink Moon again, and it’s still pretty powerful. Considering the circumstances it was recorded under – Drake was reportedly at his darkest, refusing to work unless behind a screen or facing the wall, and at times unable to play and sing at the same time – there’s some real drive behind it. The book makes a lot of the dynamic and innovative guitar stylings and obscure tunings. This mostly falls on deaf ears to klutz like myself but I actually was struck by the playing. There’s a punchy rhythm behind it which drives the songs along to a rapid, often hurried conclusion (it’s a very short album, almost treasonously so for 1974). The song that really stands out for me is “Things Behind the Sun”, which hurtles along lickety-spit, delivering its (not entirely) nihilistic burden with a deep determination in four minutes of dazzling, busy confusion which compel you to pick the needle up and take it back for another go (I’m using a pre-digital metaphor here, kids – ask your Dad).

There is literally no known footage of Drake playing and I think just one John Peel session, so precious little YouTube stuff to refer to, but these couple of clips are quite informative…

The first is from the Boyd-compiled tribute record Way to Blue – The Songs of Nick Drake which gives us a band I don’t know (and have no beef with, I should add) covering “Things Behind the Sun” (give it a minute or so, it’s OK, but a bit soulless)

 

And now listen to this, the furiously knotty original version from Pink Moon.

 

It’s not a comparison particularly flattering to Luluc, but it serves its purpose. You’ll have gathered I’m struggling to put into words what is essentially so rare and precious about the man (dancing about architecture, and all that). But if you give the two a listen, you’d have to have the fleeciest of cloth ears not to hear the difference between the commonplace and the exceptional – albeit flawed, battered and at times scarcely breathing.