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Robert Kirby

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Robert Kirby 16 April 1948 – 3 October 2009 was a British-born arranger of string sections for rock and folk music He was best known for his work on the Nick Drake albums, Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, but also worked with Vashti Bunyan, Elton John, Ralph McTell, Strawbs, Paul Weller and Elvis Costello

Contents

  • 1 Early life
  • 2 At Cambridge
  • 3 The May Ball
  • 4 Five Leaves Left
  • 5 Life as an arranger
  • 6 Public performances of Nick Drake's music
  • 7 Death
  • 8 Legacy
  • 9 Discography
  • 10 References
  • 11 External links

Early life

He was educated at Bishop's Stortford College an independent school in Hertfordshire, and then the University of Cambridge

At Cambridge

Patrick Humphries' book Way To Blue gives some details of Kirby's time at university

He sang in a group called 'The Gentle Power of Song' His tutor once told him that his compositions sounded like a breakfast cereal commercial This was intended as an insult, but Kirby took this as his high praise: "As good as that, eh" Kirby went to Caius College, Cambridge and made friends with Paul Wheeler They were both members of the Caius Breakfast Club, also called "The Loungers" There were few rules You had to have a Loungers' breakfast on Sundays, and 'stand by ye gate once a day and observe what strange creatures God hath made' There was a rule that permitted an outsider the 'Oddefellowe' to become a member Robert and Paul were both friends with Nick Drake so they invited him to be the Oddefellowe There is a line in Drake's song "Way To Blue" which seems to echo one of the rules of the Loungers:

"We will wait at your gate, hoping like the blind"

The May Ball

Kirby recruited eight musicians seven women and one man to play alongside Nick Drake at the Caius May Ball Kirby wore evening dress, and the seven women wore black ankle-length dresses with white feather boas They performed in the library Four of the songs were with the string orchestra and a couple of others were Drake solo After every third song, they played classical music Leopold Mozart and Tomaso Albinoni

Five Leaves Left

When Joe Boyd recruited Drake to record an album, he already had a string arranger in mind, Richard A Hewson Drake rejected the few Hewson arrangements produced and announced that he already had a friend at university who could do a better job—Kirby Drake had decided to leave university without completing his final year When Kirby was offered the contract to arrange music for an entire album, he, too, gave up Cambridge university Though Kirby arranged and conducted strings for the majority of Five Leaves, Harry Robinson was commissioned to arrange the strings for the centerpiece song, "River Man"

"The first strong memory I have of Nick was at the second or third session for Five Leaves Left Richard Hewson, a well known arranger, and a fifteen piece orchestra had been brought in to arrange Nick's songs Nick started getting hotter and hotter under the collar He was very young and he had struck me as a person you could push about – some people in a recording session will do whatever you tell them – but he was getting quietly more and more aggravated, and in the end he dug his heels in and dismissed the arrangements He said he'd get this friend at Cambridge, Robert Kirby, he thought would be much more sympathetic to what he was doing Robert had never before done anything in his life in a recording studio But two weeks later we booked him together with a bunch of musicians – a smaller bunch than the first time, I remember We were flabbergasted He was so good"


- John Wood, sound engineer for Five Leaves Left

Life as an arranger

Although Kirby had recorded arrangements for over 40 albums by 1978, it was a struggle to make ends meet In the end he decided to work in marketing industry instead He was rumoured still to have his scores for Drake's records in his mother's potting shed He also was for three years, 1975–1978 one of the two keyboard players for Strawbs, touring the UK and internationally, and getting some composing credits on the albums Deep Cuts, Deadlines and Burning for You He also did some further arranging for Strawbs with Baroque & Roll 2001, Déjà Fou 2004 and Dancing to the Devil's Beat 2009 He talks extensively about his career in Nick Awde's study Mellotron, subtitled The Machine and the Musicians That Revolutionised Rock 2008 – the book opens with a quote from him

Public performances of Nick Drake's music

On 2 July 2005, Kirby conducted an 18-piece orchestra in Manhattan's Central Park for a show of Drake's music, using his original scores Five Leaves Left was performed in its entirety as well as excerpts from Bryter Later and Made To Love Magic The show starred guitarist Josh Max and singer Julie James of the Manhattan-based group The Maxes, and was attended by 3,000 Drake fans from all over the US

Death

Robert Kirby died in a West London hospital following emergency heart surgery after a short illness on 3 October 2009 He was 61 years old

Legacy

His son Henry Kirby is also actively involved in music His rock band, The Absolutes, have played in various venues in London

Discography

  • Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left 1969
  • Nick Drake: Bryter Layter 1970
  • Vashti Bunyan: Just Another Diamond Day 1970
  • Bernie Taupin: Bernie Taupin 1970
  • Shelagh McDonald: Stargazer 1971
  • Audience: The House on the Hill 1971
  • Gillian McPherson: Poets and Painters and Performers of Blues 1971
  • Ralph McTell: You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here 1971
  • Keith Christmas: Pigmy 1971
  • Tim Hart and Maddy Prior: Summer Solstice 1971
  • Cochise: So Far 1971
  • Steve Gibbons: Short Stories 1971
  • Andy Roberts: Nina and the Dream Tree 1971
  • John Kongos: John Kongos 1971
  • Spirogyra: St Radigunds 1971
  • Elton John: Madman Across The Water 1971
  • Claggers: Chumley's Laughing Gear 1971
  • Strawbs: Grave New World 1972
  • David Ackles: American Gothic 1972
  • Mick Audsley: Dark and Devil Waters 1972
  • BJ Cole: The New Hovering Dog 1972
  • David Elliott: David Elliott 1972
  • Dave Cousins: Two Weeks Last Summer 1972
  • Strawbs: Bursting at the Seams 1972
  • Mike Silver: Troubadour 1973
  • Lindsay DePaul: Surprise 1973
  • Steve Ashley: Stroll On 1974
  • Steve Ashley: Speedy Return 1975
  • John Cale: Helen of Troy 1975
  • Gary Shearston: The Greatest Show on Earth 1975
  • Richard Digance: Trading the Boards 1975
  • Chris DeBurgh: Spanish Train and Other Stories 1975
  • Strawbs: Deep Cuts 1976
  • Design: By Design 1976 three tracks
  • Spriguns: Time Will Pass 1977
  • Sandy Denny: Rendezvous 1977
  • Strawbs: Burning for You 1977
  • Strawbs: Deadlines 1978
  • Arthur Brown: Chisholm in my Bosom 1978
  • Richard and Linda Thompson: First Light 1978
  • Roger McGough: Summer with Monika 1978
  • Iain Matthews: Stealin' Home 1978
  • Elvis Costello: Almost Blue 1982
  • Nick Lowe: Nick Lowe and his Cowboy Outfit 1984
  • Any Trouble: Wrong Eng of the Race 1984
  • The London Symphony Orchestra: Screen Classics, Vol 7 1994
  • Catchers: Stooping to Fit 1998
  • Ben & Jason: Hello 1999
  • Steve Ashley: The Test of Time 1999
  • Paul Weller: Heliocentric 2000
  • Acoustic Strawbs: Baroque & Roll 2001
  • Flemming: Starry Night 2001
  • Flemming: Old Boys, Chances for tomorrow 2002
  • Nick Drake: Made to Love Magic 2004
  • Strawbs: Déjà Fou 2004
  • Vashti Bunyan: Lookaftering 2005
  • Steve Ashley: Live in Concert 2006
  • The Magic Numbers: Those The Brokes 2006
  • a balladeer: Panama 2006
  • Teddy Thompson: Upfront & Down Low 2007
  • Linda Thompson: Versatile Heart 2007
  • Steve Ashley: Time and Tide 2007
  • Luke Jackson: And Then Some 2008
  • Strawbs: Dancing to the Devil's Beat 2009
  • James Edge and the Mindstep: In The Hills, The Cities 2010
  • The Magic Numbers: The Runaway 2010

References

  1. ^ Irwin, Colin 7 October 2009 "Robert Kirby obituary" guardiancouk Retrieved 19 May 2011 
  2. ^ Nick Drake's string arranger Robert Kirby dies NME Retrieved on 9 October 2009

External links

  • "Robert Kirby obituary, Musical arranger best known for his work with Nick Drake" The Guardian 7 October 2009 
  • "Robert Kirby: Musical arranger who worked with Nick Drake and Elvis Costello" The Independent 30 October 2009 

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