Nicholas Rodney Drake (Nick Drake) was born in Burma on 19 Juni 1948. His father Rodney Shuttleworth moved there to work as an engineer with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation. He met his mother Molly Lloyd there and married her onced she became 21 years old. In 1951 the family returned to England. Nick's sister, Gabrielle, became an actress. Father and mother both wrote music. Nick learned to play piano and recorded songs that his mother kept in the family drawing-room. He also learned clarinet and saxophone. He formed the band Perfumed Gardeners in 1964. Nick started to focus on music instead of going to school. Then he saved some money to buy an accoustic guitar in 1965 and  started studying English literature at Cambridge.

Nick in 1969

In January 1968 Nick met Robert Kirby at University who would later wrote many of the strings and woodwind arrangements for Nick's first two albums. Nick discovered the British and American folk music scene and performed in local pubs and coffee houses around London. Then he was discovered by Ashley Hutchings from Fairport Convention. He introduced him to producer Joe Boyd. Based on a four-track demo tape he was contracted by Island Records. He traveled every day by train to the recording sessions in Sound Techniques studio, London. But there were some difficulties during the recording sessions which delayed the release and his first album came out later than expected.

Nick with his mother Molly and sister Gabrielle

Finally the album would be released in 1969 with the help of Richard Thompson from Fairport Convention, Danny Thompson from Pentangle and his school mate Robert Kirby. The album was titled "Five Leaves Left" which was a reference to the old Rizla cigarette papers packet including a note"Only five leaves left". 

The note that comes with the Rizla cigarette papers packet

The album opens with "Time Has Told Me". Although the song is hopefull in tune his personal life is overwhelmed by depressions. In "River Man" Nick tells how pleasure and pain are both necessary in life. On "Day Is Done" he talks about the meaningless of life and in the song "Fruit Tree" it sounds like he predicts his own destiny about not receiving much success with his music.

Nick suffered from depressions and was prescribed antidepressants. Something he hide from his friends. He was also afraid it would conflict whith his regular use of cannabis. In 1971 he only came out to perform music and buy drugs. Even his musical friend John Martyn described Nick in 1971 as the most withdrawn person he ever met. John Martyn wrote the title song of his 1973 album "Solid Air" about Nick. In early 1972 Nick had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised for five weeks. Then on the 25th of November 1974 Nick died in his bedroom. He had gone to bed to take an overdose of amitriptyline, and antidepressant.

Image from backside of the album cover

Nick managed to release 3 studio albums: Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1971) and Pink Moon (1972). He started recording for a fourth album in 1974 but those sessions included his last works including: "Rider On The Wheel", "Black Eyed Dog" and "Hanging On A Star". "Tow The Line" is the last song he recorded. In his life he didn't achieve the success he wanted but after his death he became a legend in folk music. His debut album is still his best work. He inspired many musicians like R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Kate Bush,  Tracey Thorn (Everything But The Girl) and Paul Weller (The Jam/Style Council).

Original album cover

Five Leaves Left (1969)
Time Has Told Me / River Man / Three Hours / Way to Blue / Day Is Done / Cello Song / The Thoughts of Mary Jane / Man in a Shed / Fruit Tree / Saturday Sun

River Man
Man In A Shed
Cello Song