Monday 3 July 2023

NIKIPEDIA

The fundamental reason for writing my biography of Nick Drake was to create a factually accurate account of his life. As I worked on it, his estate asked if I would have a go at correcting the blizzard of errors in his Wikipedia entry (and those for his albums). I was - am - barely wiki-literate, but made a start. In no time at all I was blocked for ‘Long-term abuse: vandalism’ by this ‘Administrator’, who promptly undid all my corrections. 


Last week the Guardian interviewed Trevor Dann, whose 2006 volume about Nick is cited throughout the main Wikipedia entry. He remarked that my book – which he hadn’t read – would be ‘Gabrielle’s version of the truth’. My response to that is: the truth is the truth, just as facts are facts.

I’ll set out below the many errors in Nick’s main Wikipedia entry, and those for his three albums. Almost all of them can be corrected by citing the relevant pages in my book (which is thoroughly footnoted and endnoted). I hope that will happen – though even if it does, what remains will still be a strange and partial account of his life and work.


(PS I am of course wide open to reliable contradictions of any of these corrections.)

 

Introduction 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake signed to Island Records when he was 20 years old’ 

CORRECTION 1: Nick agreed to work with Joe Boyd’s Witchseason Productions company when he was 19. He never ‘signed to Island Records’.

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘On completion of his third album, 1972's Pink Moon, he withdrew from both live performance and recording’ 

CORRECTIONS 2 and 3: Nick gave his last known live performance in August 1970, well over a year before recording Pink Moon. After Pink Moon he made numerous attempts to resurrect his recording career. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Whether his death was an accident or suicide has not been resolved.’ 

CORRECTION 4: It was resolved on December 18th 1974, when the coroner carefully examined the evidence and found that Nick had committed suicide by taking a massive, deliberate overdose.  

 

1948–1966: Early life 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Rodney proposed in 1936, though they had to wait a year until she turned 21 before her family allowed them to marry.’ 

CORRECTION 5: This is made up. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘In 1950, the family returned to England to live in Warwickshire’ 

CORRECTION 6: The Drakes returned to England in August 1951  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Encouraged by his mother, Drake learned to play piano at an early age and began to compose songs which he recorded on a reel-to-reel tape recorder that she kept in the family drawing-room’ 

CORRECTION 7: Nick is not known to have composed any songs until 1967

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘he went to Marlborough College, a public school in Wiltshire which had also been attended by his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather’ 

CORRECTION 8: Nick’s great-grandfather did not attend Marlborough 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake played piano in the school orchestra’ 

CORRECTION 9: No, he didn’t. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘In 1963 he attained seven GCE O-Levels’ 

CORRECTION 10: Nick sat six O-Levels in 1963, and passed five  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘In 1965, Drake paid £13 (equivalent to £268 in 2021) for his first acoustic guitar, a Levin’ 

CORRECTIONS 11 and 12: He bought his first guitar in December 1964. It was an Estruch. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘he won a scholarship to study at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge’ 

CORRECTION 13: He neither sought nor won a scholarship to Cambridge.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘He delayed attendance to spend six months at the University of Aix-Marseille’ 

CORRECTION 14: The place he was offered was for October 1967, leaving him with 10 months to fill. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘He most likely began using LSD while in Aix’ 

CORRECTION 15: There is no reliable evidence for this (or for his ever having 'used' LSD). 

 

1967–1969: Cambridge 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake returned to England in 1967 and moved into his sister's flat in Hampstead, London.’ 

CORRECTION 16: His sister never lived in Hampstead. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘In September 1967, Drake met Robert Kirby’ 

CORRECTION 17: This would mean they’d met before starting at Cambridge. They met in January 1968. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘A music student who went on to write many of the string and woodwind arrangements for Drake's first two albums.’ 

CORRECTION 18: Kirby collaborated with Nick on four songs for Five Leaves Left and five for Bryter Layter

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘He began performing in local clubs and coffee houses around London’ 

CORRECTION 19: There is no evidence for Nick having done so at this time, though he played at Les Cousins (and a couple of other venues around London) a few times as of late 1969. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Witchseason Productions, which at the time was licensed to Island Records’ 

CORRECTION 20: Witchseason was licensed to Polydor as of late 1967. Its arrangement with Island began in September 1968.   

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Boyd, who had discovered Fairport Convention and introduced John Martyn and the Incredible String Band to a mainstream audience…’ 

CORRECTION 21: Joe Boyd had had nothing whatsoever to do with John Martyn’s career at this point. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘[Boyd] and Drake formed an immediate bond, and Boyd acted as a mentor to Drake throughout his career.’ 

