Harmonia Mundi's retail stores in France are veritable Aladdin's Caves for hardcore CD collectors, and it is difficult to visit one without parting with some serious cash. During a recent visit to their Perpignan store I scored the very rewarding The Sufi Spirit, the Spirit of Love by Nassima Chabane, an Algerian singer who specialises in the Arab-Andalusian repertoire. But that music will have to wait for another day, because it is the disc that caught my eye as I left the store that is the starting point for today's post.
Quite a lot of time had been spent cruising the shelves for chance finds, and the prospect of lunch in the form of a marmite de poisson in the Place Arago beckoned. But as I left a CD in the store's window caught my eye -, Requiem For A Pink Moon: An Elizabethan Tribute to Nick Drake, by Joel Fredericksen and his Ensemble Phoenix Munich. Now even a marmite de poisson can wait for a Nick Drake discovery, so I headed back into the store and asked to see the disc, explaining that I had missed it in the displays inside. To which the helpful and knowledgable lady manager responded "You didn't see the CD inside because it is under the counter - we have not yet worked out which category to display it in". Which is quite understandable, as on the album bass voice and lutenist Joel Frederiksen and his three piece early music ensemble of viola da gamba, theorbo/archlute and drum/tenor perform songs by Nick Drake (1948-1974), John Dowland (1562/3-1626), Michael Cavendish (c1565-1628), Thomas Campion ((c1567-1619), plus one of Frederiksen's own songs and his arrangement of excerpts from the Gregorian Requiem Mass.
Joel Frederiksen is an early music specialist as well as long-standing devotee of Nick Drake's unique brand of beauty-in-bleakness. Like a Sufi adept, Nick was in the world, but not of it - that Sufi reference is not totally contrived, Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention who played on Nick's first album, Five Leaves Left, was a disciple of the Sufi Sheikh Abdul Qadir at the time. As recounted previously, Nick had busked in the sunshine of the Midi, where this path started, and travelled on to Marrakech, where he had a brief encounter with the Rolling Stones. But, despite this, there was something quintessentially English about him. Educated at Marlborough College and Cambridge (he dropped out of the latter), Nick spent his last days at his parent's home in bucolic Tanworth-in-Arden, and died there in 1974 aged just twenty-six.
Nick Drake's songs comfortably hold their own in the heady company of John Dowland and other Elizabethan masters, and it is the shared English roots of his chosen composers that bind Joel Frederiksen's audacious album together. The Forest of Arden around Nick's home in Warwickshire is thought to be the setting for As You Like It, that pastoral romp by the greatest of all Elizabethan masters William Shakespeare. So I will misappropriate Duke Senior's celebrated lines from the play and offer them as my response to Joel Frederiksen's Requiem For A Pink Moon:
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Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything
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