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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Nick Drake

Nick Drake (1948-1974) was an English songwriter. He emerged in the late 1960s as a startlingly mature talent, releasing his first album ‘Five Leaves Left’ in 1969 aged just 21. In the following five years of his life, he composed a unique canon of songs, characterised by unorthodox tunings and melodies and a distinctive finger-picking style. It is thought that the mystical themes often explored in his lyrics were influenced in part by his study at Cambridge of poets such as Yeats and William Blake.


Nick Drake

Drake did not achieve widespread recognition or commercial success in his lifetime. A shy and introspective person, he was in many ways ill-suited to the music industry and was reticent about interviews or promotional activities. At the same time, he understandably longed for his music to reach a wider audience, particularly given the very high regard in which he was held by many of his contemporaries, including John Cale and Fairport Convention, both of whom featured on some of his recordings.


These factors no doubt contributed to the depressive illness he suffered in the final years of his life. It is well documented that he experienced symptoms of low mood and insomnia, and at times became very socially withdrawn and isolated. He sought comfort in his highly supportive family and had many concerned friends, one of whom was the Scottish songwriter John Martyn, who wrote his classic song ‘Solid Air’ (see below) about Drake and his experience of depression. Despite this support and his brave struggle with his illness, Nick Drake died tragically from an overdose of antidepressant medication in 1974, aged just 26. It is unclear if his death was accidental.


Nick Drake’s legacy is nonetheless a source of hope to many. In spite of his severe depression, he created a body of work that posthumously gained enormous critical acclaim and provided an inspiration to a generation of musicians as well as solace to many people affected by mental health problems. To showcase the wonderful and deceptively simple combination of intricate guitar playing with his inimitable vocal styling, I have chosen the song ‘Which Will’, from his final album ‘Pink Moon’.







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Thank you for this. I am inspired to take some Nick Drake away on holiday with me next week and get to know him better. I watched the documentary some years ago and thought it was really moving. I will be following your blog with interest.

BW Maria

Great read. Well done!

Josephine Sheehan

The contrast across the three albums is really telling: From the youthful idealism of Five Leaves Left, to the bombast of Bryter Layter, where Nick seems disinterested in, or in some way immune to the different layers of production wrestling for attention, and then the fragility of Pink Moon with its stark, stripped-back approach.

Not always easy to listen to, but this is unrivalled songwriting and guitar mastery. All the more tragic that his 'skin too few' left him so vulnerable in a time where his talent was largely unappreciated.

Would heartily recommend "Way to Blue" for reflection of his classical upbringing, and "At the Chime of a City Clock" for overkill that has turned into a bit of a personal guilty pleasure. I am unable to choose between "Parasite", "Things Behind the Sun" and "From the Morning" for the aforementioned deceptive simplicity .

Can I also recommend Family Tree/Time of No Reply as collections of rarities? - 'Black Eyed Dog' needs little explanation here.

Mike Akroyd

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Minds in Music

Minds in Music

  John Tully  


Dr John Tully is a forensic psychiatrist and researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, London. He is also a musician and is interested in the role of the arts in mental health.