Strange Face: Adventures With A Lost Nick Drake Recording

“Strange face, with your eyes So pale and sincere. Underneath you know well You have nothing to fear....”

Burdett salvaging the demo tape from a skip is a wonder. Yet the real miracle of this show is that he manages to wring pathos out of PowerPoint.

So starts Cello Song, a melancholic sliver of a song that appears halfway through Nick Drake’s debut album, Five Leaves Left. It’s a delicate, mysterious opening, one which draws the listener in close.

A plain grey PowerPoint slide displaying the name of this show and its author, greets us for Strange Face: Adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording.

This doesn’t seem to bode well for the show to follow. However, over the next hour, the packed house at The Old Market were held in thrall by Michael Burdett, composer and accidental owner of an unreleased demo of Cello Song, salvaged from a skip he was in charge of clearing out as a teenage assistant at Island Records.

Over the past few years, Burdett has become the guardian of this little piece of forgotten musical magic. The complications of the Nick Drake estate means that the song can’t be released, so instead of broadcasting it to the world, he decided to embark on a project of ‘narrowcasting’. Loading up a portable CD player with the track, Burdett travelled across Britain, approaching strangers on the street, in barber shops, sitting by the sea and leaning by their motorbikes. He asked them four questions: What’s your name? What do you do? What kind of music are you into? And have you heard Nick Drake’s music before? Then, he slipped a pair of headphones over their ears and allowed them to listen to the unreleased song.

The photographs of these enthralled listeners – charmingly in black & white – as well as Burdett’s stories about his journeys, form the bulk of the surprising, moving show. The first surprise for many of us was the disappointing fact that we, as an audience, wouldn’t be hearing the unreleased Cello Song, which is brought up at the outset. But by the end, this barely matters.

At times, Burdett’s references or jokes seem a bit too targeted to a certain middle-aged audiophilic Dad-type, yet admirably this isn’t a show purely for Nick Drake obsessives. Ultimately, it’s about the private, intimate act of listening to music and the surprises, coincidences and connections that can be forged with strangers using music as a conduit.

Burdett salvaging the demo tape from a skip is a wonder. Yet the real miracle of this show is that he manages to wring pathos out of PowerPoint.

Reviews by Catherine O'Sullivan

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Edinburgh award-winning show comes to Brighton. Michael Burdett travelled all over the UK giving people the opportunity to hear a lost Nick Drake recording. Humorous and poignant, 'Strange Face' celebrates life, coincidences and the legacy of singer-songwriter Nick Drake. [newline] "A gorgeous show" (The Times)