Bert Jansch Biography

3 November 1943, Glasgow, Scotland. This highly gifted acoustic guitarist and influential performer learned his craft in Edinburgh’s folk circle before being absorbed into London’s burgeoning circuit, where he established a formidable reputation as an inventive guitar player. His 1965 debut, Bert Jansch, is a landmark in British folk music and includes ‘Do You Hear Me Now’, a Jansch original later covered by Donovan, the harrowing ‘Needle Of Death’, and an impressive version of Davey Graham’s ‘Angie’. The artist befriended number of artists starting out in the 60s folk boom, including Robin Williamson and John Renbourn, who played supplementary guitar on Jansch’s second selection, It Don’t Bother Me. The two musicians then recorded the exemplary Bert And John, which was released alongside Jack Orion, Jansch’s third solo album. This adventurous collection featured a nine-minute title track and a haunting version of ‘Nottamun Town’, the blueprint for a subsequent reading by Fairport Convention. Jansch continued to make exceptional records, but his own career was overshadowed by his participation in the Pentangle alongside Renbourn, Jacqui McShee (vocals), Danny Thompson (bass) and Terry Cox (drums). Between 1968 and 1973 this accomplished, if occasionally sterile, quintet was one of folk music’s leading attractions, although the individual members continued to pursue their own direction during this time.

The Danny Thompson-produced 1972 release Moonshine marked the beginning of Jansch’s creative renaissance with delightful sleeve notes from the artist: ‘I hope that whoever listens to this record gets as much enjoyment as I did from helping me to make it’. 1974’s L.A. Turnaround, released following the Pentangle’s dissolution, was a promising collection and featured assistance from several American musicians including a former member of the Monkees, Michael Nesmith. Avocet was first issued in Denmark in 1978. It was the result of some extraordinary instrumental sessions with Danny Thompson and Martin Jenkins (flute/violin/mandolin). Although Jansch rightly remains a respected figure, his work during the 80s lacks the invention of those early releases. It came to light that much of this lethargy was due to alcoholism, and by his own admission, it took six years to regain a stable condition. In the late 80s he took time out from solo folk club dates to join Jacqui McShee in a regenerated Pentangle line-up.

In the mid-90s Jansch was performing regularly once again with confidence and fresh application. This remarkable reversal, after a number of years of indifference, was welcomed by his loyal fans. 1995’s When The Circus Comes To Town was an album that easily matched his early pivotal work. Not only was Jansch singing and playing well, he evoked the atmosphere and spirit of the decade in which he first came to prominence. Live At The 12 Bar was an excellent example of his sound in the mid-90s, and followed a successful residency at London’s 12 Bar Club. Although the recording quality is poor, another important release came in 1998 when unearthed recordings of some live performances from 1962-64 were transferred to CD and issued by Ace Records’ worthy subsidiary, Big Beat. The UK label Castle Communications also undertook a fine reissue programme in 2000, and with the publication of Colin Harper’s excellent biography, at last Jansch’s work was receiving the profile it had warranted for many years. He is a master of British folk/blues with a highly distinctive voice that has improved with age, and is an often breathtakingly fluid and original acoustic guitarist.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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