Monday, 7 September 2015

"Five Leaves Left" by NICK DRAKE (2000 Universal/Island CD – John Wood/Simon Heyworth Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...A Very Rare Find..."

The very stuff of legend – 1969 British vinyl LP first pressings of Nick Drake's beautiful Island Records debut album "Five Leaves Left" have been attaining as much as a grand on the open auction market in the right condition. 

Said to have sold less than 500 copies – genuine 1st issues on the fabled 'pink' Island label are notoriously rare. But its one of those occasions where the money is warranted because when you hear this (now cheap as chips) CD remaster of that magnificent beginning – you wonder how in God's name did something this beautiful and brilliant go largely unnoticed?  

Whatever you look at it - 'masterpiece' is a liberally overused phrase in reviewing – but in this case it may even be inadequate. 'Time Has Told Us' indeed - here are the 'Way To Blue' details:

UK released June 2000 – "Five Leaves Left" by NICK DRAKE on Island IMCD 8 (Barcode 042284291521) plays out as follows (41:45 minutes)

1. Time Has Told Me
2. River Man
3. Three Hours
4. Way To Blue
5. Day Is Done
6. 'Cello Song [Side 2]
7. The Thoughts Of Mary Jane
8. Man In A Shed
9. Fruit Tree
10. Saturday Sun
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Five Leaves Left" - his debut vinyl album released 1 September 1969 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9105. Its first US issue came in 1976 on Antilles Records AN-7010.

The 12-page booklet produces the lyrics for all the songs, track-by-track credits, has some photos of master tape boxes and a photograph of hand-written lyrics. It’s a shame though that there aren’t any explanatory liner notes – especially for such a beautiful record – but all that goes out the window once you lay your tired lugs on the masterful Audio...

Originally Produced by JOE BOYD – JOHN WOOD and SIMON HEYWORTH have handled the 24-bit CD remaster at Chop-Em-Out in London and they've done a truly beautiful job. There have been other reissues since 2000 (especially the 5CD "Tuck Box" from 2013 which I've reviewed extensively) but all have used these remasters and with such sweetly crisp and warm audio – why not. A gorgeous sounding CD – now to the music...

Taking its title from a message you receive in a packet of Rizlas for roll-your-own cigarettes (you've "Five Leaves Left") – it opens with Danny Thompson of Pentangle on Double Bass supporting Drake on Acoustic guitar for the beautiful "Time Has Told Me". He's joined on Piano by future Manassas keyboardist Paul Harris (Stephen Stills' band) and equally nice guitar licks from Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson. The primarily acoustic "River Man" shows up the remaster - rolling Spanish acoustic guitar – stunning String arrangements by Harry Robinson – it's the kind of melancholy song that will stop you in your tracks – both touching and magisterial at one and the same time. Danny Thompson returns on Bass but this time with the added percussion of Rocki Dzidzornu on Congas (he turns up again on "'Cello Song") for the stunning "Three Hours". The song is a kind of Jazz-Folk trip – like John Martyn at his Folk-Soul best. It's at this point that you have to double-take – how could something as utterly brilliant as "Three Hours" have gone unnoticed in September 1969? Then you’re hammered with more gorgeous String arrangements for "Way To Blue" but this time courtesy of Richard Kirby. Side One ends on the lovely "Day Is Done" again with exquisite String Arrangements from Kirby.

Side 2 opens with my favourite Nick Drake song – a swaying Folk-Rock-Soul tune that’s liable to send me into rapture – "'Cello Song". Everything that's fantastical about his music is contained in this peach. Those acoustic rhythms he builds like England's answer to Tim Buckley – complimented by brilliant players like Danny Thompson on Double Bass and Dzidzornu on Congas. But giving the melody a spine-tingling beauty and sailing over the song's shuffle is a gorgeous drawn Cello note played by Claire Lowther. Surely this was the single Island should have released? Both "The Thoughts Of Mary Jane" and "Man In A Shed" feel like the Folk-Rock of "Stormbringer" by John Martyn – with Paul Harris and Danny Thompson playing Piano and Bass on "Man In A Shed". The 4LP set put out by Island in 1979 and reissued on CD by Hannibal Records in 1986 was called "Fruit Tree" after the album's second last song – another gorgeous string-laden melody (Richard Kirby arrangements). It finishes on the piano-beauty of "Saturday Sun" which Alexis Korner covered on his self-titled Rak Records album in July 1971 (SRAK 501) – I believe he was the first musician to officially cover a Drake song. Tristam Fry plays the Drums and provides those sweet Vibes (he's sessioned for huge swathes of legendary artists including The Beatles and Frank Sinatra).

You could go all the way and purchase the 5CD set "Tuck Box" which has now been reduced in 2015 to a more affordable price. His only other two LPs "Bryter Layter" and "Pink Moon" followed in 1970 and 1972 and made up the perfect triumvirate before he sadly left us in 1974.

"...When I remember those people and places...they were really too good in their way..." – Nick Drake sang on "Saturday Sun". Was he too good for this world? How can something as ethereal and gorgeous as this have gone largely unnoticed in his short life span? It’s hard to know.

Do yourself and your Soul a solid and get this man’s beauty into your life and onto your sound system as soon as possible - because time 'has' told us - Nick Drake is a very rare find indeed...

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