CORRECTION 22: This is a considerable exaggeration. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Impressed by a four-track demo recorded in Drake's college room…’ 

CORRECTION 23: There is no evidence for where the tape was recorded, but it is highly unlikely to have been in his college room. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘According to Drake's friend Paul Wheeler, Drake had already decided not to complete his third year at Cambridge and was excited about the contract.’ 

CORRECTION 24: Nick had not met Paul Wheeler at this point; Paul Wheeler has never suggested otherwise.    

 

Five Leaves Left (1969) 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake recorded his debut album Five Leaves Left later in 1968, with Boyd as producer.’ 

CORRECTION 25: Nick and Joe began work on Five Leaves Left in February 1968.   

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘He had to skip lectures to travel by train to the sessions in Sound Techniques studio, London.’ 

CORRECTION 26: This is not the case. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘the sessions were irregular and rushed, taking place during studio downtime borrowed from Fairport Convention's production of their Unhalfbricking album.’ 

CORRECTIONS 27 and 28: The Five Leaves Left sessions were regular and leisurely and did not take place during 'studio downtime'. Fairport Convention were one of several other acts Boyd was concurrently working with. For much of 1968 they were working towards What We Did On Our Holidays, not Unhalfbricking.

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Tension arose as to the direction of the album: Boyd was an advocate of George Martin's approach of using the studio as an instrument, while Drake preferred a more organic sound.’ 

CORRECTION 29: This is unfounded. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Kirby had previously presented Drake with some arrangements for his songs.’  

CORRECTION 30: Kirby never ‘presented’ arrangements to Nick; they worked in close collaboration. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Post-production difficulties delayed the release by several months’ 

CORRECTION 31: Work on Five Leaves Left ended in late April 1969, and there were no ‘post-production difficulties’: it was released efficiently two months later. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘It received little radio play outside shows by more progressive BBC DJs such as John Peel and Bob Harris.’ 

CORRECTION 32: John Peel is not known to have played anything from Five Leaves Left on air. Bob Harris was not a BBC DJ in 1969. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake was unhappy with the inlay sleeve’ 

CORRECTION 33: There is no evidence whatsoever for this. 

 

Bryter Layter (1971) 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake ended his studies at Cambridge nine months before graduation and in late 1969 moved to London.’ 

CORRECTIONS 34 and 35: Nick was based in his own flat in London as of August 1969. He left Cambridge that October, seven months before he would have sat his finals. His earliest graduation date would have been in the autumn of 1970. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake spent his first few months in London drifting from place to place, occasionally staying at his sister's Kensington flat’ 

CORRECTIONS 36 and 37: Nick was based in his own flat in London as of August 1969. His sister never had a ‘Kensington flat’. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘On 5 August 1969, Drake recorded five songs for the BBC's John Peel show ("Cello Song", "Three Hours", "River Man", "Time of No Reply" and an early version of "Bryter Layter"), three of which were broadcast the following night.’ 

CORRECTION 38: On 5 August 1969 Nick pre-recorded four songs (Time Of No Reply, Cello Song, River Man and Three Hours) for an episode of Night Ride that happened to be presented by Peel, though Nick didn’t meet him. The songs were broadcast at five past midnight that night (in other words, the early hours of August 6th). Nick subsequently recorded Bryter Layter for another BBC radio broadcast, in April 1970. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘On 24 September, he opened for Fairport Convention at the Royal Festival Hall in London’ 

CORRECTION 39: John and Beverley Martyn opened this concert. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘the few concerts he did play were usually brief, awkward, and poorly attended.’ 

CORRECTION 40: Most of his concerts were extremely well-attended, and several of them took place in packed halls. Accounts of their brevity and awkwardness vary considerably. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Cale used heroin during this period, and his older friend Brian Wells suspected that Drake was also using.’ 

CORRECTIONS 41 and 42: Brian Wells is younger than Nick, and has never suspected that Nick was a heroin user. (There is no evidence for Nick having ever so much as tried it.)

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Melody Maker described the album as "an awkward mix of folk and cocktail jazz".’ 

CORRECTION 43: No review has ever stated that, in Melody Maker or elsewhere.

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Soon after its release, Boyd sold Witchseason to Island Records and moved to Los Angeles to work with Warner Brothers’

CORRECTION 44: Boyd had sold Witchseason and moved to Los Angeles months before the release of Bryter Layter. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘In 1971, Drake's family persuaded him to visit a psychiatrist at St Thomas' Hospital, London.’ 

