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Sunday 30 July 2023

Forty Minutes Of Nick Drake

I abandoned not one but two Sunday mixes this week- in frustration mainly, at not being able to get either one right. One was a Talking Heads/ David Byrne/ Tom Tom Club mix that kept defeating me and the other an Underworld one that I couldn't get into a state that I was happy with. Instead I've gone for a Nick Drake mix, one which came together quickly and which hits the spot in all sorts of ways. In some ways it's just an excuse to repost the recent Fontaines D.C. cover of 'Cello Song, which has come out physically recently as part of an album of twenty five songs, covers by a diverse range of artiss. 

I first encountered Nick Drake aged seventeen or eighteen after reading a review in Melody Maker of a 1987 compilation called Time Of No Reply, fourteen songs that were all outtakes and alternate versions. I don't know why I bought it. It wasn't remotely like what I was listening to in 1987/ 1988, but something about the review must have appealed to me or it was a strange impulse that paid off in the long term. I liked the songs but details were scant, there was no internet to look him up on and explore further and I didn't dig much deeper until the mid- 90s when his three studio albums were re- issued. Nick's music- the finger picked folk guitar, his clear, well spoken English voice, the songs that were adorned with Disney- like string arrangements, the way his songs veer between dark and light, depression and light-  confused me at times and I had to sift through them to find what I wanted. Some of these songs, 'Cello Song for one, have taken on huge meaning and significance for me (I wrote about 'Cello Song here when it became a lockdown song round my way, and again here in November last year, on the first anniversary of Isaac's death. I heard 'Cello Song in the aftermath of Isaac's death and the words took on new layers of meaning for me- it stops me in my tracks when I hear it now, partly why the Fontaines cover has gone near to the top of my most played songs of 2023 list). The backing on many of these songs add another dimension to them too, the use of hand drums, congas, cello and so on, lift them, adding subtleties and layers and put them in a different place from the more standard folky singer/ songwriter area. That's Joe Boyd's influence I think. There's something about these songs which often seems very autumnal but they fit into the long days of summer too. Even if the weather has been anything but summery these last few weeks. 

Forty Minutes of Nick Drake

  • 'Cello Song
  • Time Has Told Me
  • Rider On The Wheel
  • River Man
  • Northern Sky
  • Three Hours
  • Hazey Jane I
  • Black Eyed Dog
  • Clothes Of Sand
  • 'Cello Song
  • Introduction
'Cello Song and Time Has Told Me are both from Nick's debut Five Leaves Left, produced by Joe Boyd.  The original version of River Man comes from Five Leaves Left too but this solo version is from I Was Made To Love Magic, a compilation released in  2004 that was an updated version of the cassette I bought back in the 80s. 

Rider On The Wheel was on I Was Made To Love Magic along with the versions here of Three Hours, Clothes Of Sand and the haunting Black Eyed Dog. Rider On The Wheel and Black Eyed Dog both date from 1974 and were possibly intended for Nick's fourth album, a record which never happened due to his death that year. 

Northern Sky and Hazey Jane I are both from Bryter Later, Nick's second album, released in 1971. The album was very polished, with string arrangements added by Joe Boyd- I can leave some of it, its too sweet but some of it is lovely. John Cale was involved in the production of Bryter Later adding piano and Hammond organ to several songs including Northern Sky. Northern Sky was also the song which spearheaded Nick's rediscovery, being sued as the lead track from a CD compilation and in a handful of films in the 90s. Introduction is an instrumental, one minute thirty seconds opening to Bryter Later. 

The second version of 'Cello Song is the cover by Fontaines D.C., out now on album The Endless Coloured Ways. It kicks and spits and takes the song somewhere else entirely, a grinding rocking guitar song, with rockabilly drums and Grian Chattan's Dublin voice a new way to hear those words. Exactly what a cover version should do. 

1 comment:

Walter said...

Fantastic. I couldn't make it better Adam