Tag Archives: Nick Drake

Time (Specifically 1969) Has Told Me

28 May
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Nick Drake 

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Richard Thompson

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Danny Thompson

Have you ever played the game six degrees of separation before? The idea behind the game is that all people are connected within six steps of each other. For example, perhaps the guy you met on the train yesterday frequently eats at a bagel place where your brother’s best friend works the counter. It’s a small world after all, right? Well, it’s an even smaller world with music – you’d be surprised to find how many musicians have recorded in the same studio with other musicians. A quick check of an album’s liner notes may shock you. Thus is the case of today’s post – let’s head back in time to 1969 and find Nick Drake recording his debut album Five Leaves Left at Sound Techniques in London.

Drake, who signed to Island records at 20 and released three studio albums before turning inwards and committing suicide at 26, was a tortured folk genius whose creative guitar tunings, chord progressions, and lyric bent conventions and significantly impacted those lucky enough to work with him during his unfortunately short career. His music is haunting, much the probable consequence of severe depression, and although bucolic and tranquil for the modern listener, the music is tinged with a lugubrious solitude. Five Years Left, recorded when Drake was around 20 and released in July of 1969, finds its way on several top 500 album lists and for good reason; it is a masterful collection of Drake’s talent … and the talent of others. Take a listen to “Time Has Told Me.”

Right? There is nothing quite like it – hence the draw of Nick Drake. Did you notice the twangy electric guitar and swooning bass? That is where our game of musical degrees begins. Let’s start with the electric guitar.

Recorded at around the same time of Drake’s album and released in December of 1969, Liege & Lief, one of the most influential British folk albums ever released, featured the guitar stylings of Richard Thompson – “Farewell, Farewell,” one of my favorites on the album, is Thompson’s arrangement. Why bring up guitarist Richard Thompson? He played electric guitar on “Time Has Told Me.” He was also a founding member of Fairport Convention, who, in 1969, released three albums – the third being Liege & Lief. Impacted by American folk acts like Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention revived older British folk songs, and added a modern tint to the classics. The band, of course, is most known for the dulcet vocal of Sandy Denny, who, like Nick Drake, also suffered from depression and died young. Thompson’s guitar, though, cannot be overstated – his impact on the scene was invaluable.

Often when people consider late 60s British folk , they think of Fairport Convention and Pentangle, a band that explored more of the Folk Baroque scene, implementing Jazz influences into their folk tunes. Formed in 1967, Pentangle also featured a powerful female vocalist – Jacqui McShee (who still performs with the band) and a bassist named Danny Thompson (no relation to Richard) who also played bass on, you guessed it, “Time Has Told Me” by Nick Drake. Only a few months after Drake’s debut release, Pentangle released its third studio album (it had released two in 1968 – these bands were quite prodigious) Basket of Light, and on it was the traditional piece “Once I Had A Sweetheart” that was creatively arranged by the talented quintet. The music is tinged with a progressive sentiment – a true precursor to some progressive acts that sprouted after the British folk movement petered out in the early 1970s.

So there you have it – Nick Drake records his seminal debut album in 1968/1969 and from perhaps its most famous track we find two British folk giants whose careers have both spanned more than 50 years – time certainly has told us much.

Listening to “Saturday Sun” by Nick Drake

6 Jun

Nick Drake kind of looks like Jim Morrison

Nick Drake and Jim Morrison share a similar face and long hair. They also share two other unfortunate attributes. Depression and untimely death. Morrison died in 1971 and Nick Drake in 1974. Two great talents eradicated. But Jim Morrison is a well-known superstar. His brief work with the Doors made him more of a mysterious idol in his death. Nick Drake, on the other hand, remains practically anonymous, his tranquil compositions often falling into obfuscation.

Luckily, his work has been posthumously praised and while not many listen to Drake’s harmonious tunes, many critics rightfully consider his work to be that of a depressed genius whose sheer confidence in his talents was often overshadowed by his misanthropic attitude. After releasing his third album he fell back home with his parents and took his own life two years later by way of an overdose on a prescribed antidepressant. He was 26 years old.

I would like to travel back to 1969 and feature the last track on his first album Five Leaves Left. The album demonstrated an unheralded mastery of folk/rock from the 21-year-old Drake. It did not receive much admiration at the time, but years later it garners tremendous praise. The last song “Saturday Sun” is a melancholic track, slow, sensual and constant, like delicate waves lightly touching a sun-drenched shoreline. The piano’s bluesy sentiment provides a strong opening. Drake’s mellow and gentle voice is indescribable. There is a sad beauty to it. You can almost hear his inner torture. The song leaves any listener stung by its calmness and full beauty.

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