CORRECTION 45: This took place in July 1972. Nick attended at the recommendation of numerous people, including Joe Boyd. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘He worried about [antidepressants’] side effects and was concerned that they would react with his regular cannabis use.’

CORRECTION 46: By general consensus Nick had largely stopped smoking dope as of 1971. He was first prescribed antidepressants in July 1972, and there is no evidence for his ever having considered their reaction with cannabis. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘He rarely left his flat, and then only to play an occasional concert or to buy drugs.’ 

CORRECTION 47: Nick had moved back to Far Leys in April 1971, by which time he had long since stopped playing concerts. By general consensus he had largely stopped smoking dope as of 1971. 

 

Pink Moon (1972)

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Although Island neither expected nor wanted a third album…’ 

CORRECTION 48: Island very much wanted Nick to continue recording for them. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake had expressed dissatisfaction with the sound of Bryter Layter’ 

CORRECTION 49: There is no evidence for this. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake delivered the tapes of Pink Moon to Chris Blackwell at Island Records’ 

CORRECTION 50: Nick handed Blackwell a copy of the album that John Wood had run off for him, not ‘the tapes’ 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Blackwell felt Pink Moon had the potential to bring Drake to a mainstream audience’ 

CORRECTION 51: Blackwell was well aware that it was uncommercial but was happy to release it exactly as Nick wished. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘At Boyd's insistence, Drake agreed to an interview with Jerry Gilbert of Sounds Magazine.’ 

CORRECTION 52: This interview took place in March 1971, not at the time of Pink Moon, and had nothing whatsoever to do with Joe Boyd.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake retired from music. He toyed with the idea of a different career and considered the army.’  

CORRECTION 53: Nick never ‘retired from music’. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘His three albums had together sold fewer than 4,000 copies.’  

CORRECTION 54: this is a considerable underestimate 

 

1972–1974: 

Changes in life and health 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake lived a frugal existence; his only income was a £20-a-week retainer from Island Records (equivalent to £257 in 2021).’ 

CORRECTION 55: This is garbled. His ‘retainer’ was a publishing advance that ceased when he made a new arrangement with Chris Blackwell following Joe Boyd’s departure for America.   

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘At one point he could not afford a new pair of shoes.’  

CORRECTION 56: The reference to his shoes is drawn from a statement his mother made: ‘He had just one pair of shoes, which was completely worn out. He wouldn’t have anything different.’ In other words, the point is that he did not want new shoes, not that he couldn’t afford them. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘John Martyn (who in 1973 wrote the title song of his album Solid Air about Drake)’  

CORRECTION 57: Martyn wrote Solid Air in July 1972. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake would borrow his mother's car and drive for hours without purpose, until he ran out of petrol’ 

CORRECTION 58: Nick drove his own cars, only very occasionally borrowing his mother’s. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Early in 1972, Drake had a nervous breakdown, and was hospitalised for five weeks.’  

CORRECTION 59: Nick’s nervous breakdown took place in late April 1972. He attended hospital voluntarily and intermittently over the next few months. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘In February 1973, Drake contacted John Wood, saying he was ready to begin work on a fourth album. Boyd was in England at the time and agreed to attend the recordings.’ 

CORRECTIONS 60 and 61: Nick had not made any mention of ‘a fourth album’ to John Wood, who had no idea what to expect. Joe Boyd had nothing to do with the February 1973 recordings. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘the return to the Sound Techniques studio raised Drake's spirits; his mother recalled, "We were so absolutely thrilled to think that Nick was happy because there hadn't been any happiness in Nick's life for years."  

CORRECTION 62: Nick was despondent after both the February 1973 and July 1974 sessions. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘He had tried to stay in touch with Sophia Ryde, whom he had met in London in 1968.’ 

CORRECTION 63: Nick met Sophia Ryde in the summer of 1967. They maintained friendly contact until their final meeting in March 1974, though she sent him a birthday card in June 1974. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Ryde has been described by Drake's biographers as "the nearest thing" to a girlfriend in his life’ 

CORRECTION 64: She was not ‘the nearest thing to a girlfriend in his life’. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘In a 2005 interview, Ryde said that a week before he died, she had sought to end the relationship’ 

CORRECTION 65: She said no such thing. They had last communicated in March 1974, over 8 months before his death.

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake's relationship with Ryde was not consummated.’ 

CORRECTION 66: Nick had no ‘relationship’ with Sophia to consummate.    

 

Death 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘During the early hours of 25 November 1974, Drake died in his bedroom at Far Leys.’ 

