Biography

 

Biography
Nicholas Rodney Drake

Name:   Nicholas Rodney Drake
Born:   June 19, 1948
Place Of Birth:   Rangoon, Burma
Length:   6'3 tall (6'2) approx. 1,93 m
Eye-colour:   Greenish-grey
Hair:   Light-brown
     
Father:   Rodney Shuttleworth Drake (1908-1988)
Mother:  
Molly Drake (1915 - 1993)
Mary Lloyd by maidenname
Sister:  
Gabrielle Drake
(born March 30, 1944)
5'5 1/2" tall, light brown hair & green eyes
Au-pair in Paris for a year after graduating, studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts
Actrice - Made her professional debut in 1966
Married the artist Louis de Wet in 1977
     
Places:   Rangoon, Burma 1948-1950
Tanworth-In-Arden, Far Leys 1950-1957
Berkshire 1957-1961
Marlbourough January 1962- July 1966
Cambridge 1967-1969
London 1969-1971
Tanworth-In-Arden, Far Leys, 1971-1974


Rodney

Molly

Gabrielle

Nick

Rodney Shuttleworth Drake was born on May 5, in Redhill, Surrey. His family was a medical one. His father Ernest Charles was a surgeon. Rodney went to Marlbourough following familytradition, as Nick would too later on, but stopped when he was 17 years old. He trained as an engineer and later on he travelled to Burma to work for the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation. He met Molly in Rangoon and on April 14, 1937, they got married. Their first child, Gabrielle, was born in Lahore.

Nick Drake was born at the Dufferin Hospital in Rangoon, Burma. The first two years of Nick's life, Rangoon would be home for the family. He and his sister had a pretty happy early childhood there. In 1950, the family left Rangoon and moved to Bombay, when Rodney was made a Company Manager there. But in 1951 he felt it was time to take his family back to England. He got a job as a Managing Director in Birmingham and in 1952 the family settled in the big, but cosy family house 'Far Leys' in a town called Tanworth-In-Arden, which lies somewhere inbetween Stratford-Upon-Avon and Birmingham.

The Drakes were a fine family. The people in Tanworth-In-Arden remember them fondly. When they speak of Rodney & Molly Drake, they tend to use words as; wonderful people, superb, ever so nice, splendid couple. The women also remember Rodney as a well looking man and Molly too gets her compliments, as well as for her appearance as for her singingvoice. Walter Shadden (Burma) described Rodney as; "An Englishman of the past, of the colonial past and well respected." In Tanworth it seemed no different. On one account someone remembers; "I had to collect some money for the church. The Drakes had not been living there for very long yet. Rodney opened the door and he was ever so nice. I received a warmer welcome there than I got at some of the houses where people had already lived for years."

All-in-all, they seemed a normal English household, except for the dash of Burma they took along in their Burmese maid, who would be a nanny to Gabrielle and Nick. But it was a very musical family and both children inherited a love of music of all sorts. Molly played the piano and sang. She once composed a whole suite of children's songs for Gabrielle and Nick. During the 1930's, she also did some songwriting. But Gabrielle remembers that her father also composed, once writing an entire comic operetta. So music was no stranger to Nick from the very early beginning on.

As far as the early memories of the family of Nick's interest in music as a young boy, Molly says; "As a child he was always conducting whenever the music started. He always said he was going to be a famous conductor." Rodney: "He was very fond of classical music, he listened to it a lot..." Gabrielle says they both had pianolessons and that Nick used to play the piano alot as a little boy. She also remembers; "When he was three or four, two of his great passions were cowboys and food. I can remember two songs he wrote then, one was a song about a cowboy in a book, called 'Cowboy Small'; "Oh Cowboy Small. All the other cowboys, call Cowboy Small." The other song was about selery and tomatoes."


Nick's schooldays

Nick went to school at Hurst House in Henley-In-Arden. This was about the age of 5. A friend of him, David, remembers it all very well. Nick and he were friends ever since the age of 5. They especially used to play alot from the age of 5 until 7. At the age of 8, he went to prep school at Sandhurst in Berkshire. For about 5 years, except for holidays, Eagle House at school would be 'home'. He did very well there; becoming a prefect and in his final term even head Boy. Already he was proving to be an 'outstanding' athlete and he was a 'fine wing three-quarter' for the Rugby XV. He also was in the schoolchoir and at 13, even appeared in the schoolplay, playing a detective.

