Thursday, 9 May 2013

Albums for Life: 8: Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left

Safe in your place deep in the earth
That’s when they’ll know what you were truly worth
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From a much outdated style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. "'

Here are 'River Man', 'Day is Done' and the sadly prophetic 'Fruit Tree'.


  1. I've listened to quite a bit of Nick Drake over the years without really catching the bug, but I think I will someday.

    1. Please listen before Brad Pitt ruins it all by playing Drake in a biopic...

  2. I love Cello Song , but of the three albums,I think i'd go for Pink Moon for the title track and especially Place to Be..."And I was strong, strong in the sun/I thought I'd see when day is done/
    Now I'm weaker than the palest blue/ Oh so weak in this need for you".
    The blanket in which he's photo'd above had pride of place hanging behing the counter in Smile- a Dublin 2nd hand record store on George's St, which went the way of most record stores.

  3. My favorites vary day to day Brendan. I'm currently wrestling with Tom Waits... now there's a short film. So much depends on your mood. With Drake that mood is invariably B L E A K but Pink Moon's unadorned charms are many. I'll listen tonight...
    It's a great shot of Drake isn't it?
    Are those shells in his hand or a gram of Morocco's finest?

  4. Trevor, an iconic shot alright...with Tom, it will be interesting to see if you go pre or post Swordfish...

  5. It's a toughie Brendan; my entry point was the early Asylum years. Virtually easy listening compared to the challenges post Swordfish... Still, the investment is worth it; Tom's a mad magician or a willful actor depending on your mood or who you're drinking with...

  6. I'm with you on this album,Trev.'River man' is one of my all time favourite songs. His story really is tragic.

  7. I think it's the tragedy as much as the music that keeps his memory alive Phil.
    Strange how we work...

  8. I only have a compilation island put out a few years ago so this is my first top 10 purchase. (oh god having committed to this I've just realised I'm going to have to buy a TWs lp!!) I'm a bit with Seamus. I always think I should like it more than I do . There are times when it fits the mood spot on and others when it drifts away.

  9. Maybe you need to have grown up with the Drake albums. I'd be surprised if you're not enchanted though David. As for the Tom Waits... go for 'Asylum Years'. Really. It has most of the major highlights from his earlier years. Things get a bit quirky from Swordfish... onwards. Again, if you want an overview a fine collection from that period is 'Beautiful Maladies'... I envy you your first listen of the first album; make sure that you're sitting down or holding on to something solid when you listen to the 2nd...