CORRECTION 67: Nick is reckoned to have died at around 6am. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘He had gone to bed early after spending the afternoon visiting a friend.’ 

CORRECTION 68: He went to bed at around 10:30 having spent the entire day at home with his parents. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘no post-mortem examination was carried out.’ 

CORRECTION 69: A post-mortem was carried out by the pathologist Kenneth Holly. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Nick's body was first discovered by their housemaid’ 

CORRECTION 70: Naw was not a ‘housemaid’ 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘a letter addressed to Ryde was found close to his bed.’ 

CORRECTION 71: When sorting through Nick’s room after his death his parents found an unsent note to Sophia from March 1974. It had no relevance to his death. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘The funeral was attended by around fifty mourners, including friends from Marlborough, Aix, Cambridge, London, Witchseason, and Tanworth. 

CORRECTION 72: No friends from Marlborough, Aix or Witchseason attended Nick’s funeral.

 

Posthumous popularity 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘in 1979 Rob Partridge joined Island Records as press officer and commissioned the release of the Fruit Tree box set.’ 

CORRECTION 73: Fruit Tree was originally due to be released on November 24th 1978 and was not ‘commissioned’ by Island’s press officer. It had been under discussion for a long time.


 

Musical and lyrical style 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake was drawn to the works of William Blake, William Butler Yeats, and Henry Vaughan, whose influences are reflected in his lyrics.’  

CORRECTION 74: There is no evidence that Nick was ‘drawn to the works of’ Yeats or Vaughan, though commentators might infer it 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘from Bryter Layter on, his language is more autumnal, evoking a season commonly used to convey senses of loss and sorrow’ 

CORRECTION 75: This is unsupported by evidence  

 

Appraisal 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake received little critical success during his lifetime’ 

CORRECTION 76: Over 65 reviews of Nick’s albums are known to have appeared in his lifetime, the overwhelming majority of them positive and many of them rapturous.  


FIVE LEAVES LEFT 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Five Leaves Left was recorded between July 1968 and June 1969 at Sound Techniques in London, England.’ 

CORRECTION 77: Nick began making recordings towards the album with Joe Boyd and John Wood in February 1968, though work began in earnest on Friday, May 10th 1968. The final session took place on Tuesday, April 22nd 1969. It was also recorded at Morgan, in Willesden. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Robert Kirby, a friend of Drake's from his youth…’ 

CORRECTION 78: Robert and Nick met at Cambridge in February 1968. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Released 3 July 1969’ 

CORRECTION 79: It was released on Friday, July 4th 1969 (Island released albums on Fridays - the original print ad contained the wrong date). 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Uncredited – flute’ 

CORRECTION 80: The flute on The Thoughts Of Mary Jane was played by Lyn Dobson 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Until the 1990s Drake's albums had been critically and popularly ignored’ 

CORRECTION 81: Nick’s work was constantly available, regularly repackaged, and often assessed by critics in the 1970s and 1980s.  

 

BRYTER LAYTER 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Initially scheduled for release in November 1970, with UK promotional copies being sent out at the time…’ 

CORRECTION 82: It was originally scheduled for release in May 1970, then ‘autumn 1970’, then November, then December, then ‘late January’ 1971. No promotional copies are known to have been circulated. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘dissatisfaction with the artwork meant that the album was held over into the New Year’ 

CORRECTION 83: This is unfounded. Delays in its appearance owed to several other factors, such as postal strikes, Joe Boyd’s return to the US, Island’s acquisition of Witchseason, a major rebranding exercise at Island and Island’s preparation of its ‘El Pea’ campaign.   

 

PINK MOON 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Recorded 30-31 October 1971’ 

CORRECTION 84: The precise recording dates are unknown. 

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Released two years before Drake's death in November 1974’ 

CORRECTION 85: It was released two years and nine months before Nick’s death.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘In 1971 he saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed antidepressants’ 

CORRECTION 86: Nick first saw a psychiatrist in 1972. He was first prescribed antidepressants in July 1972.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘his fears concerning the medication's interaction with marijuana…’ 

CORRECTION 87: This is unfounded. In addition, Nick smoked hashish, not marijuana.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Cally Calloman of Bryter Music’ 

CORRECTION 88: Cally Callomon  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘in his only interview, published in Sounds magazine in March 1971…’ 

CORRECTION 89: Nick gave at least one more interview (which appeared in Jackie magazine of May 28th 1970).  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘After a brief hiatus in Spain spent at a villa belonging to Island Records' head Chris Blackwell’ 

CORRECTION 90: it was an apartment, not a villa  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Drake delivered the master tapes of Pink Moon to Chris Blackwell at Island’ 

CORRECTION 91: Nick delivered a copy that John Wood had run off for him, not ‘the master tapes’  

 

WIKIPEDIA: Keith Morris ‘was commissioned to photograph Drake for the cover of Pink Moon. However, the photos were not used as Drake's rapidly deteriorating appearance, hunched figure and blank expression were not considered good selling points.’ 

