In the inlay of Nick Drake’s album Bryter Layter there is a photo of the English folk musician meandering in what looks like a park overlooking industry on the fringes of a town. It may not be everyone’s idea of an evocative image, but it is to me.
It reminds me of the walks I used to take with my dad through areas of the Peak District in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. We didn’t have a car, so we’d start out from some station and spend the day making our way back there via some tough inclines and some incredible views.
But what sticks with me are those moments on the edge of the small towns we’d move through, Matlock or Totley or some such, the point at which the fields start to become sprawling parks and then roads with houses and the odd pub.
They seemed to signify something for me, a combination of the possibility of people and the openness of space, the freedom to disappear. A unique junction where choice becomes irrelevant and both options are equally available.
For most of my life I’ve wanted to be somewhere else. Not exactly in a ‘the grass is greener’ type way, but more the belief that somewhere I might find a place where I might be happy. Anywhere but where I currently was, what I was currently doing.
Somewhere back in my childhood I convinced myself that I would find that place, when grown up, when I’d got what I wanted. Eventually I worked out that I was the common factor, that what I was actually trying to escape was myself. The dream was not a dream, it was an illusion.
It’s in those moments of letting go that things work better, when I manage to enjoy an experience rather than thinking consciously about whether it’s making me happy or not. Nick Drake’s music is always one such experience. Although he only produced three albums before his death in 1974, his music is still an unending treasure trove for me.
Often seen as a poster boy for the doomed and melancholic singer-songwriter, his music is actually far more earthily real than tortured. Each album, each song, is arranged so perfectly that it sounds like it must have grown in a garden instead of being sculpted in a studio. The pause before the main theme re-emerges in ‘Three Hours’, the growing heavenly chimes towards the end of ‘Northern Sky’, the quietly grandiose and sweepingly beautiful ‘Place To Be’. His music is better than a dream, because it is so very real.
And that’s how Nick Drake has helped me. By reminding me that dreams are nice but they’re not life, they’re not living. That’s what’s important, wherever and whatever it turns out to be.