I got into Nick Drake's music the way most people did. A friend gave me a tape and said "you've got to check this guy out." The friend was the other guitarist in my band at school and it was the late 80s in North-West London. Nick's music grabbed me instantly. It was timeless, beautiful and melancholy.
You couldn't yet go online and find millions of other people who'd also discovered him, so it felt like I was the only person who had, aside from my guitarist friend. I found out what I could about him, which wasn't much. He'd died a long time ago without recognition, but somehow his three albums were still in print. They all fit conveniently onto one TDK SA100 tape which I proceeded to wear out in my walkman.
Fast forward to 2004. I was playing the Queen Street clubs in my adopted hometown of Toronto, and decided to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Nick's death with a tribute night at the Rivoli. I corralled my favourite singer/songwriters and we played the three Nick Drake albums in their entirety, and opened with a screening of Jeroen Berkvens' excellent documentary A Skin Too Few. With almost no publicity the club was packed and we raised $2,000 for a breast cancer support centre. "Do it again, do it every year!" people said. "I'll do it again in five years: November 2009" I said, and that was that.
A few years later I found myself recording my third album at my friend Christoffer's analogue studio in the Swedish countryside. Some songs lent themselves to string arrangements and I whimsically sent a disc of rough mixes to Nick Drake's string arranger Robert Kirby in London. To my astonishment and delight he loved the songs and agreed to arrange strings for half a dozen of them. He flew with me to Sweden a few months later and we spent a heavenly afternoon with nine players from the Malmo Opera Orchestra recording Robert's strings. It was the musical highpoint of my life.
Robert and I became friends, and I asked him if he'd fly to Toronto to conduct the strings at the November 2009 concert to raise money for CAMH. He was thrilled to be asked and I spent months putting the show together. A week before we were to announce the show he called me from a London hospital. "Don't be alarmed Luke, I've had a little heart attack". He was going in for surgery on the weekend and then he'd know more. "And yes, one day's rehearsal will be fine so long as the string players are good. I'll talk to you next week." I woke on the Monday morning to the shocking news that he'd died in surgery. Unable to attend his funeral in England, I mournfully dismantled the show.
Months went by and I'd run into the folks I had lined up for the concert. "You should still do it sometime" they said. "Do it as a tribute to Nick AND Robert." It sounded like a good idea. I returned from playing Robert's memorial concert in London in the fall of 2010, and we put on the concert of Nick's music at Trinity St. Paul's Church with a string octet and guests like Stephen Fearing, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Royal Wood and Kevin Kane from The Grapes Of Wrath.
The show was magic, and a fitting tribute to my musical heroes. The CBC recorded it and the whole concert is on YouTube if you wish to seek it out. "Do it again, do it next year!" everyone said. I decided that it was an awful lot of work for just one night of music, and if I was to do it again I would do a tour, a tour which I have been planning meticulously for the last 10 months.
Over the first three weeks of November I'm taking Kevin Kane, Oh Susanna, Don Kerr, Kurt Swinghammer, Jason Mercer and a string quartet through Ontario and Quebec, playing in churches because Nick's music sounds awesome in them. We add special guests to the show in each town to keep it fresh and add local appeal. The list of guests includes Ron Sexsmith, Emm Gryner, Jim Bryson, Jeremy Fisher, Louis-Jean Cormier of Karkwa, Marie-Jo Thério, Kim Bingham and many more.
This is the biggest project I've ever undertaken, and I'm immensely proud to have put it together. I do hope you'll come out and share this truly unique musical experience with us.