Rock's unsung hero has first chart success 30 years after his death

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The Independent Online

When Nick Drake died in 1974 from an overdose of prescription drugs at 26, the little-known singer-songwriter had sold just a few thousand records. Drake has now had his first Top 40 hit with the single Magic, which went into the charts at No 32.

When Nick Drake died in 1974 from an overdose of prescription drugs at 26, the little-known singer-songwriter had sold just a few thousand records and was depressed about his lack of fame. Drake, whose music has inspired artists from REM and Radiohead to Norah Jones and delighted fans such as Brad Pitt, has now had his first Top 40 hit with the single Magic, which went into the charts at No 32.

His sister, the actress Gabrielle Drake, said his posthumous success was extraordinary. "I think that he would have been delighted and thrilled in a very gentle, ironic way," she told the BBC's Today programme. "I think it is a vindication of everything he tried to do and stood for."

The single's chart entry on Sunday followed a Saturday night documentary about Drake on BBC Radio 2, presented by Brad Pitt. The star of the blockbuster movie Troy described himself as a "huge admirer" of Drake.

During his lifetime, Drake released just three albums. He was never considered popular enough to become a singles artist. But since his premature death, his fame has steadily grown. Patrick Humphries, his biographer, said of Pitt's interest in the singer: "How extraordinary that the biggest film star in the planet finds time to narrate a documentary about a very quintessentially English singer-songwriter."

Humphries said: "There were an awful lot of other good singer songwriters around at that time: Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon. People always bracket Nick with Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison, because he died when he was 26, but all of his fame came after he died. The enduring thing about the cult of Nick Drake is just the quality of his music."

The cult began five years after Drake died, with the release of Fruit Tree, a box set of his three albums Pink Moon, Bryter Layter and Five Leaves Left. The lyrics of the song "Fruit Tree", recorded while Drake was at Cambridge, were strangely prophetic. "Don't you worry, they'll stand and stare when you've gone," he wrote.

Since then, musicians including Paul Weller, members of Coldplay, Travis, Beth Orton and David Gray have cited him as an inspiration, Volkswagen have used his song "Pink Moon" in an advert, and Norah Jones has recorded a cover version of his track "Day Is Done".

The music writer Nigel Williamson said: "He sold virtually no records during his lifetime, but after his death other artists started dropping his name and his fame just steadily built. The real surprise is why he was so unappreciated during his own lifetime. It's taken a long time for him to get to where he deserves to be.

"Would it have happened if he hadn't died and had this tragic story attached to him? He's preserved for ever as this beautiful, gilded, talented youth. He's achieved a certain immortality by dying young. That's part of the appeal."

Drake's "inherent shyness and unwillingness to put himself about in the market place" contributed to the neglect of his genius, Mr Williamson added.

The musician was born to middle-class parents in Burma in 1948, and grew up in Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire. He was educated at Marlborough School, where he learnt to play guitar, and read English literature at Cambridge before dropping out to pursue a musical career.

His music was well-received by critics but poor sales contributed to his severe depression. The inquest into his death recorded a verdict of suicide, but friends and relatives believe his overdose of the prescription drug he was taking to combat his depression was accidental.

An album of some of his rarer work, Made to Love, went on sale yesterday. It includes a previously unreleased track, "Toe The Line", which was recently discovered at the end of a tape reel, and may have been the last song he recorded.

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