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.)
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).