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The story of one man’s discovery of a previously unheard Nick Drake recording and how it has affected the lucky few who were chosen to hear it is the subject of a new exhibition at Shoreditch’s Idea Generation gallery opening this week.

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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.

In the 1970s, when working as a post-boy at Island Records, television composer Michael Burdett was asked to throw some tapes in a rubbish skip.

Thinking he could use them in the studio he was setting up, he got permission to take them. One in particular caught his eye. “I picked it up because it had ‘Nick Drake, Cello Song’ and ‘with love’ written on the box,” he explains. “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.”

But it was more than 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, widely regarded as one of Drake’s greatest works.

Instead of releasing the recording to the public, with a CD player and headphones in hand, Michael travelled the length and breadth of Britain with the aim of offering individuals an exclusive opportunity to hear the recording, 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,” he says. “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, Danny Baker, Alan Yentob, Martin Freeman, Noel Fielding, Richard E Grant, Jonathan Pryce, Fearne Cotton, Ross Noble and Paul Whitehouse.

Michael photographed everyone who listened, people from the age of two to ninety-six , and documented their thoughts on the newly discovered recording.

The exhibition at the Chance Street gallery starts on Friday and runs until Sunday, February 12.

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