Nick Drake

From Academic Kids

Nicholas Rodney Drake (June 19 1948November 25 1974) was a British folk guitarist and singer/songwriter. Drake is known for his gentle, autumnal songs, his unusual guitar tunings and his virtuoso right hand finger-picking technique. His work was always held in high esteem by critics and fellow musicians but failed to find a wide audience during his lifetime, which fed Drake's severe clinical depression. Since his death, a significant cult audience has grown around Drake.



Drake's father worked as a medical doctor. Drake was brought up in Tanworth-in-Arden, a small village in the English county of Warwickshire. He went to public school at Marlborough College, where he learned to play the flute. As a young adult, Drake enrolled in Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge to study English. His older sister, Gabrielle Drake, is an actress.

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Nick Drake

Drake was a fan of British and the emerging American folk music scene, including Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. While a university student, Drake began performing in local clubs and coffee houses. He was discovered by Ashley Hutchings, the bass player of the folk rock group Fairport Convention. Hutchings introduced Drake to the other members of Fairport Convention, folk singer John Martyn and producer Joe Boyd.

Drake’s associates convinced Island Records to sign the young singer/songwriter to a three-album contract. At the age of twenty, he released his first album Five Leaves Left (1969), which featured a chamber music quartet on several songs and had a light, dour sound. Drake’s second album Bryter Layter (1970) introduced a more upbeat, jazzier sound, with keyboards and several brass instruments. Both albums were produced by Boyd and featured several members of Fairport Convention.

Many accounts of Drake focus on his mythology, but a large part of his enduring popularity is due to his meticulous songwriting, prosody, odd guitar tunings and lyricism.

Drake was pathologically shy and resented touring. The few concerts he did play were usually in support of other British folk acts of the time, such as Fairport Convention or John Martyn and were often brief and awkward. Partially because of this, his work received little attention and sold poorly. Whilst in the recording studio, he was so shy that he'd always play into the wall so as to avoid people's gazes.

Severely clinically depressed and doubting his abilities as a musician, Drake recorded his final album Pink Moon (1972) in two two-hour sessions, both starting at midnight. The songs of Pink Moon were short (the album consists of eleven of them and lasts only 26 minutes) and emotionally bleak and Drake recorded them unaccompanied, in the presence of only a sound engineer (a piano was later overdubbed on the title track). Naked and sincere, it is widely thought to be his best work. After recording the album, Drake dropped off the master tapes at the front desk of Island Records' office building and then swore he was retiring from performing music, planning to train to be a computer programmer and possibly write songs for others to perform. The master tapes lay on a secretary's desk over the weekend and were not noticed until later the next week.

However, none of Drake’s plans materialized. In the next few months, Drake grew severely depressed and maintained relationships only with close friends such as John Martyn, who wrote the title song of his 1973 album Solid Air for and about Drake and French singer Françoise Hardy. He was hospitalized several times and lived with Hardy for a few months. Friends from that time have described how much his appearance changed: his nails grown, his hair and frame long and thin.

In 1974, Drake felt well enough to write and record a few new songs. However, on November 24, he died of an overdose of antidepressants. The coroner concluded that the cause of Drake’s death was suicide, although this was disputed by friends and relatives. Antidepressants of that time were quite lethal if ingested in any higher dosage than the one prescribed. His mother recounts that he must have had difficulty sleeping and had got up in the night to have a bowl of cornflakes. It's unclear whether he took more pills to help him sleep or take his own life.

Posthumous popularity

Since Drake’s death, his music has grown steadily in popularity. Several contemporary musicians, such as Lucinda Williams, Elliott Smith, Badly Drawn Boy, Matthew Good, Sebadoh's Lou Barlow, REM guitarist Peter Buck and Blur’s Graham Coxon, consider Drake an important influence.

Island has responded to Drake’s popularity with several new releases including Time of No Reply (1986), an album of unreleased material including four new songs recorded in 1974, Way to Blue (1994), a "best of" album, and Made to Love Magic (2004), featuring one new track and some newly recorded orchestration for a previously released track. A replacement for Way to Blue called A Treasury was also released in 2004 on Hybrid-SACD.

In 2000, Volkswagen licensed the title track of Pink Moon for a particularly serene car commercial. The advertisement caused a significant bounce in Drake’s popularity. Road from Pink Moon was on the soundtrack of the 1998 film Hideous Kinky.

Drake's posthumous popularity has made many fans consider the lyrics to “Fruit Tree” a song from Five Leaves Left prophetic: “Fame is but a fruit tree -/ So very unsound./ It can never flourish/ Till its stock is in the ground./ So men of fame/ Can never find a way/ Till time has flown/ Far from their dying day.” In 2004 two of his singles reached low positions in the UK charts - "Magic" and "River Man".

Brad Pitt is a fan of Drake and, in 2004, he narrated a BBC radio documentary about the singer. [1] (


Studio albums

  1. Five Leaves Left, 1969
  2. Bryter Layter, 1970
  3. Pink Moon, 1972


  1. Tanworth-in-Arden, 1967/1968, bootleg recordings from Drake's home
  2. Second Grace, 1968/1969, bootleg recordings from Drake's home and in Hampstead.
  3. Time of No Reply, 1986, rarities
  4. Fruit Tree, 1986, four disc box set of Drake's three studio albums and a collection of rarities
  5. Heaven in a Wild Flower: An Exploration of Nick Drake, 1986
  6. Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake, 1994
  7. Made To Love Magic, 2004
  8. A Treasury, 2004

External links


  • ( features a guide to his music, tunings and finger picking techniques.
  • Lost Boy - In Search of Nick Drake ( - BBC Radio documentary
  • Nick Drake Files ( features discography, lyrics, transcripts of interviews with Drake, etc.
  • [2] ( Ian MacDonald's essay on Drakees:Nick Drake

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