The team behind the Nick Drake covers album have spoken about their work to protect the late singer-songwriter’s legacy.
Drake, who died in 1974, was not widely recognised in his lifetime. But he now has 2.4 million monthly Spotify listeners for his peerless songwriting catalogue.
A new covers album, The Endless Coloured Ways, features reinterpretations by contemporary artists including Fontaines DC, Bombay Bicycle Club, Let’s Eat Grandma, David Gray, Ben Harper, Emeli Sandé, Liz Phair, Philip Selway, John Grant, The Wandering Hearts, and more.
The album, released by Chrysalis on Friday (July 7), is heading for No.2 in the compilations chart, according to updates from the Official Charts Company.
The headline brief for The Endless Coloured Ways was to expose Nick Drake’s music to a whole new audience to stimulate discovery of his catalogue..
In the years after his death, Drake began to attain cult hero status, namechecked by such luminaries as REM and The Cure, whose moniker was inspired by a lyric from Time Has Told Me (‘You’re a rare, rare find/a troubled cure’). It was during the 2000s, though, that the most seismic leaps in his public profile began.
In 2000, Pink Moon’s title track was used in a Volkswagen TV advert, primarily in the US, a country where he’d received almost no airplay. Meanwhile, the inclusion of his music in Hollywood films The Royal Tenenbaums and Serendipity (2001), and Zach Braff’s Garden State (2004), introduced him to a new generation.
Based on post-1994 sales of his three studio albums, Five Leaves Left now stands on sales of 270,157 in the UK according to Official Charts Company data, with Bryter Layter on 222,326 and Pink Moon on 252,190.
Cally Callomon runs Bryter Music, the Nick Drake estate, on behalf of Drake’s sister, 79-year-old actor Gabrielle.
“There are estates that would be unmanageable because you’ve got ex-wives and children, and it’s always in court because they all want a slice of the pie,” said Callomon, who’s interviewed in the latest issue of Music Week. “That doesn’t happen with Nick – there’s only Gabrielle Drake.”
The issue with mental health is a vital thing that people within the music industry are now focusing on
Callomon has a CV boasting roles as a musician, manager, A&R and album sleeve designer (behind the artwork to Tricky’s debut, Maxinquaye, among others). It was his work at Island Records (Nick Drake’s label), however, that took him from the status of a fan to one of the keepers of his flame.
“I got interested in the idea of managing a dead artist as if he was alive – or she was alive – and the two things collided, working with Gabrielle on Nick’s catalogue,” explained Callomon.
It’s an ethos that remains surprisingly easy to maintain, considering how often researchers and bookers still enquire about Nick Drake’s availability for TV shows and festival appearances.
Callomon had the idea for The Endless Coloured Ways 20 years ago. Its genesis may have come from a moment around that time, in Gabrielle’s kitchen, when he played her a cover of Drake’s song Fly by Swedish band The Soundtrack Of Our Lives in the presence of the late Robert Kirby, the man responsible for the string arrangements on Drake’s first two albums.
“Robert said, ‘Nick would have loved this,’” said Callomon. “And that, for me, was like the gates opening.”
Despite the validation, Callomon often found himself mired by the issue of publishing.
“Nick’s publishing has been moved from pillar to post,” he explains. “It was inherited by a company that would buy a company that would buy a company, and I had renegotiated the publishing deal so that we would get rights reversion, which happened three years ago.”
The publishing is now represented by Blue Raincoat in conjunction with Reservoir.
Callomon had known Jeremy Lascelles for some time and admired what he’d done with Blue Raincoat Music, an artist management, music publishing and records business Jeremy co-founded alongside Sir Robin Millar in 2014, before acquiring Chrysalis Records in 2016.
“The first thing Jeremy said was, ‘Great, let’s do it’ – meaning ‘Let us do it,’ not, ‘You get on with it, Cally,’ he recalled.
For Jeremy Lascelles, Callomon’s project was exactly what he had in mind.
“Our thoughts were absolutely aligned in what we wanted this record to be,” he told Music Week. “So it became a very easy project from that perspective.”
“Nick’s data is a very large comet tail as a result of other stuff happening,” said Callomon. “There may be a Fontaines DC fan who loves Cello Song and is surprised to find it wasn’t written by Grian [Chatten] but rather by this guy Nick Drake. And that’s the result: the streaming of Nick’s version of Cello Song, not because we’ve tried to steer people towards Spotify and Nick Drake, but because other people have done it for us, much better than we ever could.”
“By partnering with the diverse collection of artists who have interpreted the music in their own way, this has exposed Nick’s wonderful songwriting to each individual artist’s audience,” said James Meadows, senior vice president, marketing at Blue Raincoat Music. “For the most part, they skew younger than Nick Drake’s core audience and may be discovering his music for the first time.”
The 18-month process of mobilising those artists was challenging but rewarding, according to Jeremy Lascelles.
“It was labour-intensive and it was time-consuming,” he said. “We got a lot of nos and we didn’t get responses from people, but we got a hell of a lot of yeses, and every one was accompanied by an outpouring of love and passion for Nick’s music, and those were the moments when we knew we were onto something that was going to be extraordinary.”
There are further plans for Drake’s catalogue.
“I know there’s various things in the pipeline, which I probably shouldn’t talk about because they’re not ready to be announced,” teased Lascelles.
“We’re not in a hurry to jump on every next thing that happens,” said Calloman. “I don’t know who it was that said, ‘Tread lightly on my dreams,’ but that’s our motto, really.”
Producer John Wood apparently had serious reservations about people hearing the track Black Eyed Dog – which was eventually included on the 1987 collection Time Of No Reply – presumably because of the circumstances of Drake’s death.
“If that had remained unreleased, I would have lobbied for it to be released,” suggests Callomon. “It’s one of the only songs I think Nick wrote about himself, in the first person.”
Meanwhile, the song’s articulation of challenges to mental health (‘Black eyed dog he called at my door/The black eyed dog he called for more’) feels more attuned to the dialogue of today, as well as providing something people can relate to, whether they’re listening to the original version or Craig Armstrong and Self Esteem’s brand new reimagining.
For Callomon, that sense of solace is right up there with introducing Drake’s music to a new audience in his hopes for The Endless Coloured Ways.
“I’ve had Nick Drake fans say to me, ‘This song saved my life,’” he told Music Week. “For me, the issue with mental health is a vital thing that, thankfully, people within the music industry are now focusing on. So, I hope that somebody hears From The Morning by Let’s Eat Grandma and says, ‘This song saved my life.’ I think Nick would have a wry little smile to hear that.”
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