Strange Face – Adventures With a Lost Nick Drake Recording

Strange Face is Michael Burdett’s story; Drake himself is something of a side character. The show opens with Burdett offering a short biography of Drake’s tragic young life. Born abroad, dropping out of Cambridge to pursue a career in music, three astonishing, hazy, sad albums and no mainstream success, and death by suicide at the age of twenty-six. Burdett’s own story begins with himself as a young man, desperate to break into music, sending a letter to Drake’s record company begging for a job. He gets one – as “the lowest of the low” (“I wasn’t the postboy; I was his assistant”) – and discarded among the company’s outtakes he finds an unreleased recording of Cello Song, which he takes home with him. Years later, Burdett resolves to travel around the country, playing the recording to strangers, interviewing them, and photographing them while they listen.

Strange Face is strange and uplifting and Burdett’s narrative progresses meanderingly, with good humour and moments of real emotional depth.

It’s the small moments and the wry observations that make this show. Burdett’s story tries to emphasise the odd similarities that people will share and the coincidences that bring them together. 

Strange Face is strange and uplifting and Burdett’s narrative progresses meanderingly, with good humour and moments of real emotional depth. He remembers the names and the faces of everyone he’s interviewed for this project, and all of them, he says, surprised him. Burdett gleefully proves this by asking the audience to guess from photos of the people he interviewed what kind of music they like; we never got one right. Not all of them had heard of Nick Drake, but almost all of them enjoyed and were moved by the recording. Above all, the show is proof that everyone has a story to tell – and if you stopped a stranger in the street and asked, they’d probably be happy to tell you.

You don’t have to be a Drake fan to enjoy this show, but it might help – not least because the show will encourage you to listen to him anew. Pink Moon is my favourite of his albums too, Michael, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have spent time with it again. A highlight of the show is the reactions of people who’ve never heard of Nick Drake before. One man asks which album of Drake’s he should listen to, and Burdett tells him that they get sadder as they go on. The man smiles: “I’ll listen to them in reverse.”

Reviews by Matthew Bradley

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The Blurb

The extraordinary award-winning show about a lost Nick Drake recording rescued from the bottom of a skip returns. Michael Burdett randomly stopped 200 strangers and photographed them listening to the track. The result is a collection of photographs and stories from people all over Britain including Billy Bragg, Tom Stoppard, Ross Noble, Paul Whitehouse, Martin Freeman and Noel Fielding. Humorous and poignant, Strange Face celebrates life, coincidences and the legacy of singer/songwriter Nick Drake. 'Enthralling' (Time Out). 'Hugely appealing' (Independent). 'An oasis of calm in this feverish festival' ***** (