Friday, September 10, 2010

Day 155: “Brighten my Northern sky"

One of the first albums of the “progressive rock’ era that my brother brought home, was an Island Records double compilation album (of various artists) called Bumpers. Not that I would have known it at the time, but Track #5 on Side Three is “Hazey Jane” by NICK DRAKE, from “his album to be released in ’70”.

Also in the early 1970’s, there was a BBC television drama that my family used to watch religiously, called ‘The Brothers’. I was in my early teens at the time and had a huge crush on the actress who played the character of Jill; that actress was Gabrielle Drake, sister of NICK DRAKE.

In a special “prog rock” edition of Q magazine, from a couple of years back, there is a photocopy of an old poster for an early ’70’s Genesis concert, detailing NICK DRAKE as the supporting act. Genesis were my favourite band (until Gabriel left) and I would see them and tons of other acts that NICK DRAKE probably would have supported, at my local venue, the Portsmouth Guildhall, however, more often that not, I was in the bar for the support acts. Duh.

The signposts were there. I should have seen them and been “into” Nick Drake then. Oh what bragging rights I would have now?! But therein lies the conundrum, for not many people were “into” Nick Drake at the time. To quote Nick, from his sadly prescient song Fruit Tree:

Fame is but a fruit tree
So very unsound
It can never flourish
‘til it’s stock is in the ground
So men of fame
Can never find a way
‘til time has flown
Far from their dying day

Forgotten while you’re hear
Remembered for a while.....

I could easily make this the longest Blog I’ve written, I have that much to say about Nick Drake, and he had much to say but only the space of three studio albums to say it in, before his untimely death - at the age of 26 (in 1974) - from an overdose of the antidepressant, amitriptyline. It’s still argued to this day whether Nick Drake’s death was accidental or not.

Nick Drake’s posthumous popularity has gathered an enormous momentum, especially in recent years: there have been documentaries and perennial talk of a Biopic, music releases of previously unpublished material and he’s become the darling of the indie film soundtrack, featuring in: Garden State, Serendipity, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Blind Side (maybe not so indie).

Personally, I am horrified that ‘Cello Song‘ features in a coffee ad currently airing here in Australia, that also features, of all people, Al Pacino!!! The title track from his third album, Pink Moon, was also used in a Volkswagen commercial. So, on a personal note from “outraged of Potts Point” to ad-makers everywhere BUGGER OFF AND LEAVE NICK DRAKE ALONE, don't lean on his music for originality, get a voice of your own. I dunno, but I just cannot imagine that Nick Drake would have given such approval in his lifetime, yet I must not be a hypocrite and think that I can speak for those who aren't here to speak for themselves.

Bryter Later, Five Leaves Left and Pink Moon are the three studio albums, all available in CD format today. Whilst he is most loved for his poetical lyricism and unique vocal delivery of his songs, Nick Drake’s guitar playing is also something else that sets him apart. But there’s more, and for me, it’s the unspoken hidden secret of Nick Drake’s music that elevates his songs to yet another level: the arrangements. Robert Kirby was a fellow student of Nick’s at Cambridge and wrote exquisite arrangements for his songs, to be performed with woodwind and strings, sometimes a harpsichord; Kirby’s work can be heard on both Bryter Later (particular mention must go to the track ‘Fly’) and Five Leaves Left (notably, ‘Way To Blue’ and ‘Fruit Tree’).

If you’re not yet familiar with Nick Drake, then do not wait a minute longer....please.

Day #155 Tip: Working with giants
Nick Drake was a phenomenal talent, a talent that could only really seem to “flourish” after his time, but Robert Kirby was a sometime collaborator that brought a dimension to his music that otherwise might not be revealed.

Picking collaborators like this, who will “challenge” our work reminds me of a quote from David Ogilvy (founder of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather); he was talking about employing people. Ogilvy said that if we employed people smaller than ourselves then we would be come a company of midgets, however, if we sought out those bigger, brighter and better than ourselves, we would grow into a company of giants.

Nick Drake always makes my world a “bryter” place, better place, a more thoughtful place.

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