NICHOLAS RODNEY DRAKE STANDS ALONE, with a twinkle in his eye, on the cusp of a music career that would yield three astonishing solo albums, largely overlooked in their day but rediscovered nearly two decades after his untimely death in 1974, and subsequently raised to a permanent niche in the canon. The above photograph, taken by his friend Julian Lloyd, has been unearthed to take pride of place in Remembered For A While, a lavish new book co-curated by Drake’s sister Gabrielle that commemorates 40 years since the singer-songwriter's death.
Colour versions of the 'poncho' shots will be familiar to Drake fans – indeed one graced the cover of February 1997’s MOJO magazine – but this is the first time these black-and-whites have been seen.
“They sat in the bottom of a box for many years,” Lloyd tells MOJO. “I'd never even printed them up.”
The pictures were all taken on the same day in 1967 or 1968, outside the Hampshire Village of Selborne, not far from Lloyd's parent's home.
“Nick always said he wanted a career as a musician,” recalls Lloyd. “This day was some kind of landmark. I'm not sure if he'd just signed a contract or something, but somehow it had become clear that Nick was going to make a record. So we decided that he would need some photos.”
Drake, Lloyd and pals jumped in a car and headed down to Lloyd's parents', where they picked up that now-iconic stripy throw.
“In hindsight, it does look like an ancient or a holy spot.”
“I have it to this day,” says Lloyd. “My parents bought it on their honeymoon in Spain – I suppose in 1946. It was used as a picnic rug kind of thing. We just grabbed it on a whim. Thought it might be useful.”
Drake and friends found themselves in a cornfield, then followed their noses to a little wooded valley, and found the glade you see in the picture. Pure serendipity, says Lloyd.
“In hindsight, it does look like an ancient or a holy spot. Those red and white mushrooms were growing there. I hesitate to say that that's where the spirits led us... but it was where the day led us, certainly.”
Musician and photographer met through a mutual friend who'd learned French with Drake in Aix. The buddies would hang at Lloyd’s London flat in Stokenchurch St, listening to Bob Dylan records. Then Drake would play some of his songs. Did they realise then how great they were?
“Nick was shy,” says Lloyd. “If we stepped into that room even now I could show you exactly where he'd sit... Those fantastic hands of his made such a big strong noise on the guitar. But Nick himself was very self-effacing. He would bow his head and sing rather softly. But we could tell that it was powerful stuff. Very direct and very personal.”
What was he like as a friend?
“He wasn't a very overt person, but he wasn't overly wrapped up in himself either. He was jolly and smiley – nice, easy company. And I think you can see that in the picture. In later pictures, not by me, he has a look of distress about him that's completely absent here. Here he's just a happy boy on the cusp of manhood.”
Lloyd moved to Ireland as Drake’s recording career unfolded, but would return to find his friend much changed, slipping into the illness that would mar his last years.
“It was shocking and distressing to see,” Lloyd recalls. “He was very ill – as simple as that. Very withdrawn, deeply unhappy and depressed. I hope these days young people are better equipped to find help.”
Unsurprisingly, Lloyd prefers to remember the boy in the woodland grove in 1967 – beautifully framed, lost in some kind of vision...
“You can see those wonderful hands, and those powerful features,” sighs Lloyd. “He had great determination. He was definitely on a mission, and I think you get a sense of that – don’t you – from that photograph.”
Remembered For A While will be published by John Murray on November 6. There are two formats: a hardback edition and a signature boxed edition including an exclusive 10" vinyl of an unreleased recording of five Nick Drake tracks deriving from a lost John Peel session from 1969.
For more information visit www.rememberedforawhile.com.