Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Features

Truth, goodness and beauty of Nick Drake's music still touches the spirit


By Rev Allen Sleith

Looking out the window last week my gaze fell on the lingering foliage of a nearby tree. My thoughts turned immediately to an album by Nick Drake called 'Five Leaves Left' and so began a splurge of listening again to his sublime music.

Like so much of Drake's life and career, there's a mystery in that title. Was it a reference to the melancholy beauty of autumn's turning or the moment he realised his packet of cigarettes was running out, or both?

Drake was a good looking but painfully shy young man when he gained a scholarship to study at Cambridge University in the late 1960s.

Biographers attest to his socially awkward and reclusive nature, but also that he came most fully alive when he was making music.

The online video 'Life of a Fragile Genius' conveys something of the complexity of his temperament and talent.

Quintessentially English, his songs have a universal appeal that is gaining momentum as the years go by.

But it wasn't like that at the time. Drake recorded just three albums which didn't sell well on release.

Some people appreciated his artistry but his discouragement at failing to make a bigger breakthrough was compounded by his sensitivity to having his live gigs drowned out by the raucous background noise of audiences.

Despondency descended into depression and, sadly, in November 1974 he was found dead on his bed in his parents' house aged just 26 having overdosed on antidepressants.

Another lingering mystery: was it suicide or an accident? No one knows for sure.

A multi-instrumentalist, Drake is now recognised as a legendary acoustic guitarist.

He used 14 different tunings, most of which he made up himself, to play in a deceptively difficult style, matched by a uniquely resonant voice and a lyrical pen that have earned him these online comments: "Beyond brilliant!", "As deep in the dream as one can go!" and "Thank you for seeing the layers beneath the cracks".

In the great metaphysical triad of truth, goodness and beauty it's often the first two, religiously speaking, that claim most attention.

It's time to redress that imbalance. Nick Drake's music helps do that. His songs are acoustic jewels braided into a delicate tapestry of beauty, momentary movements as the Spirit shimmers by.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph