In the late 70s, Michael Burdett was working as a post boy at Island Records. One day he was helping move a huge pile of tapes at the back of the company’s offices. There were records by many of the historical bands on the label such as Traffic, Free, Bob Marley and Cat Stevens.
He asked permission to take some of them home. Among his selection, there was a scruffy cassette tape: Cello Song by Nick Drake. Drake had been dead for about five years and hadn’t had a great amount of success during his lifetime. He managed to leave three albums: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon, where the intimate profoundness of his singing and guitar became increasingly dark and blue-devilled.
Strange Face is the name given to Burdett’s adventure around Britain, where he took photographs of people listening to Nick Drake’s recording. The idea came from the documentary film Grizzly Man, in which towards the end, the director Werner Herzog is listening on headphones to the real-life subject of the film being killed by a grizzly bear. He transformed the original idea into giving people the opportunity to listen to the lost record in exchange for him photographing them.
The show is the tale of his journey in which 200 people were asked their first name, their profession, what music they like and if they were familiar with Drake’s music. The result is a series of portraits of this diverse variety of people listening to an unreleased version of the song that starts with the words “Strange Face”.
The reactions of the people are as diverse as the selection, but Drake’s song was remarkably well received; very few declared themselves not to have been touched emotionally by his music. The idea of the show and the project works in a similar way to Drake’s music, bringing his crepuscular and melanchonic melodies into the private world of the listener.