nick drake OAP

Dead at 26, Nick Drake is forever young in the hearts and minds of those who know and love his music.

So it’s a rather sobering thought that today would have been his 65th birthday.

Being a senior citizen in the UK (presuming he still lived in these islands), he would have qualified as an old age pensioner (or OAP) for a free bus pass and various other benefits.

19th June is a significant day in the story of my own attachment to Nick’s songs.

That’s because it’s 15 years virtually to the day that my radio documentary ‘Fruit Tree: The Nick Drake Story’ was first broadcast on BBC Radio 2 – to mark what would have been his 50th birthday.

I was reminded of this fact in an email the other day from Cally Calloman, who manages Bryter Music – the Estate of Nick Drake.

So much has happened since then in terms of the growth of Nick’s worldwide profile that it’s hard to believe how much of a struggle it was to get that first radio documentary on air.

I first heard Nick’s music on a BBC regional news training course in the summer of 1985.

A fellow course member from Birmingham had brought along a VHS tape of the regional news programme he worked on.

Remarkably it just happened to feature an item about Nick pegged to the then newly-released ‘Heaven In A Wildflower’ compilation issued by Island Records.

Music fan that I was, and still am, I had never heard a note of Nick’s music, and I’m not even sure I’d heard his name mentioned.

But on my return home to Lancashire, I visited my local record store in Bury town centre and there in the racks in the ‘D’ section were three Nick Drake albums on vinyl – ‘Five Leaves Left,’ ‘Bryter Layter’ and ‘Pink Moon.’

I can only think the shop owner was a person of taste and no little musical foresight because those purchases were played again, and again, and again in the years that followed.

As a journalist and broadcast news producer, I was busy making tv programmes.

But once I learned more about Nick’s personal story, I was convinced that it had the makings along with the music of a documentary programme that people would enjoy.

That it took until 1998 for that feeling to turn into reality is in no small part down to a lot of luck.

I was fortunate to have the support of Nick’s family from the early 1990s when I met his sister Gabrielle while she was appearing in a play at the Manchester Opera House.

And later that same week Gabrielle introduced me to their mother Molly backstage.

A few months later, they agreed to do a joint interview in Tanworth in Arden, the Warwickshire village where the Drake family had lived since the early 50s.

That support continued after Molly died in 1993, and armed with the tape of our conversation plus another with Nick’s friend John Martyn, which I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog, I spent the next few years trying to get a tv or radio broadcaster to green light a programme.

Rather wonderfully for me, I made contact with many of the key people in Nick’s story, who were universally enthusiastic about the project.

John Wood, Nick’s engineer and co-producer of ‘Pink Moon,’ was particularly helpful in opening doors to several of those people.

But I am so glad that I got to talk to Nick’s arranger Robert Kirby and Keith Morris, the photographer whose pictures captured the enigma of the man (and one of whose images graces this post), both of whom have died in the last few years.

In the late 90s, it was my good fortune to start doing some work for BBC Radio 2 at about the time its then Controller James Moir was repositioning the network.

Jim had worked with Gabrielle in the late 70s on a BBC light entertainment tv show featuring American Kelly Monteith.

And so it was shortly after Gabrielle had lunched with Jim and talked to him about her little-known musician brother that I turned up at a network ‘pitching’ meeting in Birmingham to put forward prospective programme ideas, and he put two and two together.

Though the reworked 2004 version of the programme narrated by Brad Pitt attracted the most attention, it’s the original 1998 programme narrated by Nick’s bass player Danny Thompson that I’m proudest of.

It’s up in large part on YouTube if you fancy a listen (there are a number of sequences that were lost in the later Brad version).

And BBC Radio 2’s relationship with the music of Nick Drake continues in a special programme this evening hosted by Mark Radcliffe in the network’s folk slot.

I know I won’t be the only one listening.


Fruit Tree – The Nick Drake Story

Nick Drake Special – The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe

Robert Kirby interview – recorded in 1995

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