MEMORIES OF NICK DRAKE (1969-70)
Dr Ross Grainger
I first met Nick Drake when I first arrived in London after attending the Isle of Wight Pop Festival in 1969 which featured as its curtain-closer, a very different Bob Dylan to the one I had seen in Sydney in March, 1966. However, on thinking about it, Dylan’s more scaled down eclectic country music approach which he revealed for the first time, kind of prepared me for what I was about to experience in London.
The day after I arrived in London I went to Cousins in Greek Street up near the Tottenham Road end of Soho. I had heard of this famous folk music venue through hearing some Bert Jansch songs sung by Donavan on his early albums while I was in Australia and had imported records from both Jansch and John Renbourne. Through hearing and reading about Jansch, Renbourne and, eventually, Davy Graham I also came to realize that Cousins was the premier place for budding singer-songwriters
The first time I went to Cousins I barely noticed a rather gangling guy wearing a coat constantly tuning and re-tuning his guitar in the corner near the bottom of the stairs. He seemed virtually inconspicuous as the place was crowded and most people were standing up while he sat on the floor. This gangling guy wearing a coat was Nick Drake.
I only noticed Nick as he seemed to be determined to look inconspicuous which seemed very strange in a place where most musicians came to actually show what they could do and get attention. However, he wasn’t doing a very good job of being inconspicuous as, besides being the only person wearing a coat and sitting on the floor, he seemed to always have a ‘joint’ in his mouth while constantly tuning and retuning his guitar and, at the same, allowing his long legs to make it difficult for people to step past him.
However, I did not take too much notice of Nick at this stage as my focus was, of course, on getting myself a gig that evening even though I knew no one and had only just arrived. I can’t remember who I actually asked about being given a chance to play but I think it was someone called Tony who seemed in charge of who played and when. As it transpired it was surprisingly easy to play a short set in between some of the more established acts. This was no doubt due to the fact that Cousins was the place that allowed you to see what you could do.
They put me on in between John Martyn and Michael Chapman. I only performed four of my own songs although I could have played a couple more. However, I made that decision before I got on stage so as not to get a reputation as being a stage hugger.
The moment I started singing my first song which began with the words, In my room the world is beyond my understanding but when I walk I see that it consists of, three or four hills and a cloud, I noticed Nick had stopped tuning his guitar and looking straight at me with a curious smile. I couldn’t miss noticing him as he seemed to be giving me more attention than anyone else at that stage. By the time I finished the last song of my short set I had lost sight of Nick as the number of people showing an interest in my music had grown and more people were standing close to the stage so I could no longer see him.
When I finished, someone close to the stage said something like, “That was interesting, but you sound a bit like Leonard Cohen.” I was a bit taken aback as I had never before been compared to Leonard Cohen although I liked his music. Then he said, “You ought to talk to the guy sitting on the floor he does songs like yours.”
I went over to where Nick was tuning his guitar again and introduced myself and asked him when was going to play. To be truthful, we both felt a bit awkward as the main reason I went over to talk to him was that everyone else was engaged in deep conversations and Nick was the only one there who seemed to be on his own.
We exchanged names and I asked him when he was listed to play. Nick said he wasn’t sure when he was playing. I was going to ask him what he thought of my set but I thought better of it as I could see even then that he was shy and so he might not like questions that might seem confronting.
I was anxious to start a conversation with at least one other musician as I didn’t know anyone there and Nick was the only person there that night that seemed to be on their own. As a way of starting a conversation I mentioned that I had just seen Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight. Before he could respond someone came over and asked him was he going to play any songs from his recently released record when his turn came to play. Nick just said, “Maybe, I’m not sure.”
I was somewhat surprised that Nick had released a record as I was by now familiar with the music of most artists on the British folk scene and I had never heard of Nick Drake and his face was not at all familiar. In fact, he didn’t look like someone who would be involved in the folk scene at all. He seemed to me rather like the kind of young man you see playing in an orchestra that plays classical music. Also, there was something upper middle class in the way he moved and spoke although, I had never seen an upper middle class person continually smoking joints like he did. By also wearing a coat and boots like the kind you wear to ride horses it only added to the impression that he was a slightly disheveled unforthcoming member of the upper British middle class.
