Adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording
A version of Cello Song intended for the skip has inspired a photography exhibition 37 years after the singer's death
What would you do if you discovered a previously unheard Nick Drake recording? A song by one of most famous, cultish singer-songwriters of the early Seventies; a man who died so young that his oeuvre is limited, but is nevertheless one of the most influential English musicians of the last 50 years. You’d want everyone to hear it, right? Organise a tribute album, perhaps? Cash in on the discovery? Luckily, Michael Burdett did none of those things.
Burdett, a television composer and photographer, harboured the lost Drake recording for nearly 40 years. In the 1970s, when working in the post room at Island Records (the label Drake signed to), Burdett was asked to throw some tapes into a rubbish skip. Having rummaged through them, and hoping to salvage some to use in a studio he was setting up, his eye was caught by one tape in particular.
“I picked it up because it had ‘Nick Drake, Cello Song’ and ‘with love’ written on the box,” Burdett says. “The words ‘with love’ made me think that it had to be Nick’s handwriting, and on that basis I couldn’t let it go to the dump.”
It was two decades before he sat down and listened to the tape. Thinking it would be the Cello Song, a beautiful, highly recognisable, string- and guitar-drenched track from Drake’s 1968 debut, Five Leaves Left, Burdett was amazed to discover a completely different never-previously-heard version.
Instead of seeing pound signs, Burdett reacted to the discovery by embarking on a rather unusual artistic project. Armed only with a portable CD player and headphones, Burdett traipsed the length and breadth of the UK and personally approached 200 people offering them the chance to hear the recording. Of those asked, 167 said yes – and Burdett photographed their reactions.
“In a world where recorded music is distributed so casually and freely it’s almost lost its value. I saw an opportunity to use a recording to create a very personal moment for a number of people - and maybe to give them an incredibly special memory,” Burdett says.
The city workers, scientists, farmers, hairdressers, musicians tattooists randomly approached and photographed by Burdett are pictured in various stages of rapture. Although the brooding Drake, who was posthumously seen as a doomed romantic hero, did not create music to make you smile exactly, several of the listeners are seen with soppy, enthralled grins on their faces.
Comedian Noel Fielding was one of those Burdett approached. He remarked: “[The music] was like the forest came to life and carried me about in a little silver papoose.”
Factory worker Melvin Hodges, who also took part, said: “He [Drake] died without me noticing. It is the velvet in his voice that brings out the best in him.”
The photographs, titled the Strange Faces Project - not, as a comment on the visages of the subjects, but in reference to the opening lyric of the song: “Strange face, with your eyes/ So pale and sincere”)- is currently on show at the Idea Generation Gallery in London.
Drake died of an overdose of prescription antidepressants aged 26 in 1974. He had recorded three albums and been critically acclaimed, but only really acquired widespread fame in the mid-to-late Eighties, long after his death. As well as being playful and hugely appealing to look at, the photographs serve to further cement the impact Drake’s creative output has had, despite its brevity.
The Strange Face Project: Adventures With A Lost Nick Drake Recording at Idea Generation Gallery until 12 February 2012, www.ideageneration.co.uk
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 Kajieme Powell: Missouri police release video footage of second man killed by officers
- 4 Paul Scholes: Manchester United need five experienced players who can turn round a desperate situation
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Laughs go global as Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran bring international comedians to the Edinburgh Fringe
The Top Ten: Horrible buildings
JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing 'Singing Sorceress' Celestina Warbuck
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Celebrity Big Brother 2014 line-up: Meet the contestants from Lauren Goodger to Kellie Maloney and Audley Harrison
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women