“There’s a tendency to think of Nick as some celestial apparition…”

A new biography offers the deepest dive yet into Nick Drake’s brief life

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Nick Drake is on the cover of the current issue of UNCUT. In this extract, we look at how a new biography of the beloved singer-songwriter illuminates his brief but indelible life and music…

In a small turreted room in Wenlock Priory sits a trunk of clothes that belonged to Nick Drake. Gabrielle Drake has owned the prior’s 16th-century private apartments since the 1980s, where she has meticulously and painstakingly restored one room after another. One room, however, has been turned over to her late brother, Nick. Aside from the trunk of his clothes, the plain details of a life are laid bare: boxes with letters, school reports, university essays, bank statements, tax returns, his recording contracts, photo albums and old passports along with posthumous publishing and royalty statements.

Among other sources, including his own new interviews with Drake’s friends and fellow musicians, this material has been of critical importance to author Richard Morton Jack, who has spent five years working on his new biography, Nick Drake – The Life. There, in the turreted room, sifting through the boxes, Morton Jack set out on a detailed archeological survey of Drake’s short life and slender musical career – three albums released between 1969 and 1972 prior to his death in November 1974 aged 26. Sometimes, he discovered, the slightest details could yield unexpected results. “There were small but satisfying bits of puzzle,” Morton Jack tells Uncut. “I’d find a letter from Nick’s grandmother saying, ‘Happy birthday, here’s a cheque for something.’ So I’d think, ‘Ah,that’s how he afforded his new guitar!’ I was able to be absolutely forensic about almost every aspect of his life.”


Morton Jack had previously helped with research for Gabrielle and Cally Calloman, who manages Drake’s musical estate, on 2014’s coffee-table volume, Remembered For A While. Along with essays, tributes and analysis, the book also included previously unseen photographs, family letters and Drake’s father Rodney’s diaries. “It was a really useful accompaniment to a serious fans’ appreciation of Nick’s work and a good way of scratching itches as far as curiosity about his life went,” says Morton Jack. “But I felt that it was a bit of a shame that there wasn’t a proper narrative. I think Cally was a bit resistant to the idea of ‘authorising’ a biography, because that word would carry with it connotations of control and of most importantly of saying this is the one holy scripture on Nick. Gabrielle was resistant to that, too, because she knows better than anyone how baffling and private and inscrutable her brother was.”

Critically, Morton Jack also intended to dispel many of the myths and inaccuracies that have accumulated around Drake – a strategy that clearly gained approval from Gabrielle. Writing in her introduction to The Life, Gabrielle says, “This not an Authorised Biography… But it is true that this is the only biography of my brother that has been written with my blessing.”

Gabrielle’s blessing also unlocked a number of doors that may otherwise have remained firmly shut. “Nick’s London friends have been least communicated with because they’re private individuals who have no desire for self-publicity and who aren’t normally the sort of people that give interviews,” says Morton Jack. “They were happy to invite me to their homes and show me their photo albums – especially Sophia Ryde, who died very sadly during the course of writing the book, but not before she and I had spent a pretty long time together, going over all her memories. That wouldn’t have been possible without Gabrielle’s involvement.”


Morton Jack confirms that there are no great revelations in the book – “‘Oh, my god, he was gay!’ Or, ‘Oh my god, he was on heroin!’ There was nothing like that.” Instead, one of the book’s great achievements is how a strong consensus of opinion builds around Nick’s character. “His friends remember him vividly,” explains Morton Jack. “I tried to include stories, especially ones which involve any sort of physicality with him. Like a box of matches exploding and Nick jumping up into the air. Someone told a story about cutting her arm and Nick being very helpful with finding bandages. Someone else told a story about Nick falling into a roof space and crashing through the ceiling. I felt those stories were worth including. They tethered him to us mere mortals. There’s a tendency to think of Nick as some celestial apparition. He was a normal bloke and most of his friends remember him quite well.

“One of the myths that’s built up around Nick was that he was crippled by stage fright. Literally no-one said that to me in the course of putting the book together. It was more that he thought he was wasting his time performing on stages in front of strangers who were clinking glasses. But he made lists of producers and made a tape, went round and he hustled – not to a huge extent, because he was lucky enough to be picked up quite quickly – but he was willing to do that. I think that says a lot about the kind of person he was.”

Nick Drake: The Life is published by John Murray Press on June 8


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