An album cover art story
Pink Moon was Nick Drake’s final studio album, a collection of short songs featuring only the singer accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and piano on the title track. After recording the full album during two late night sessions in October 1971, he delivered the master tapes to Island Records, who were unaware of an upcoming album. After he left the office they found the tapes with the label Pink Moon. Annie Sullivan, creative director at Island, was tasked with the sleeve design. A non-talkative Nick Drake offered no clues beyond the album title, so she went with the standard approach of a photo shoot. Keith Morris, who took the fantastic photos on the covers of Drake’s two previous albums, Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, took the singer to Hampstead Heath. Drake wore a turtleneck sweater and an overcoat. The pictures are a visual snapshot of his mental state at the time, a man sinking deep into depression. His posture and facial expression are melancholy personified, desolate and withdrawn. Morris remembers: “He wouldn’t even look at me, let alone do anything. It was just, ‘stand there, stand there, look over there. He was just standing around, looking…uncomfortably Nick.”
Morris continues: “It was a bleak, grey day… Nick was totally cooperative but said very little, couldn’t interact and found it difficult to look towards the camera. It was like I was intruding on private grief.”
One photo from that session endures the best for me. Annie Sullivan remembers: “I had my dog Gus, a golden retriever, with me. I’d brought him along because everybody liked Gus, and also dogs have a way of getting through something, where people don’t. Nick didn’t talk to Gus, but he obviously liked him. And that’s where the picture came from: Nick walking down the path, and Gus came rushing around the corner and looked up at Nick.” The picture made it into a full-page ad in Melody Maker. This was Nick Drake’s final photo shoot.
Quickly realizing that the photos were not quite the material that draws hordes of people into the record shops to buy the album, Annie Sullivan went for plan B: “I’d seen Michael Trevithick’s work and liked it. His portfolio was very different, very strange. I’m pretty certain he hadn’t done any album sleeves before. I just had a feeling that he might come up with something.” Sullivan had a good instinct in picking the artist, but she was wrong on one account. Trevithick created one album sleeve prior to Pink Moon: a reissue of Spooky Tooth’s 1968 album It’s All About, retitled Tobacco Road in 1971.
The painting Michael Trevithick created for Pink Moon has a surrealistic feel to it, somewhat Daliesque and even more Magritte-inspired with its use of household objects and the way they float over the landscape. Trevithick, interestingly a friend of Nick Drake’s sister Gabrielle, was a talented artist and illustrator who worked for Punch magazine and created covers for Penguin, like this one from 1969:
A curious epilogue to this story is one told by David Sandison who was press officer at Island Records during that time Nick Drake was a recording artist with the label. The label expanded its premises into a house near its original office. Sandison remembers: “There was a load of debris in the basement, and they said ‘This is going to be your office’, so I said ‘Thanks a lot’, because there were desks piled up and everything, and part of the debris was the framed original Pink Moon painting. It didn’t have any of the credits on it or any of the tracks or anything, it just had the Island logo and the spread. So I took it upstairs and said ‘Does anyone want this?’ and they said ‘No’, so I said ‘Can I hang it in the office?’ and they said ‘Yes, if you like’. He opted to take the painting home, and after a few years sent it to Gabrielle Drake. A photograph of Nick Drake’s music room at his childhood home in Tanworth-in-Arden shows a framed painting of the Pink Moon cover hanging on the wall.
And to close, here is the wonderful title track that opens the album:
If you enjoyed reading this article and find yourself craving for one more about Nick Drake, this article takes you back to the full story of his debut album:
Categories: Album Art