CORRECTION 92: It was never suggested that a photograph of Nick would appear on the cover of Pink Moon.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Island picked a piece of surrealist Dalí-esque art by Michael Trevithick’ 

CORRECTION 93: Island did not ‘pick’ the artwork. Trevithick was commissioned to create it.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Michael Trevithick, who was incidentally a friend of Drake's sister Gabrielle’ 

CORRECTION 94: Michael and Gabrielle had never met  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Although Drake was not outspoken in his opinion on the cover art of Pink Moon, many close to him felt that he approved’ 

CORRECTION 95: Nick is not known ever to have expressed any view on the matter.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: Island ‘spent the entire promotional budget on full-page advertisements in all major music magazines the month of the record's release’ 

CORRECTION 96: This is unfounded and inaccurate.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Jerry Gilbert of Sounds, who had conducted the only known interview with Drake the previous year…’ 

CORRECTION 97: An earlier interview with Nick had appeared in Jackie magazine of May 28th 1970.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘The first notable cover versions of Nick Drake songs were released in 1992…’ 

CORRECTION 98: Numerous covers of Nick’s songs had been released as far back as 1970. Which ones are ‘notable’ is of course moot.  

 

WIKIPEDIA: ‘Full page advertisement of the release of Pink Moon’ [picture caption] 

CORRECTION 99: The picture is of a small ad for the American release, and appeared in Rolling Stone (June 22nd 1972) and Fusion (August 1972).

Wednesday 22 February 2023

NICK DRAKE - THE LIFE

My biography of Nick Drake is to be published by John Murray on June 8th this year. 

It has been a three-year undertaking, in the course of which I have researched Nick's life as thoroughly as I was able, sifting through innumerable documents and speaking to everyone I'm aware of who knew him. I have worked closely with his sister and estate, but with no element of censorship.

Having finished the book, I have been asked whether I am now sick of him - and the answer is a sincere 'no'. Learning more about Nick has only increased my admiration for his talent and sorrow at his early deathI was lucky enough to have first heard his music as an early teenager, and immersing myself in his world now has only deepened my wonderment at what he left behind.

I very much hope that you will have the same response if you read the book.

Tuesday 11 October 2022

THE CAN - Sounds, May 1970



Can recorded the mighty Monster Movie under their own steam. No major label showed an interest in releasing it, so they pressed it themselves in the autumn of 1969. This created a buzz in the local underground, prompting Liberty to put it out in February 1970. Here's perhaps the first major interview with a band member - Holger Czukay. It was conducted by Rainer Blome for the Cologne-based music magazine Sounds and appeared in the May 1970 issue. The translation is by me. 


How does your music differ from that of other bands? Probably primarily because of the somewhat unusual production process? 
Our production process is indeed different. It's not like a producer summons us into the studio at a set time and says, 'You can make your record in the time available'. We set up a studio in Schloss Norvenich near Cologne and only then did we make the record, without producers - we did it ourselves. Technically, of course, we're not nearly as well-equipped as the big companies. We can work with 4 tracks but not with a normal 4-track recording device, only with the help of tricks - homemade tricks. But the most important thing is that we have unlimited time. We work until the feeling is there, then make the recording. It helps tremendously not to have to work under constant time-pressure. 

Did you go into the studio with fixed ideas, or did everything just develop there? 
We go into the studio completely unprepared, nothing is written or planned beforehand. The studio is also our ideas workshop. 

There's a piece on your record entitled Mary Mary, So Contrary, for which The Can is credited. I also know it from an American folk duo whose name escapes me at the moment. Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing you of plagiarism, I'm more interested in how you work, where you get your song concepts from. 
Our singer, Malcolm Mooney, brought this song idea with him. It's an American children's song that we originally played straight, then made something new out of. But that wasn't really a 'concept'. With us a 'concept' only arises when a piece is already finished. We usually just start playing something - maybe one of us plays something he has previously thought about that he wants to play. Of course, the others don't know it and just play along with it. Since we let the tape recorder run, we may decide afterwards that it was valid, that it could be developed further by adding this or that, changing the harmony at another point or not. Or perhaps one person says to the other, 'Do this or that a little differently'... That is how we create the pieces. It's improvised teamwork, and occasionally what we have played spontaneously is the end result. 

