Strange faces…and familiar ones

strange face
All set for our own adventure with a lost Nick Drake recording.

In my last post, I waxed lyrical about Nick Drake and the Strange Face project and the fact that its author, Michael Burdett, was coming to the Tree House.  Friday evening’s event turned out to be even more wonderful than expected, and it was brilliant to see the bookshop full – nearly 30 of us, and lots of people who had not been before, too, as well as some of our regulars.  Lovely!

Michael’s talk isn’t like anything else I’ve experienced.  It is forty years since Nick Drake’s death, and in that time so much has been written about him that you would think there was nothing new or original to say – yet Michael’s project and what has come out of it is a deeply inspiring contribution to Nick Drake’s legacy.

It’s hard not to get emotional when you listen to or talk about Nick Drake.  Whenever he is mentioned, his early death is usually there in the opening sentence.  The fragile, ethereal quality of his voice and his songs and his photogenic beauty combine to make that tragedy still raw even after forty years.

But what Michael’s project does is to distil all of that into something genuinely meaningful.  He shows us photographs of a wonderful variety of people listening to an unreleased Nick Drake recording and talks about the moment he shared with these people, and what comes across is the extraordinary power of music to connect people with themselves and with each other.  This level of impact that music can have is too frequently undervalued.  Michael claims not to know how to use a camera, but the photographs are stunning, and this visual power alongside the adventure that Michael recounts through the cumulative effect of his project makes for an unforgettable experience.

We laughed, we cried, we were given surprises and we were made to think.  Michael’s passion and emotional engagement came through time and again, and what I loved the first time I heard this talk came through even more strongly on Friday night – a sense of community, between all of us in the room and the people in Michael’s story.

Nick Drake remains an elusive figure, and while he was there in every moment, he was never the actual focus, and this in itself is one of the glories of the show.  The photographs capture the moment when privacy and public engagement meet, an uncomfortable but compelling experience and one that is entirely appropriate to our fascination with Nick.  There is an immediacy and yet a sense of things being off to the side, ungraspable – and this is surely at the heart of any great human experience.  They also capture the relationship between diversity and universality, another fundamental relationship within our human condition.

It is difficult to convey the subtle power of Michael’s show, but it is real nevertheless.  The Tree House is about community in this sort of subtle way – finding ways of bringing people together that are meaningful and profound.  Music does this, which is one of the reasons we put on live music gigs.  Talks about music can clearly also do this!  Michael has become a friend since he first gave the talk at the Tree House last year, and I know of specific instances where people have connected and friendships have been made through coming together to listen to this talk.  There is a level of integrity in the way Michael handles the recording he found and the people he encounters through it that is profoundly refreshing in our world where most things can be bought for a price and so many things are devalued by overexposure and commercial motives.

I can’t praise the talk highly enough, and if you get the opportunity, do go and listen to it.  It is of course utterly fascinating for those who are fans, but it transcends any interest in Nick Drake – it’s about something more universally human than musical taste or the hagiography of one individual.  Yet it is also a homage to the power of those three beautiful records that Nick Drake made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which now command so much respect and affection – qualities which shine through in the Strange Face Project.

It may sound a bit cheesy or even pretentious, but I feel enabled and empowered by having been there on Friday evening – enabled and empowered to carry on with my own project and think creatively about it, to relish human connectivity, to buck the trend of commercial motivation and exploitation.

A few quotes from the audience:

‘A truly memorable and fascinating evening…it was truly superb.’

‘One of the best things I have ever been to.’

‘Been reflecting a lot on last night’s talk.  Really powerful but in a subtle way.’

Do have a look at the Strange Face website – there is a book too, full of the photographs I have referred to, which is the next best thing to hearing the talk.  Michael also uses the talk to highlight and support the work of Nordoff Robbins, an amazing charity that uses music to transform the lives of adults and children whose quality of life is compromised by illness, injury and other conditions.  All in all a truly brilliant project, and I can’t thank Michael enough for bringing it to the Tree House.

Strange Face at Treehouse 2 new postcode

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Cancel your plans for Friday evening! You have a date with a Strange Face…

What are you doing this Friday?  You are coming to the Tree House to listen to a truly fabulous illustrated talk about Nick Drake, of course!  Why would you want to do anything else?

Warwickshire has nurtured three of England’s greatest writers in different centuries – Shakespeare, George Eliot and Nick Drake (for me, the greatest British singer-songwriter of all).  Before I opened the Tree House, when I was thinking of what to call our bookshop/community hub, I really wanted the name to be related to a Nick Drake song.  I thought of Five Leaves, Pink Moon, Northern Sky, Fruit Tree, River Man…none of them seemed right, even though I knew it would be so cool to have a Nick Drake-related bookshop name.  In the end I moved away from that idea and chose the Tree House for a number of reasons, but I still regret not naming it for him in some way.

I love Nick Drake’s music – those exquisite songs and equally exquisite voice.  He died before I even knew he existed, but he is in my top three popular musicians and I consider his record Five Leaves Left to be one of the all-time greatest records.  So I was intrigued last year to see on Twitter some references to the Strange Face Project – about one man’s adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording – and started following the Twitter account.   The project is about the finding of a tape with an unreleased Nick Drake song on it and the adventures relate to what the finder did with this.

The man leading these adventures is the very lovely Michael Burdett, London-based musician and composer, and one day he phoned me to say he had seen my interest and wondered about coming to give his talk at the bookshop.  He then turned up one day and we had an excellent chat, arranged a date, and he left – leaving some wonderful photographs behind.  We used the one of Billy Bragg listening to the recording as our window display for quite a while.

Strange Face

Michael came and gave his talk just over a year ago, and it was fabulous.  It’s hard to convey quite why it’s so fabulous, especially without giving too much away, but ultimately it’s a story about the power of a piece of music – the impact it has on individuals and the way it connects people.  The illustrated show was informative, funny, fascinating and very moving – the material is great, but Michael’s delivery is also fantastic.  He is warm, funny, engaging, generous and passionate.

He went on to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it (unsurprisingly) won the award for Best Free Show.

He has also become a friend of the Tree House.  He lives in London, but from time to time has appeared in the shop doorway bearing cake and good cheer.  When we reopened I knew I wanted him to come back and give the talk again, and am thrilled that he agreed to do so, and he wants it to be a means of supporting the Tree House.  He has revised and expanded the show, which he is taking to Edinburgh again this year, along with other festivals over the summer.

But he is coming here first!  This Friday, 19 June, 8pm.  You’d be crazy to miss it.

Tickets are £5, in advance or on the door, and included is a £2 voucher to spend in the shop.  We would love a really good audience for this – it deserves to have the bookshop packed to the rafters.  Please come, please bring your friends, please spread the word if you can’t come (or even if you can).  You don’t have to be a Nick Drake fan to enjoy this event, though if you are it will make it all the more brilliant an evening.  If you have friends who don’t know Nick’s music, bring them along – perfect opportunity to introduce them.

There are only 40 tickets available, so contact us if you want to reserve some.  More details in the poster below.

Whatever you do and whyever you do it, just come along – it will be a truly lovely evening at a bargain price (you can give more if you want to!), and you will be supporting the bookshop as well as having the best time.  What more could you ask for on a Friday evening?

Strange Face at Treehouse 2 new postcode