By Jeremy Gaunt
LONDON (Reuters) - Nearly four decades after his death, British singer-songwriter Nick Drake has never been as popular.
Tribute singers, car and cough syrup advertisements, radio and film documentaries, and word of mouth have combined over time to turn Drake from unheralded 1970s musician into modern-day music lore.
Now a new CD of Drake's songs covered by other artists and a remastered boxed vinyl of one of his few albums are set to add to the phenomenon and put his haunting, poetic music into the spotlight.
Joe Boyd, who produced Drake's records, says the musician's appeal has been a real slow burner, moving from aficionado to aficionado and even between lovers.
"People would go out together. After a few days they would play Nick Drake to their new friend, making clear 'If you don't get this, the relationship doesn't go very far'," he told Reuters.
"It is music which was out of step with its time. As years go by, people see the richness and depth of what he was doing."
Drake's heyday, such as it was, was in the late '60s and early '70s when he dropped out of Cambridge University despite a scholarship and went on to make three albums - "Five Leaves Left" (1969), "Bryter Layter" (1970) and "Pink Moon" (1972).
There was also a quintet of songs recorded shortly before his death from an overdose of antidepressants in 1974, aged 26. It is never been resolved if his death was accidental or suicide.
CHAMPIONED BY OTHER ARTISTS
Over the years his influence has grown, championed by artists such as Paul Weller and with a radio documentary about Drake presented by actor Brad Pitt, a big fan of the musician.
His music is rich with lyrics such as: "Time has told me/You came with the dawn/A soul with no footprint/A rose with no thorn/Your tears they tell me/There's really no way/Of ending your troubles/With things you can say".
Most recently, his second album, "Bryter Layter", has been remastered for a vinyl presentation set, containing posters and other trivia.
The original master tape was unusable so a "safety" tape made by the engineer, John Wood, at the time was used instead.
Producer Boyd, meanwhile, has done his bit to drive the interest along, first putting together concerts of artists singing Drake songs and now releasing a CD from them - "Way to Blue - The Songs of Nick Drake".
"We tried to choose artists who don't sound like Nick Drake," he said.
It features folk and rock singers along the lines of Teddy Thompson, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Scott Matthews, and Danny Thompson - each giving their own twist to Drake's work.
"It's good music and good music is hard to find these days," said Paris-based U.S. chanteuse Krystle Warren, who is featured on the CD.
Her rendition of "Time Has Told Me" is decidedly more throaty and soaring than Drake's original, which is not surprising given Warren's roots.
"It really felt like what I grew up with - gospel music," she said.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)