So that's the playing process for your pieces. What do you then do with the recorded music? Is it manipulated technically, or do you just mix the tracks according to dynamics? 
First of all, Monster Movie consists exactly of the music that we played in the studio. Of course, we work with playbacks, but this method is only ever used from the point of view of whether it agrees with the ideas that arose while playing. 

Were the electronic effects on the LP created whilst playing? 
Partly, yes, but - for example - the buzzing noise that runs throughout Father Cannot Yell was added later. But we never use electronic effects for mere decoration. They always have a direct connection to the music. We don't care for gimmicks. Of course, listening to what we are playing, occasionally one of us finds that the sound has to be tweaked at a certain point in order to sound better. 

Your singer Malcolm Mooney (who is no longer with you) is from America. Could you tell us about him? 
Malcolm was originally a sculptor and has travelled over almost all the world. He always has a saxophone with him. Irmin met him in Paris in 1968 and shortly thereafter he came to Cologne and joined us as a singer. He's a natural, so to speak, because he had never sung before. He not only improvises the music, but mostly the lyrics as well. Even on You Doo Right, which previously had fixed lyrics, Malcolm changed his lyrics while recording. It isn't entirely true that he isn't with us any longer, because he's still part of our group. He got pretty sick and went back to New York. It may be that he comes back next month, or in a year. In any case, he remains a member of the Can. But in the meantime we're trying to find a replacement for him. 

Surely you don't literally mean that your current singer Lee Gates only works as a stand-in? 
No, of course not. Lee sings very differently, and our music changes because of him. 

I want to return to my first question, because you haven't quite answered it yet. How does your music differ from that of other bands? 
We don't set out to differentiate ourselves from other bands, but I don't think anyone drums like Jaki, or anyone plays guitar like Michael. It's like we talk a different language, even though we use the same words. In this respect, everyone from the Can is different from every other rock musician in the world. 

Where do you see your position as regards Anglo-Saxon pop music? 
I listen to a lot of things in order to inform us. We don't have any role models, though of course we like a few things. Jaki used to have role models in jazz: he wanted to drum like Max Roach, but that's more or less over. 

When an unbiased listener listens to your LP, it's tough. Someone who's only listened to English or American bands before will maybe discover similarities to groups like the Velvet Underground.  
Okay. Good. Then he discovers them. There are so many bands in 'new' pop that there are bound to be similarities. The Velvet Underground has a similar line-up to us, so why shouldn't the sound be the same? 

Do you think that records made by good German (or non-Anglo-Saxon) groups will stand a chance in the future? 
For sure. For example, I know that the first Amon Duul LP has sold well, and Monster Movie is doing very well too. The company has already sold more of them than it ever thought possible. Original music will always prevail, regardless of whether it is played by an English, American, Danish or German band. Maybe there aren't that many groups in Germany that are good yet, but it's probably only just beginning. Perhaps more publicity should be given and more performing opportunities created. It would be great, for example, if German promoters allowed German bands to open on tours by well-known American or English bands. It's definitely better than having third or fourth-rate bands perform just because they're from England. 

The playing opportunities in Germany are probably also limited because you can't play in most clubs. They're too old-fashioned, too small and without the right atmosphere. In what framework should your music be presented? 
Right, the existing clubs are old-fashioned. Nobody feels comfortable in them. The best are clubs like those in London, New York, San Francisco, Birmingham, Detroit, Boston and Chicago, or the Creamcheese in Dusseldorf. People need to be able to dance, watch movies, drink and move. Basically, the concert halls are shit because they're only built for classical concerts, with all the trimmings. 

The Can has existed since the autumn of 1968. Have you consciously refrained from becoming well-known? 
Yes, quite consciously, because we felt we first had to grow together as a group - that is, to be able to offer good music - before we presented ourselves to the public. We also turned down offers to perform because we wanted to be 100% happy with ourselves first. To put it bluntly, we don't believe in firing half-cocked. We only played in Zurich for three months in 1969 because we had the chance to take part in Max-Peter Ammann's production of Prometheus at the Stadttheater, which turned out to be a bad decision. Otherwise we have made film music for Peter Schamoni, Roger Fritz and Franz-Josef Spieker. 

