London Days

I was Gary Thain's girlfriend since 1966 when he came to Germany with his New Zealand Band and stayed there for almost two years. Later he joined the Keef Hartley Band and went back to London. At this time I was still going to school, but also I was already a singer in an Austrian students' band 'The Jazz Ambassadors'. I used to spend my school holidays and long weekends at Gary's home in London. When I was over there in the summer of 1969 I met Nick Drake at Battersea Park accidentally, when he was using my hideaway place, a hidden bench in a bunch of bushes. He asked me to stay (so you see, he was not too shy to talk to a girl!) and we talked about music and books. At this time he was twenty one and I was fourteen. Although I realized that he looked gorgeous, I was not so much impressed with his looks, but with his voice, which was deep and soft, and with his eyes showing a hint of a smile. The same day I found out, that he was a friend of Gary, who met him about three months before, when Nick was playing a gig, where Gary introduces himself and Nick came to his place to play guitar together afterwards.

Soon Nick was part of our relationship, being around a lot. He had a key to our flat in Chelsea and turned up at any time of the day or night. Later on he even had his own room there. As we all were night owls, it often happened that we were playing and singing all night long. Usually Nick and Gary on guitar, me on flute. Luckily the only other person who lived in the house was an almost deaf old lady in the downstairs flat.

Nick was very interested in literature too, we both used to read the same books at the same time and then discussing them for hours. We both loved Shakespeare and Blake, later on he introduced me to Keats, Byron, Shelley, Poe and other English greats. Because I was seven years younger, he was a great mentor for me. Blake's poems were a great influence for Nick's lyrics, and the music of J.S. Bach inspired some of his songs. Nick loved the music of Bach, I used to play the 'Badinerie' on flute for him, but he also loved Mozart (the Clarinet Concert was one of his favourites and also the Piano Sonatas KV 331 and 333) and other composers like Schubert, Mussorgsky, Ravel, Strawinsky and Grieg. Apart from classic music we listened to John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Miles Davis, The Band (The Big Pink) amongst many others.

Nick loved to be at the beach or on the shores of a rover, we often spent an afternoon at the sea, just sitting there and looking into the water in comfortable quietness, when it was too cold to swim. Although London was a great place to be, Nick used to be a lot out in the different parks, especially in the dawn he loved to be there.

From the first moment Nick got to know me, he tried to get me away from Gary. He was very determined, almost obstinate, but this didn't affect the close friendship of all three of us. When Gary had an affair with another girl, I left him and was together with Nick then, who at this time was in a bad shape because Joe Boyd his producer and friend had left for America. Nick was so disappointed and somehow lost his orientation. His records didn't sell well too, and so he was dispirited and retired. Probably at that time his friends often didn't know what to do with him, because he never had been easy to approach. But Nick was still practicing a lot or listening to classic and blues records to improve his style. He still went to gigs of other guitar players, to watch them play. He was still reading a lot and even continued to write poems again, what he had started earlier in his Cambridge time.

His parents urged him to come back to their home and he moved back to Tanworth, although he frequently came down to London. I had finished the last year of my school and was preparing to move to London, when Nick started to feel a lot better after holidays in France and he recorded some songs for his next record. I was said to get a job at the Austrian embassy, which would have given us a fresh start and would have solved some of Nick's financial problems. But before it happened, Nick died. A couple of days before, he had given me a phone call and played a new song through the line, ......it never appeared again.

I am working for a publishing company and some of Nick's stories will appear in my next book on Gary Thain, which will be out 2006.

To all of Nick's fans and lovers of his music I would like to post a message.
Please forget the 'tragic poet' image that was attached to Nick after his death. He loved life so much and was fighting hard against his dark moods. Please do not try to explain his lyrics as his feelings only. He was very impressed with the Blues, with Blake's poems, and also with French chansons, which also sound quite melancholic.
He just wanted to express his music, he didn't want to show his very inner self. He wrote songs like Parasite, Fruit Tree,.... some years before he died, when he was a fairly happy person, so the words of his songs have little to do with the disappointments and dark moods he had later in his life. (Although I have to admit that there are a few of his last songs, which are a message to certain people, who surely know.)

Most of the time of his life he was a happy person, and even when he had his bad patches he was a very lovable and soft hearted person, with whom you could never get cross. Even to me he didn't explain his lyrics that much, he thought, one should just listen and create one's own emotions. He himself paid a lot more attention to his guitar playing than to his voice. So if there is a message in his songs, it is in his guitar playing, and this is the real Nick Drake, mesmerizing, uplifting, full of spirit and power.

~

Copyright Sonja Wagner 2005

~

Please note;
This story has been written by Sonja Wagner and has not been edited in any way.

 

A few of the many records that Nick and I used to listen to:

 

Mozart Clarinet Concert, Piano Sonatas KV 331 and 333
Bach Brandenburg Concertos, (his favourite was nr. 4), Goldberg Variations
(Glenn Gould 1955), Italian Concerto, Air and Badinerie, Toccatas
Strawinsky Le Sacre du Printemps
Edvard Grieg In the Land of the Midnightsun
Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition (piano version)
Ravel Bolero
Schubert Fantasia C Major D 760 "Wandererfantasie"
Beethoven Variations 'Diabelli', Piano Sonata op. 111
   
   
John Coltrane Giant Steps, A Love Supreme
Charles Mingus Town Hall Concert (Tour 64), Ah Hum
Miles Davis Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain (also the classic version of Rodrigo)
The Band The Big Pink
Keef Hartley Band Halfbreed
Emerson Lake and Palmer Pictures at an Exhibition
Miller Anderson Bright City
Pentangle Basket of Light, Sweet Child
Fairport Convention Unhalfbricking, What we did on our Holidays
Jaques Brel La Fanette 5
Leonard Cohen Songs from a Room

 

Some pictures of places where Nick used to go

Sound Technics (studio)
(formerly 'The Old Dairy')

'The Pillars Of Hercules' (1)

'The Pillars Of Hercules' (2)
     

'The Coach & Horses'