John Martyn on Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left 1969

Uncut #100


Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left 1969
Ill-fated cult singer-songwriter remembered by close friend and fellow folkie

TIMELESS IS TOO big a word for anything, but it was just so far ahead of its time. It's a very beautiful album, with a pure, almost classical bearing to it, even down to the singing parts. Definitely a cut above the rest. [Arranger] Robert Kirby was as responsible as anyone for the quality of that record. Lyrically, it was sweet, direct and very obvious without being too obvious, if that makes sense.

One of the reasons I regret what happened to Nick was that you can clearly hear he was lonely. And it was sad to watch him deteriorate, but he was too proud to ask for help. I remember he fell in love with Françoise Hardy, but she wouldn't see him. So he
parked his car outside her door in Paris and just sat there for three days. The maid used to come down and tell him to go away, but he wouldn't. It was very odd, but he was very much a misunderstood person.

Had I known him better, I would have taken better care of him. I knew him as much as anyone could, I think, but he was a very difficult person to get to know. Very, very shy, very withdrawn. It was kind of painful to watch him interact with people.

The album wasn't as successful as it should have been. Nick would complain to me all the time that they'd sent him to play the Coventry Apprentices Christmas Ball.1 Jesus help us! I mean, he could hardly play at the Festival Hall2 —a posh gig— because he was that nervous. Nick was one of my favourite people in the whole world, a lovely geezer. You couldn't ask for a sweeter person. He's still very much missed.

1 John recollected this concert back in 1986, talking to Rob O'Dempsey: "He was once booked to play a Coventry Apprentices Christmas ball. In those days, let me see, Purple Haze was 'in', and there he was singing Fruit Tree and all these gentle breezy little ballads, and I can just imagine them swigging back the Carlsberg Special and totally giving him an awful hard time. I know that that gig lived forever in his mind, he'd talk about it quite regularly."
2 John is referring to Nick's first big show, 24 September 1969 at the London Royal Festival Hall. Nick opened for Fairport Convention and John & Bev and his performance was described as 'sitting on a stool, staring at his shoes, never addressing the audience'.

September 2005 saw the 100th edition of Uncut magazine. For this occasion the magazine asked one hundred celebrities for one of their favourite things from the last fifty years. This was John Martyn's choice. The picture used is a modified one taken by Lawrence Watson. The original served as cover photo of the Johnny Boy Would Love This tribute album.
This article was dug up by Tony Marshall.