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Nick Drake - Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, 23/1/2010

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 29 / 1 / 2010

Nick Drake - Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, 23/1/2010


'Way to Blue' was a special week long tour of Nick Drake's music curated by his original producer Joe Boyd. At the Warwick Arts Centre Anthony Strutt watches stunning performances of Drake's songs from among other Robyn Hitchcock, Vashti Bunyan and new discoveries Lisa Hannigan and Krystle Warren

Nick Drake was locally based and both lived much of his life and died at his parents’ house not far away in a village in rural Warwickshire, so this was a particularly fitting part of the world to see a tribute to him and for the last night of the week long 'Way to Blue' tour to take place. He made no money in his lifetime, grew very depressed and died at the age of 26 in November 1974 after taking an overdose of prescription drugs. He recorded in his lifetime just three vinyl albums, ‘Five Leaves Left’ (1969), ‘Bryter Layter’(1970), and his final work, ‘Pink Moon’(1972). All three of these albums are absolutely beautiful and perhaps Nick was too beautiful for this world. He wrote lovely words backed by minimal backing with some of the best guitar arrangements ever made. Tonight’s gig is a celebration of his work and also sadly a tribute to Robert Kirby, Nick's string arranger, who died last year, while working on this project. ‘Way to Blue’ features seven string players and also a five piece house band featuring Danny Thompson, the only person here that actually played on an album by Nick Drake. Joe Boyd, Nick’s producer, does stage announcements and tells us stories about Nick, while Jill St John, formerly of the Dream Academy, is the Musical Director. ‘Way to Blue’ is spread over two sets each lasting about an hour each. To start with we get an instrumental from the band before Robyn Hitchcock, the singer to open the concert, comes on stage. “This is us trying on Nick Drake's clothing,” he jokes. “And the one I'm trying on is ‘Parasite’. It is a track that comes from ‘Pink Moon’ and, delivered as a psych-folk number, suits Robyn’s voice very well. Green Gartside from 80’s band Scritti Politti is another of the big names here. His voice is perfect for Nick Drake's work and he does a version of the lush ‘Fruit Tree’ and does it beyond justice too. Scott Matthews is next, and, using a mouth organ, looks surprisingly like a young Nick Drake. He delivers a great version of ‘Place to Be'. Kirsty Almeida is the first female vocalist of the night. She looks like she has just walked out of 1969 with her flower power dress on or perhaps she just made an effort to capture the spirit of the occasion. Here she does ‘Cello Song’, a favourite Nick Drake song which has been used in many films, but it tonight needs a little bit more cello really. ‘Which Will’ is delivered by Vashti Bunyan, who was friends with Nick. She again didn’t sell much in the 60’s and early 70’s, but is now picking up an audience some 40 years later. She was matched by Joe Boyd to write songs with Nick but it never took off. Lisa Hannigan takes on ‘At the Chime of a Clock'. She was perhaps the outstanding performer and recent name of the night. With something of Bjork about her, she received in the second half a standing ovation from the crowd. Next up is is another instrumental, which is led by Danny Thompson on piano. Neil McColl from the house band tells us how much he loves everyone here on the stage and does a lovely version of ‘Northern Sky’. Krystle Warren is one of the biggest hopes on this tour and, more jazz and soul-influenced than the other performers, has been making quite a name for herself recently. She sings ‘Time Has Told Me’, one of my favourite numbers from ‘Five Leaves Left’, and absolutely hammers it home. Her version is completely heartbreaking. Teddy Thompson closes the first set before Joe tells us who everyone is. Teddy has famous parents in Richard and Linda Thompson and Richard played on Nick's records as well, but here Teddy comes over as a star in his own right and more than delivers the goods with ‘Poor Boy’. The second set opens with Teddy Thompson and Green Gartside with Kirsty Almeida doing a string based version of ‘Way to Blue’. Again Green's vocal is just perfect for Drake's work. Joe Boyd comes on stage and tells us about the first time he ever heard that arrangement some 41 years ago, and how Nick was very stubborn about using Robert Kirby, his own string arranger, on it. Robert later went on and worked with Paul Weller, Sandy Denny and Elvis Costello. Vashti Bunyan follows with ‘I Remember, You Remember’. Joe introduces it by describing a visit to the Drake household, and seeing Nick’s mother Molly Drake's sheet music on the piano. When he asked what they were, Molly just said nothing special, but years later he saw the lyrics and music and thought they were very special and he could see where Nick got his odd way of tuning from. ‘ I Remember, You Remember’, which was Molly’s song, is European in tone, and, backed by piano and violin, has the feel of a nursery rhyme set to music. Robyn Hitchcock and Green Gartside come on stage with an acoustic guitar. Robyn tells us that both he and Green remember pre decimal coinage as I do as well, but you didn't have to spend money on it if it was free. All this makes sense when they deliver ‘Free Ride’. ‘Clothes of Sand’ follows next and is sung as a solo number by Green. He forgot a lot of the words for this a few nights before. It is a rarer Nick Drake track, appearing on the collected unreleased album, ‘Time of No Reply’, which was only available with the original issue of the ‘Fruit Tree’ box set. Tonight, however, Green’s vocals are faultless. Kirsty is backed by piano for a decent reading of ‘Things Behind the Sun’. Scott Matthews then returns to the stage. Not only does he look like Nick in his heyday, but his voice has the same huskiness to it. He performs an excellent version of ‘Day is Done’. Teddy Thompson then follows this with ‘River Man’. Lisa Hannigan then provides the performance of the night, a soul searching version of February 1974's ‘Black Eyed Dog’ from Nick's last ever recorded session. This is an upbeat version, with strong acoustic guitar and which has a strong Celtic feel. Teddy then announces that it is the last song and closes the second set with a crowd-pleasing ‘Pink Moon’. A two song encore follows in which a solo Robyn Hitchcock plays the only non-Drake number of the evening, one of his own compositions and a song called ‘I Saw Nick Drake’. The whole cast reunite on stage for ‘Voice from the Mountain’ which again is from the February 1974 sessions, by which time Nick Drake was moving away from his original direction ‘Way to Blue’ confirms that it is a such a terrible tragedy for the world that Nick Drake passed away when he did and never had the chance to reach his audience in his short lifetime. He was a true talent and a lost man, Embrace his music and you will never be alone again.

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favourite album

Five Leaves Left (2002)
Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left
It's strange that this album was made in 1969. It still rivals pretty much any acoustic album out there, and though Nick Drake's songs might not be the most well-known, you'll recognise the style and poetry because popular music seems to have embraced wha

digital downloads


Family Tree (2007)
Compilation of previously bootlegged home recordings from the late Nick Drake, which will however prove essential listening to fans
Made To Love Magic (2004)

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