You now have a pretty good group dynamic. Would a new man fit in? 
Actually, anyone can play with us. Even Roy Black [a popular schlager singer – RMJ], who would certainly sing differently with us. What's important is that everyone offers each other the freedom to do their own thing. For example, if Jaki had made a huge spectacle on his drums right from the start and dominated everything so that the others couldn't unfold, that would not have been possible. A new man would have total freedom, we would under no circumstances force him to work in our direction. Our music is too flexible for that. So a new man would inevitably change our music. 

Are you already working on a new record? 
Yes, we have recorded a single and one track that will be released on a Liberty sampler in May [Soul Desert, on Electric Monster Rock Show - RMJ]. This will also be included on our next LP, which we are working on. Of course, that won't take forever. We think it will be ready in the autumn. We're going to do some ideas that we've come up with already, things we've done before but haven't got on tape yet and want to finish. 

You have a production company called 'Inner Space' and have contracts with a Munich promo company and with Liberty. Does the record deal secure you an income? 
No, the contract does not secure us a fixed income. It all depends on how the LP sells. Our contract provides for at least two LPs and two singles over the course of 1970. We received a small advance, but that will be accounted for later. Our contract, which is valid for 3 years, came about like this: I took the finished Monster Movie tape from company to company for months. Either one of them said, 'It's pretty nice for a German group, but the Americans and the English do it better' or another said, 'It's very good but you come from Germany. You have to write a few hits first so that you become known'. Such are the prejudices against German groups in the German industry. At first Liberty was no different, so we then spontaneously decided to press the album ourselves. It was only via this detour that Liberty suddenly showed great interest. Liberty in England was also enthusiastic about the record and immediately offered to release it.

So a German pop group has it incredibly hard, no matter how good they are. What do you think of the idea of starting a cooperative of progressive German groups, as was recently attempted on the initiative of Tom Schroder from SONG in Mainz? Could that improve the situation? 
In principle, it's an excellent idea for German groups to set up a co-operative with a few organisationally talented people. With an over-arching presentation one could awaken listeners to the fact that there are German bands with something to offer. 

That would definitely be an advantage. But such a co-operative could also have the disadvantage of giving rise to a kind of sectarianism stemming from too great a national identity... The German Jazz Federation failed because of this. 
Of course, it would be shit if that happened. Such a co-operative should not act nationalistically, it should remain open to the international community. The only justification for such an association would be that it would contradict the prejudice that there are no good German groups. Once that has been achieved, it would no longer have any reason to exist.



Tuesday 7 June 2022

IPSISSIMUS: 'A heavy sound with walloping drums'

Ipsissimus released only one single, Hold On / Lazy Woman, which appeared in April 1969. The A-side is a belting cover of a song previously recorded by Rupert’s People and Sharon Tandy, while the B-side is a heavy psychedelic blues by their bassist Steve Oliver. Steve was kind enough to tell me the band’s basic history for posterity, as below...

"Len Deathridge, Reg King, Chris Evans and I met at Eastbury Secondary School in Barking in the early 60s. We formed a band called the Colts, with Len on lead guitar, Chris on rhythm guitar, me on bass, Reg on drums and a guy called Len Morgan singing. We were discovered in 1963 by Norman Newell, who produced Shirley Bassey for EMI. He didn’t sign us up but he did record Len Morgan as a solo act (under the name Tony Nelson), with us backing him. 

 

That opened the door for us to play on sessions for various other people including Frank Ifield, and to provide backings for demos or auditions at Abbey Road on Saturday mornings. One was for Gary Glitter, although he wasn’t called that then, and another was for Graham Bonney. We were in and out of Abbey Road up until 1970, but we only saw the Beatles on one occasion, in the canteen, and we didn’t speak to them. 

 

We used to rehearse in a youth club in Barking, which the Tremeloes also used, and produced our own demos there on a Revox machine. We got a contract with Pye as a four-piece, I can’t remember how, and made a single that came out in October 1965. The A-side was an American folk song called San Miguel and the B-side was a song of ours called Where Has Our Love Gone. The producer was Mike Smith. 

 

In 1966 we began to focus on covers of harmony material by The Beach Boys, the Byrds and the Mamas & the Papas. We gigged two or three nights a week all over the country, often at colleges, as well as having a regular Sunday lunchtime session at the Merry Fiddlers in Dagenham. We tended to play in local pubs or halls rather than London clubs, though we did once play at the Electric Garden in Covent Garden in 1967. We supported the Herd, Episode Six, Family and various others at this time. We were aware of drugs, of course, but we weren’t at all druggy ourselves and we didn’t see an awful lot of them around. 

