Guitar Aficionado

John Renbourn’s Long-Lost Early Recordings to be Released on ‘The Attic Tapes’

The collection features 20 tracks recorded in the two or three years prior to Renbourn’s first official, 1965 release.

By Christopher Scapelliti

A collection of previously unreleased recordings by English guitarist John Renbourn will be issued for the first time on October 16 by Riverboat Records.

Titled The Attic Tapes, the collection features 20 tracks recorded in the two or three years prior to Renbourn’s first official release, John Renbourn, which came out in 1965. The recordings represent, in Renbourn’s words, “what was happening to me at the time and a reflection of the general [folk music] scene.”

The tracks featured include Renbourn’s own songs “Judy” and “Plainsong”; his unique interpretations of classics like the slow blues “Come Back Baby” and “Can’t Keep from Crying”; and his covers of songs by his contemporaries, including Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game” and Davy Graham’s “Anji.” (The full track list is below.)

“Anji,” in particular, is a notable recording, given its date.

“What’s curious is that the date on the tape box is 1962,” Renbourn says in his notes, “which would make it a very early recording of Dave Graham’s classic.” Renbourn had been introduced to the song by his friend, guitarist Mac MacLeod.

It was, in fact, MacLeod who first discovered the recording of “Anji” in his attic. That, in turn, set off a chain of events that led to discoveries of the other recordings included in The Attic Tapes.

Renbourn is accompanied by MacLeod on two tracks as well as by other artists, including Graham and Beverley Martyn, then known as Beverly Kutner. The Attic Tapes also features Renbourn and Graham performing “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” with Graham taking the lead vocals. “It was a treasured moment for me,” Renbourn writes of performing with his hero.

The guitarist put a great deal of time into the project in his last years, carefully selecting tracks and cleaning them for release. His reminiscences were composed shortly before his death in March 2015 and capture the times in his warm, self-deprecating way. “Mostly it’s me plunking—occasionally in the company of friends from way back,” Renbourn writes of the recordings.

A brilliant exponent of the guitar, Renbourn performed in clubs around London in the early Sixties. In 1964, he was introduced to his lifelong friend and musical collaborator Bert Jansch. In 1967, they formed the folk-jazz group Pentangle, which received considerable acclaim before disbanding in 1973. Renbourn continued to record solo and with the John Renbourn Group and Ship of Fools.

In later years, he toured regularly, often in company with Stefan Grossman, Robin Williamson and Wizz Jones, who he was touring and recording with at the time of his death. Renbourn’s last official album was 2011’s Palermo Show, his first album in 13 years.

For more information about The Attic Tapes, and to hear an audio stream of the album, visit The album is available for purchase on CD and as a download.

The Attic Tapes Track List

01. Anji 03:52
02. Blues Run The Game 03:24
03. Rosslyn 02:11
04. Picking Up The Sunshine (Feat. Beverley Martyn) (Live) 03:46
05. I Know My Babe (Live at Les Cousins) 03:42
06. The Wildest Pig In Captivity 02:13
07. Candyman 04:40
08. Buffalo 02:12
09. National Seven (Live) 02:42
10. Come Back Baby (Feat. Beverley Martyn) (Live) 02:44
11. Train Tune (Live) 02:32
12. Judy (Live) 01:58
13. Beth's Blues (Live) 02:17
14. Cocaine (Feat. Mac MacLeod) 04:18
15. Courting Blues 03:08
16. It Hurts Me Too (Feat. Mac MacLeod) 01:40
17. Portland Town (Live) 02:57
18. Plainsong (Live) 03:00
19. Can't Keep From Crying (Live) 02:39
20. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out (Feat. Davy Graham) (Live) 04:41