Another feature that distinguished Nick from the other artists playing there that night was he spoke in a very English middle class way while other artists playing that evening like Wizz Jones and Michael Chapman had distinct working class accents and John Martyn, of couse, was from Glasgow.
However, Nick did not speak in that rather off-hand formal kind of way that many English upper middle class people I had heard did. In fact, his voice seemed warm, soft and expressive.
He told me had only just released his first record which explained why I was unfamiliar with his work. I asked what the title was and he said, “Five Leaves Left.” Given that I was familiar with Rizla cigarette papers and he was using them to make his joints the connection was immediately obvious so I laughed. He then offered me a ‘toke.’ It tasted dry and I asked where the hashish was from. He said it was from Morocco.
A couple of minutes of silence followed while we exchanged puffs on his joint. Nick then said out of the corner of his mouth, “You’re Australian aren’t you?” I asked him how he knew. He said he picked that up from my songs which gave him the impression of wide open spaces and harsh sunlight. And then he said, “Of course, you sound Australian.” To my surprise he said that he was born not that far away and I asked where. “Burma,” Nick said, “In Rangoon.”
I was surprised that Nick was born Burma as he seemed so quintessentially English it was hard to imagine him being born anywhere else. When he saw my surprise he added that his family moved to the UK in 1952 and he was largely brought up by the family’s two Burmese house servants who had accompanied them to England. I asked where his family lived now and he said in a village in Warwickshire. He then went on to mention that he had attended Cambridge University for a while but I have forgotten the details of that part of the conversation.
However, the fact Nick was born in Burma seem to give us a link as we were both, in our own ways, the products of the British Empire’s 19th century lust for expansion if not world dominance. Also, the fact he was from the counties and a loner and not a Londoner with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances almost certainly was an ingredient that helped us to both want to go to get to know each other.
After what seemed like an hour chatting about mangers, record companies, folk venues and various artists we both liked, someone came over and said it was his turn to play. So after picking up his bits and pieces Nick ambled onto the stage.
He began to arrange himself on the stool in a kind of leaning-forward hunch. Once settled Nick began to play. He did about six or seven songs none of which I recognized at the time but I later worked out what some of them were.
Nick performed all his songs in what can only be called an intimate but expressive style. He didn’t sound at all like any of the singer-song writers or folksingers I had ever heard before. His voice was soft and the imagery seemed so English but yet distant and unusual. There seemed nothing contemporary about either the songs or the subject matter. Yet when he sang his songs they seem to resonate somewhere in some long forgotten place deep inside.
His guitar style was vaguely reminiscent of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn but it had a more understated classical feel. His fingers seem to dance over the frets but there was no elaborate solo guitar breaks. The lyrics, the melodies and the guitar style seem to blend into one in a way I had not experienced before.
The first song Nick sang and I later identified was Man in Shed as it had some similarities with a song I had performed earlier in the evening called Geoffrey’s Shack. And shacks and sheds are popular song topics and reference points in Australia but I had never heard either being the subjects of songs by any English artist before. He obviously, performed Made to Love Magic as that was a reoccurring line in one of the songs he sang. It also seemed to identify him in some way as well. Another two songs I have since identified were Leaving me Behind and Outside as both concerned what he seems to see as his alienation from the world and achieving success. The song that impressed me most, however, was what I realized later was called Cello Song.
Nick did Cello Song in what I saw as a Indian raga style-song although he had no tabla support that night. But the rhythm gave it a hypnotic feel and the lyrics generated all kinds of exotic images. Particularly when he sung the lines, you seem so frail, in the cold of the night, when the armies of emotion go out to fight. But while the earth sinks to its grave you sail to the sky on the crest of a wave
The last verse was somewhat different to the recorded version. And as this song impressed me the most of those he performed that night I asked Nick could he write down the final verse as I couldn’t completely understand the words. When I heard it I was still thinking about the previous verse. Another song he sang that night I eventually deciphered was Fruit Tree.
