Feature: Jack Foley
A NEW collection of Nick Drake tracks, in the form of new mixes,
previously unreleased versions and 'Toe The Line', a previously
undiscovered song from his last session, in 1974, before his death,
is to be released on May 24.
The album represents an excellent reminder of the work of the
tragic artist, whose worth and influence as a musician, was only
properly measured after his untimely death.
It was early in 1967 that Nick began to abandon the staple diet
of covering other people’s songs supplementing material
by Dylan, Bert Jansch and Jackson C Frank with his own material.
His studious approach to performing well-chosen standards of
the time had allowed him to perfect tunings and techniques that
were to serve his own songs well - acting as a signature, and
making his early recordings distinctive and setting himself apart
from the fashionable singer-songwriters of his era.
The earliest recordings on this album stem from his time at
Cambridge University, where he met and performed with fellow student,
Robert Kirby, who managed to record several of Nick's new songs
onto a stereo tape recorder in the spring of 1968.
Robert would use these tapes to write arrangements for the songs,
with strings and woodwind, to be performed in college.
Luckily, these tapes have survived the rigours of Robert's potting
shed and are released here for the first time ever - with only
minimal cleaning up - and they sound as fresh as when they were
River Man is the only version known to exist without orchestration
and is thought to detail Nick’s days in Cambridge, while
Mayfair exists on the collection in its earliest known format,
taking on the form of a wry and light-hearted view of the London
Nick was getting to know.
The track was later 'properly' recorded by Nick in a stiffer
fashion, and was covered by Island ska hitmaker; the girl lollipop
On leaving Cambridge and entering a recording studio, Nick was
writing what was to become his debut album Five Leaves Left.
It is presumed that Nick was constantly writing new songs as
the recording was carried out in several separate sessions, so
that some earlier songs were supplemented by later material thought
The Thoughts of Mary Jane, Clothes of Sand and Joey were all
recorded towards the end of 1968, and never made it onto the album,
but it is a testament to Nick’s quality control, and the
impossibly high standards of that debut release, that such strong
material never made it through the final selection.
These three songs appeared on the bonus disc, Time Of No Reply,
that was added to the Fruit Tree boxed set. All three have subsequently
In early studio sessions Nick used Richard Hewson as an orchestrator,
but his unhappiness with the results led him back to colleague,
Kirby, for most future arrangements.
By this time, the debut album was
already too full for I Was Made Tyo Love Magic and Time of No
Reply, so Robert’s original arrangements remained on manuscript
It was to these scores that Robert returned in 2003 and a new
‘original’ arrangement was recorded.
Modern technology allowed Nick’s voice to be removed from
‘Magic’ and the track to be sped up to its proper
tempo without altering the pitch. You now hear the song as Nick
intended it to be heard.
Time of No Reply only ever existed as a vocal and guitar
part, so adding the new recording of the original arrangement
was easier, and much as would have happened in 1968.
The entire session was produced by John Wood.
The melting pot that was Island Records, in the late 60s, caused
many artists to collaborate with each other.
Label boss and producer, Chris Blackwell, was a strong believer
in cross-fertilisation, both in musical styles and personalities.
Nick was friends with both John Martyn and Richard Thompson,
among others on the varied roster.
Hence, in March 1969, Nick found himself in North London’s
Morgan Studios – a rare departure from Sound Techniques
where most of his work was recorded – to play a version
of Three Hours with the late ‘Reebop’, Kwaakhu Baah,
on congas and an unknown flautist.
This version was recorded two months before the one that appears
on Five Leaves Left, and Reebop went on to perform on Welcome
To The Canteen, a live OZ Benefit album that featured many Island
luminaries, including members of Traffic, who he later joined.
This version was discovered on a multi-track and is released
in a mixed version for the first time. It is longer and more relaxed
than its final.
After the release of the Pink Moon album, Nick returned to the
studio to record what was thought to be his last four songs. These
were hastily mixed onto a 7" mono listening tape and these
recordings also appeared on the Fruit Tree bonus disc.
The versions here are properly mixed versions by the original
recording engineer; John Wood, from the multi-track tape in true
Recorded in 1974, Black Eyed Dog, Rider on the Wheel and Voice
from a Mountain would have comprised the first tracks of a new
album, while Hanging on a Star is a newly discovered take of the
song with, it was judged, a better vocal; due to the fact that
Nick recorded voice and guitar separately for the first time.
It was during this recent mix that the tape was allowed to run
on and Tow The Line made itself known, never having been mixed
or, indeed, heard since 1974.
Nick left us with a song full of assurance and a contemplative
calm that adds another dimension to the notion that he was at
the end of any tether at that time.
By returning to the team of John Wood and Robert Kirby, and
with the full co-operation of Nick’s sister, Gabrielle,
the latest compilation of his work makes a near-perfect companion
piece to the three studio albums that form his legacy - Five Leaves
Left, Bryter Later and Pink Moon.
The CD has been digitally mastered using the very latest technology,
and is a fitting addition to the short but all-encompassing canon
of work Nick recorded in his few years in the studio.