Forgotten while you’re here
Remembered for a while
A much updated ruin
From a much outdated style
Doomed, desolate romanticism never sounded so good. Backed by members of Fairport Convention and Pentangle, Nick Drake's debut remains my favourite album of his. Confident singing and strong finger picking is to the fore, as is Danny Thompson's double bass playing; the album also features excellent woodwind and string arrangements by Robert Kirby.
Anorak Fact: The title 'Five Leaves Left' is a reference to the old Rizla cigarette papers packet which used to contain a printed note near the end saying "Only five leaves left". This along with the not so subtle slacker's drug referencing of 'The Thoughts of Mary Jane' suggests that the 20 year old Drake liked a toot or two. The album is blissfully introspective, effortlessly beguiling, crafted, honed to perfection. And yet things don't feel too polished, there's room for the songs to breath the very special air that they abide in. This relaxed ambience gives 'Five Leaves Left' its famous tag as a chill out album. It's much more than that. Drake was a private man who chose to communicate through his music; looking for "a troubled cure for a troubled mind'. Heartbreaking to think that, although an introverted soul, he was unaware that his music's success was kill or cure for him. Its mournful melancholia is the sound of a man who knows he's in some kind of trouble, and whose medicine was music; a tonic that would eventually do for him. Was it 'suicide' or did he just decide to retire from life? It's almost unbearably sad to think that this and the two sublime follow ups 'Bryter Layter' and the raw, unaccompanied 'Pink Moon' were universally ignored at the time; enough to push any man to the brink; particularly one as sensitive and vulnerable as Drake.
A famously acerbic John Martyn was his good friend:
"I love playing, but I try to arrive about two minutes before I start and leave two minutes after I'm done. No disrespect, but people just keep saying, 'How was it knowing Nick Drake?' And I'm like, 'Please, he's dead. He was my friend. Have some respect and leave me alone.' It's so intrusive that I've refused to talk about Nick Drake for the last eight years. I end up saying, 'If you paid half the attention to him while he was alive, he'd still be here. You killed him, man. You ignored him. He was too good for you. He was killed by the indecent, parasitic opportunism that pervades the music business. "'