Nick Drake “A Day Gone By .. “ (Rover Records RRCD 0001)
Strolling Down The Highway / Cocaine Blues / Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright / Betty And Dupree / Get Together / Here Come The Blues / Come In To The Garden / Summertime / Joey / Strange Meeting II / Milk And Honey / Tomorrow Is A Long Time / Courting Blues / Black Mountain Blues / Morning Monologue / Saturday Sun [I] / Mayfair [III] / Fly [I] / Hazey Jane I / Place To Be [Reconstruction] / Parasite [II] / Three Hours / Day Is Done / Time Of No reply / Three Hours
Magic / The Thoughts Of Mary Jane / Day Is Done / Time Has Told Me [Take 1] / Saturday Sun [Take 1] / River Man / Joey [Take 2] / Saturday Sun [II] / Saturday Sun [III] / Mayfair [I] / Mayfair [II] / Fly [II] / Parasite [I] / Joey [Fragment] / Guitar Instrumental [aka “No. 1 – Guitar”] / Poor Boy / Time Has Told Me / Voices / Sketch #2 – Guitar / Sketch #4 – Piano / Sketch #5 – Guitar / Sketch #6 – Piano / Sketch #7 – Piano / Hanging On A Star / Rider On The Wheel / Black Eyed Dog / Tow The Line / I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again / Full Fathom Five / With My Swag All On My Shoulder / The Commissioner, He Come / Dark And Devil Waters
Disk One; 01-17: The Music Room, Far Leys, Tanworth In Arden. 1967/1968.18-23: Hampstead, London. 1968/1969. 24/25: John Peel Session, BBC Radio One. Studio Five, BBC Maida Vale Studios, London. August 5, 1969.
CD Two: 01-03: Sound Techniques, Chelsea, London. July – December 1968. Engineered by John Wood. Early, rejected takes. 04-06: Sound Techniques, Chelsea, London. July – December 1968. Engineered by John Wood. 07: Sound Techniques, Chelsea, London. November 11, 1968. Engineered by John Wood. 08-11: The Music Room, Far Leys, Tanworth In Arden. 1968. 12-15: Hampstead, London. 1968/1969. 16-23: The ‘Work Tape’. Possibly recorded at The Music Room, Far Leys, Tanworth In Arden. 1968. 24/27: Sound Techniques, Chelsea, London. July 1974. Produced by Joe Boyd and John Wood. Guitar track only. 25/26: Sound Techniques, Chelsea, London. February 1974. Produced by Joe Boyd and John Wood. Guitar track only. 28-30: The “Interplay One” Educational Toolkit album, released by Longman (Mono LG 582 241367). Unknown studio. 31/32: The Mick Audsley album “Dark and Devil Waters” released by Sonet Records (SNTF 641), 1972.
The challenge of packaging a career only 3 albums wide still poses a problem in the days of multiple downloads, archive break-ins and choice. Despite the best intentions of Nick Drake’s estate by producing perfectly packaged versions of his album on both CD and high-grade LP with all the peripherals, Nick remains such a cult character, his works are picked upon for reverence and speculation as much as works of the Beatles, the concerts of Led Zeppelin and the unreleased works of Neil Young.
Quite why no-one has produced a bootleg of such high standard before is mystifying. The booklet of this release – I’ll come to that in a second – notes only a couple of release that have appeared before, one seemingly a grey area bootleg of indeterminate source. It’s scratchiness as thrilling as the fact that we were getting to hear the very demos and blues songs that Nick had been playing to himself, to his family, to his friends.
Now, those sleeve notes. They read like a mini encyclopaedic history of Nick and his recordings. I could do you a favour by typing them out verbatim so it might cover the set but part and part with the 2 CDs, it’s a pleasure to read and puts even most official notes, in to the shade.
I’ve split this review in to the parts the set is spliced in to, beginning with the songs recorded at Nick’s home in the Music Room at Far Leys, Tamworth In Arden, seemingly in one sitting (Or so Nick’s comments before “Black Mountain Blues” seem to suggest.)
These tracks encapsulate Drake’s love of the guitar player and his genius around the instrument. Presenting songs by Dylan, Janch, Dave Van Ronk, Jackson C. Frank and George & Ira Gershwin, Nick plays his distinctive, picked style and sings in his even more distinctive way. The sound from the music room is fantastic, although not quite studio quality, certainly as good as, say, a very good AM radio live session. A couple of these tracks, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” for instance, appear to have come from clean vinyl sources. Nick also had the tendency to record over cassettes that had previously been recorded on, tape, being in it’s infancy, featured bleed through on some tracks so the recordings are made a little more interesting in themselves as you can try to play spot the original.
