Today’s Feature, January 10th-11th: Nick Drake – Bryter Music

January 11, 2008 at 2:14 am (Today's Feature)

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Note to the reader: Obviously, this interview did not actually take place with Nick Drake. Nick Drake passed away over 30 years ago, for those unaware. This interview was conducted with Bryter Music, which is the official licensed estate for Nick Drake. They will be providing the answers for this enchanting musician who forged melodies too far ahead of his time.

If you know who Nick Drake is, then there is little I can write to impress upon just how wonderful he was. Simply put, he is widely considered one of the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years. If you don’t know who Nick Drake is, I’ll do my best to describe his legacy on paper.

You’ve probably already heard one of his songs on a Volkswagen commercial back in 2000, a tune called “Pink Moon.” Look it up – you’ll recognize it. To me, that is the song that represents Nick Drake – A collection of piano, guitar and voice so elegantly cohesive, so peaceful with gentility that an automaker might think it right to drop into a happy, feel-good commercial (even though the melody is about death). But that was Nick Drake. While suffering deeply of depression on the inside, his music was written “out of joy and appreciation,” perhaps the only thing that he truly felt elation in doing.

While he was alive, he released albums such as “Five Leaves Left” and “Pink Moon,” none of them selling more than 5,000 copies during their initial release. It seemed that Drake always wanted to taste the rewards of commercial success, but his timidity made it difficult for both interviews and live performances. Indeed, when Drake passed away at his parents’ home in rural Warwickshire on November 25th, 1974 from an overdose of the prescribed antidepressant, Amitriptyline, he never saw the popularity that he would eventually garner today.

The reassessment of his back catalogue started initially in 1979 with the release of the retrospective album “Fruit Tree.” By the early 90’s, Nick Drake become a sort of legendary symbol in his own age, representing the “doomed romantic” of the modern era. Ian McDonald perhaps tells it best as to why we now appreciate the work of Nick Drake; his songs were a way to “reconnect us with a part of ourselves that modern life has all but eroded away.” That’s why today, he’s influencing artists like PEV alum Brett Dennen.

If you own the “Garden State” soundtrack, you’ll lean you already own a Nick Drake song, “One of these Things First.” Check out the web site too, and look into some of the other projects BryterMusic.com is working on, such as the “A Place to Be” exhibits (www.aplacetobe.cc). If they could describe Nick in one word, it would be, “free.” Sounds about right. Get into the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Nick Drake – Bryter Music (Cally)

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did Bryter Music create the official website for the estate of Nick Drake?

Cally: We only created it about 5 years ago as we didn’t really need one before that.

There are two fan-run sites (nickdrakes dot com and dot co dot uk) that serve the purpose as a fan site far better than ours. They also have forums and stuff, something I would rather not get involved in on our site.

PEV: How and when did Nick first get involved in music?

Cally: I would suspect from the moment his mother Molly sung him his first lullaby, and I mean that not to sound glib.

Music appeared to flow through the Drake household in much the same way the TV does in today’s household.

PEV: What was Nick like growing up? Was music something he always thought he would go into?

Cally: I think his decision to follow music as a career came quite late. He was always skilled at playing but there is a big jump to being talented.

I would suggest that the moment he started to write his own songs in 1967, then he might have started to think about playing music and not studying English Literature at Cambridge.

After he decided to leave Cambridge, his father, Rodney, understandably tried to make him see his degree as a possible ‘fall-back’ and Nick appeared quite certain that he was not interested in such a thing. That may suggest that Nick was, by that time, clear as to his future.

PEV: Can you tell us about Nick’s first live performance? Where and when it was?

Cally: I would consider the moment he played to his family at home to be his first performance, which later developed as he played in front of his classmates at Marlborough school, and later went busking in the streets of France.

Nick seemed unafraid of performing then as his music was based on Saxophone, Piano, Guitar or voice only, and so reproduced well in a performance setting such as it was.

PEV: What do you think about all the other sites devoted to Nick’s music?

Cally: I have only seen a few, I like the two un-offcial fan sites mentioned before…

PEV: How do you think Nick would react to all the attention he is now getting, decades after his death?

Cally: Probably he reacts with his wry smile.

He managed to get out of live touring on a shoe-string, dreary promotional duties, in-store performances, pop-promo video shoots, meet-and-greets, MTV, tedious television live music shows, hopeless newspaper interviews fatuous Record Company dinners, and appalling biographies… Seems he did rather well.

PEV: For those that don’t know, what was Nick Drake like as an artist?

Cally: He is exactly as ‘those that don’t know’ would like to think he was.

PEV: It is well documented that Nick suffered severely from depression. Did his musical career help ease any of his pain?

Cally: I cannot say.

