Nick Drake - Bryter Layter - Review
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critics' view

The tone of the second Nick Drake LP is tangibly more hopeful than the preceding “Five Leaves Left” and is a beautifully polished, high class affair – exactly as had been conceived by Nick and his key supporter, producer Joe Boyd. At the core of the record were: Nick Drake (guitar, vocals); Dave Pegg (bass guitar, upright bass); Dave Mattacks (drums); Mike Kowalski (drums) and Robert Kirby (string and brass arrangements). The supporting cast were many and varied, with some illustrious names keen to be associated with Nick’s music: Richard Thompson (lead guitar); Ray Warleigh (alto sax, flute); Paul Harris (piano); Ed Carter (bass); Lyn Dobson (flute); John Cale (viola, harpsichord, celeste, piano, organ); Chris McGregor (piano); P.P. Arnold (backing vocals) and Doris Troy (backing vocals).

Upon release in November 1970, rather than being embraced and lauded as merited, the album was wholly ignored. As biographer Trevor Dann puts it:

“Island’s marketing was as bad, if not worse, than it had been for his first record. “Bryter Layter” wasn’t so much a failure as a nonentity; no reviews were written or published, no interviews were scheduled, and Drake, now disturbingly reliant on weed, either refused to or was incapable of properly promoting the album. For its first four months of release, “Bryter Layter” languished, unremarked upon, forgotten, unreal.”

In March 1971, Island and Witchseason (Joe Boyd’s production company) decided to give Bryter Layter another shot, launching a last-ditch promotional campaign and shipping copies of the album to various media outlets. A small handful of reviews emerged, some positive, some dismissive; Sounds magazine called Bryter Layter “superb”, Melody Maker rejected the record as “late night coffee n chat music”. Still, Drake continued to eschew his promotional responsibilities, failing to show up at scheduled events, avoiding live shows, and murmuring glib answers to reporters. Jerry Gilbert, a journalist who interviewed Drake for Sounds, described Drake as mopey and monotonous, and later said: “You know, of the thousands of interviews I've done over the years, [this] was the strangest.” Gilbert's 475-word feature, “Something Else for Nick?” was published in Sounds on March 13, 1971. The article begins with an observation: “Nick Drake is a shy, introverted folk singer, who is not usually known to speak unless it is absolutely necessary.” It was the first and last interview Drake ever gave.

The quotes from Nick’s one and only interview amounted to just a few negative sentences, all concerned with his uncomfortable experiences with live performances. His debilitating depression did him no favours commercially, but should that really have mattered? His message, after all, was in his beautifully crafted albums. Even the intervention of Fairport Convention, Velvet Underground and Beach Boys members with P.P. Arnold and Doris Troy couldn't help gee up the critics or the record buying public. As most folk aficionados now know, Nick was right all along; his records were criminally under-rated. Despite his illness, he overcame and achieved greatly with his works, and the fact that this was barely recognised in his lifetime changes little. It’s a powerful legacy, shining bryter than ever, half a century layter ; - )

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