Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages
No.1 – Nick Drake, Tanworth-in-Arden

I sat on a bench opposite the pub. An elderly lady was sunning herself. “Are you here because of Nick Drake?” she asked. I said I was, um, how did she know? “We can usually spot them,” she said as if there was a collective noun for pilgrims traipsing around Warwickshire looking for dead singers. She pointed out the church and Drake family home and told me about her new hip.

Tanworth was a one-bus-a-day kind of place. Pub, church, village hall. The pace of life was unhurried and the shops shut on Sunday. Sturdy Georgian cottages surrounded a tidy green, a war memorial sat in the centre, winter roses curled around its base. The village was almost the definition of slightly posh, Mail-on-Sunday England; the flesh of Nick Drake’s songs.

Drake lies buried beneath a beech tree in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene. The gravestone was weather-battered and decked with dying flowers. The epitaph is simple, Nick Drake, remembered with love and the years of his life. The names of his mother and father are chiselled below, recent additions. Etched on the back are the words, ‘now we rise and we are everywhere’ two lines from the closing song on Pink Moon. I startled a cat, asleep against the gravestone and it followed me into the church. A brass plaque above the organ commemorates Nick’s life and music. The church was beautifully silent. The cat curled up on a pew, yawned and returned to sleep.

From the church, I walked to Far Leys, Nick’s boyhood home and the house where he died. Behind lie the Warwickshire hills, rolling middle England. The building is huge, austere; red bricked with thick square chimneys. It seemed too large and a little impersonal. Nick’s sister, Gabrielle always insisted their childhood was idyllic. I wondered how close a family could be in a house with so many rooms.