Who is Nick Drake and why should I know about him? Might be the first question that you’re asking, followed by, why are you writing about him on this site – I thought you were only interested in ghosts and ghouls? Well, read on and hopefully all will become clear.
Nick Drake was a British folk musician whose influence continues to this day (Noah & the Whale, Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons among others owe a debt to him and you’ve probably heard of all of them, right?). To listen to, his music is somewhat melancholy (a pastoral-sounding guitar playing in the background was the trademark of much of his early work) and in this sense the songs suited the man. A fascinating character, Nick Drake’s intellectual credentials were impressive – he was educated at Marlborough College and Cambridge, where he won a scholarship to attend Fitzwilliam College – but he never seemed satisfied by his achievements, whether academic or musical.
In later life Drake became an elusive figure – there is no known footage of the artist as an adult and what images do exist are mysterious, muted still photographs. The titles of his songs were often almost purposely ambiguous and he would usually refuse to clarify their meaning (one of the rare exceptions to this was perhaps his most famous recording, ‘Black Eyed Dog’, which was a term for depression first used by Winston Churchill). There has been much speculation about his depression and its cause – drugs, lost love, frustrated artistic ambition – as well as the events leading up to his tragic early death at the age of twenty-six, but it isn’t my intention to add to those discussions here. Instead, I just wanted to draw your attention to a neglected artist who, arguably, died before he could produce his best work.
I mentioned the Merrily Watkins mysteries of Phil Rickman in an earlier post and I should say here that Drake is a constant if impenetrable reference point in those books – one of the main characters is a reclusive songwriter inspired by the artist. For more information about the musician and his work (did you know that Nick Drake once played in a band with Chris de Burgh?) visit http://www.nickdrake.com. Drake’s music, at least, is fairly widely available as he has experienced something of a surge in popularity in recent years (he’s on iTunes, since you ask). If you get a spare moment listen to a sample of his work, which I’ve always found tends to be the perfect accompaniment to a student house party, a long drive at the weekend, an evening alone or with a close friend, or just about any time or place at all.