When Richard Hewson’s string arrangements for Nick Drake’s debut album Five Leaves Left came in, there was widespread disappointment at Island Records: too mainstream was the verdict. “I have this friend”, said Nick, “he’d be able to do much better. I want to work with him on this. No-one else”. Words to that effect, anyway.
The friend was Robert Kirby, who ended up scoring most of the string parts on Five Leaves Left. When it came to River Man, the song Nick saw as the centrepiece of the album, Kirby wasn’t sure he could match Drake’s expectations of the track; Island called in Harry Robinson, whose credits included scores for Hammer films and the song Hoots Mon, which folks of my generation will probably know best through its use in a Wine Gums advert.
This unlikely team of collaborators nevertheless brought forth the flowing, perfect arrangement of strings that is River Man. For the most part it’s pure and smooth, with only a couple of staccato stabs to break the easy-going mood.
Pure, beautiful, perfect.