IIt’s been 50 years since Nick Drake released Pink Moon, his third and final studio album, but his gossip tunes still amaze us. They are as mysterious as their creator, who almost never performed live and rarely agreed to be interviewed. Songs from the album like Known And the Harvest strain Hiccups are crisp, luminous and elusive like the day they first played.
Eager to know more about the album, contact us John WoodA sound engineer and producer. “I probably have a reputation for not doing many interviews about Nick, especially Pink Moon,” he says via email. “The main reason is that there isn’t much to say about two evenings in the studio making an album that only lasts 20 minutes or so.”
However, he gently signs his mobile number and soon we are talking about Pink Moon. “I called it a folk record, but I don’t see it as folk,” Lee corrects, right away. “Someone I knew described Nick’s music as an English version of French chansonnier I will think about it sooner that way.”
At Sound Techniques, a former 18th-century dairy in Chelsea, London, Wood and his co-conspirator, Jeff Frost, created “English Arcadia”, to build their own recording equipment. From 1965 on, the studio was a hub for American producer Joe BoydA roster of pastoral artists, reeling in the likes of Fairport Convention, Vashti Bunyan, John and Beverley Martyn – and Drake, who have recorded his three albums there.
first two – Five leaves left And the Briar Lighter -Sold modestly, about 5,000 copies each, which made Drake, who was struggling with depression, back off himself even more. He felt that Wood was one of the few people he could trust. “One day, he just called and said he wanted to go to the studio,” Wood recalls.
What followed was unexpected. “It was a much more intimate recording,” Wood says. Gone are the sad, tacky brassy strings and in their place was the simplicity: just Drake and his guitar. “I think he wanted to make a very personal and straightforward record. I thought, after the first two songs, we’d probably increase it little bit. Not much, but I was expecting him to get in on Danny Thompson.” (Thompson is the double bassist he co-founded pentagram.) “After number two, I said something and he replied, ‘No, that’s it. That’s all we do. And that it was.'”
Wood could only use Drake at Sound Techniques late at night, for two consecutive sessions at 11 p.m. in 1971. Does he have any lingering memories? “There is one – when we got to the recording parasite. There’s this line: “Sail downstairs to the North Line/Watch the shoe shine.” As soon as I heard that, I knew this record was different.”
Pink Moon is often described as “desolate” and “dreary,” with Drake’s words interpreted in light of his mental health. The property has the lines: “And I was green, greener than the hill / Where the flowers grew and the sun still shines / Now I’m darker than the deepest seas / Just hand me over, give me a place to be.”
However, this meant ignoring contradictory elements on the album, such as the sky-high Hope in the title track’s melody, and the rhythmic thrust of the horizon search road. “Nick was playing his guitar like a metronome,” Wood says as we discuss Drake’s pulsing quality. “I can’t think of anyone else I’ve ever recorded, with that young studio experience and at that age, having this ability. It was extraordinary.” The singer was 23 years old.
Drake has been greatly misunderstood and ignored in his life. Did his lack of commercial success affect him significantly in the years before his death, at age 26, from an antidepressant overdose? “I have to say it I Wood says. “I couldn’t understand why Five Leaves Left didn’t do better. People just didn’t understand. It wasn’t immediately accessible.” Drake did not blend seamlessly with the UK pop scene. Perhaps if he had finished in America, Wood ponders, along with the likes Richard Farinya And Leonard Cohen, it would have been different. “The second time I was with Nick, I asked him about his influence and he said, ‘Randy Newman and the Beach Boys. “
What about Pink Moon? “It’s just weird, the way it was discovered,” Wood says. In 1999, Volkswagen launched a new advertising campaign with the title track – which gave album sales a huge boost. “After I made it, I didn’t think it had commercial potential,” Wood says. “I never thought it would be successful.” Is he so surprised now, that he has taken on such legendary status for fans? “Yes, I think I am.”
Wood did not play it for nearly 20 years after Drake’s death. “It just felt very personal,” he says, pausing to reflect on his posthumous success. “In some ways, I don’t understand the broader appeal of it. I suppose part of it is due to the way it was made and because of Nick and the stories around it.”
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