The reason I remember these songs is he sung mostly the same songs the following two times I saw Nick play except that one set included what I later realized was a longer version of Riverman than the recorded version and the other set included Hazy Jane.
After Nick had finished his set he came back to where I was standing and I told him I thoroughly enjoyed his music as I could see he needed some kind of reassurance. I said I particularly like the first and last songs he sang (Man in a Shed & Cello Song). He just smiled in that sheepish Nick Drake way I was to become so familiar with over the next few weeks and months.
Nick then did what I thought he might do: roll a joint. I said, “I dunno how you can afford this stuff.” Nick just chuckled.
He seemed surprised when I asked him the words of the last verse of the last song he played (Cello Song). I then realized he thought I had just been kind and condescending when I said I enjoyed his set and he was actually surprised that I had listened so closely.
I then said, “I lost you after you sung, when the armies of emotion go out to fight.” The imagery was so dense, unusual and conjured up all kinds of thoughts and feelings that I had failed to listen to the closing lines. He then pulled out a note pad and wrote the closing two lines. The final verse of the Cello Song he sang that night is as follows:
So forget this cruel world
and whatever’s going on
I'll accept my fate
while I sing this song.
But if one day you should see me from your cloud
lend a hand and lift me
Away from the crowd.
We then discussed the source and inspiration for each other’s music.
Nick said he couldn’t be sure what inspired him but he said he studied English literature and, especially, poetry. He said besides Keats, Tennyson and Blake, he really liked two French poets: Baudelaire and Rimbaud. He said that the lines of various poems he had become familiar seem to come to mind but in a different form generally associated with a particular situation. I said I was familiar with Baudelaire and I found his fatalism somehow appealing. Nick indicated he agreed but did not elaborate.
In order to keep the conversation going we discussed the main English poet I was familiar with and that was William Blake. For a while we discussed Blake’s songs of innocence and experience. I said some the lines of two of Blake’s poems, London and The Earth’s Answer reminded me of some of Nick’s lines in the Cello Song. He did not seem surprised but just smiled.
After discussing Blake for a while I told Nick that I quite liked T S Elliot and Wallace Stevens. Nick indicated that he was not so familiar with these poets but he understood that, despite being Americans, their style was more English than American.
We then discussed if T S Eliott was influenced by Blake. I said I thought Blake’s poem London might have influenced Elliot in writing Under the Waste Land as both conjured-up a similar mood. Nick thought it would have been virtually impossible for an anglophile like T S Elliot obviously was not to be influenced by William Blake.
Nick seemed to warm to our conversation and, in particular, when I said I thought there was one particular trait that all the poets we had been discussing share. That is a sense of desolation and loneliness and that, ultimately, living in society the way others want you to live whether they are friends or strangers is unfulfilling, especially, if you are creative and an artist.
Then I decided to take a risk and say, “The songs you played tonight had this feeling too.” He just smiled and said, “Well, I was thinking the same about the songs you played.” We both laughed and Nick, of course, prepared to roll another joint.
By now I had become interested in what motivated the kind of songs Nick sang and, at the time, I was trying to get him to give me some feedback on my own. So I said I think my songs are somehow inspired by the isolation created by the cultural and psychological gap between the original inhabitants of Australia, the aborigines, and the white settler families like my own. Of course, I said, very few Australians admit such a gap exists but I feel it whenever I come into contact with aborigines and walk on my own in the bush.
Nick asked did I feel I Australian. I replied that maybe in some sense but I was always taught by my mother that Britain was the spiritual home of our ancestors. I said I have always felt that, despite being born in Australia, I didn’t sense I belonged there. I felt Australia belonged to the original inhabitants, the aborigines.
Nick asked me had I ever met any aborigines and I said yes. In fact, I used to go round the outback recording some of them. It was then that I realized how closely they identified with the land and the Australian environment in ways I felt I never could. Nick said that he had that feeling about Burma although he was only very young when he lived there but he didn’t feel at home in England either. He then added, “I’m not sure I belong anywhere really.” I said maybe we are birds of a feather looking for a home we may never find on this earth at this time.
