I had never heard of Molly Drake until a couple of weeks ago. This is how I discovered her. There is an English folk group called The Unthanks led by Rachel & Becky Unthank. I haven’t got any of their albums yet but I have enjoyed the songs that I have heard and I saw them at Glastonbury Festival where they played with a full orchestra which was very impressive. Two of my friends are big fans of the Unthanks. Recently I saw on the internet that they are playing in Bradford On Avon in April which is a very picturesque little town only eight miles from me. “That sounds like fun”, I thought to myself so I bought some tickets and invited my friends down for the weekend. I’m looking forward to it. When I read more about this tour I discovered that they had deliberately chosen small venues which would be perfect for the intimate performance of the songs and poems of Molly Drake.
“Who on Earth is Molly Drake?”, I asked myself. I immediately googled Molly Drake and discovered via Wikipedia that she was none other than the mother of the legendary Nick Drake. Although I really like Nick Drake and am quite familiar with his best known songs and have one album called Way To Blue I’m not a fanatical fan like some completist’s who have to have everything he ever recorded. That’s why I hadn’t heard of Molly before. During her lifetime Molly never performed publicly or made any official recordings but I discovered that in the 1950’s her husband Rodney Drake had made some home recordings of Molly singing and playing the piano. Because of the increasing cult following interest in her son’s life, attention passed to Molly and finally these recordings were assembled into a cd simply called Molly Drake and released by Squirrel Thing records in 2013.
I had read enough. I knew I had to get this cd, especially because it was issued on the same label as the Connie Converse album that I reviewed a year ago. I have always been fascinated by people who never really sought fame and fortune or had a brief flirtation with fame and then faded away but whose reputation has grown over the years due to the quality of their work. In the past as well as Connie I have written about the likes of Karen Dalton, Linda Perhacs, Annie Briggs, Vashti Bunyan. Sibylle Baier, Shelagh McDonald, Mellow Candle, Thomas Fraser, Jonathon Kelly, Jackson C Frank and many more. Anyway, I sent off to Germany for a copy because I couldn’t see one available in Britain and a few days ago it popped through my letterbox. They have done an excellent job in the design of the cd with an attractive booklet with Molly’s story written by her daughter who is the actress Gabrielle Drake and contains lots of photos of Molly. I was a bit disappointed though because I was expecting a 45 page booklet of Molly’s poems to be included but alas there wasn’t. Maybe that was only with the first pressing of the album.
Due to Christmas it was only yesterday afternoon that I got around to giving the cd a good listen. The whole album is only 37 minutes long and there are 19 songs so you can see how short most of the songs are. Molly has a very English middle-class voice and sings in a very formal style. You can tell that the recording was made in the fifties. There is one song though called Poor Mum which almost sounds like a riposte to Nick’s song Poor Boy. If it was recorded in the 50’s then it is strangely prophetic. They have done a great job of mastering this cd from reel to reel 60 year old tapes but there is still some crackle and hiss on some songs but in a way that gives those songs a haunting ghost-like quality. The producer Joe Boyd said that these songs are the missing link in the Nick Drake story. I can understand what he means because the words do seem to have a feeling of quiet desperation and melancholy and explore the fragility of happiness which makes you think that Nick might have inherited a lot of his personality from his mother as well as a love of music.
I don’t suppose I will listen to this cd very often but I’m glad that I bought it. For the Nick Drake hardcore fans though who want to understand everything about him I think this music is essential listening. I am really looking forward to seeing the Unthanks performing Molly’s songs in April and I’ll tell you all about that concert afterwards.