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Nick Drake At 60: The Only Interview

The doomed bard of upper-class Britfolk, Nick Drake would have been 60 on June 19. His tragic death in 1974 has only made his scant recorded output the more hauntingly precious. Nick only gave one interview — this bashful, cursory 1971 chat with Sounds' Jerry Gilbert, conducted after the release of his second album Bryter Layter — and we present it here in tribute. -- Barney Hoskyns, RBP Editorial Director

Nick Drake is a shy, introverted folk singer who is not usually known to speak unless it is absolutely necessary. But Nick is not the kind of folk singer who will drift into your friendly neighborhood folk club; in fact, if you've seen him perform, the chances are that it was on the bill of a sellout Festival Hall concert.

Last week I spoke to Nick, and eventually discovered that it has been precisely these kinds of gigs that had hung him up — the reason why he has shied away from public performances almost without exception.

"I think the problem was with the material, which I wrote for records rather than performing. There were only two or three concerts that felt right, and there was something wrong with all the others. I did play Cousins and one or two folk clubs in the north, but the gigs just sort of petered out," Nick explained.

Nick pointed out that he was not happy with the way the gigs were working out and he couldn't get into them properly. Why, then, was he performing at such esteemed venues as the Festival Hall?

"I was under some obligation to them, but it wasn't the end of the world when I stopped. If I was enjoying the gigs it would have made much more sense."

Don't, however, gain the impression that Nick is not a superb artist. Placed in the right context, his songs produce quite a stunning effect over a period of time. He has worked on two albums with Witchseason producer Joe Boyd, the latter having been released only last week. Entitled Bryter Layter, it features some of the musicians who contributed to the success of the John and Beverly Martyn albums, notably Paul Harris; and Robert Kirby's arrangements are just as important as Nick Drake's songs.

Says Nick: "I had something in mind when I wrote the songs, knowing that they weren't just for me. The album took a long time to do. In fact, we started it almost a year ago. But I'm not altogether clear about this album — I haven't got to terms with the whole presentation."

What's the next step for Nick?

"I think there'll be another album and I have some material for it, but I'll be looking around now to see if the album leads anywhere naturally. For the next one I had the idea of just doing something with John Wood, the engineer at Sound Techniques."

Would there be any gigs to promote the album?

"I don't think that would help — unless they were done in the right way. I'm just not very sure at the moment; it's hard to tell what will turn up. If I could find making music a fairly natural connection with something else, then I might move on to something else."

Read more pieces about Nick Drake at www.rocksbackpages.com. Over 12,000 articles by the greatest writers from the finest rock publications of the last 40 years.

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