In 1962, at the age of 13, Nick went to boarding school at Marlbourough College. He was a fine student and a good athlete. He played rugby there too, on the wing and he was a very quick 100-yarder. (He even won a sprint title at the 1966 Wiltshire Junior Athletics Championships). On occasions, he could also be found on the hockeyfield, and as is remembered, played centre half in the team. Other than sports, of course, there was music. He learned to play several instruments; piano, saxophone, clarinet and of course, the guitar. Nick played in bands too, "The Perfumed Gardeners" being one of them.


Piano

Guitar

In 1965 Nick and some friends went on a 3 week trip through europe. Hitchhiking, they ended up in France where Nick fell in love with the country. Many follow-up trips would follow.

A profile drawn by a teacher at Marlbourough; "He is essentially a rather dreamy, artistic type of boy, very quiet, verging almost on the verge of shyness. [...] A most delightful person to deal with". They seemed to have had their doubts in the beginning, but Nick proved them wrong in the end. "Nicholas Drake is a boy who has taken a long time to mature scholastically. [...] In conclusion I would say that he is a genuine late developer who is only now growing into his academic potential."

There were many a night out on the town, like most students do. Although he seemed to have had a pretty jolly time at Marlbourough College, there however is an alledged quote by Nick describing Marlbourough as a place "where the sensitive experience a horrified dissociation from reality that can sometimes never fade away."

At the end of his time at Marlbourough, Nick and his friend David followed a short brumming course in Birmingham. And in July 1966, because there was almost a year to fill before going to Fitzwilliam College, Nick and three friends set off for France. There'd be evenings with bonfires where Nick would sing and play his guitar. Michael Maclaran: "[...] it was often getting light by the time the last night's party was ending and Nick would still be strumming away. Nick was a performer and yet despite the many people who would gather, most of them well lubricated, the sessions never became raucous singalongs; he didn't play to the crowd. Every string of his guitar seemed to be playing a complementary tune and his repeating melodies cast a mesmerizing spell. Very few left early for home."

After the holiday, Nick spent a short time in Tanworth before setting of for London to stay with his sister Gabrielle. It was a brief stay, before spending Christmas at Far Leys and then he set off again for France in January 1967. He and two friends were booked into the Faculty of Foreign Students at the Aix-Marseilles University. It would be a 4-month period in Aix-en-Provence. By then Nick had become more and more interested in playing the guitar. He also met Robin Frederick when he was in Aix-en-Provence, with whom he spend a little time playing the guitar and singing songs. It is here, in Aix, that people remember him writing his first own songs. (among which; 'Bird Flew By', 'Time Of No Reply' and 'Strange Meeting II')


Robin Frederick (1967)

Nick (also ca. 1967)

Simon Crocker: "That was the first time one became aware that he was, you know, a songwriter... It wasn't surprising, but one was surprised at how good they were. [...] He was there playing all the time... it was just one of those things: 'Oh, Nick's done a song. It's rather good. Let's hope he's got another one."

It was here too, that Nick tried some seances, became very much interested and involved, but got scared off after an incident with one seance. Aix was a jump into the deep for them all, since all they had known were the safe surroundings of boarding school. Now they had to seem to get by more on their own and were confronted with lots of new things. It had an impact on all of them. One could also feel a gradual change in Nick. Simon: "[...]He became more serious I think and to a degree lost some of his light-heartedness.[..]." In March 1967, towards the end of their stay, Nick decided to go to Marocco and stayed there for a few weeks. His friend Jeremy stayed in Aix, for he had a girl coming over from England. It seemed that Nick had become more drug-orientated after that trip to Marocco. He was already smoking joints, but it seemed to have taken a step up. Some say he tried LSD there, others are convinced he didn't. One might just best describe it as teenage forays into drugs. Which was quite common at the time.


"Must be I've been smoking too long..."

Another nice point to mention: "...and while we were in Marrakesh, Mick Jagger was there with Cecil Beaton.[...] Then one evening we were in some restaurant in Marrakesh and Jagger was there with a couple of girls and we persuaded Nick, who was very shy, to go and play for them, which he did. And they were more than polite..."

Before finally going to college again, Nick again spent some time at home and in London with his sister.
After this, in October 1967, he went to Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge. All in all, looking back, Nick seemed like the average, normal student, coming home on holidays, having fun with friends and he even had a girlfriend around the age of 17.