Our conversation then drifted toward guitars and tunings. One of the first things I noticed at Cousins was very few artists seemed to play songs using standard tunings. Most used open tunings where the guitar was tuned to a chord. Nick was no exception and he seemed to spend a lot of time in his set re-tuning his guitar while all the while saying nothing. This had the effect of the audience losing attention and, eventually, drifting away. I did not tell Nick this, however, as I could see he was extremely sensitive and, anyway, I felt I didn’t know him well enough to make what was obviously a personal criticism of his performance on stage.
Nick showed one of the tunings he mostly used and I wrote down how to create this tuning for myself as I realized that different tunings might summon up different song imageries. I told Nick I felt a bit restricted just using standard tuning but that I knew no-one in Australia that used any other tuning except my guitar teacher, Don Andrews, who taught Spanish classical guitar.
I noticed the guitar Nick was playing was a bit unusual as it was smallish and dark and it was a Guild. At that time, I had never seen a Guild in Australia only photos of one advertised in Sing Out magazine.
I had two guitars. A Gibson Dove which was, essentially, a country and western guitar and a Gibson Kalamazoo made in the early 1930s during the Great Depression.
It was quite late by then and I didn’t want to miss the last tube home. The thought of leaving made me ask Nick which underground line he lived close to and he replied, the Northern Line. So I told him I lived on the Bakerloo Line and I better leave as I didn’t want to miss the last train. Nick decided he would leave too, so we both left and headed for Tottenham Court Road tube station. From there, I caught the train to Charing Cross and changed for the Bakerloo Line.
I went and played at Cousins regularly after that and virtually every time I was there, Nick was there. I also saw Nick at Bunjies, another folk café, not far from Cousins on the other side of Charing Cross road. Whenever we met we always got together and chattered but I had no access to a phone as I was living with friends at the time and I was hardly ever home anyway. So we couldn’t arrange to meet accept when we met up at Cousins or Bunjies.
One strange fact that comes back to me now is that I never saw Nick come or leave with anyone but myself. I did see him talk to John Martyn occasionally and some other people but these conversations were generally brief. He did mention other people he knew but it seems that most of them did not live in London. In other words, Nick was certainly a loner.
Although I have read more recently that Nick played at gigs arranged by a manager I got the impression he played many more unarranged gigs than those he is credited with for when I saw him he seemed in a similar position to me. That is, he just turned up and volunteered to play if there was a chance of getting on.
While Nick sometimes mentioned record companies and managers in relation to some small allowance he was getting, I got the impression that Nick didn’t like anyone arranging his life for him.
The more I got to know Nick in the following weeks the more I felt he had been influenced by his Burmese housekeepers. He told me they were both Karens and that they were Christians that had only recently been converted. Before that, he said they were animists and that the Karen version of Christianity included many animist rituals.
The reason I inquired about Nick’s connection to Burma was that I always felt that much of his thinking his pervaded by a mixture of Burmese animism/pantheism and English paganism.
Due to the fact that Nick seem to spend a lot of time on his own it would necessarily follow that he would also be influenced by the contours of the English countryside, its myths, legends and forgotten places than most people. Most of us are influenced by our friends, workmates and acquaintances so we don’t have the time and opportunity to tune into the natural environment around us. I believe sensitive loners like Nick do and can, as a consequence, feel and see things those going about their busy normal lives never get the chance to experience. However, it would be not correct to say that Nick’s beliefs could be so easily encapsulated in paganism, animism or Pantheism.
Paganism incorporates a number of belief systems. However, in almost all of them, the various forces of nature are represented or are the works of various gods. Pantheism is a very ancient belief that the universe, nature and God are identical. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal, anthropomorphic or creator god. They believe God can be felt, seen and found everywhere in nature. Animism is quite similar in that inanimate objects have spirits or souls which could affect the well-being of those around them. Animists believe there are spirits in trees, rocks, mountains as well as people. Animism also entails the worship of ancestors and of the spirits of objects considered to be sacred to a particular tribe.
