According to Robert Kirby, friend and arranger for Nick Drake, both he and Nick were involved in sessions for the educational double LP recording entitled Interplay One (Longman, 1972). Kirby remembered the following in regards to the session:
'The other session I got for Nick was for Longman, the educational publishers. I was singing, pretending to be a swagman, Nick played guitar, and a childhood friend called Rocking John played banjo ….. I was going out with a girl who was an editor at Longman, and it was recorded, I think, at their offices in Harlow. It was done within a year of us leaving Cambridge, so 1970/71.’ (Patrick Humphries, Nick Drake - the biography, Bloomsbury, 1998, 145-6)
Precise recording dates are unknown – Kirby vaguely refers to 1970/71, whilst the LP label cites the patent date as 1971, and the booklet accompanying the double album indicates 1972. This suggests that the music was perhaps recorded during the latter part of 1971, and the final product made available early in 1972.
Interplay One is perhaps the rarest of all Nick Drake recordings. This is due to its limited circulation as an educational kit for schools, it not being a purely pop or music album, and the fact that it was basically unknown to Nick Drake fans prior to the publication of Humphries' biography in 1997. The two songs Full Fathom Five and With My Swag all on My Shoulder are especially important additions to the relative small collection of just 31 songs Drake is known to have recorded and issued during his lifetime. Though not Nick Drake songs as such, they feature his playing and are of sufficient quality to interest his many fans.
Interplay One was an educational kit (teaching anthology) produced for use in junior secondary school. It was compiled by John Watts and included music (a double album of recorded speech, sounds and music), two booklets containing text (stories, poems, song lyrics) and teacher’s notes, along with film strips of images to accompany the music and words. The material was divided into 18 units, with each unit having a theme as expressed in its title. These units usually corresponded with the titles of the songs featured on the albums, though additional songs were also included. The 18 units were:
Humphries notes that Nick Drake played guitar on the following songs during the session:
Robert Kirby sang on one song – With a Swag all on My Shoulder - whilst the female singer Vivian Fowler was heard on the other two. Only Full Fathom Five is listed on the inner sleeve of the album and the lp label. There is no reference to the other two songs on the album, neither is there any listing of the various musicians involved, either on the album or within the accompanying booklet. We therefore have only the Humphries and Kirby information to assist in this area, along with Vivian Fowler's recent reminiscences, as published on this site. The three songs involving Nick Drake are described in detail below. MP3 versions of the songs are available on this site - they were taken directly from a mint version of the lp by the present writer during December 2001.
Full Fathom FiveUnit 10 - Full Fathom Five. Record 2, side 1, track 1. Length: 1 minute 10 seconds. A folk song featuring Vivian Fowler on vocals (pictured on right) and Nick Drake on guitar. The words of the song are extracted from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as follows:
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Hark! Now I hear them –
This song, though brief, features some lovely guitar playing from Nick Drake, behind Vivian Fowler's vocal. It is a haunting sea shanty in the folk tradition. For more information, refer to Vivian Fowler's reminiscences below.
With My Swag all on My ShoulderUnit 18 - Into the Unknown. Record 2, side 2, track 4. Length: 2 minutes 32 seconds. According to Humphries, this traditional Australian pioneer song features Robert Kirby on vocals, pretending to be a swagman, and Nick Drake on guitar. It is a beautiful song with an Irish flavour, featuring some nice picking by Nick. The song is not listed on the record label or mentioned in the accompanying booklet. It had been made popular in Britain by the Australian group The Seekers during the 1960s.
I Wish I Was a Single Girl AgainUnit 7 – Only a number to the postman. Record 1, side 2, track 3. Length: 2 minutes. This song is not listed on the lp label, but is noted in the accompanying booklet. According to Humphries, it features 'Rocking John' on banjo and Vivian Fowler on vocal. A rhythm guitar bass line is also heard in the background, mostly likely by Nick Drake. This is a song in the traditional hillbilly / American country and western format, with the vocal tending towards yodelling. It is unrecognisable as a Nick Drake track as he does not feature.
Vivian Fowler Reminiscences 2009
During May-July 2009 this author was contacted by Vivian Fowler, singer on Full Fathom Five and I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again. Vivian recalled the following reminiscences regarding her part in the Interplay One sessions and the brief encounter with Nick Drake:
"I became involved because my husband worked in the Audio Visual Department at Longmans but he had left by the time we got married in 1969, so if the dating is right, they must have contacted him to get me involved. It was probably Robert Kirby's girlfriend who worked there who got in touch with him at the time. Longmans had moved to Harlow but I frankly don't recall going out there to do the recording - I had envisaged it in a studio in London as I don't think they had recording facilities in Harlow.
The other thing I can't recall is who wrote the tune for Full Fathom Five? I was setting a few things to music at the time and can't remember now, whether that is a traditional tune or whether it was one of mine. The recording was definitely done with Nick Drake in the studio. I have a feeling that I was asked to come up with a suitably 'dirgy' tune to accompany those words, and having done that it wouldn't have taken someone like him very long to create an accompaniment - I could have done it myself but thought someone else would do it better. A very good decision as it turned out.
I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again is of course a well known song and lots of people have recorded it.
I think we had an hour or so to pull it together and then do the recording - half a day in the studio.
I was just one of the many singers trying to make my way at the time - in pubs and clubs and restaurants, etc. I can't believe now that I had the audacity to sing in the same venue as Al Stewart on Wednesday nights at the Molly Millar pub in Wokingham, and several million album sales later his career turned out better than mine! Mine ended several years later with an a capella group in New York, singing the Stars and Stripes in Shea Stadium on Memorial Day for the opening of the Met's season!
I was just glancing through the Humphries biography and saw that one of Nick Drake's early favourite bands was Zoot Money's Big Roll Band - Zoot is still going strong and I go and hear him play with the Alan Price band every month at my local jazz club in Barnes (second only to Ronnie Scott's!), the Bull's Head. Anyhow, my recollection of Nick Drake is pretty much like everyone else's - he just seemed a quiet nice sort of guy, absolutely no airs and graces, he was there to get a job done. My guitar playing simply wasn't good enough and I was very relieved not to have to play. I wish I could give you more information. .... I am just delighted to have found the recordings - I knew they were out there somewhere and had no idea how to find them, so thank you."
email: Michael Organ, Site last updated 22 July 2009.