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Song Of The Month July 2011: “Time Has Told Me” by Nick Drake

July 28, 2011

In July 1968, recording began on Nick Drake’s debut album, “Five Leaves Left” and following lengthy delays it finally was released into the public domain in the September of the following year. The album did not sell well and this fate would be beset to his next two albums. Nick Drake died aged just 26 in November 1974 alone, penniless and ignored. What has occurred since his death has been nothing short of remarkable and his appeal rather than diminish with the passing of time, has only grown and continues to grow as new audiences come across the music he left behind.

“Time Has Told Me” is the opening track on Drake’s debut album, “Five Leaves Left” and serves for many as the entry into the musical landscape provided by Nick Drake over the course of the little amount of material he had put to record. The song itself is simplistic in format with Drake’s vocal and acoustic guitar accompanied by electric guitar played by Richard Thompson as well as bass. The shimmer of the song is at times called into question by a piano that does tend to seem a tad excessive in places but nonetheless, it all serves its purpose in padding out the sound and creating adequate layers. Beneath the pastoral layers of sound, Drake’s quintessentially English delivery of his introspective lyrics is the true heartbeat of his music. His lyrics, consciously or subconsciously, reveal elements of the character of the man himself and in some instances are hauntingly prophetic of his own circumstances: evidence in which lies in the track “Fruit Tree” from “Five Leaves Left”. As for “Time Has Told Me” the song is somewhat self-explanatory lyrically speaking and seems a perfectly gentle introduction to the album. “Five Leaves Left”, named after the message contained in packs of Rizla cigarette papers, is a fantastic example of an artist being encapsulated in one record. It’s an excellent point to start from for those willing to embark on the search for Nick Drake.

“Nick Drake’s music brushes the ear. The intentions may be dark but the execution is light”
– Robyn Hitchcock.

The very attributes that prevented him achieving success – his shyness and his reclusive state- while he walked the Earth, now only serve to enhance said enigmatic image. The enigmatic image appeals to its audience as a person is allowed to ponder just what the man himself was truly like and with very little visual recording of Drake, the person is encouraged to use their imagination and thus engages the audience. The music itself only adds layers to this and what is presented to a modern listener is a genuinely-troubled man who was highly skilled with a guitar in hand and played in a determination that appears brisk if only for a moment before the breeze of melancholy comes through and the audience is left searching for imagery amid the vivid metaphors provided via his lyrics. In the world of the tell-all accounts, it resembles something of a rarity and is one often seized by those willing to think beyond the realms of music-by-image.

“His compositions leave an aura of mystery, like pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly even though the picture is never completed”
– Tony Reif

“Five Leaves Left” was released with virtually no marketing or advertising of any sort but it was all part of a strategy by Island Records as the plan was to let Drake’s music avoid hype and instead let people discover it, creating a bond between the listener and having a strong passionate fanbase. The plan proved to be correct but unfortunately not soon enough for Drake to witness it.

Many artists have claimed to have been influenced by Nick Drake and indeed the line from “Times Has Told Me”, “a troubled cure for a troubled mind” was credited as the inspiration for the naming of The Cure according to the band’s main-man Robert Smith. Nick Drake’s emergence into public consciousness came about when Dream Academy had a massive hit with the song “Life in a Northern Town” and stated that the song was greatly inspired by Nick Drake in a radio interview. Collective eyebrows were raised and it started an increase in popularity for Drake which would simmer nicely before reaching stratospheric heights when a track of his was used in a Volkswagen Polo television advertisement. So much so that in the space of one month, Nick Drake album sales would be higher than the previous 30 years combined. It makes his passing all the more tragic and yet his music all the more poignant.

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