Unlike Marlbourough, on which Nick left a real and lasting impression, Fitzwilliam College has precious few memories of Nick Drake. He spent alot of time visiting friends at other colleges, mainly at Selwyn and Caius. The memories that are there of Nick in those days are by friends. "[...] He looked... fragile, like something could happen to him. Yet he was observing at the same time; a very, very fine balance. An almost... translucent person." Paul Wheeler: "He always held himself very well, always looked healthy, so there was that - a word you always hear about Nick - elegance." However they do think Nick was rather aware of the way he looked and the image he produced.

Besides listening to music voraciously, Nick was quietly, determinedly, working at his own songwriting and trying the results out on his friends. They all share clear and fond memories of informal sessions when he played his own songs. And on some occassions, when more people would play along, they'd have jamsessions. At that time he was about to record 'Five Leaves Left'.

Nick never performed much before the bigger audiences. But it was in London that Nick was discovered by Fairport Convention's bassist Ashley Hutchings, while performing at the Roundhouse. "[...] He sang well, he played well enough, the songs were interesting. But it was Nick the person; Nick the figure on-stage which really registered. That is what made a really strong impression on me." He then alerted his manager, Joe Boyd, who then contacted Nick. Nick submitted a demo-tape, in which Boyd found something special. "I just thought it was great, really an unique talent." Things started rolling and Nick was able to start recording his own songs.


Joe Boyd

Robert Kirby

Nick, shy as he may have seemed, did know exactly what he wanted for his music. Joe Boyd had asked for somebody to come to arrange
the strings for his first album, whom Joe himself felt was quite good. However Nick was not pleased with the result and he dismissed
the arrangement. When Joe asked him what to do then, Nick simply answered that he knew a guy from college who'd do perfect.
It was Robert Kirby. Although Robert was yet quite unexperienced and Joe had his doubts at first, it turned out to be most perfect.

Nick never completed his degree. He dropped out of school in 1969, just twelve months ahead of Finals to devote himself completely to his music. His father was not too happy about that, as all parents are naturally, for they all want their children to have some sort of diploma at hand just in case, but he respected his son's choice eventually.

Nick moved down to London and took a room in a house on Haverstock Hill in Hampstead. There he wrote the songs for Bryter Layter. The albums though, didn't really sell very well. And the very few performances he did give during that time, due to lack of respect and interest of the audience (and perhaps his music is just not really meant to be played for crowded, entertainment-hungry places), seemed to have cured him from going on stage forever. It was the lack of succes that would have a great impact on Nick, as well as on the so-called depression later on. Early in 1971, Nick moved back to Far Leys, where he would spend most of the last years of his life.

When Joe Boyd, who had become a good friend of Nick's, left the UK in 1971 and quit Island Records, Nick started to feel increasingly isolated. He had become more and more withdrawn and his parents tried to persuade him to see a psychiatrist. He didn't want to at first, seeing it as a failure, but after a talk with Joe Boyd, who convinced him there was no shame in it whatsoever to seek help if one needs it, he did go to a psychiatrist. It was then he was prescribed the anti-depressants. Nick tried to stop the medication on several accounts, trying to get through this on his own, but fell back even deeper each time and started using them again.

Friends at that time recall him sitting alone in a chair, not moving, just staring, completely silent. He could nolonger communicate. Chris Blackwell at Island records offered Nick to stay over at his villa in Spain to recuperate. It seemed to have had a good impact on Nick, because when he got back, he contacted the engineer John Wood and said he wanted to make a record. After the conclusion of the second night's recording, John asked how he wanted the 11 songs arranged. Nick responded; "I don't want it arranged. No frills." It would be a very short album, even though 11 songs. John Wood had his reservations, but afterwards admitted: "I wouldn't want any more. If something's that intense, it can't be measured in minutes."

Nick handed the tape off at island Records where it was received with surprise. But the depression deepened afterwards. Pink Moon didn't sell very well either. He withdrew further and further. He wondered why he was so deep down, while everybody kept telling him how talented he was. He felt he had failed though.

He did realise something was wrong and he checked himself into a psychiatric hospital, but emerged unchanged. He had his ups and downs. He expressed an interest in computer programming, but lasted only one day on the course. His mother remembers talking to his friends later on; "They all said he just went away into a world where none of us could reach him."


