While we are all aware of just how far-reaching Nick Drake’s posthumous influence has been, it remains shocking and saddening to see, 30 years on, just how many people will gladly pay nearly 30 quid to hear people even just covering his songs. Tonight, The Dome is rammed - a capacity crowd of more than 3000.
The fact is that without the blessings of those originally involved, these increasingly popular nostalgic revisitings of old works (including the Don’t look Back series and, of course, countless hideous musicals written around bands’ back-catalogues) simply fail. Curated and introduced by Joe Boyd (he of White Bicycles fame), right from the start the evening has an air of authority and authenticity, affirmed by the prescence of Danny Thompson (who played on sessions with Nick) on double bass, an all-star (kind of) cast of singers, and Robert Kirby’s original string arrangements (it’s worth noting that Kirby was 21 when drafted in to arrange Five Leaves Left).
The choice of singers is, for the most part, similarly spot-on. Green Gartside (of Scritti Politti) is perhaps an odd choice, but his high, unwavering voice cuts through just right, with even hints of his own bands’ slick American R’n’B stylings. Robyn Hitchcock is his usual dry, surreal self, and has me and my friend in tears when, having already sung a couple of tunes, picks up a guitar with polka dots that match his shirt perfectly. In the intermission it dawns on me that Nick Drake is one of those artists (much like The Fall) whose songs are extremely hard to reinterpret without sounding like flat emulation, or rather that when a song is played and sung exactly as he did, it is impossible not to simply wish to hear the original recording itself. Tonight Scott Mathews, Vashti Bunyan, Teddy Thompson and Lisa Hannigan are all well and good (the latter leading a particularly rousing Black Dog), but it’s relative newcomer Krystle Warren who brings the house down with an intense, jazzy take on Time Has Told Me. I’d not heard of her before this evening, but her performance literally stole the show. Likewise, Robyn Hitchcock and Green Gartside make no point of tempering their own, unique voices to ‘suit’ the songs, and are all the more affecting for it.
Predictably, the main set ends with a straight take on Pink Moon (with Cor Anglais in the piano solo....why?). While I can’t fault the musical direction, or the mix (perfect throughout), we all know the records, and I couldn’t help wishing for something completely bonkers to offset all the reverence. Still, a fitting tribute to both Nick Drake and Robert Kirby. May people still be digging those record in another 30 years!!