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Exhibition: 27 Jan – 12 Feb 2012
Idea Generation Gallery, 11 Chance Street, London, E2 7JB
A new exhibition tells the story of one man’s discovery of a previously unheard Nick Drake recording which has touched the lives of a very special group of people: the lucky few, who were chosen to hear it.
Nick Drake is hailed as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the last 50 years yet his is one of the most mysterious and intriguing stories of 20th century pop. Before his suicide in 1974 aged just 26 he was a relatively unknown artist but in his short recording career he had
generated a legacy that would go on to influence some of pop’s most high profile artists.
‘There's a magic about his music, a kind of fragility which a lot of people identify with.’
‘People come to Nick Drake and love it because they feel that they have found his music and it’s like a treasure.’
The Strange Face Project is the story of a lost Nick Drake recording and how the man who found it chose to share it in an extraordinary way.
In the 1970s, when working as a post-boy at Island Records, television composer Michael Burdett was asked to throw some tapes in a rubbish skip. Thinking he could use them in the studio he was setting up, he got permission to take them. One in particular caught his eye. ‘I picked it up because it had “Nick Drake, Cello Song” and “with love” written on the box. The words “with love” made me think that it had to be Nick’s handwriting and on that basis I couldn’t let it go to the dump.’
It was over 20 years before Michael played the tape. When he threaded it on to a tape machine, he was astonished to hear an unknown version of Cello Song, one of Nick’s greatest works.
Idea Generation will be presenting a unique set of photographs which illustrate what happened next, when Michael set off on his adventure. With a CD player and headphones in hand, he travelled the length and breadth of Britain with the aim of offering individuals an exclusive opportunity to hear the recording. Of the 200 people Michael approached 167 said yes; city workers, farmers, scientists, hairdressers, musicians, tattooists – he asked them all. Randomly stopping them in the street, at their places of work and in their homes, whether they knew of
Drake’s material or not.
‘We are living in a world where recorded music is distributed so casually and freely it’s almost lost its value. However, here was an opportunity to use a recording to create a very personal moment for a number of people and maybe give them an incredibly special memory.’ Michael Burdett
Among the people he approached were some well-known faces, including Billy Bragg, Sir Tom Stoppard, Tracy Chevalier, Danny Baker, Alan Yentob, Martin Freeman, Noel Fielding, Richard E Grant, Jonathan Pryce, Fearne Cotton, Ross Noble and Paul Whitehouse.
Michael photographed everyone who listened, people from the age of 2 to 96 , and documented their thoughts on the newly discovered recording.
‘The great thing about Nick Drake is that you have to meet him halfway. You have to lean in to hear what he is saying.’
Billy Bragg, singer-songwriter
‘He just died without me noticing. It is the velvet in his voice that brings out the best in him.’
Melvin Hodges, factory worker
‘It was like the forest came to life and carried me about in a little silver papoose.’
Noel Fielding, comedian, actor