Cult singer-songwriter Nick Drake, who died forty years ago aged twenty-five from an overdose of antidepressants, will be back in the credits of a record sleeve this month as a previously unheard song gets released. Drake wrote the lyrics and had started to work on the music with his friend, Beverley Martyn, just before his death. The track Reckless Jane will feature on her album The Phoenix and the Turtle.
Nick Drake’s brief life and tragic suicide have not deterred from the growth of his legend, which has never ceased to inspire many other musicians. Counting him as a major influence are Paul Weller, Norah Jones, Badly Drawn Boy, REM guitarist Peter Beck and countless others. Elton John made covers of Drake songs before he found fame himself in 1969. When Elton auctioned his entire collection for charity in the 1980s his Drake cover album was one of the very few he kept. It was not until 2000 when the song Pink Moon was used as the track to a Volkswagen car commercial that Nick Drake became really widely known in the USA.
Drake was signed to Island Records and producer Joe Boyd always had faith in his find, although unable to bring him the success he so desired while he was still alive. Boyd had to send him on tour with his first album, Five Leaves Left, and it was a disaster, playing to empty rooms whilst tables and chairs were cleared. Friends say Nick never regained his confidence after that time.
One of those friends, Beverley Martyn, was then married to guitarist John Martyn, and the couple’s home in seaside Hastings became a safe retreat for the troubled and handsome young man. He would turn up unexpectedly, sometimes spotted alone on the beach, being too shy to knock on the door. He often babysat their children.
In the spring of 1974 Nick and Beverley worked on the song Reckless Jane together. She was 27 and he was two years younger. It came out of a “bit of fun” says Martyn. They messed around trying to find all the words that would rhyme with Jane. The character of Jane in the song is apparently based on a mix of real-life muses, one of whom was Martyn and another two both called Jane. One of these had six children by different fathers and lived with them in a bus.
The song had lain unfinished all these years and the decision to return to it was hard for Beverley Martyn. She said that never a day goes by that she does not think of and remember Nick Drake, in particular his dry wit and sense of humor. She finally completed it last year. Before then, she said, she had found it “brought up so much pain.” The song can be heard in the clip in the source link below.
Ten years ago, a final recorded song was discovered when the Drake family decided to clean up and release all the remnants of the bootleg copies and search their archives for everything retrievable. This forgotten song Tow the Line, appeared on the album Made to Love Magic released in 2004 featuring other rarities and remixes.
When Drake’s second album Bryter Later came out, all those who knew him assumed that this was the one that would bring him the stardom he so deserved. He had by now dropped out of his third year at Cambridge University to dedicate his life to music. The co-producer, John Wood, has proclaimed, “There is nothing about it that I would have changed” and “I can’t think how it could be better.” However, there was no tour, very little press, and not much attention. It was after this that Drake went into his downward spiral. He felt rejected. Due recognition of his considerable talent was never to come his way whilst he was still alive. Now, all these years later, he is revered.
Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt is one of many Nick Drake fans, to the extent that he narrated a documentary for BBC Radio 2 about the singer he admired so much. This was timed to coincide with the Made to Love Magic album, the last time there was a significant Drake “discovery.”
It is unlikely that there can or will be any more. The fact there is a new Nick Drake song, even without his voice on it, after forty years, is still cause for celebration for legions of followers.
By Kate Henderson