Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Songs of Molly Drake

In the 1970's the most important member of the Drake family to me was Gabrielle Drake who was one of the stars of the cult Gerry Anderson TV series UFO. Although they only ever made 26 episodes of UFO it seemed to be on all the time and it became as totemic to me as Star Trek, Dr. Who and the nihilistic Blake's Seven. By the 1980's my UFO phase was over and I was beginning to listen to the albums of Gabrielle Drake's brother, Nick. Everybody knows who Nick Drake is these days but in the 80's, if he was remembered at all, he was recalled as the painfully shy posh English folkie who failed to sell many records in his lifetime and (suffering from rejection and depression) ended up overdosing on amitriptyline (possibly accidentally). In the 1980's Nick Drake was still seen as a failure, not as a misunderstood lyrical and musical prodigy out of step with this time. By the 90's of course everything had changed and helped by a series of TV ads for various products a new generation had discovered Drake's music and especially his album Pink Moon
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Nowadays Drake is an established presence in the musical firmament - a proto Jeff Buckley who, like Kurt and Gram and Shannon and Jeff and Marc, left us far too soon: biographies have been written, film projects discussed, his influence name checked from the likes of Regina Spektor to Edward Sharpe, to, er, Taylor Swift. The archives have been trawled for lost songs or lyrics, but unfortunately no lost songs or lyrics have been discovered; however earlier this year, remarkably, an album was released of songs written by his mother Molly Drake in the 1950's. 

You can listen to the album, here

The production values aren't so great as the songs were recorded in the Drake living room on a primitive tape recorder as Molly plays a slightly out of tune stand up piano, but Nick Drake's original engineer Joe Boyd should be given credit for saving these songs from oblivion and remastering what was there. Boyd has said this of Molly's music: "She was the missing link in the Nick Drake story – there, in the piano chords, are the roots of Nick's harmonies" Quite, and also perhaps the roots of Nick's melancholy too. Molly's songs are remarkably atemporal in their longings and sadness. There are strange reflections on birds and forests and on the transitory nature of love and life. The songs are fragile and oddly intense but at the same time very English and emotionally a little chilly. Molly's voice is that of a 1950's housewife (and you really can't help but listen to her lyrics through the prism of Betty Friedan) but there is an exotic quality here too. Nick Drake's parents met in Burma where they both worked for the British Imperial administration in the period George Orwell writes about in his excellent novel Burmese Days and the beautiful essay Shooting An Elephant (if you've never read Shooting An Elephant, rectify that immediately!)
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As I say you can listen to the songs of Molly Drake at bandcamp.com, here and if you buy the album the CD comes with an intimate selection of Molly's poetry and reproductions of family photographs. There are 19 songs and fragments of songs and if you're pressed for time allow me to suggest that you try the haunting How The Wild Wind Blows and the very sad Poor Mum.
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If you've never even heard of Nick Drake a good place to start is with my favourite song: One Of These Things First
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(And I know this is off topic but since I have your attention I'd like to point you in the direction of Crash - the quirky film JG Ballard and Gabrielle Drake made in 1971 about Ballard's obsession with car crashes.)