My later travels to rural Thailand throughout the 1970s brought me in contact with displaced Burmese Karens who were now living in the border area between Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and Burma. Every Karen house I visited in that area, as well as many Thai houses, had a spirit house (in Thai called Phra Pume) in the garden or just outside the house. Animist practices are often accompanied by ritual chants and dances, special folk drama or masques such as the shadow play. Burial mounds usually include special items to honour the dead or assist them in their next life such as the bracelets and utensils found in the prehistoric site of Ban Chiang in North East Thailand, a site which goes back, it is thought to around 3,000 BC.
Animism is, in fact, commonly found throughout most if not all the agricultural, rice-growing communities of South East Asia, and, especially, among the hill tribes that inhabit what is known as The Golden Triangle.
English or Anglo-Saxon paganism is a set of polytheistic beliefs focused around the worship of certain revered deities. The most prominent of these deities was known as Woden (Thus, Wednesday, or Woden’s day). There was also a belief in a variety of other supernatural entities which inhabited the landscape, including elves, pixies, fairies and dragons. Cultic practices largely revolved around demonstrations of devotion, including the sacrifice of inanimate objects and animals to particular deities. Sacrifices usually took place at certain religious festivals held throughout the year. There was also a magical component to Anglo-Saxon paganism, and some scholars have also theorised that there may have been shamanic aspects as well. These religious beliefs also had a bearing on the structure of Anglo-Saxon society, which was hierarchical, with kings often claiming a direct ancestral lineage from a god and, in particular, Woden.
As we can see, Anglo-Saxon paganism shares a number of features with animism and it became increasingly obvious to me that Nick was strongly influenced by a mixture of these beliefs which one can feel rather than find in his music.
Perhaps, and as a result, Nick loved discussing megalithic sites like Stonehenge, Ley-Lines and most of all, the mystical side of King Arthur and Glastonbury. I have maintained an interest in these subjects up until the present time.
We often discussed many subjects which could be described related to animistic beliefs such as the Cottingley Fairies. Nick was interested in whether or not I thought the five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths in 1917 near Bradford were genuine. He said the great detective writer and creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, had thought they were genuine but most people thought they were a hoax.
However, a subject that provoked some discussion between me and Nick was an idea later put forward by James Lovelock and others which later became known as the Gia hypothesis. Basically, this idea proposes that all organisms on the earth and their inorganic surroundings are integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system which can be seen as conscious and living which attempts to maintain the conditions for life on this planet. As you can see this idea is a variant of Asian animism and Anglo-Saxon paganism without the devotional aspects but includes a respect for the present natural world but does not preclude mythical and mystical aspects of the two older belief systems.
I have discussed animism and English paganism at some length as I believe they are important elements in much of Nick’s music. I think it is a mistake, however, to try and locate these elements in the lyrics of particular songs as I believe most of Nick’s work is infused with these elements to a greater or lesser degree. As I said, when Nick performed, the melody, the lyrics and the guitar playing were fused into one: the song itself. So pulling everything apart to examine the entrails will leave the examiner with nothing. It’s like Asian animism, Anglo-Saxon Paganism and the idea of Gia, everything is interrelated in both appearance and function and so are, I suggest, most of Nick’s songs. I’m sure every aficionado of Nick’s music feels this without trying to actually explain it in terms of parts and processes.
I think it is the pagan/animistic element that we can feel in many of Nick’s songs but can’t quite grasp that is the secret of his appeal along, of course, with the frailty and subtlety of the man himself. Nick’s music seems to reach the animist/pagan heritage within us from prehistoric times. For example, Pink Moon, starts with these highly unusual lines that seem to ring a bell somewhere, “I saw it written and I saw it say Pink moon is on it's way..”
