Nick Drake - Bryter Layter (1970)
Drake ended his studies at Cambridge just nine months before graduation, and in autumn 1969 moved to London to concentrate on a career in music. His father remembered "writing him long letters, pointing out the disadvantages of going away from Cambridge...a degree was a safety net, if you manage to get a degree, at least you have something to fall back on; his reply to that was that a safety net was the one thing he did not want." Drake spent his first few months in the capital drifting from place to place, occasionally staying at his sister's Kensington flat, but usually sleeping on friends’ sofas and floors. Eventually, in an attempt to bring some stability and a telephone into Drake's life, Boyd organised and paid for a ground floor bedsit in Belsize Park, Camden.
In August, Drake recorded three unaccompanied songs for the BBC's John Peel show. Two months later, he opened for Fairport Convention at the Royal Festival Hall in London, followed by appearances at folk clubs in Birmingham and Hull. Remembering the performance in Hull, folk singer Michael Chapman commented: "The folkies did not take to him; [they] wanted songs with choruses. They completely missed the point. He didn't say a word the entire evening. It was actually quite painful to watch. I don't know what the audience expected, I mean, they must have known they weren't going to get sea–shanties and sing-alongs at a Nick Drake gig!" The experience reinforced Drake's decision to retreat from live appearances; the few concerts he did play around this time were usually brief, awkward, and poorly attended. Drake seemed unwilling to "perform", and rarely addressed his audience. As many of his songs were played in different tunings, he frequently paused to retune between numbers.
Although the publicity generated by Five Leaves Left was minor, Boyd was keen to build on what momentum there was. 1970's Bryter Layter, again produced by Boyd and engineered by Wood, introduced a more upbeat, jazzier sound. Disappointed by his debut's poor commercial performance, Drake sought to move away from his pastoral sound, and agreed to his producer's suggestions to include bass and drum tracks on the recordings. "It was more of a pop sound, I suppose", Boyd later said, "I imagined it as more commercial." Like its predecessor, the album featured musicians from Fairport Convention, as well as contributions from John Cale on two songs: "Northern Sky" and "Fly". Trevor Dann has noted that while sections of "Northern Sky" sound more characteristic of Cale, the song was the closest Drake came to a release with chart potential. In his 1999 biography, Cale admits to taking heroin during this period, and his older friend Brian Wells began to suspect that Drake was also using. Both Boyd and Wood were confident that the album would be a commercial success, but it went on to sell fewer than three thousand copies. Reviews were again mixed: while Record Mirror praised Drake as a "beautiful guitarist—clean and with perfect timing, [and] accompanied by soft, beautiful arrangements", Melody Maker described the album as "an awkward mix of folk and cocktail jazz".
Soon after the release, Boyd sold Witchseason to Island Records, and moved to Los Angeles to work with Warner Brothers in the development of soundtracks for film. The loss of this key mentor figure, coupled with the album's poor sales, led Drake to further retreat into depression. His attitude to London had changed: he was unhappy living alone, and visibly nervous and uncomfortable performing at a series of concerts in early 1970. In June, Drake gave one of his final live appearances at Ewell Technical College, London. Ralph McTell, who also performed that night remembered that "Nick was monosyllabic. At that particular gig he was very shy. He did the first set and something awful must have happened. He was doing his song, "Fruit Tree", and walked off halfway through it. Just left the stage." His frustration turned to depression, and in 1971 Drake was persuaded by family to visit a psychiatrist at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was prescribed a course of antidepressants, but he felt uncomfortable and embarrassed about taking them, and tried to hide the fact from his friends. He knew enough about drugs to worry about their side effects, and was concerned about how they would react with his regular cannabis intake.
Nick Drake - Bryter Layter (1970)