Fabled recording at long last receives an official outing
The session that Nick Drake recorded in 1969 for John Peel’s Son of Night Ride show has long been the stuff of legend, not so much for Drake’s performances themselves, but for the fact that the tapes have remained something of a holy grail for many a follower of the late singer/songwriter, having gone missing and presumably lost forever.
That they should eventually turn up is indeed cause for celebration, since Drake was something of a recluse, preferring the controlled intimacy of a studio to that of an actual live audience. Not that there would have much of an audience when it came to recording this session, which has miraculously re-surfaced after the long held belief that it had been either lost or erased.
Now following years of speculation, the question remains: are his performances any good? Well, the answer to that is, yes. Although anyone expecting high fidelity will be disappointed, as the sound quality hardly matches that of his studio output.
Opening with the reflective “Time of No Reply,” Drake plays the tune at a slightly faster pace than the version he recorded during sessions for “Five Leaves Left,” yet is no less beautiful. The mesmerising “River Man” is as captivating as ever, where Drake’s unique 5/4 rhythm (and voice) manages to hypnotise the listener into a state of melancholic bliss.
Drake’s impressive technique is apparent on the folk-blues “Three Hours,” another hypnotic number which draws the listener in to a world only Nick himself could muster. “Bryter Layter,” from the album of the same name, could have been penned as part an intended soundtrack to Wind In The Willows, and what a delight it is to hear it being performed totally live.
The exquisite “Cello Song” is also given a thoughtful, breezy airing, and a composition that seems to rise and hang in the atmosphere like a full moon on a warm summer’s night, that comes and goes like some Shakespearean dream, and as transient as the thoughts which brought it into existence in the first place – thoughts that haven’t been with us now for over forty years.
That these recordings should now be issued, finally (on vinyl only by the way), reveals that the cult of Nick Drake shows no signs of dying any time soon. Will they reveal any secrets, or unveil unhidden aspects to his genius? No. Because The Peel Sessions are not some sort of previously undiscovered manuscript by Marlowe or Keats. But just like Keats, his brilliance will continue to be viewed as a window into the soul of one whose love of beauty and the poetic continues to inspire.