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The Nick Drake Gathering 2006

Tanworth in Arden, Staffordshire
Saturday 29 July 2006

Due to incredibly bad timing the Nick Drake Gathering in Tanworth-in-Arden fell exactly half way through this year's Cambridge Festival. Due to complete insanity, chronic stubborness and fervent enthusiasm, I decided to forfeit a day at the festival in order to play at the Gathering to the south of Birmingham with my son Liam, over a hundred miles away. When I showed an interest in attending the festival this year, the organiser, a young Dutch woman called Denise contacted me and asked if I would like to play at the Gathering, presumably after hearing my songs on My Space. Liam and I were both delighted to take up her offer and decided to make it a sort of pilgrimage (eventhough I hate all this enigmatic saint worship about dead musicians and poets - the Buckley kid 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've said previously that had I known Nick, I would probably have disliked him and his plummy upper class ways. But, as I remind myself of John Peel's aforementioned take on musicians versus their music, 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 of which contributed in no small part to his wonderful music.

We 'gathered' first of all in and around The Bell, being the only pub in the village. The term 'pub' is used here very loosely, it was more of a trendy bistro, where the seats were impossible to sit on, or get out of more like. The orange juice was warm, the price was extortionate, and the atmosphere as posh as it gets. We were outta there.

We 'gathered' next at the Tennis Club which was at the end of the road where the Drake family home 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 came from. A guitar workshop was taking place and strings were being broken wholesale by the young musicians who had 'gathered' there. The guitarists running the workshop reminded everyone that if you're going to study Nick Drake's guitar technique, then 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 a sound check, we found that we were 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 got him to sign my copy, which I fortunately had in my bag. We met some lovely 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 to have ended, in fact at one point Liam and I were 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 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 really beautiful 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 brilliant songwriter. 

We didn't stick around after the concert as we had a long drive ahead, and therefore we didn't get to meet some of the performers, but one or two people did come up to us and say encouraging things. We got the feeling that it was just a given that we would perhaps be back next year to 'gather' some more.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky