Dear Stuart Maconie,
I’d heard about Nick Drake before, but to be honest I wouldn’t have been able to tell him and Neil Young apart. I mean, I’d never heard any of his music, but I’d heard a bit of Young; their names are sort of similar in shape and middle-England normalness; and I happen to know the harvest moon is the orangey-pink moon of late summer: it’s my moon fact.
Such ignorance, seasoned with a little irrelevant trivia, is fertile ground for such confusion, and as slightly quiet picky-picky guitars were hinted at by friends then I didn’t think it was worth spending my time working out which was which. In some ways I’m not at all musically conservative—Queen, Aberfeldy, Busdriver, Fleetwood Mac, Leftfield, Clinic and Joeyfat all happily sit side by side on my shelves—but I still have some prejudices that one day I may have time to deal with: fiddly folk; most reggae; all R&B. At the time when people I knew were mentioning Nick I was busy throwing off the shackles of my easy-listening youth and comparing everything to Therapy?: I probably don’t need to explain any further.
Recently, you and Mark Radcliffe discussed Nick on your show, in the context of the compilation his family have just released. At that point his story, and the few snatches of his music that you played, flicked a switch inside me. I can’t explain any better than that: it was just the right time, place and setting for me to hear.
You mentioned in the show that you’d done a special programme about Nick: I was too late to listen to that—much of my aural life is conducted through Listen Again so I’m always catching up—but friends lent me the Way to Blue compilation and a ropey bootleg. I devoured the compilation, and realised you were right about the quality of the bootlegs that float around, and that Nick’s family were right to finally release it all properly. So the next time I was in town I bought Bryter Layter, and ordered Five Leaves Left, without any hesitation. The paths of this music are where I was meant to walk, if only passing through.
Part of me is indignant: how could everyone have kept this from me, I wondered: how dare they? Then I remembered how I’ve always rolled my eyes at folk, and that Nick is considered very much folk. Why, in fact, would anyone bother to tell me? Anyway, I shouldn’t be angry. I can enjoy it now, and whereas my student self might have picked it up and discarded it, a later discovery means that I can enjoy it with more depth, maybe, perversely, for longer. It’s not as though I’ve missed any; it’s not as though it will take me long to catch up; because—so sad that it’s impossible to say how sad—it’s not as though Nick’s making any more.
Ever feel like you’ve turned up late to a party? You talk to a few people and it turns out that the person you would have wanted to speak to has already left, and isn’t coming back, and now you’ll never get the chance to see him. You didn’t know he was even going to be there, or you’d have tried to turn up on time. But there’s a stack of wine that he left on the table, there to drink for anyone who wants it; almost as though he knew you’d be coming along, some time layter.
Thanks again, Stuart. And thanks, Nick.