Sail To The Sky

Nick Drake’s 1969 song ‘Cello Song has been one of lockdown’s songs for me. It was on my daily radar back in late March and I’m still coming back to it again now. There’s a real melancholy about the song, one of those songs to wallow in for the few minutes it lasts. The lyrics are littered with poetic imagery that also give some insight into Nick Drake’s state of mind- ‘the cold of the night/when the armies of emotion/go out to fight’ and ‘forget this cruel world/where I belong… and if one day you should see me in the crowd/lend a hand and lift me/to your place in the cloud’ both stand out. One of the things with listening to Nick Drake is, like Ian Curtis, it’s difficult to separate the person from the ending.

The music and the sound has a similarly sad feel. The album Five Leaves Left was produced by Joe Boyd and he tried various arrangements on the songs. This one is really close and intimate and has a real weight to it, Nick’s voice and fast finger picking folk guitar, accompanied by Claire Lowther’s cello and the congas and shaker played by Rocky Dzidzornu. Back in March ‘Cello Song sounded like life and society shutting down, the dusk falling early and the fear of going out. Now it sounds like night falling later and some warmer nights but coupled with the fears of lockdown loosening and coming out.

‘Cello Song

Isolation Mix Five

Five weeks into these isolation mixes already- doesn’t time fly when you’re socially restricted? There is a higher BPM count on this mix but also some folky darkness and post punk dread from Nick Drake and A Certain Ratio respectively, some dance grooves from Ellis Island Sound and Scott Fraser, the ultra Balearic vibes of Richard Norris’ Time And Space Machine remix of A Mountain Of One, some 1990 class from World Unite when Creation Records went all E’d up and dancey, Andrew Weatherall remixing Moby and Wayne Coyne in epic style, half of The Clash with Frank Ocean and Diplo plus the West Los Angeles Childrens’ Choir (brought to you in association with Converse) from 2014 and a very long Seahawks remix of Tim Burgess, some headspinning ambient noise set against Harry Dean Stanton’s monologue from Paris, Texas. ‘Yep, I know that feeling’.

Tracklist:

Nick Drake: ‘Cello Song

A Certain Ratio: Winter Hill

Ellis Island Sound: Intro, Airborne, Travelling (Scott Fraser Remix)

A Mountain Of One: Ride (The Time And Space Machine Remix)

World Unite: World Unite

Moby Ft. Wayne Coyne: Another Perfect Life (Andrew Weatherall Remix)

Frank Ocean, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Diplo: Hero

Tim Burgess: A Gain// Stoned Alone Again Or (Seahawks Remix) v Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Ry Cooder: I Knew These Two People, Paris Texas soundtrack

Betty Came By On The Way

I’ve been reading Rob Young’s book Electric Eden, a book that’s been sitting and daring me to read it for quite a long time. I bought it cheap somewhere and then put it on the pile next to the bed. It is several inches thick and tells the story of British folk music- ‘unearthing Britain’s visionary music’ says the tag line on the cover- and deals with many bands and artists who I am on musical nodding terms with, people like John Martyn, The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention and Pentangle, and some who I know a bit better (Bert Jansch). In the middle there’s a lengthy section about Nick Drake. To my surprise in the ten years this blog has been going I’ve never posted any Nick Drake songs.

I remember first buying a Nick Drake album in 1987. I don’t know exactly why because I wasn’t really listening to anything like Nick Drake in 1987. I must have read a review somewhere, NME or Melody Maker most likely, and taken the plunge. I was quite open to trying things on the basis of a good review which could be costly and risky. 1987 saw the release of an album called Time Of No Reply, a collection of outtakes and alternative versions. The internet tells me there was a four disc box set released at the same time but I didn’t buy box sets in the 80s. I bought Time Of No Reply on cassette and when I got home went to my om to listen to it (at this point I knew nothing about the man who made it other than the picture on the cover of him sitting cross legged under a tree and the fact that he died young, self inflicted, in 1974). The cassette hissed a bit and then these fourteen songs whirred by, finger picked acoustic guitars, sometimes played in odd time signatures, sung in a soft and very English voice with references to trees, dogs, sand, magic, wheels, sheds and Mary Jane. Some of the songs were suddenly decorated with sweeping strings. It sounded nothing like The Wedding Present, The Smiths,Billy Bragg,  Talking Heads, PWEI, ACR, New Order, S’ Express or anything else I was into in ’87. I can’t say I got it straight away, it took some time, but over the years that cassette dug its way in. In those days before CD re-issue culture finding albums by people from the recent or distant past was a hit or miss affair, a matter of rummaging in the second hand shops and rooting through bargain bins. I never found another Nick Drake album until the late 90s when I began to fill in the missing pieces on CD.

There’s a richness and an intimacy about Nick Drake’s songs and also a sense of the unknown about them, there’s always something just out of reach. They’re atmospheric, frequently beautiful and tragic too- he sold next to nothing during his lifetime and couldn’t understand it, retreated into his shell, ever the outsider looking in. River Man was on that cassette I had in the late 80s and I finally replaced it in higher fidelity when the Time Of No Reply album was updated as Made To Love Magic in 2004 (with some songs that gained new strings and new mixes, stereo versions and so on). This version of River Man is from that CD, the Cambridge era dorm demo according to the inner sleeve.

River Man

In 2004 it was released as a 7″ single (which I bought- Nick Drake seems a very un- 7″ single sort of artist). This version, a video mix from a CD single I think, has a fuller sound, those strings appearing to make your guts suddenly plunge, and birdsong.