It seems appropriate to close off a month of tracks by those who have fallen by the wayside with perhaps the ultimate lost artist, someone about whom it was once said that he barely existed at all; someone with a skin too few.
Much of Nick Drake’s life, his music, and even his death is surrounded by mystery. In a world of exponentially gathered and shared information he stands unique as an artist: there are no bootlegs of Nick Drake gigs, no video footage, just a handful of albums, a few studio out-takes, and a slowly excavated collection of home recordings.
Even the circumstances detailing the recording and handing over of Pink Moon, his third and final album, are sketchy and debated. What’s known is that Nick contacted producer John Wood, and the two recorded the album over two late night sessions at the Sound Techniques studio. When asked what else he wanted on the album, Nick replied that this was it – he didn’t want any “tinsel” added, just his voice and guitar. With the exception of the piano overdub on the title track, that’s exactly what he got. 28 minutes of simple, unadorned beauty and sadness.
Over time, a story got around that Nick wandered into the Island records offices one day, deposited the master tapes at reception without a word, and disappeared back into the world. The story now seems merely apocryphal, although differing accounts exist of what really happened. Chris Blackwell, Island’s founder, says he went downstairs to meet Nick, asked him how much the album had cost to record and gave him the figure Nick responded with (£500) there and then. Speaking to biographer Patrick Humphries, however, press officer David Sandison tells a story of inviting Nick up for tea in his office, enduring a silent few minutes, then watching him leave again. Shortly later he gets a call from reception to say Nick had left some tapes downstairs.
Doubtless, uncertainties such as this, combined with the paucity of available material, and the desire to trust second or third-hand accounts as authorities on the inner workings of his mind have fuelled the cult of Nick Drake in the years since his death. It is barely possible to cast aside the circus of distractions and focus on the music. If you can do so, you will find each of his three albums offer you something different: the slightly stoned Five Leaves Left; the expansive, jazz-infused Bryter Layter; the sparse, quietly resigned Pink Moon. Of these three, despite its brevity it is Pink Moon that has the deepest impact. Nick’s warm, rich voice reaches out to you from the recordings, while apart from only a handful of duffed notes it’s immaculately played, as ever was the case with Nick Drake. Bleak and generally without hope of salvation, it does, however, finish with the almost – almost – uplifting “From The Morning”, and the words that adorn his gravestone in Tamworth:
Now we rise
And we are everywhere