Friday, February 8, 2008

Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left (1968)

Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left (1968)

Drake began recording his debut album Five Leaves Left later in 1968, with Boyd assuming the role of producer. The sessions took place in Sound Techniques studio, London, with Drake skipping lectures to travel by train to the capital. Inspired by John Simon's production of Leonard Cohen's first album, Boyd was keen that Drake's voice would be recorded in a similar close and intimate style, "with no shiny pop reverb". He also sought to include a string arrangement similar to Simon's, "without overwhelming...or sounding cheesy". To provide backing, Boyd enlisted various contacts from the London folk rock scene, including Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson, and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson. He recruited John Wood as engineer, and drafted Richard Hewson in to provide the string arrangements.

Initial recordings did not go well; the sessions were irregular and rushed, taking place during studio downtime borrowed from Fairport Convention's production of their Unhalfbricking album. Tension arose between artist and producer as to the direction the album should take—Boyd was an advocate of George Martin's "using the studio as an instrument" approach, while Drake preferred a more organic sound. Dann has observed that Drake appears "tight and anxious" on bootleg recordings taken from the sessions, and notes a number of Boyd's unsuccessful attempts at instrumentation. Both were unhappy with Hewson's contribution, which they felt was too mainstream in sound for Drake's songs. Drake suggested using his college friend Robert Kirby as a replacement, although Boyd was skeptical at taking on an amateur music student lacking prior recording experience. However, he was impressed by Drake's uncharacteristic assertiveness, and agreed to a trial. Kirby had previously presented Drake with some arrangements for his songs, and went on to provide a spare chamber music quartet score associated with the sound of the final album. However, Kirby did not feel confident enough to score the album's centerpiece "River Man", and Boyd was forced to stretch the Witchseason budget to hire the veteran composer Harry Robinson, with the instruction that he echo the tone of Delius and Ravel.

Post-production difficulties led to the release being delayed by several months, and the album was poorly marketed and supported when it finally arrived. Reviews in the music press were few and lukewarm. In July, Melody Maker referred to the album as "poetic" and "interesting"; NME wrote in October that there was "not nearly enough variety to make it entertaining" It received little radio support outside of BBC's John Peel, who would occasionally play tracks. Drake was unhappy with the inlay sleeve, which printed songs in the wrong running order and reproduced verses omitted from the recorded versions. His disappointment in the final result is reflected in an interview comment made by his sister Gabrielle: "He was very secretive. I knew he was making an album but I didn't know what stage of completion it was at until he walked into my room and said, 'There you are.' He threw it on to the bed and walked out!"

Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left

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