I think the secret to the appeal of many of Nick’s songs, such as Pink Moon, is in the suggestive which allows us to expand and imagine the repercussions and meaning for ourselves. Any attempt to explain or reiterate would destroy the song’s mystical and suggestive element.
The impact and influence of my many conversations with Nick stayed with me long after we went our separate ways. When I later had a bookshop in the 1970s called Sunflower at 305 Portobello Road, I sold many books on these subjects, included the classic on ley-lines by Alfred Watkins called The Old Straight Track as well as Gerald Atkins’ Stonehenge Decoded and James Lovelock’s, Gia Hypothesis.
One night when we were both at Bunjies and few people were there, I suggested we go to another folk club I sometimes went to called The Troubadour in Old Brompton Road in Earl’s Court. The American owner of The Troubadour was only to keen for us to play and he suggested we play together. So we downstairs into the back room behind the stage and quickly went through the songs we would do and the tunings for them. I more, or more of less, settled for playing the base lines. I took Nick through three of my songs and when we thought we had worked out what to do we signaled we were ready to play. We did a few traditional songs we both knew such as, The Water is Wide’ and All my Trials soon be Over as well as some songs written by Nick and myself. I distinctly remember one of Nick’s songs we played that night I had never heard him perform before or since. It was called, Go your Way and I’ll Just Follow.
One of the reasons I did not see Nick much outside of Cousins and Bunjies from around December 1969 onwards was I starting to go out with a girl from The Hague in Holland. By February 1970 I hardly went to folk clubs at all and so the last time I would have seen Nick would have been in March 1970. My problem was a bit similar to Nick’s: the more I understood how the music scene worked and what you had to do if you wanted to have any chance of being successful the less enthusiastic I became. Also, being friends with Nick hardly made me optimistic about having a career in the acoustic music scene. In fact, from March 1970 till Nick’s death in late 1974, I did not play at all.
In 1970 I managed to get a stall in a shop in Portobello Road. Eventually, I took over the entire premises and managed what was then known as the Sunflower Bookshop. I ran Sunflower Bookshop at 305 Portobello Road from 1971 to around June 1980.
While I was running Sunflower I made friends with members of two popular rock bands of the time, Hawkwind and Quintessence as well as Barney Bubbles and Phil Franks who were largely responsible for the art work of many record covers of the time and especially, the rather exotic artwork on all of Hawkwind’s early LP’s. Eventually, I decided I wanted to play again myself and especially some of the songs Nick had never recorded or had only released shortened versions of.
I felt Nick and his music should not be cast in the dustbin of history. I also felt, with the increasing interest in the environment, paganism, ley-lines and the occult that, not only Nick’s music, but my own may be more relevant in the early to mid-1970’s than it had been in the late Beatles era. As a result, I performed solo, on occasions, between bands at The Roundhouse in Camden during 1972-4.
However, although some people found my songs interesting I was really only played a ‘filler’ role between well-known rock acts such as Traffic, Iron Butterfly, Hawkwind, Quintessence, David Bowie, Incredible String Band, Fleetwood Mac and the Steve Miller Band. I can’t remember receiving a comment on any of the songs I played that were written by Nick.
By 1975 I had stopped playing live altogether as I became increasingly involved in Tibetan Buddhism. I had met the Dali Lama and The Kamapa, the head of the Karma Kargu School of Tibetan Buddhism and ‘took refuge’ and became a Buddhist with Lama Kalu Rimpoche, one of Tibet’s best teacher’s of meditation.
When I returned to Australia in late 1980 I gradually started to notice, by as early as 1982, there was an increasing interest in Nick’s music and purchased the box set of all his CD’s. I also, regained my interest in playing again. At the time, I was studying the great Chinese poets, Li Bai, Tu Fu, Ch’eng Ho & Wang Wei and, especially, T’ao Ch’ien.
I started to re-arranges some of the poems by these Chinese poets into songs and used some of the guitar tunings I had learned from Nick to play them. I went back to occasionally performing as well. I have been living in China for the past five years and every now and then I am asked to perform at a university campus. Besides playing my translated versions of poems by the great Tang Dynasty poets, I always play one or two of Nick’s songs. I find the songs I play of Nick’s blend in nicely with the musical versions I have created of the Tang Dynasty poets.
