Personalities | Nick Drake | Talent & Tragedy | Guitar Heroes
The acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter Nick Drake (1948–74) was a tragic figure in the English folk-rock community. His beautiful if bleak songs became fully appreciated only after decades had passed since he succumbed to an overdose of anti-depressant medication.
Born Nicholas Rodney Drake, he spent his childhood in Burma and on his parents’ estate in Warwickshire. A bright youth and athlete, Drake gradually lost interest in school as he turned to music and began to frequent the London club scene. Discovered by Fairport Convention bassist Ashley Hutchings, who championed Drake to producer Joe Boyd, Drake signed to Island Records when he was 20 years old, and released his debut album Five Leaves Left in 1969.
By 1972 Drake had recorded two more albums, Bryter Layter (1970) and Pink Moon (1972). Drake’s haunting melodies and mournful lyrics were balanced by versatile fingerpicking and strumming, but he quarrelled with producers over the amount of orchestration and accompaniment they needed. None of the albums sold well in their time, and Drake’s increasing reluctance and eventual refusal to perform live or help promote the albums crippled their chances as he drifted ever downwards into depression. After Pink Moon he withdrew from both live performance and recording, retreating to his parents’ home. He died in his bedroom from an overdose of amitriptyline.
Interest in Drake’s music grew through the mid-Seventies, but it was not until Island’s release of the retrospective album Fruit Tree (1979) that his back catalogue came to be reassessed. By the mid-Eighties, Drake was being credited as an influence by such artists as Robert Smith and Peter Buck. In 1985 the Dream Academy reached the UK and US charts with its Drake tribute ‘Life In A Northern Town’. In the early Nineties, Drake was frequently cited as an influence by artists such as Kate Bush, Paul Weller and the Black Crowes. In 1998 the documentary film A Stranger Amongst Us brought Drake more fans, and in 2000 Volkswagen featured the title track from Pink Moon in a television advertisement. Within a month Drake had sold more records than he had in the previous 30 years.
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