© Elastic Television Limited / Michael Burdett 2014 - All rights reserved


Nick Drake as you’ve never heard him before

The Strange Face Project is the story of a lost Nick Drake recording and how the man who found it chose to share it in an extraordinary way.

In the 1970s, when working as a post-boy at Island Records, television composer Michael Burdett rescued a tape from a rubbish skip.

“I picked it up because it had ‘Nick Drake, Cello Song’ and ‘with love’ written on the box. The words ‘with love’ made me think that it had to be Nick’s handwriting and on that basis

I couldn’t let it go to the dump.”

It was over 20 years before Michael played the tape. When he threaded it on to a tape machine, he was astonished to hear an unknown version of Cello Song, one of Nick’s greatest works.

During his brief recording career, Nick Drake produced just 3 studio albums, so Michael knew the discovery of a new recording would be a significant find. Drake’s estate manager came to hear it, bringing with him Nick’s friend and string arranger, Robert Kirby. They confirmed that it was unique.

“Kirby settled down in the studio and I put the recording on. When the guitar started, it was obvious from his face that he did not recognise this particular version. Then as Nick’s voice came in, his eyes moistened. It felt like a very personal moment and I remember thinking that his face would have made a telling photograph.”

Realising it was not his place to copy, release or broadcast the recording Michael put the tape aside as a curiosity until some years later when he heard news of Kirby’s death.  Around the same time Michael watched the documentary, Grizzly Man, the unfortunate story of Timothy Treadwell who was sadly killed by a grizzly bear he was filming in the wild. In the documentary the director, Werner Herzog, listens to the audio recording of the fatal attack on headphones.

“I remember thinking that watching someone listening to something so ghastly was one of the most visceral things I had ever seen. It made me think, what would I actually like to watch people listen to on headphones?

And in that moment I knew what I was going to do.”

Michael set off on a strange adventure. With a CD player and headphones in hand, for nearly two years he travelled the length and breadth of Britain with the aim of offering random individuals an exclusive opportunity to hear the recording.

City workers, farmers, scientists, hairdressers, musicians, tattooists – he asked them all. Randomly stopping them in the street, at their places of work and in their homes, whether they knew of Drake’s material or not.

“We are living in a world where recorded music is distributed so casually and freely it’s almost lost its value. However, here was an opportunity to use a recording to create a very personal moment for a number of people and maybe give them an incredibly special memory.”

Among the people he approached were some well-known faces, including Billy Bragg, Sir Tom Stoppard, Tracy Chevalier, Danny Baker, Alan Yentob, Martin Freeman, The Mighty Boosh, Richard E Grant, Jonathan Pryce, Fearne Cotton, Ross Noble and Paul Whitehouse.

Michael photographed everyone who listened, people from the age of two to 96, and recorded their thoughts on the newly discovered recording

“The great thing about Nick Drake is that you have to meet him halfway. You have to lean in to hear what he is saying.”

Billy Bragg, singer-songwriter

“He just died without me noticing. It is the velvet in his voice that brings out the best in him” 

Melvin Hodges, factory worker

“It was like the forest came to life and carried me about in a little silver papoose”

Noel Fielding, comedian, actor

“That was the most amazingly optimistic record”

Ali Quarréll, museum curator

“Things like this don’t actually happen”

Rob Power, music shop assistant

“You have made my day”

Ella Baruch, student violinist

Nick Drake’s music was seldom reviewed when he was alive and he never received the recognition his talent deserved. It is often said that this disappointment caused him to take his life. But by the mid 1980s his music was being cited as influencing the likes of Peter Buck (R.E.M) and Robert Smith (The Cure). Today, Drake’s work is more popular than ever. It can be heard on a number of movie soundtracks and television commercials and continues to inspire and influence new generations.

Set against the backdrop of Nick Drake’s intriguing life story, the Strange Face Project takes a retrospective look at Michael’s adventure as he guides us through some of the most amusing, fascinating and poignant moments.

We’ll meet the people he photographed and hear their stories – what are their memories of the experience and were they moved by it? And how does it feel to be one of only 200 people ever to hear this recording?

As we examine Nick’s enduring legacy we’ll reveal whether the Strange Face Project has had a lasting effect on the lives of the unsuspecting members of this most exclusive of clubs.


Since his tragic death in the mid seventies, Nick Drake's haunting music has influenced countless artists – from Kate Bush to Radiohead. But how has the discovery of a previously unheard recording touched the lives of a very special group of people: the lucky few, who were chosen to hear it?

Nick Drake is hailed as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the last 50 years yet his is one of the most mysterious and intriguing stories of 20th century pop. Before his suicide in 1974 aged just 26 he was a relatively unknown artist but in his short recording career he had generated a legacy that would go on to influence some of pop’s most high profile artists.

"There's a magic about his music, a kind of fragility which a lot of people identify with."

Paul Weller


“People come to Nick Drake and love it because they feel that they have found his music and it’s like a treasure”

Kathryn Williams

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