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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Myth of 'lost boy' Nick Drake
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

BBC News Online looks at the life and music of Nick Drake, the cult folk singer featured in a BBC Radio 2 show hosted by Troy star Brad Pitt.

Nick Drake
Drake made just three albums but his influence has been widespread
Musician Nick Drake was 26 when he died in 1974 from an overdose of prescription drugs.

He had recorded just 31 songs, going relatively unrecognised during his short lifetime.

Yet almost 30 years after his death, Drake's legend is growing and his three studio albums are more popular than ever.

Artists from Norah Jones and REM to Paul Weller and Elton John have cited Drake's influence, while new generations of fans find themselves in thrall to his music.

Among them is Troy actor Brad Pitt, who says he became a "huge admirer" after being introduced to Drake's catalogue five years ago.

Life of a legend
Born 19 June 1948, Burma
Died 25 November 1974, Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwicks
Educated at Marlborough College and Cambridge
Brother of Crossroads actress Gabrielle Drake

Drake is mythologised by some as the archetypal doomed troubadour; the troubled soul struggling with his demons who found life too painful to bear.

His late mother, Molly, once said that "the shadows closed in" on him as depression took hold during his final few years.

But although commentators have tended to dwell on the fragile side of his nature, he was apparently an averagely happy individual for most of his life.

Friends and family have painted a picture of a largely contented boy and young man during school days, university and the beginning of his music career.

Norah Jones
Singer Norah Jones has hailed Drake's work

Yet his premature death and beautiful, haunting songs have fuelled a cult fan worship which, to some, has become an obsession.

There are regular pilgrimages to his place of rest at Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, while on the internet, fans continue to debate whether his death was an accident or predetermined.

His body was discovered in his bedroom by his mother during the morning of 25 November 1974. The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide, although many close to him believed his overdose of prescribed anti-depressants was accidental.

Drake's biographer, Patrick Humphries, says he was a unique, enigmatic artist whose appeal was stronger now than it had been in the past.

Drake's albums
Five Leaves Left (Island, 1969)
Bryter Layter (Island, 1970)
Pink Moon (Island, 1972)
"There's something about him that seems to draw people. Nobody had heard of Nick Drake in his lifetime. He was this marginal figure in whom interest has grown intensely," says Mr Humphries, who has written the only definitive account of Drake's life.

He adds: "The image remains of a beautiful boy, frozen in aspic. He will always be handsome and shy and melancholic and poetic, and as his contemporaries have aged, he has remained this Byronic figure."

However, not all critics assess Drake's legacy so favourably.

Mojo magazine's folk correspondent Colin Irwin dismisses his songs as "laboured sixth form poetry lyrics, overly earnest, uninspired tunes".

Brad Pitt
Hollywood star Pitt says he is an "admirer" of Drake's music
"Singer-songwriters like him were 10 a penny at the time," says Mr Irwin. "He was ignored in his lifetime and he would still be obscure today had he lived."

Born in 1948 in Burma, the product of an upper middle class upbringing, Drake was educated at Marlborough College and Cambridge University.

Tall and well-spoken, shy but ambitious, he was an accomplished guitarist and talented writer immersed in the acoustic folk of Bob Dylan and Bert Jansch.

He emerged towards the end of the 1960s, tapping into the inward-looking mood that permeated the era's music.

He had been seen performing by Ashley Hutchings, bass player with English folk-rock group Fairport Convention, who introduced him to the band's acclaimed producer Joe Boyd.

There's a timeless quality to the music - it could have been recorded last week
Patrick Humphries, Drake's biographer
Boyd, along with engineer John Wood, shaped Drake's first two albums on Island Records - his 1969 debut, Five Leaves Left, and Bryter Layter, released the following year.

The LPs showcased Drake's gentle, plaintive meditations on love and longing, pairing his ethereal voice and melancholic vision with sweeping strings and jazzy orchestrations.

Collaborating with luminaries such as Richard Thompson and John Cale, Drake crafted a languid, pastoral sound, his delicate songs lifted by Robert Kirby's soaring arrangements.


The albums were well received by critics but sold poorly, reputedly sending Drake into a bout of depression which worsened when Boyd left for the US.

In late 1971, he recorded what was to become his final album - Pink Moon - a collection of songs with a darker feel, almost entirely featuring Drake solo with his acoustic guitar.

Recorded over just two days, to many fans the album remains the purest expression of his artistry.

Biographer Patrick Humphries says rather than time dimming Drake's appeal, his work was now more appreciated than ever.

"There's this timeless quality to the music. A lot of records made in the late '60s and early '70s sound very dated. Drake's could have been recorded last week.

"His songs were eloquent and articulate; his is an inimitable sound. Even 30 years after he died, there's only ever been one Nick Drake. He died young with his potential unrealised."

  • Lost Boy - In Search of Nick Drake, presented by Brad Pitt, on BBC Radio 2 at 2100 BST on 22 May.

    Brad Pitt fronts Nick Drake show
    06 Apr 04  |  Entertainment
    Veteran Tabor wins top folk prize
    10 Feb 04  |  Entertainment


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