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When I first heard Bert Jansch: ‘A truly great Scottish Man’…

There seems’ to be no new superlatives I could possibly add to the discussion, which eschewed following the news of Bert Jansch’s very sad and premature death last week. This tragic event was met with a long list of musical luminaries all playing tribute to Jansch’s unbridled talents. Everyone from Roy Harper to Beth Orton; via the small matter of old ‘Shaky’ himself (Neil Young to me and you), led the glorious appraisals of this ‘quiet and unassuming’ man’s remarkable work.
I had been turned onto Jansch about a decade ago when I saw an old documentary, presented by Billy Connelly on the British folk ‘revival’ of the early 60’s. From this, I went back to the best point I could, the start. His first album It Don’t Bother Me (1965) blew me away. The lo-fi political yarn of Anti-Apartheid, the effortlessly cool title track, even the album’s cover itself projected an instantly identifiable aura directly into my young impressionable mind. I could not believe that I had never heard of this man until now. ‘What had happened here?’ I thought. Why had he and his music not been etched onto the 'collective' memory of this country? Anyway, he is not alone in this respect. In some ways this made the discovery even more fundamental to my own cultural journey, which to be honest is often the case for ‘musos’ like me as it feels far more personal.
From this acknowledgement of the greatness of Bert’s music a lifelong love of British folk music began, which is as strong now as ever. I was interested to find out in 2006, when I heard The Black Swan album that various musicians, who were more of my generation, were also huge admirers of his work. Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler, Graham Coxon, Devendra Banhardt and the afore mentioned Orton who features on the record, are all very vocal fans of Jansch and have all preformed with him at different times.
Bert and Beth hanging about during the Black Swan sessions..
Black Swan, sadly Jansch’s last studio album, is itself an album which I feel is one of the best British folk albums ever made, in any era. It goes back to his early sound. The record's sound is similar to that which is prevalent on 1967s Nicola or the self-titled masterpiece of 65’. Orton's and Banhardt's vocals are used quite beautifully on the record, as a foil to the signature Jansch droll. This work is again another must hear.
Neil Young said of Jansch that he was to folk guitar what Jimmy Hendrix had been to rock n’ roll and Johnny Marr remarked that "He completely reinvented guitar playing and set a standard that is still unequalled today … without Bert Jansch, rock music as it developed in the 60s and 70s would have been very different." Described fairly unimaginatively as the ‘British Bob Dylan’ when he arrived on the music scene, Jansch was only ever completely himself and sounded this way. Whether you believe or agree with any of these appraisals one thing is for sure is this quiet unassuming man was one of our very greatest musical visionaries, with an influence which extends right to the heart of the musical landscape and beyond. Bert Jansch was a truly great Scottish man.

1 comment:

  1. Not forgetting his turn in folk-rock band, Pentangle with Jacqui McShee.

    They did a BBC show three or four years ago that I'm sure can be found on iPlayer, or at least Youtube.



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