Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left - Review
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critics' view

For the few who cottoned on in 1969, Nick Drake, as experienced on “Five Leaves Left”, must have left an indelible mark on the psyche. Within these exquisitely crafted grooves was a dreamy and poetic acoustic folk set, doused in achingly beautiful melancholia. He seemed to have arrived from out of nowhere, fully formed; as cultured as any of your Bob Dylan’s, Phil Och’s or Van Morrison’s. Simply substitute themes of sexual politics with impressions of the moon, stars, sea, rain, trees, sky, mist and seasons and you’re there. If there were to be any words of comfort to Nick in regards to the poor sales figures, they would probably be best framed along the line of “same goes for Astral Weeks”.

With regards to making the magic happen, key assistant to the moody singer-guitarist was producer Joe Boyd, owner of the production and management company, Witchseason Productions. He was the man who had discovered Fairport Convention and been responsible for introducing John Martyn and The Incredible String Band to a mainstream audience. Wikipedia tells:

“He and Drake formed an immediate bond, and the producer acted as a mentor to Drake throughout his career. A four-track demo, recorded in Drake's college room in the spring of 1968, led Boyd to offer a management, publishing, and production contract to the 20-year-old, and to initiate work on a debut album. According to Boyd: ‘In those days you didn't have cassettes—he brought a reel-to-reel tape to me that he'd done at home. Half way through the first song, I felt this was pretty special. And I called him up, and he came back in, and we talked, and I just said, “I'd like to make a record.” He stammered, “Oh, well, yeah. Okay.” Nick was a man of few words.’”

To provide backing, Boyd enlisted various contacts from the London folk rock scene, including Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson (no relation). He recruited John Wood as engineer, with the gorgeous string arrangements eventually being handled by Harry Robertson (“River Man”) and Nick's college buddy Robert Kirby (“Way to Blue”, “Day Is Done”, “The Thoughts of Mary Jane” and “Fruit Tree”). Robertson’s remit for “River Man”, considered by Nick to be the album’s centrepiece, was to echo the classical tones of Frederick Delius and Maurice Ravel. Artistic ambitions were realised – even if commercial aspirations were not. Same old.

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