“He seemed like a mysterious, black-clad and unknowable figure to me – a beautiful boy — almost unreal,” recalls Vashti Bunyan when asked about her memories of Nick Drake.

The meeting she speaks of, which took place several decades ago, was brought about by Bunyan and Drake’s mutual producer, Joe Boyd, who had hoped the two artists might come together in the spirit of collaboration. The session proved to be fruitless, Bunyan soon retreated from her career in music, and Drake, tragically, withdrew from the world altogether.

Of course, while their music initially faded into obscurity, it was slowly absorbed into the essential fabric of folk as we now know it, and the reputation of both artists has gradually, steadily blossomed over the decades. By the time Bunyan was finding kindred spirits and eager collaborators in Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective and Devendra Banhart during the mid-2000s, Drake’s status as one of the most hallowed songwriters of his time was already long cemented.

And their legacies are now intertwining in a very tangible way. This is thanks in large part to Boyd, who made his name by producing an almost mythical list of albums from the psychedelic era, including Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day and Drake’s first two full-lengths. A longtime champion of Drake’s work, Boyd has envisioned a tribute to the late singer-songwriter that is as organic as the music it is meant to honor. Boyd organized a series of concerts in London and Melbourne, and enlisted an impressive selection of musicians, including Bunyan and Robyn Hitchcock, to cover Drake’s songs in a live setting. Rather than constrain the participating artists in studios, Boyd recorded the performances, spaced out over a period of several years, then edited the results into the newly released album, Way To Blue. Furthering the gravity and authenticity of the affair, Boyd also enlisted Robert Kirby, a string arranger who previously worked with both Bunyan and Drake, to help reimagine a set of originals that have become so deeply ingrained in the minds of listeners.

Though Kirby sadly passed away before Way To Blue was completed, it was his very presence that helped draw Bunyan to the project to cover the majestic ‘Which Will.’ She remembers Kirby as “kind, generous and wonderfully irreverent,” calls his reworking of the Pink Moon classic “beautiful,” and admits that performing the song live after the arranger’s death “had a bitter-sweetness to it.” While her remarks speak to the communal spirit that made Way To Blue possible, it’s strange to contemplate the role that isolation played in the creation of Diamond Day and Nick Drake’s three albums.

These works were born out of an intimacy that, from a modern perspective, is difficult to envision. While it’s unnecessary to recount Drake’s notoriously hermetic qualities, it’s worth noting that Bunyan wrote and recorded her 1970 effort with little knowledge of then-contemporary trends. In fact, she even concedes that at the time Diamond Day was unfolding, she had yet to hear Drake’s albums. “I didn’t know Nick well – mostly just in passing in Joe’s office. Both being shy we hardly spoke a word to each other. At one meeting he turned to the wall rather than speak,“ she explains, adding, “Neither of us knew the other’s music. I had no record player and I had been on the road with no access to radio or music papers or anything for some time — so I had no idea who Nick was when we were both first working with Joe.”

And the same goes for the circle of notables that orbited around Boyd, an in-demand producer who worked with everyone from the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd of the late-‘60s to the Incredible String Band, the Fairport Convention and Nico. “I had no connection myself to any other musicians at the time and so I don’t really know,” says Bunyan, after being asked about the folk scene of the era that birthed Diamond Day. “I do know a lot of the other people who worked with Joe had enormous respect and liking for Nick – but at the time I myself knew none of them. I was a very solitary musician and sought no others out.”

If this spirit of seclusion and independence potentially informed the work of Bunyan and Drake, it also almost certainly derailed the possibility of a joint effort between them. Boyd may have sensed a sort of affinity between them, and Bunyan herself acknowledges that she and Drake shared “a similar background and maybe a similar musical sensibility in a lot of ways.” The producer arranged for the two to meet, and Bunyan’s recollection of the event does nothing to dispel the aura of mystery that continues to shroud Drake’s life and work.

If anything, her memories of the meeting only support the romantic image of an impenetrable artist: “I remember it very well. Joe asked me to go to Nick’s house where I found him sitting at an upright piano – again quite wordless. I had a tiny baby by then who cried whenever I put him down to pick up my guitar. Nick’s shoulders went higher and higher and it became quite clear that writing together was just not going to happen. And – looking back — we were both too individual to actually work together.”

Undoubtedly, this revelation will provide even more “what if?” scenarios for Drake fans, the sort of questions that always seem to trail artists who disappeared while still in their prime. One can’t help but wonder what might have come from a more bountiful session between these artists – and how Drake might have reacted to the belated success of his work.

In recent years, it has been genuinely touching to see Bunyan graciously welcomed into and applauded by a community of musicians she has deeply influenced, and her palpable joy that came from collaborating with latter-day troubadours is equally moving. Bunyan humbly remarks of the artists she has worked with over the last decade, “they have all been very different in their approach to music – and I have learned a lot from them.”

She even hinted at the tantalizing possibility of a follow-up to her excellent 2005 comeback effort, Lookaftering.“I haven’t played live with my band for a couple of years now – feeling that I need to have something different to go out with again. So I am recording some new songs that I have written over the last five years, recording mostly at home. Hopefully it will all find its way onto an album in the not too distant future,” she tells us.

Heartening as the thought of new music from Bunyan is, it also brings to mind a few more of those lingering questions regarding the ways things might have turned out differently for Drake. Bunyan fondly remarks, “I have so loved being able to work with and know other musicians in the way that I did not do when I was young,” but, had he lived to see his music cherished by succeeding generations, would Nick Drake have sought a similar path? Would he, too, have found enthusiastic young artists to work with? And, perhaps most pressingly, why did it take so long for the world to listen in the first place? “It is interesting to ponder on why this kind of music has at last found an audience and why it didn’t in the first place, but I have no fixed ideas for why – especially Nick’s beautiful music,” concludes Bunyan. “Nick was a genius and I’m sure knew it – and that must have caused so much of his pain.”

As for her own strange and storied history as a musician, Bunyan is able to reflect on it more positively. “It is a wonder to me that Diamond Day has found its way to more people over the years – something I could never have imagined happening,” she marvels after being queried about the ever-expanding legacy of her lone ‘70s album. Fitting that someone who has so eloquently extolled the simple virtues of glow worms, lily ponds and misfit dogs would see this beguiling phenomenon through such a succinctly lovely, awe-struck prism.

A remastered, vinyl edition of Bryter Later and the Joe Boyd directed tribute album Way to Blue are both available now.