A bit of an unintentional coincidence this week came in the form of stumbling across this curious release (seemingly a 2011 edition given wider distribution on this past Christmas Eve) the same day that I pre-ordered a vinyl reissue of a record made by her son. So with that in mind, this was an irresistible purchase.
Nick Drake’s legacy has been remarkably well-preserved, with decisions made about what gets released and when made with the utmost care by his estate and with the support of seemingly everyone he ever came into contact with during his short life. It has to be said that this has all been done perfectly, with great consideration taken over the way that his songs (and, by extension, his story) have been put out and kept in the public’s grasp by sparing releases, well-chosen licensing and – thanks to Joe Boyd – ensuring that things are kept on shelves so that forty years on, people still get to truly discover Nick’s music by a form of quiet, polite, persistent suggestion rather than overt marketing blah.
This collection of songs from Molly Drake, Nick’s mother, is no exception. This lavish package (of 500 privately-printed copies) contains not only 19 songs recorded by Molly at the family piano but also a collection of her poetry written largely in the 1940s, with an epilogue provided from 1992. The songs themselves are – as with previous Nick Drake collection Family Tree - home recordings never intended for the world outside Far Leys that were recorded by her husband Rodney from 60 years ago, cherished and curated by daughter Gabrielle (who yet again provides a beautiful written introduction here) and given a clean and polish by John Wood – Nick’s friend, studio engineer, and producer on Pink Moon. The only way to describe the various processes that have found their way from home piano to here is that everyone involved has poured their collective hearts and souls into this, and it is apparent throughout.
One thing that rings especially true in this collection is Gabrielle’s statement that “when people speculate about the influence on Nick Drake, they overlook the most obvious one”. There is much here that reminds me of her son’s work: some is obvious such as How Wild The Wind Blows (which can be heard playing during the film A Skin Too Few) and Poor Mum (also appearing on Family Tree), which carries the same musical phrasing of Nick’s work; but it’s elsewhere that provides the deeper interest, as lyrically this isn’t the stuff of colonial middle-class housewife idyll. As with her son, Molly carried shadows through her life, which she expressed (and hopefully exorcised) through her poetry and music. Love Isn’t A Right comes across as a cautionary tale not normally associated with the usual singalongs of the era, likewise with the self-explanatory Never Pine For The Old Love. For the most part of the 37-minute duration though, the clouds are kept at bay by Molly’s rich voice and gentle songwriting, and the overall feeling from this collection is of a sadness held away with warmth and love. This continues through the included collection of her poetry where the theme throughout the years seems to be that of perseverance through some unnamed darkness; again rather surprising reading but uplifting with it.
One of the oddest and wonderful (and slightly upsetting) side-effects of this collection, the nature of the songs and what Molly puts into them all is that I am suddenly and lucidly struck with a perfect memory of my Dad singing me to sleep (and the specific song) as a child, possibly the earliest memory I have suddenly reappearing after such a long time. That alone makes this album utterly precious. Of course the personal nature of the recordings and release (and the time that has passed since these were first performed) ensures that it’s not something that’s going to get played constantly here, but Molly Drake’s songs are certainly a great lift in bad times and a more than worthy addition to the small and healthy collection of music that surrounds her son.