Depression is often so complicated and internalized; it is also peculiar to each personality. We know that NOT being able to write depressed him most of all. I don’t think his depression influenced many of his songs, so many appear to be written out of joy and appreciation, hardly the terrain of a depressed mind.

PEV: “Pink Moon” was used in a Volkswagen commercial in 2000, shooting sales of that song to the top of iTunes. Were you surprised in the success of that song after the commercial?

Cally: I was more surprised in the resultant sales of the VW Cabriolet. A song about the death that comes to us all used in an advertisement about enjoying life was deliciously ironic.

No, as soon as you hear the opening chords of Nick’s guitar you want to know who’s playing, by the time he starts singing you are already on-line trying to find out who the track is by, and by the end of it you have spent good money on Amazon.

All life, all musical appreciation changes after those few precious minutes.

PEV: What was it about “Pink Moon” in-particular do you think attracted such a large audience?

Cally: Simply the song; the melodies, and the lyrics and the performance, it is all in the song. Who else would muse on one word in the song 4 times in a spoken voice, and that piano solo? Genius.

PEV: As well, Nick had “One Of These Things First” on the Garden State soundtrack, which became one of the biggest selling soundtracks ever. Did you like the way “One Of These Things First” was used? Do you think Nick would as well?

Cally: I have no idea what Nick would have thought, probably his wry smile again, that says so little and so much. ‘Garden State’ got Nick across to thousands of new fans and, in the absence of any music TV or radio ever playing his music, it seemed like an obvious way to go at that time.

PEV: What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about Nick?

Cally: That he was human.

PEV: Aside from music, what did Nick like to do in his free time?

Cally: At school athletics and sports were of great interest, but so much of his life seemed to funnel into his music, even if it was in his interest in books, film, art, talk etc, etc.

PEV: It is documented that Nick did not like to perform on stage. Was there a certain element in which Nick liked to perform?

Cally: My personal view is that Nick did not hate performance as such. If you can imagine being in a studio recording your songs with the best musicians, orchestrator, producer, engineer. and then, later, you are expected to take out the bare skeleton of that song onto the road with just voice and guitar (no piano, even), to have to struggle with tunings, with chatting indifferent audiences… I think I would happily pass on that experience myself.

Nick was not a hardened troubadour like his friend John Martyn, he was a perfectionist and was more of a ‘band’ than many so-called ‘singer songwriters’ of his time. The evidence of this is on his first two albums. It may have been different if he had performed as a band called The Bryter Layters’ perhaps, but this was never an issue in those days of minimal touring costs and basic live set-ups

PEV: Where did Nick prefer to do most of his writing?

Cally: Again, impossible to say. I suggest that he was writing in his head all the time, as most great musicians do.

PEV: Do you think Nick would be happy with the state of music today?

Cally: That really is difficult to answer as you may understand. Today he could listen to music from all over the world at a click of the mouse, that may have intrigued him, rather than having to buy obscure cassettes from a market stall in Tangier…

PEV: What artists do you think Nick would be interested in right now?

Cally: I think the same answer applies here. Nick has been dead for over 30 years; would he even be bothered by music at all? Fred Neil appeared to lose interest in music even after his amazing output, so why not Nick too?

PEV: How often do you get requests for using Nick’s music in commercials or movies?

About three times a week at the moment. Gabrielle Drake and I sift through them all and give each request close scrutiny. We cannot control ALL of them and some are used illegally but we try and approve the ones that portray the music in a good light….

PEV: There have been many articles posted on BryterMusic.com with Nick’s sister Gabrielle. What was there relationship like growing up and how has she reacted to all his notoriety?

Cally: Well, notoriety suggests (to me) some bad quality or deed, so I am not clear on that. I know that his mother Molly was delighted as she could witness the start of his fame before she died and I’d expect no less than her elder sister. You can only imagine what a relationship develops between younger brother and sister, especially a sister that rose to such great heights of fame and celebrity before Nick in her own right. I think he must have really admired her, just as she does him, just as she always will.

PEV: In one word, describe Nick Drake.

Cally: Free

PEV: What is next for BryterMusic.com and the estate of Nick Drake?

Cally: We still plan to hold more ‘A Place To Be’ exhibits (www.aplacetobe.cc) when and if we can, and we would like to release some more of Molly’s songs direct to the fans who are asking for them, so, a privately pressed CD. Personally I enjoy getting new artists to discover Nick’s songs and make them their own.

For more information on Nick Drake and Bryter Music, check out www.BryterMusic.com

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1 Comment

  1. Doug said,

    Thanks for sharing these great ideas. I’m bookmarking this for future reference. Some of these I already do, so the point resonated most strongly with me. Keep feeding the creativity.
    I am currently on holiday so, for this reason, I’ve nothing better to do than surf the web for art, lie around and update my blog. Well, more or less anyway.
    Doug C

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