Why I ❤️ Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, by Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt

The cover of Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left and and inset of Mikael Åkerfeldt
(Image credit: Mikael Åkerfeldt: Jonas Åkerlund | Nick Drake: Island Records)

“I got into Nick Drake’s music after borrowing The Third Stone From The Sun, by the Swedish author Claes Holmström, back in the early 1990s. It’s an amazing book about a slacker dude whose record collection is his life. 

"In fact, in one scene he actually fucks his record collection because he loves it so much. But the central character has good taste: he likes The Kinks. And he mentions Nick Drake, which persuaded me to check him out.

“My first of his albums was the third one, 1972’s Pink Moon – a very ‘down’ record because it was Drake’s last. I then bought a compilation CD called Way To Blue [released in 1994], which had several tracks from Five Leaves Left, his debut. They were some of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard. 

"I couldn’t find Five Leaves Left on vinyl at home, so I bought it on CD and quickly fell in love with songs like River Man and Three Hours. As you’ll know if you’re a smoker, the album’s title refers to a marking on the inside of a packet of rolling papers that indicates only five more remain.

“Although it’s mainly guitar and vocals, it’s a truly fantastic record. Very stripped down and emotional. Nick wasn’t known as a guitarist, but he was a phenomenal acoustic player. 

"He used lots of fascinating open tunings and chord progressions; he’d obviously listened to Bert Jansch, because he had the same style, but in my opinion a better voice. 

"Nick Drake’s singing worked its way into your soul. At times he almost whispered into the microphone. And he got weaker all the time. I heard one of his final recordings from before he died in 1974 and he almost had no voice left at all. He was only 26.

“Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson and Danny Thompson, the bassist from Pentangle, are both on the album. But what really makes it work is Robert Kirby’s string arrangements and the extremely basic production. 

"Some reviewers actually compared Opeth’s Damnation album [2003] to Nick Drake, so maybe this won’t surprise our real fans. He’s one of my biggest influences.

“When my daughter came along, I played her selections from Nick Drake’s catalogue just before she went to bed. She loved it and it calmed her. Plus, it’s a great musical start for a kid.

“Five Leaves Left didn’t sell too well back in 1969, but has rightly become a cult favourite. So I was thrilled to pick up an original vinyl copy years back for £250. Rarity value aside, the music’s worth every penny.”

Mikael Åkerfeldt was speaking with Dave Ling

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.