Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake

I've recently watched A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake, Jeroen Berkvens' 2002 documentary that I came across via the Dangerous Minds web site. Like his music its gentle and melancholic, with contributions from his family, friends and fellow musicians. One key voice is Joe Boyd, who produced all three of Drake's albums, the meagre sales of which on release surely contributed to his untimely death at the age of 26. In his memoir of the folk-rock scene of the late 60s and 70s, White Bicycles, Boyd asks: "As the sixties drew to a close, who would have predicted that the end of the millennium would see Nick's music so much more prominent than that of the Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, John Martyn or Sandy Denny?"    

I was particularly taken by the opening aerial footage of the countryside around his home village of Tanworth-in-Arden. For some reason it had not occurred to me before that this was only a few miles westwards across Warwickshire from Kenilworth, the town where I spent my childhood. Warwickshire is one of those Midland England counties that its easy to overlook: overawed and torn asunder by Birmingham and Coventry at its northern edge, in the shadow of Costwoldian Arcadia to the south. But linger along its tree lined lanes, forded streams, stout middling sort farmsteads and undulating fieldscapes and Warwickshire is quietly memorable and substantial, much like Nick Drake's music. This is, after all, the Forest of Arden of Shakespeare's As You Like It. Here is the full 48 minute film to enjoy:

Rob Young articulates well why Drake has such a hold on those of us (legion now, sadly pitifully few when he was alive) who find his music a particular touchstone for English pastoral melancholia in his treatise on Albion's soundscape, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music:
"A former friend and musical partner, Ross Grainger, described Drake as a 'modern pagan' long after his death, recalling conversations about Gaia theory, Stonehenge, ley lines and supernatural forces. Drake's songs may be full of natural images - rain, sun, moon, sky, ocean, sand, trees, roses, thorns etc. - but nature was no panacea either. For Drake, human fate was linked to the relentless round of the seasons - summer bliss must shade into autumnal age and regret; then comes the killing winter. His songs trace eternal cycles, natural revolutions, the turning of the year and the seasons, but with an awareness that repetitive motion can become a treadmill."  

At some stage, when I have managed to justify the outlay as necessary cultural enrichment, I hope to buy a copy of Nick Drake: Remembered For a While, the recently published Drake compendium and artifact. Andrew Ray provides a good flavour of the book on the Some Landscapes blog.

In the meantime, here's a mystical, bosky version of The Cello Song, recorded for the John Peel 'Night Ride' session in August 1969, in which to bask and be transported to the Forest of Arden at dusk, in the company of Orlando and Rosalind, Corin and Silvius:

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