Robert Kirby, the string arranger who worked on Nick Drake‘s classic albums ‘Five Leaves Left’ and ‘Bryter Layter’, has died at the age of 61.
His son Henry, who plays in the band The Absolutes, confirmed that Kirby passed away on October 3 in a west London hospital, following a short illness.
Born in 1948, Kirby met Drake at Cambridge University in early 1968 and put together a string section to accompany the singer-songwriter at live appearances.
When Drake recorded his debut album, ‘Five Leaves Left’, in the summer of 1968, producer Joe Boyd had already lined-up another string arranger – but the singer rejected his arrangements and insisted Kirby was brought in.
He then returned to arrange the strings on 1970’s ‘Bryter Layter’ and during the following decade he arranged the strings on more than 40 albums. Many of them were by folk artists such as Ralph McTell, Al Stewart and Vashti Bunyan, but he also worked on Elton John‘s ‘Madman Across The Water’, David Ackles‘ ‘American Gothic’ and John Cale‘s ‘Helen Of Troy’.
Kirby also spent three years playing keyboards in The Strawbs in the mid-1970s, but at the end of the decade opted for a career in marketing.
He made only occasional returns to the studio in the 1980s, most notably on Elvis Costello‘s ‘Almost Blue’. However, as Drake‘s cult status grew in the 1990s, he returned to the limelight.
Paul Weller invited him to arrange the strings on several tracks on his 2000 album ‘Heliocentric’. Further invitations followed to work on albums by The Magic Numbers, Linda Thompson and on Vashti Bunyan‘s comeback, more than 35 years after their previous collaboration.
Kirby also added new string arrangements to several tracks on ‘Made To Love Magic’, the compilation album of Drake out-takes and remixed tracks, released in 2004.