The Gathering is a collection of people who come from all over the world to honour the memory of the great Nick Drake and to remember his songs. Mainly comprised of amateurs the festival runs over two nights. The first is in the Parish Hall and they usually manage to stuff 150+ people into this wonderful and very atmospheric little space. Every performer is allowed two songs. One of them must be a Nick Drake song and the other should be one that relates to him on a personal level or to his music. It's the same format for the second day. The Gathering has grown in popularity so much that where in the past the same performers would do both concerts, now they have barely enough slots to cover the demand. There were singers from the USA, Holland, Australia, Norway and Italy this year.
It's hard to judge an occasion like this. On the one hand the vast majority are amateurs. Some of the performances might leave a lot to be desired technically but the heart and soul of most of the individual acts are poured into around six minutes of doubt, practice and respect. At times you can feel the audience willing someone on who is literally terrified. This format is the hardest that you can possibly do. Two songs, off, next act. No warm-up. No time to get used to the position of the mic.
On the other hand some professionals turn up and it's strange to talk to them afterwards. It's different for them. When an influence affects the very core of the skill that enables you to make a living, the words breathed in every line of Nick's song are invariably "thanks brother".
In my case I'm a fan not a disciple. I doubt that he has had the slightest effect on the way I write music. My first encounter with him was when a reviewer from the Hotpress said that I was influenced by both Nick and Tír na nÓg [neither of whom I had ever even heard of]. If they'd said The Jam and The Stranglers then I would never have ended up here this week. No matter, I purchased everything he ever composed and I love the guy. The strangeness of his desire for the recognition of his music and the ultimate despair when he felt that he had failed to succeed points at a truly flawed individual. Yet I think that this is the main reason for the love people have for his music. He was a messed-up genius who left us far too early.
So what did I learn for myself? I've been to his grave in 2010 and was blown away by the experience. This year it was different. I went to the grave once and played Waterfall on the 'ole iPhone, all very 21st century. Then I simply asked him for help to finish the damned thing. As Kev Yale wryly put it "did a desiccated hand rise from the earth with a middle finger outstretched?" If it did would I have taken it literally and assumed that my effort would hurtle to number one? Nick was cremated and his ashes scattered so that would have been pretty awesome. Nothing happened. I left the graveside feeling a lot better simply having read the words on the stone he sleeps beneath.
"Now we rise and we are everywhere".
The indomitable Orv. Dragged his ass half way around the world to be there. No one is worthy of his spirit, not even Nick himself.Kev and the vintage cars outside the Bell. Another stalwart of the Gathering. A great friend and one of the wisest [and funniest] men I've ever met.
Umberslade. The giant estate that settles around the tiny village. Granted to the Archer family in the 1200's, it reeks of Nick's music. Nick's grave. Go and visit. Pop in to Ash in the Bell. Great food, great people, great stories and you might get the chance to create a bit of a legend yourself.
Another wonderful weekend of an English summer.