Rare, Unheard Nick Drake Tapes Going Up for Auction

Six "pristine" late Sixties recordings expected to sell more than $400,000

Nick Drake
Keith Morris/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Nick Drake
Nick Drake
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Singer-songwriter Nick Drake made a huge mark on folk music with only three albums to his name, so the revelation that a reel of six previously unheard recordings exists could be a massive contribution to his catalog. According to the New York Times, the recordings will go up for auction on July 31st at London's Ted Owen & Company. A company representative described the recordings as "pristine master tapes" and is expecting them to fetch at least £250,000 ($428,000).  

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Recorded in 1968, the year before the release of his debut album Five Leaves Left, the reel has been owned by Beverley Martyn, a folk singer who mentored Drake alongside her late husband John Martyn. In an interview with the Independent, she called the sound "full of fun," and said Drake's early guitar playing on the tape is "absolutely excellent." "The strings were great [on the formal albums], but this is just him, and it makes it more personal," she said. She went on to describe Drake as a "younger brother."

Drake, who died of an anti-depressant overdose in 1974 at the age of 26, never found fame in his short, fraught lifetime. His albums received little acclaim and he was subsequently dropped by Island Records for poor sales. It was only in the decades after his death that audiences rediscovered the poetic lyrical sensibilities and delicate arrangements for which Drake is loved. 

Martyn cites health issues as her reason for finally parting with the tapes, which has been in her possession all this time. "I don't want this tape to get lost or get into the wrong hands if anything happens to me," she said. "Someone else should be able to enjoy it."

It's been a landmark year for rock auctions. Last month, Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for his seminal 1965 song “Like a Rolling Stone” sold for more than $2 million at a Sotheby’s auction. At the same auction, Elvis Presley's white, rhinestone-emblazoned (and sweat-crusted) jumpsuit sold for $245,000. Last week, Frank Sinatra’s first New Jersey driver’s license (on which his name is misspelled “Sintra”) sold for $15,000 at Boston’s RR Auctions.