River Man

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"River Man"
Single by Nick Drake
from the album Five Leaves Left
Released 13 September 2004
Format CD single, 7" single
Recorded 1969
Genre Folk baroque, baroque pop
Length 4:21
Label Island (UK), Elektra (US)
Writer(s) Nick Drake
Producer(s) Robert Kirby and Joe Boyd
Nick Drake singles chronology
'River Man'

"River Man" (About this sound sample ) is the second listed song from Nick Drake's 1969 album Five Leaves Left, remastered and released as a single in 2004. According to Drake's manager, Joe Boyd, Drake thought of the song as the centre piece of the album.

Musical structure and lyrics[edit]

The song is in a 5/4 time signature and is one of the few songs Drake wrote to be played in standard tuning. The string arrangement was composed by Harry Robinson and Robert Kirby, after Drake's friend Robert Kirby felt he couldn't compose it alone, although he did most of the composing for the rest of Five Leaves Left.[1]

Drake did not reveal the identity of the 'Betty' character in the lyrics, although Trevor Dann speculated that she may have been drawn from Betty Foy, a character in Wordsworth's "The Idiot Boy", a poem Drake had studied while attending Cambridge.[2] However, the only similarity to the poem is the existence of a Betty.[3]


The song has been covered numerous times.

British folk musician Norma Waterson included a cover of "River Man" on her second solo album The Very Thought of You in 1999. The song was paired with a cover of John Martyn's "Solid Air", originally dedicated to Drake on Martyn's 1973 album Solid Air. Accompanying Norma Waterson were Richard Thompson and Danny Thompson who were both on the original Five Leaves Left album. Danny was also the double bass player on many John Martyn albums from that period.

Becky Unthank interpreted the song on Cruel Sister, the 2005 album by Rachel Unthank and the Winterset.

An interpretation by the Canadian singer Patricia O'Callaghan is featured on her 2011 album with the Gryphon Trio, Broken Hearts & Madmen.

The American jazz singer, Andy Bey included an arrangement of the song with a string section, guitar and bass on his album Shades of Bey recorded on the Evidence Music record label in late 1997 and early 1998. Bey used what he called a 'soft palette' singing technique. Music producer Herb Jordan brought the song to Bey's attention, the success of which brought Bey and Nick Drake a new and wider audience.

Other jazz versions of the song include a vocal version by Claire Martin from her album Take My Heart and an instrumental version by pianist Brad Mehldau (with bass and drums) from his album Songs: The Art of the Trio Volume Three.

Track listing[edit]

2004 CD
  1. "River Man"
  2. "Day Is Done" (by Norah Jones and the Charlie Hunter Band)
  3. "River Man" (video by Tim Pope)
2004 7"
  1. "River Man"
  2. "River Man" (demo version)


  1. ^ Raggett, Ned. "Five Leaves Left". Allmusic. Retrieved on 19 September 2006.
  2. ^ Dann, Trevor. Darker than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake (2006), (Hardback) Portrait. ISBN 0-7499-5095-1
  3. ^ A Tentative, Yet Serendipitous Discovery Upon Reading Wordsworth by Donnah Boyce

External links[edit]