Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake


There was a good editorial in The New Statesman this week about the vacuum created by the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The point being made was that this is a clear signal to Russia and to China that America no longer wishes to be the world’s police force and if the other superpowers decide that they want to fill that vacuum with their own forces, America will not stand in their way. The U.K., as the world’s sixth largest economy (a fact I didn’t know) now stands apart from Europe. The world is about to be taken over by Russia and China and America isn’t going to stand in their way. We are on our own. Parts of the world are on fire, icebergs are melting, bees are dying and cliffs are falling into the sea. We are all going to hell in a handcart.

Boris Johnson has been quoted as saying that he wants to be Prime Minister for longer than Thatcher. He is about to renege on his strong preference for COVID passports and vaccinations to become mandatory for entrance to large events. His recent announcement of increased money for Social Care and the NHS through increased National Insurance contributions is a transparent way of getting less well off people to pay for the care of the wealthy. We are all going to hell in a handcart.

My hip has been hurting more over the last month and it’s very difficult to tie the laces on my right foot. I’ve had a cold which means I’ve not gone to Album Club, a Lewes match and a Samaritans’ shift. I’m very confused about whether to go to Brighton games, to meet up with “The London Walkers” or to meet Rob in London. Martin has had COVID. I don’t want to get it – a standard head cold has left me miserable and depressed so goodness knows how I would feel if I caught the virus. I’m going to hell in a handcart.

And yet. And yet. I’m lucky to have friends to meet up with and a patient wife who bears her disability with admirable fortitude. I live in a nice house in a fantastic part of the world. I’m financially secure. Happiness is relative and based on how the life lived matches expectations. With unduly high expectations, disappointment is always just around the corner.

What would my life be without sport and music? I’ve now become a tennis expert, having watched Emma Raducanu win the US tennis Open last night. Her story does actually make me proud to be British. She was born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother and the family moved to the U.K. when she was two years old. I wonder how all the racists that voted for Brexit feel about her. Her achievements say a lot about her skill, determination and effort but also say a little bit about the U.K. We are all destined to meet again on a higher plane.

What would my life be like without sport and music? I went to The Oval last week to watch the second day of the Fourth Test and it was fantastic. The atmosphere in the ground was one of excitement, with every person in the sold out crowd totally absorbed in the cricket. Andy and I managed to talk bollocks to each other for nearly 12 hours and it made a magical day. “We’ve all got a home on high in another land so far away in another time.”

Where would my life be without sport and music? On a more prosaic note, both Kent and Sussex are in the finals of the T20 cricket competition next Saturday. Brighton won (luckily) yesterday against Brentford and proudly sit fourth in the table. Dave and I are going to watch them play Leicester next Sunday before Roo and I embark on a short break in Wiltshire. “We’ll all be together on the astral plane late at night or I’ll go insane

Where would my life be without sport and music? Kacey Musgraves’ new album arrived yesterday and it is a little too prosaic for my taste at first hearing but Gruff Rhys’ latest album is highly enjoyable, the Bob Dylan bootleg arrives on Saturday. I’m also continuing to enjoy Trees. I have listened to so much good music this year. Whilst looking for information about Trees, I saw a reference to a book called “Electric Eden” by Rob Young which is a history of British folk music. Some of the early chapters which describe music from hundreds of years ago are worthy but difficult to latch onto but from Chapter Four onwards, it’s fascinating. The book was responsible for alerting me to “Anthems In Eden” by Shirley Collins and now I don’t know whether to dig out my old records by The Incredible String Band, John Martyn or Nick Drake. “Time has told me not to ask for more for some day our ocean will find the shore”.

The beauty of “Five Leaves Left” is seriously overwhelming. Most songs are a combination of Nick Drake’s languid easy voice, his utterly magnificently precise guitar playing and orchestral arrangements. The latter are mainly by Robert Kirby who met Nick Drake in Cambridge. However, on “River Man”, the arrangement is by Harry Robertson who had previously worked as Tommy Steele’s musical director. He was often listed as Harry Robinson because Decca Records once paid him with a cheque made out to Robinson, so he opened a new bank account to allow him to pay the cheque in.

“River Man” is an extraordinary work. Lyrically it concerns three people. The River Man is a deity looking down on us all and to whom the singer often seeks solace from. The second person is the singer who is feeling trapped and lost. The third person is “Betty” who is trying to rise above the mundane and find salvation in the glorious and the unknown. She provides hope for the singer – maybe he can escape from his isolation by his interactions with her. Nick Drake’s singing is a constant source of wonder. It all sounds very relaxed and easy and it would work without any musical accompaniment because his voice is so melodious. There’s no sense whatsoever of singing one line and then another line and then another line; the beautiful singing all merges into one continuity. The orchestral arrangement on “River Man” is brilliant. In some ways it’s entirely unrelated to the singing and guitar playing and yet it all combines to make a truly magical sound.

The song after “River Man” is “Three Hours”. Lyrically, the song describes a number of people escaping from a city in search of enlightenment, contentment and salvation. I’m not an expert when describing guitar playing. However, the precise acoustic guitar work on this song seems to me to be impossibly brilliant. I have no idea whether there is any overdubbing because it all sounds so complex yet results in a simple, magnificent sound. There is an instrumental break where Danny Thompson’s double bass and Rocky Dzidzornu’s congas provide the perfect backdrop for a virtuoso acoustic solo that is right up there with the best of Richard Thompson and David Rawlings. It’s astonishing.

There’s too much to say. The whole amazing album. Nick Drake’s inability to communicate by speech compared with the feelings he communicated through his music. The tragic story of his death. The folk scene in the U.K. in the late 69s/early 70s. Where I would be without sport and music.

“So forget this cruel world where I belong. I’ll just sit and wait and sing my song. And if one day you should see me in a crowd. Lend a hand and lift me to your place in the cloud”

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

8 thoughts on “Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake

  1. I suspect no guitar overdubs on ‘3 Hours’. I think the intricacy of the sound is enhanced by Danny Thompson’s ever-brilliant bass which goes up to higher registers and interlocks with the guitar playing.

    Liked by 1 person

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