Nick Drake Sings “One Of These Things First”

Listen to this track by British folk singer-songwriting savant Nick Drake. It’s “One Of These Things First”, a track off of his 1970 LP Bryter Layter, his second record and known to be the most accessible of his small, yet extremely potent, body of work.

Nick Drake only released three records during his lifetime, and every one of them sounded different. Baroque, folk, pop, jazz, and starkly-rendered solo acoustic textures are some of the major stylistic bases he explored on his three albums that are now all considered essential by anyone with an opinion that matters.

Although his work was varied, and was arguably the first stages in his process of finding his voice as a major artist, Nick Drake’s music contains a common undercurrent at the centre of all of his records.
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John Martyn Performs “Solid Air”

Listen to this track by Scottish folk-jazz figurehead John Martyn. It’s “Solid Air”, the title track of his 1973 album of the same name, Solid Air. The record is arguably his most high-profile, employing a successful fusion of jazz and folk, connecting lyrically on an emotional level too.

Martyn’s delivery here is slurred and languorous, a new style for him at the time. The song’s themes of course have to do with his friend Nick Drake, a person of prodigious talent and sensitivity in the same measure. He suffered from debilitating depression, coupled with and perhaps exacerbated by the pressures of being a recording artist dealing with the demand of record sales and live appearances in close succession. Nick Drake didn’t enjoy success with either at the time.

Nick Drake would die of an accidental overdose of antidepressant medication, November 25, 1974. It happened 18 months after Martyn’s album came out, and 37 years and less one day ago today.

This song is written by Martyn to Nick Drake, a sentiment of one friend to another in song, maybe because, as Drake said in one of his own songs, “if songs were lines in the conversation, the situation would be fine.” The song is looked upon as a tribute. But, to me it is less that, and more a song to express worry, concern.  Read more

The Song In My Head Today: ‘Driving With Bert’ by Neil Halstead

Neil Halstead Sleeping On RoadsNeil Halstead’s song “Driving With Bert” is my favourite track on his Sleeping on Roads album released in 2002, with a sort of Nick Drake meets Ennio Morricone spaghetti western vibe to it.

Neil Halstead has been the prolific songwriter and frontman for shoegaze heroes Slowdive, and is currently fulfilling the same role with Mojave 3. As frontman, his solo album was somewhat of an unexpected move for many. Yet, it seems that Mojave 3 is a democracy, so maybe a solo record shouldn’t have been unexpected. Part of what drove the melancholy mood on the record was a break-up, a period of being in between places to stay, and a move, all being very tumultuous events in anyone’s life. To my ears, Halstead was gripped with a chronic case of Bryter Layter , since the same kind of gentle bittersweetness tends to hold the album together in terms of its atmosphere and emotional landscape.

Lyrically as well as musically, this is an autumnally-hued reflection on the efforts it takes to reach for happiness, and mismatching needs and solutions (‘love is for your pain/’drugs for when you’re lonely…’). In this tune, the narrator knows that the hope for such happiness is hanging by the thread of pure circumstance (‘So fine for a while/Soon I know you’ll have to leave again’). Yet in some ways, it’s a pretty life-affirming song, despite of how it could also be viewed as a study in transience – “Laughter in the morning/your time for love, your time for life”. In some ways, this is a celebration of the moment, if not for the future.

I wish I could find a full-length version of this tune somewhere on the Interwebby-thing, but otherwise you can preview a clip and download ‘Driving With Bert’ by Neil Halstead on eMusic, along with some of the other tracks from the album.

I always assumed that the Bert in question is Bert Janch, the British folk guitar pioneer. Here’s an interview with Neil Halstead, who addresses that assumption among others. For instance, he also denies the Nick Drake influence. You be the judge when you hear the tune.

Also, check out the Neil Halstead MySpace page . Here, you’ll be allowed to preview a few tracks from the Sleeping on Roads album in full, although not this one specifically (to date at least).



[UPDATE: August 26, 2016: You can listen to this song, which I still absolutely love, right here! Also, for more on Neil Halstead, consult]

Nick Drake Sings “Day is Done” from His Album Five Leaves Left

Five Leaves Left Nick DrakeHere’s a link to hear British Folk singer- songwriter Nick Drake performing his 1969 song “Day is Done” from his debut album Five Leaves Left.

This is a key song off of the autumnal LP, produced by impresario Joe Boyd, and played with a delicacy for which Drake would become known decades after his death in 1974. His voice is like a cloud hovering over the intricate guitar lines and lustrous strings arranged by school friend Robert Kirby. The song would be appreciated by many, and even covered by Norah Jones.

When I was compiling my 10 Songs About Death article, the hard choice was between this song, and another track on the same album, “Fruit Tree”. For those interested, I decided to put the latter tune in the 10 Songs About Fame article instead. The point is that Drake seemed to be interested in the relationship between the two. Although in “Day is Done”, we get a broader look at the evanescent nature of our existence.

It’s easy to think that this song is depressing, or that Drake as a whole was a morbid writer. I don’t think either is true at all. On the contrary, I think this song paints a pretty good view of life. It’s just that the final thought is that life is too short to suit our perceptions of it, thinking we have all the time in the world to make the best of it, and many of us being caught at life’s end not really having explored as much of it as we’d hoped. I suppose there is the small business of finding oneself alone at the end. But, afterall, that’s how we got here – on our own. There’s nothing depressing about that. It’s just how it is.

So, I prefer to think that this song is about enjoying moments, and not wasting them. The sadness that Drake is talking about in this song has more to do with squandering the joy of the moment by involving oneself in the “race” and concerning oneself with what is “lost and won”. Life is a drag when you’re too busy keeping score, and forget about enjoying the game, says Nick.

I dunno. What do you think, Good People? Is Nick Drake a wise young man beyond his years who seeks to celebrate the joy of living in the present? Or is he a poopy-panted miserablist? I know which one I’m going with