 

Over the course of 1968 we developed a heavier style. Sometime that year my brother-in-law Tony Sales replaced Chris Evans on rhythm guitar and we decided to rename ourselves – the Colts seemed pretty naff by then, and our manager Dave Matthews saw the word Ipsissimus in The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley.

 

Dave’s brother Bob drove our van. When he heard Rupert’s People playing Hold On he suggested that we could do our own version. It was in our live set for a long time and always went down well. It became our signature song, I suppose. On stage we would stretch out on it, and Len used to do a section through an amplified Stylophone, which made various weird sounds – he even played it through a wah-wah!

 

We continued to provide backing for EMI auditions, some of which were performed at EMI’s head office in Manchester Square, where there was a small theatre. Various A&R men and producers and engineers would be milling around. At one Saturday morning session there we played Hold On as a warm-up and the producer Jonathan Peel and the engineer Norman Smith pricked up their ears and both offered to record us. In the end they agreed to proceed together. Dave negotiated with EMI and they paid us enough to buy new amps, for Len to buy a Fender electric 12-string (the first in the country) and for me to buy a 5-string Fender bass. 

 

Our single was recorded over the course of a long day (and into the evening) at Abbey Road in March 1969. If you listen carefully you can hear Len playing Stylophone behind the chorus on Hold On. Norman and Jonathan were both there, but Norman did most of the work. We taped more than the two songs that were released – one other song (whose title escapes me) featured Norman playing harpsichord. When the single came out in April Tony Blackburn played it and said how awful it was, adding that it was nowhere near as good as Tamla Motown. 


By then we were doing quite well as a heavy band, and often supported big-names at the Dagenham Roundhouse, the King’s Head in Romford and other venues in Chadwell Heath and Stratford. We played with bands including Led Zeppelin, Taste, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. The problem was that they all tended to play so loudly that most of the subtlety of what they were doing was lost - at the Dagenham Roundhouse everyone had to play through the house PA system and drums were never miked.

 

NME, April 26th 1969
Our EMI contract called for a minimum of two singles, with an option for further singles and an album. The problem was, by the middle of 1969 we were moving back towards folk-rock and wanted our second single to be a cover of Someday Soon by Ian Tyson, with The Gallery by Joni Mitchell on the B-side. We recorded it but EMI had signed us as a heavy band, so they turned it down and it never got released. We also had our own material in the same style, but they didn’t like that either so they dropped us. Jonathan Peel was unimpressed by our change of style and it all fizzled out. 


Chris White of the Zombies then showed an interest in recording us independently, so we made some demos with him, but they didn’t get anywhere. We never split up, we just evolved into different line-ups and styles. For several years in the 70s we played pub-rock as Jerry The Ferret, then morphed into more of a country band. I had no idea anyone was interested in the Ipsissimus single until fairly recently. Sadly Len Deathridge and Tony Sales have passed away, but I’m still in touch with Reg King."

Wednesday 9 March 2022

RICK HOPPER - CAMBRIDGE, AUTUMN 1967

In the course of researching my current book I have been looking through old copies of Varsity, the main student newspaper at Cambridge University, published every Saturday during termtime. For the eight issues of 1967's Christmas term, Rick Hopper - an undergraduate at Jesus College - contributed a pop column.     

Rick had been a prefect at Eltham College, a private school in southeast London, where he was friends with Mick Jagger's brother Chris. Upon leaving they travelled around Europe together, and Rick's interests tilted towards the emerging counter-culture. He began at Cambridge in October 1966 and was closely involved with underground music there, singing with the Pineapple Truck, one of the university's two psychedelic bands, the other being 117. Sponsored to an extent by Mick Jagger, both groups spent the summer of 1967 in London, where Rick developed trenchant views on the pop scene that are reflected in his columns.     

The Pineapple Truck in 1967 (Rick is second left)

On February 23rd 1968 he compèred Under The Influence, a 'happening' in Cambridge at which Nick Drake made his formal live debut. He went on to work as an A&R man at Transatlantic Records, and perhaps his most lasting contribution to the musical world was his early championing of Kate Bush, whom he apparently introduced to his friend David Gilmour. He subsequently managed Sandpiper Books in Brighton, and is no longer among us.

 

I hope you'll enjoy his columns, which provide a candid and immediate insight into a lot of music that is now regarded reverentially. (As ever, click to enlarge them.) And if any of you have a copy of the two tracks the Pineapple Truck recorded in 1967 (Blow Your Mind Away and Whiskey Man), I'd love to hear them...

 

October 14th 1967


October 21st 1967


October 28th 1967


November 4th 1967


November 11th 1967


November 18th 1967


November 25th 1967


December 2nd 1967