In conclusion, the main reason I remember meeting Nick so well is it coincided with my first night playing in a famous folk club in London. For the next three or four months he became, more or less, a fixture on the London folk and acoustic music scene and in my life. I also got to know other people and had other experiences, some with Nick and some with other folk artists I can no longer remember the names of. However, I spent more time with Nick than anyone else during this period and I always thought he had the special ingredient most other artists did not have.
What I think Nick had was a sense of magic and timelessness. Sometimes he seemed like a troubadour brought back from the Middle Ages or a bard who just appeared from some ancient English forest. At other times Nick sang songs of romantic longing and loss that were not quite the same as songs by other artists on this subject. Yet other times his songs seem to conjure up a Rip Van Winkle world while at others he seemed to be pointing the way to the future.
Yet the future Nick portrayed was not one of freedom but the loneliness of the post-modern condition. For loneliness, as the Chinese philosopher, Lu Xun, pointed out, is the other side of modernity’s unbridled freedom and liberty. That is why Nick’s music spoke to and for many of us who cannot see the brilliant future being marked out the movers and shakers of this world. However, we can see clearly Nick’s Pink Moon in our mind’s eye and, yes, we sometimes feel as if we are just Hanging on a Star rather than living fulfilling lives here on earth.
Yet, there were those times when Nick could coax us into that magic world that only his songs could create as in the opening verse of a version Nick sung of Strange Meeting late one night.
Deep down in the depths of forgotten dreams
So far away and so long ago it seems
In my memory appears a distant beach
With pure white sand stretching beyond my reach
It was there I held the hand of my princess of the sand
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dr Ross Grainger was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on the 31 March 1941. He learned how to play the guitar from Don Andrews who was a student of the great Spanish guitarist, Andre Segovia, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He eventually played at a number of folk clubs around Sydney and was friends and played with with Mick Driscoll, Gary Shearston and Dave Guard. Dave Guard was the founder member of the world’s most famous folk group, the Kingston Trio. After leaving the Trio, Dave moved to Australia and lived at Whale Beach where he regularly held outdoor sing-a-long barbecues.
Ross moved to London in 1969 where he met Nick Drake and many other people in the folk and pop music world. He opened the Sunflower Bookshop in Portobello Road in 1971. It was there he met both the Dalai Lama and the Head of the Kargyu School of Buddhism, The Kamapa, as well as Tibet’s leading teacher of meditation, Kalu Rimpoche. Ross became a member of the Karma Kargyu School of Tibetan Buddhism in 1974. During this period he occasionally played as a solo support act at The Roundhouse at Camden/Chalk Farm.
In 1980 Ross sold the lease on the Sunflower Bookshop and moved back to Australia with his 4-year old daughter and her mother. He enrolled in the Faculty of Arts at the University of New South Wales in 1985. He completed his Bachelor with Honours degree, majoring in both Philosophy and Political Science, in 1990.
It was while he was completing his PhD research thesis into the political development of Hong Kong that Ross took an interest in traditional Chinese poetry and began to turn some of English translations of these poems into songs. He also started playing clubs again to see how the public would respond not only to his musical versions of ancient Chinese poems, but some of the versions of songs he remembered Nick playing as well as some of his own songs.
Ross moved back to London in 2005 and played at a number of venues including The 12 Bar Blues Club just off Tottenham Court Road. He then moved to China in 2006 where he has begun teaching English, Management and Business Communication at a number of universities and colleges. During this period, he was occasionally invited to give concerts where he performed his mixture of translated Chinese poems and songs by Nick Drake.
Ross Grainger is currently the joint manager-owner of Exclusive Language Education & Research (ELER). ELER is a English language training and translation school situated in Binjiang, a suburb of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, the People’s Republic of China. He can sometimes be found strumming his guitar on a Sunday afternoon at one of the teahouses on West Lake in the heart of Hangzhou.