The best of the recordings reveals itself in the most surprising ways, hear Nick pronounce ‘Cocaine’ as “Cock-Ayne” in a voice that might suggest that the closest that Nick might have come towards white powder might be his mothers washing detergent, a gloriously delicate turn on the liberation anthem, “Get Together” is fairly rushed through but sets the song rigidly in a folk setting, We hear the love that Nick had for Jackson C. Frank’s debut with 2 covers of the beleaguered troubadours own songs.
The most interesting songs from the sessions are the embryonic versions of Nick’s own compositions, “Come In To The Garden” (extended from the ‘Family Tree’ release), “Joey” (featuring a middle eight that was later dropped) and “Strange Meeting II” (Not markedly different from the Aix version on ‘Family Tree’ but with a different ambiance.)
The guitar playing complete, we also hear a rambling monologue by Nick, recorded after a party that he attended and stumbled back in from in the very early morning. Nick is sober but tired and starts losing his thread a little, still psyched after his partying, he may very well have met someone whom excited him at the event and was giddily reciting his night before realising that it would have been better for him to sleep. This retelling has appeared before on bootleg but never at this good a quality, here you can hear almost every word and the liltingly tired tones in which Nick says them.
Two more songs from Far Leys follow but the first on this set played on piano, “Saturday Sun” is played with the recorder resting on the top as we hear the clunk of the piano pedals as a metronomic effect. “Mayfair” has Nick returning back to the guitar but, in a rare instance, he shows off his whistling prowess. While his equipment might have been set up to echo, the technicalities of blowing rather than speaking confuse the microphone.
Moving out of the familial home, we have tracks that Nick recorded in the flats that he rented in Hampstead, London, prior to both “Five Leaves Left” and “Bryter Layter” being recorded. Nick was working on his next collection of songs, finessing his guitar style. “Fly” comes unsweetened from the ‘Time Of No Reply’ album alongside a coda that was shaved from the official release, “Hazey Jane”’s guitar line is closer to the microphone than it’s later rendering and gives a little embellishment to the song.
The version of “Place To Be” that was demoed is a slower, more traditionally folksy style than it’s contemporary. It features more of a finger picking style than it’s final recording too, lightening the mood a little. It’s an amalgamation of two versions of the same tape, an ever so slightly inferior version swiftly leads in to a better recording but it is mixed very, very well. “Parasite” is a longer version of the song that would appear on the final album, a jerky, pausing version rather than a smooth flowing strum. Nick is obviously still running through the rhythm but it still sounds as effective as the final version.
“Three Hours” is closer to the heavy, doomish version presented on “Made To Love Magic” but without the drumming. Nick uses a loose tuning to add a little echo here and his vocal lines are slightly longer drawn out, giving a slightly more Tim Buckley-esque tone to the song. Nick would sing it a little straighter on “Five Leaves ..” although whether he had the idea for Robert Kirby’s strings at this point and was harmonising this, we can only guess at. The middle eight batters at the protagonist, giving the feel of a rebirth.
Finally, “Day Is Done” features three extra verses that Nick dropped from the final recording, drawing out the song to a fascinating four and a half minutes. Nearly double that of it’s official appearance.
The John Peel sessions are often rumoured, never replayed as the estate nixed the BBC from using them again. These aren’t quite as clear as the normal Peel sessions that were and do usually see release or get played systematically on BBC 6 Music and are fragmentary in their appearance but as they are as close as they will be to releasable quality, having been recorded off air, they are to be treasured.
Disk two is more of a mixed bag of material. Beginning with three songs that were orchestrated for “Five Leaves Left” by Richard Hewson, Apple records arranger, however after some consideration, Nick decided that he would much rather stick with the work of his old collage friend, Robert Kirby. “Magic” has already appeared on “Made To Love Magic”, the 2004 official compilation but with Robert’s arrangement replacing Richard’s. “The Thoughts Of Mary Jane” and “Day Is Done” are also taken from bootlegged studio tapes but are a little less crisp.
The following 4 tracks come from the annals of Sound Techniques studios between July to December 1968. “Time Has Told Me” is the first take of the song in the studio. As with most musicians, Nick was nervous about with his new surroundings and despite his mastery of the guitar, fumbles at the start over his tempo, gives a very british apology and continues.
“Saturday Sun” and “River Man” are early versions of “Five Leaves Left” songs too, the former, as the notes point out, is played at a nervous tempo but would be slowed down on it’s official debut while the latter is an attempt to record the track before strings were added. Danny Thompson’s bass is also markedly higher in the mix.
