Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Nick Drake tribute

Way To Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake, Barbican Hall, London, 22 January 2010

Fame is but a fruit tree,’ wrote Nick Drake. The motif was picked up in the sylvan stage décor of entwined branches, and Green Gartside (ex-Scritti Politti) gave us his breathy version of ‘Fruit Tree’ early in this tribute gig curated by Drake’s erstwhile producer Joe Boyd. Drake’s fame has indeed ramified into every corner of our musical life. Many in the sell-out audience weren’t even born when Drake died in obscurity in 1974.

Vocalists took one number each. Krystle Warren was feisty in ‘Time Has Told Me’. With four other soloists as backing, Teddy Thompson delivered a rambunctious ‘Poor Boy’. Robyn Hitchcock was wonderfully mannered in his acid-rock take on ‘Parasite’. Meanwhile, Vashti Bunyan, with her little-girl voice, struggled to assert herself in ‘Which Will’ and Kirsty Almeida swished her gypsy skirt distractingly through ‘Cello Song’.

With his four decades in the business, Joe Boyd must have an address book to die for. Over the years so many high-calibre people have name-checked Drake as an influence. I’ll be honest – given these facts, I found the line-up of soloists a tad underwhelming. Perhaps only Nick Drake can sing Nick Drake. For me the real virtues of the night lay in the band and orchestra and their opening out of Drake’s complex guitar parts. In a eulogy, Boyd paid fitting tribute to the much-missed Robert Kirby, whose delicate arrangements were brought to life here. The house band was anchored by Danny Thompson, the one person on stage who’d actually played with Drake. His double bass rightly prominent in the sound mix, he duetted with the brilliant jazz pianist Zoe Rahman as she switched effortlessly from Debussyan arabesques to free jazz stylings reminiscent of Chris McGregor (piano-player on the original ‘Poor Boy’ recording). Their chemistry, in a number like 'One Of These Things First', shows where the Drake industry should really be heading.

First published in R2 (Rock’n’Reel)

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