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The songs of Nick Drake – live!

24 Mar 2006 / in music and gigs

In the 32 years since Nick Drake‘s untimely death in 1974 his music has found a life of its own and now boasts an army of devoted fans who revere the unique beauty of Nick’s small but perfectly formed body of work. I include myself in that.

Until last night I had only ever heard one of Nick’s song played live by anyone: ‘One of these things first’ played by my friend Simon. Last night after a showing of the film ‘A skin too few’, about Nick’s life, at the Phoenix Picture House in Oxford, guitarist Keith James accompanied by double bassist Rick Foot, played an hour and half’s worth of truthful acoustic renditions of Nick’s songs.

Keith has spent many hours deconstructing Nick’s songs in order to understand them and play them as accurately and as sympathetically as possible.


Rick Foot and Keith James
Standing in front of the giant screen on which was projected an image of Nick’s face, Keith played masterful guitar with the same even, confident, rhythmic clarity that characterises Nick’s playing style. Nick’s songs require different tuning patterns and guitars need careful adjustment between songs.

Keith demonstrated the problem Nick would have had on his one and only tour with retuning his one and only guitar. This didn’t help Nick feel any more comfortable with playing to live audiences at folk clubs in the 60s.

He sensitively worked his way through some of Nick’s finest songs, stopping to explain a bit about them as he went: from the tear-jerking ‘When the day is done’ and the disturbing ‘Black eyed dog’ to the hopelessly poignant ‘Fruit tree’. A real gem was to hear Keith play John Martyn‘s song from 1972 ‘Solid Air’ which he wrote about Nick. Keith’s performance of ‘Northern sky’ (surely the most beautiful love song ever written) rendered me speechless in the same way that Nick’s recording on Bryter Layter does. Masterful.

Keith didn’t try or build on or interpret Nick’s songs in any way. Instead he simply played and sang them staying true at all times to their purity and fragility. Thank you Keith. I can’t wait to hear you play again.

Now I’m hoping some kind family member will buy Trevor Dann’s new biography of Nick, ‘Darker Than the Deepest Sea’, for me for my birthday.

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