Brand new to Nick Drake collectors will be take 2 of “Joey”. The first take was premiered on “Time Of No Reply” but here the second take, with additional studio call, features minor differences in Nick’s vocals.
Tracks 8 – 11 take us back to the music room in Far Leys. The first run through of “Saturday Sun” begins with a clip of a news cast – an obvious reminder that Nick was prone to recording over used cassettes – this version lasts around a minute before breaking down, possibly because Nick had played a wrong chord, possibly as Nick runs to give the song a little more echo. The second take is a much lengthier version but still without the second verse. Nick plays with his phrasing through the track, stretching out certain words.
The two takes of ‘Mayfair’ are obvious rehearsals, the initial take breaking down completely, the second causing Nick to stall at certain points while he plays and sings at the same time. It’s worth mentioning that all four tracks are under pinned by classical music underneath.
Tracks 12 – 15 come from the Hampstead tape in 1968 – “Fly” is still a work in progress with certain elements missing that would be added to the album version.
“Parasite” comes from a tape in slightly worse condition and sounds a little more atmospheric. The rolling riff that centres the song pauses no problem for Nick as he effortlessly runs through the song. The lyrics reflect a change though to something less doomish. It’s slightly extended coda a reflection of Nick’s fondness for the riff. A very different “Joey” is presented next, softer, a little more dreamy. Nick is playing with the tempos here, trying to ascertain it’s pace. Finally, “Guitar Instrumental”is a work out piece as Nick plays with various themes. Whether this was supposed to represent a work in progress or was noodleing is not quite clear.
Tracks 16 – 23 are from the so-called ‘Work Tape’. A rough sounding cassette of various try-outs recorded in the music at Far-Leys A sparse “Poor Boy” begins in abbreviated form, much sparsely decorated than the “Bryter Later” version, in it you you hear the full remit of the guitar as unfashioned by piano or harmonies, “Time Has Told Me” features a bluesier style than the album, some guitar licks coming over a little more delta – folk than British classical. “Voices”, however brief the snippet, is played at a quicker tempo, much more urgent than the final, released version.
Tracks 19 – 23 are various ideas played on either guitar or piano. None of them seem to give a clear notification as to where Nick might have gone yet, more likely these are just snippets of ideas, formulas that Nick was practising with. To that extent, they are beautiful pieces, much like John Lennon’s work outs in the Beatles Indian period but much more complex obviously.
Tracks 24 – 27 are from Nick’s final sessions. Battling depression and a weak will, Nick was far too gone to be able to play and sing proficiently at the same time so his guitar parts were tracked first. The difference here though is that the guitar track to “Black Eyed Dog” is much different to the ‘Pink Moon’ C.V. and “Tow The Line” does not feature the sound of Nick leaving his seat and putting down is guitar. Once again, they’re great to be heard without voice and serve to pin point Nick’s increasingly proficient works. They are from secondary studio tapes however so don’t expect studio clarity.
The set is rounded off with Nick’s extra sessions, initiated by Robert Kirby, the first three tracks were recorded for the ‘Interplay One’ educational album. Along with an unknown female vocalist and Kirby himself, Nick played guitar on these sessions alongside banjo player, Rocking John.
The final two tracks were again from a Kirby commissioned session for the Mick Audsley album, “Dark And Devil Waters”. As neither album exists on the CD catalogues, these are less pirated tracks, more grey – area. They are significant finds however are highly important in rounding out Nick’s story.
I could have still written more in this review but the intelligently and thorough sleeves notes prevent me from doing more work. As a end point to the original catalogue and the three posthumous collections, this CD his hands-down the last word until collectors release their grip on the missing pieces to the puzzle. Also available an a luxurious LP set but approximately half the tracks found here, it’s far beyond desirable, this bootleg is essential.
Thank you, Leedslungs. By all accounts the compilers of this set looked far and wide for their source material. There is the chance that “Nicholas Rodney Drake” was used but only if the material there was of the best quality. This is another labour of love piece, compiled by obvious fans. I agree with you, those Peel sessions should be liberated immediately!
Thank you for a wonderfully thoughtful, comprehensive review of what certainly sounds like an essential title of an essential artist, Stu. I wonder how much of this appeared on the 3-LP set “Nicholas Rodney Drake” about a decade or more ago (perhaps the semi grey area LP release you mentioned)? Regardless, CD releases (silver or not) of this treasure trove of material are few and far between, and never widely available. I can only hope that the Peel sessions in their entirety eventually come to light. Until then, there’s this!