In 1985, British band The Dream Academy reached both the US and the UK charts with their homage to Nick Drake with Life in a Northern Town, both written for and dedicated to the quiet and unassuming folk singer from Warwickshire, England. 11 years had passed since the untimely death of one of the most influential folk singers of our time, denied of the deserved recognition in his time. But Nick Drake went on to influence and inspire countless artists, including Robert Smith of The Cure, whose band's name is derived from Drake's song Time Has Told Me ("a troubled cure for a troubled mind"), Kate Bush and Peter Buck of R.E.M among others.
Born in Burma in 1948 to Rodney and Molly Drake, the family relocated to Warwickshire, and with both parents writing music, it was inevitable Nick would continue this path. What wasn't so obvious was the eerily similar tone Molly unknowingly shared with her son after the surfacing of her recorded songs after her death in 1993. Upon starting his third year at Cambridge University studying English literature, it was during this time American music producer Joe Boyd discovered the talent that Drake so easily emanated through all his coffee shop and local club gigs around Cambridge.
Two albums later and one failed university degree, Drake was living in London and started to show signs of unhappiness and discontent with the music industry. After expressing dissatisfaction with his first two albums, citing that Bryter Layter was "too full, too elaborate", Drake recorded Pink Moon, his third and final album, over just two sessions in 1972. With nobody in the recording studio save himself and producer John Wood, Drake stripped back the sound to only his guitar and a piano for the title track. The result was Nick Drake at his most purest and personal. Despite the fact that the record sold less than the previous two albums, it did garner positive reviews. Island Records, Drake's record label, believed that Pink Moon had the potential to finally bring Nick Drake to a mainstream audience but Drake's reluctance to promote the record, or even perform live, put a damper on those beliefs.
Sliding further and further into depression, coupled with the disheartening of his record sales and general critical reception, Drake decided to call it quits on the music industry and retire in late 1972. Upon returning to his parent's house in Warwickshire, Drake slipped further away from family and friends. Having been diagnosed with depression the previous year, his ongoing struggles and bitterness towards the music industry exacerbated his condition as he withdrew further into himself. In a rare upswing in his mood, Drake reached out to John Wood in order to start working on a fourth album. It was during the short recording sessions that Wood noticed an anger and bitterness he had not seen before; people had "told him he was a genius, and others had concurred. Why wasn't he famous and rich?"
On the night of 25th November 1974, Drake had gone to bed early and arisen at dawn for a trip to the kitchen for a snack, a regular occurrence, before returning to his room. An overdose of antidepressants were the cause of death; suicide or accident have never been confirmed. The impact of Nick Drake only started to grow in the proceeding years after his death. The total record sales of all three albums sat at only 4000 worldwide at the time of his death, but by the year 2000, more than 74,000 albums had been sold in the US alone.
Nick Drake's legacy now sits him in esteemed company with the likes of Van Morrison, Donovan and Bob Dylan. Described as a "singular talent who produced several albums of chilling, somber beauty", Drake is now widely acclaimed and continues to influence and inspire, 46 years on.