Nick Drake – Family Tree

Intimate insight into a creative family

That Nick Drake has gone on to sell more albums since his death than when alive is one of those ironies life is fraught with. Three near perfect LPs released during his existence, along with numerous compilations, prove that Drake was the ultimate shoe-gazing troubadour and one of the most internal singer-songwriters who ever sang and played guitar.

Since his untimely passing in 1974, the very myth of Nick, an image, that of the mystic, metaphysical poet, the tragic musician who died too young, is one which continues to attract new followers each year to his ever growing cult status as one of the greatest artists most people have never heard.

Certainly Drake was unique, brilliant even, whose inimitable guitar style and melancholic almost translucent voice was like no other. Everyone from Joe Boyd, John Martyn to John Cale admired his talents, and for good reason: Nick’s music – itself a fusion of English folk, Baroque, and 19th century poetry.

Such is the romanticism which surrounds him, that fans have been near-relentless in their pursuit for more material. But unlike many of his contemporaries, Drake left behind relatively little beyond what was officially released in his lifetime, despite his intense creativity.

Hence 2007’s Family Tree, an appropriately titled album if there was ever one. Consisting mainly of demos and home recordings made before Drake’s first album, the exquisitely understated Five Leaves Left, much of what is presented here seem like intriguing, ghostly snapshots of a bygone age.

Yes, there are plenty of “cult treasures” to be found, namely Nick’s covers of Bert Jansch’s “Strolling Down the Highway,” Robin Frederick’s “Been Smokin’ Too Long,” and Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” recordings which betray his influences. Along the way we have a few traditional folk tunes, such as “Cocaine Blues,” a song covered by both Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, and the folk-blues “My Baby So Sweet.”

However what are perhaps the album’s most revealing moments come in the form of Molly, Nick’s mother, whose voice has a haunting quality to it not too dissimilar to her son. Songs such as “Poor Mum” and “Do You Ever Remember” both establish the emotional (missing) link when it came to Drake’s expression. Molly’s own maudlin vocal delivery could undoubtedly be the key to understanding Nick’s own – which in itself is what probably makes this compilation so interesting. There is even a performance of Drake playing clarinet with his aunt and uncle on what it here titled “Kegelstatt Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano,” a Mozart piece which clearly demonstrates that the Drakes were just not your run of the mill family.

If anything, what Family Tree achieves is paint an intimate, albeit lo-fi portrait of an artist who will forever remain an antiquated phantom in this increasingly digitalised and modern age. May his ghost haunt and inspire us for many years to come.