Nick at the last photosession for 'Pink Moon'

Yet Nick found the strength and inspiration to record four more songs in February 1974. But they were the last he ever recorded. His mother remembers: "Those last four songs were supposed to be the beginning of another album. But the idea of having to do all the business of another record and all the contracts, I think it just was more at that stage than Nick could cope with. But I don't know. You see, towards the end of his life, he was so very much better."

Midway through 1974, his parents noticed a brighter aspect to their son. He again went to France to meet up with Françoise Hardy, who had already before shown interest in his work, to maybe write some songs for her. But after a while, Nick was home again at Far Leys. Françoise: "[...] It is the soul which comes out of his songs that touched me deeply - romantic, poetic... but also the refined melodies. As well as the very individual timbre of his voice, which added to the melanchony of the whole thing. Nick seemed - and was no doubt - so shy, so wrapped up in himself, that in retrospect I am asthonished that he managed to come and see me two or three times, even knowing that I appreciated his enormous talent. Communication between us was never great, but I had the impression that to know himself appreciated, loved, gave him confidence; and that to feel that his silent presence was accepted was enough for him."

Nick experiened trouble with sleeping. At home, on several nights he would go downstairs, get a little something to eat and his mother would often wake up by the sound and join him. They'd have a little chat and then would be off to bed again. In the early morning of November 25, 1974, this was the case again. Nick couldn't sleep, went downstairs and had a bowl of cornflakes. However, on this occasion, his mother did not wake up. Even though he was doing a bit better, the family had put away sleepingpills and strong medications, just to be sure. The anti-depressant were not regarded as 'dangerous' in any way. Nick took them to feel better and to calm down. Maybe he felt he needed to calm down. Maybe he thought the anti-depressants would help him sleep, so he could finally get a good night's rest. Maybe he didn't care anymore at that particular moment whether taking more of them could be dangerous or not. Maybe he was fed up and did hope it would be dangerous. Maybe he just wanted something to change. But he took some extra of one of the anti-depressants, that he often used to help him sleep; Tryptizol. Nobody ever warned the family that they were dangerous and one would better not go over the prescribed dose. Nobody warned them that this particular anti-depressant and the other two he was taking could cause heart-disturbances. Whether Nick had any idea or not of this fact remains unknown. His parents think, that like them, he didn't know.


Read more about Tryptizol

When Nick came up into his room again, he passed out over the bed and his heart gave in. Laying across the bed, with Bach's Brandenburger Concertos on his turn-table, he passed away. The next morning, his mother, who'd often let him sleep in, thought it was time for him to get up and went to wake him. "The first thing I saw was his long, long legs..."

It is not precisely known how many extra pills he took. Whether they were quite a lot or just a few. Due to the strongness of the pills, the effect might have been the same. One might also wonder, that because his father Rodney died of a heart-attack, even though it was at an old age, one does not know whether this problem was already in the family, Nick might have already had a slightly weaker heart, thereby increasing the effect of the pills. The coroner's verdict was suicide, a ruling which the family contested. Many doubt. Some think it was indeed suicide, others think it was unintended, again others just don't know. His sister Gabrielle said: "I personally prefer to think Nick comitted suicide, in the sense that I'd rather he died because he wanted to end it than it to be the result of a tragic mistake. That would seem to me to be terrible: for it to be a plea for help that nobody hears."

At the funeral it seemed many of the people and friends of Nick didn't know each other. Nick had kept his life and the people he knew well-ordered and apart, thus creating several bits of lifes. He was cremated and then his remains were buried at the Tanworth-In-Arden's church Mary Magdalena's graveyard, under a great, beautiful oak; probably one of the most beautiful places there. The family had a line from one of his lyrics, very suitable, engraved on the back of the stone: "And now we rise and we are everywhere." By now, his father and mother have joined him, their names have been added to the stone. Gradually Nick's fame and recognition for his music started growing as the years passed by. Nicholas Rodney Drake passed away on November 25, 1974, but a legend was born. Romantized and well-appreciated by now. Speculations run wildly on the meaning of his lyrics, his life and of course, his death. Still nobody knows what truly happened that night. If one would ask Nick whether it was suicide or not, for maybe he didn't even know himself, he'd probably answer something like: "Maybe... yes..."

And with that, still leaving all questions open...