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With One Star Awake: Bert Jansch Remembered


It is so sad to learn of the passing of Bert Jansch, seminal guitarist of the 1960’s British folk scene. Along with contemporaries like John Renbourn – his co-guitarist in Pentangle – and the late Davey Graham, Jansch helped define that scene in local coffee houses, folk clubs and university settings influencing an untold number of players that followed. He gave musical backing to tunes like “Reynardine” and “Black Waterside”, previously presented a capella by Anne Briggs. He recorded and played live from the mid 1960’s until his passing on Oct 5, 2011.

Sometimes the fame of those influenced outstrips that of the guide. Such is the case with Jansch. Donovan, Nick Drake, Al Stewart and most notably Jimmy Page all drank from this well. Fortunately this has been remedied to some extent as recent neo-folk artists like Beth Orton, Devendra Banhart, and Vetiver draw attention to originators like Jansch. The Fleet Foxes eulogized him with this tweet on the day of his death “The world has lost a genius with a heart the size of the sun today.” His appearance at the 2010 Crossroads Festival is documented on the recent DVD and Mojo Magazine and BBC Radio 2 both honored him in the last few years. Mojo’s website features a special “hats-off” remembrance by fellow guitarist and contemporary Roy Harper.

I was lucky enough to see Bert’s live set several times, once at NYC’s Bottom Line on a double bill with Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson and also at Bowery Ballroom where I remember him refuting “She Moved Through The Fair” being a song about spectral visitation. “Jacqui McShee (Pentangle’s lead singer) introduces this as a ghost story”, he said, but Jansch believed that a simple mistranscription of the word “dear” to “dead” put the supernatural spin on it. This past December I saw him again at Brooklyn’s Bell House, a show that had been rescheduled because of illness. Bell House afforded an amazingly intimate setting for a young audience that was clearly in awe of his effortless and masterful performance. I must admit I was so close to the stage that, unwilling to break the mood, I nearly passed on the opportunity to raise my point and shoot for a couple of photos. The images you see here are the few times I digressed.

Jansch’s catalog is expansive and possibly daunting to the novice but worth close investigation. Seek out his versions of “Black Waterside” and “Waggoner’s Lad”. All will be revealed.

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