The Nick Drake Gathering

Feature | Tanworth in Arden, Staffordshire | Feature by Allan Wilkinson

Due to bad timing the Nick Drake Gathering in Tanworth-in-Arden fell exactly half way through this year’s Cambridge Festival.  Liam and I decided to forfeit a day at the festival in order to play at the Gathering a hundred miles away to the south of Birmingham.  The organiser, a young Dutch woman called Denise contacted me and asked if we would like to play at the Gathering, presumably after hearing one or two of my songs on My Space.  Liam and I were both delighted to take up her offer and decided to make the pilgrimage (even though I hate all this enigmatic saint worship about dead musicians and poets – Jeff Buckley springs to mind), I’m more concerned with the living.  But dead is what poor old Nick is and I kind of like the idea of keeping his music alive by actually playing it and sharing it with others.  I’m not sure I would have liked the plummy-voiced bard had I known him, but I do appreciate his songs which I first heard on sampler LPs in the early 1970s.  But, as if to remind myself of John Peel’s take on musicians versus their music, that you don’t have to like them personally, I was happy to visit his home village, his house, his church and his graveside in order to get a clearer idea of the middle class, middle England background which contributed to his enduring music.  We ‘gathered’ first of all in and around The Bell, it being the only pub in the village.  The term ‘pub’ is used very loosely here, it could be better described as a trendy bistro, where the seats were impossible to sit on, or indeed get out of.  The orange juice was warm, the price was extortionate and the atmosphere was as posh as it gets.  We ‘gathered’ next at the Tennis Club which was at the end of the road to where the Drake family home still stands, where in fact Nick spent his last hours on Planet Depression.  Far Leys is like a mansion and speaks volumes about what kind of background Nick and his actress sister Gabrielle originated.  A guitar workshop was taking place and strings were being broken wholesale by the young musicians who had ‘gathered’ there.  The guitarists who were running the workshop reminded everyone that if you’re going to study Nick Drake’s guitar technique, then they should buy plenty of strings to cope with the endless tuning and re-tuning.  Liam and I hadn’t packed any spares and so we didn’t take part in the workshop, fearing we would be string-less by the time we were due to play later in the day. 

Between the workshop and the gig, which took part in the village church, Liam and I were drawn to the graveside and put aside our cynicism for a few moments.  When you stand over Elvis in Graceland it sort of hits you that you are the closest person to the ‘King’ at that particular moment, you can’t help it.  It was that sort of feeling.  Once we entered the church for our sound check, we found that we were going to be there for the next four hours, listening to an array of like minded musicians discuss, perform and listen to nothing but Nick Drake.  Trevor Dann, author of Darker than The Deepest Sea, the most recent Nick Drake biography, was there, sitting just across from us.  I asked him to sign my copy, which I fortunately had in my bag.  We met some people during the concert, in particular a young musician called James Edge, who was so welcoming and supportive.  We went on well after the concert was supposed due to finish, in fact at one point Liam and I became increasingly worried that we might have been forgotten.  But we played very near the end of the concert.  We played “Northern Sky” and Liam’s “Turn the Clock Back”, to rather an amazing response.  I was happy that none of the other singers had done “Northern Sky”, even though there had been one or two ‘duplicates’ during the four hour concert, there had to be really.  The one outstanding performer on the day was Fraser Anderson, a singer songwriter from Scotland.  After our soundcheck, he nodded his approval, and after our set he gave us a nice big thumbs up.  I would advise anyone with even a passing interest in acoustic music to check out this songwriter.  We didn’t stick around after the concert as we had a late night drive back to Cambridge ahead and therefore we didn’t get to meet some of the other performers.  We were left with the feeling that it was just a given that we would perhaps be back next year to ‘gather’ some more.