Brief intro as this is a brief piece. I love Nick Drake. Surprising, right? His is music that it is always the right time to put on. When Sharon and I lived in Malawi in 2006-07, we had Pink Moon with us and my memories of travelling mountain roads southwards in a little dodgy Corolla from Mzuzu to Lilongwe are coloured by memories of having that grounding, gorgeous, glorious album on as we drove along and looked west and downhill at eastern Zambia. The music was and is endlessly enriching and enlivening. So it disappointed me that this album was released to coincide with his death. Anyway, that’s all obvious below.
Nick Drake: “Made To Love Magic” (Island Records).
After Elliott Smith’s dreadful death last October, a friend sent this hopeful thought: “I remember reading him saying once that people focused on the despair in his songs and missed the happiness, and there was happiness there. I don’t think he was oblivious to the beauty of life or love or any of it, or that he thought life itself was futile—you only have to listen to the songs and read about his influences to know that here was someone who really knew beauty when he saw and heard it.”
She could have been writing in 1974; Elliott’s arch-influence Nick Drake died then, also most probably by suicide. What you know about a singer’s life will always colour how you hear him, and this goes double for the way it ends; double again for Nick Drake. You wonder whether what you hear as poetry or mystical wisdom is just misery through a prism of grievously misguided romance, the oldest lie in art: he was too beautiful for this world.
The lie sells well, hence a 30th anniversary reissue. Mostly, Made To Love Magic makes up for the poor availability of Time Of No Reply, a rarities collection dating back to 1979, including the late masterpieces ‘Black Eyed Dog’ and ‘Hanging On A Star’. ‘Magic’ and ‘River Man’ merit inclusion because of posthumously-added strings, and a “lost” song has been unearthed. ‘Tow The Line’ may have been buried for a reason: it sounds unfinished, with an obvious melodic debt to Drake’s own ‘At The Chime Of A City Clock’, from Bryter Layter.
Of course, picking the anniversary of his apparent suicide to relaunch Nick Drake makes his death the central fact of his life and tragedy its overarching emotion. I prefer to apply Elliott’s epitaph and to return to Bryter Layter, to the pure, wheeling, pantheistic joy of ‘Northern Sky’: “I never felt magic crazy as this / I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea / I never held emotion in the palm of my hand / Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree / But now you’re here / Brighten my northern sky”.
All life is here.