On this day, the British folk guitar luminary Bert Jansch (1943-2011) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. While pursuing a career as a solo artist he also collaborated with his roommate and fellow folk guitar hero John Renbourn whom he co-founded the pioneering folk-jazz band Pentangle with in the late ‘60s.
Inspired by American musicians Big Bill Broonzy, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger, Jansch emerged during the British folk revival of the ‘50s and ‘60s as a guitarist to be reckoned with. In a recent interview, Peggy Seeger recalled the advent of the British folk guitar movement as follows:
“Folk music comes from the working class. It’s not a middle-class production. It’s not all just being pumped at us from above, and that really started in the ‘50s. When I came over [to the U.K.], skiffle was on the go and the [ethnomusicologist] Alan Lomax encouraged people to sing their own English songs. So, what happened when English players began to play English songs? That was when we started to see people like Nic Jones and Davey Graham and Bert Jansch investigating how to really play guitar.”
By the ‘60s, Jansch was on the move, earning a crust performing in bars, cafes, and the myriad folk clubs which had sprung up all over the U.K. He also hitched around Europe, paying his way with an acoustic guitar and his voice while busking in the streets.
In 1965, Jansch released his eponymous debut solo album. Simply tracked on a reel-to-reel machine at producer/engineer Bill Leader’s home the tapes were sold to Transatlantic Records for £100, kickstarting Jansch's career as a recording artist.
By the following year, Jansch had already released his third album, Jack Orion, containing his interpretation of “Blackwaterside” – the traditional Irish folk song he had learned from singer Anne Briggs (opens in new tab) years prior.
Jansch’s version would later be lifted by Jimmy Page, appearing as “Black Mountain Side (opens in new tab)” on Led Zeppelin’s eponymous 1969 debut LP.
Cited as an inspiration for many others, including Paul Simon, the Smiths' Johnny Marr and Blur’s Graham Coxon, Jansch’s legacy as a guitar hero endures.
“I don’t think Bert will ever be forgotten amongst guitar players,” Coxon told Guitarist magazine. “But even Bert’s fans are of a generation that are getting older now, so it’d be good to get young people into that stuff. Because when you see the young Bert on the telly, and he’s got that rakish kind of look – I bet it’d be really inspiring to a lot of young guitarists to see a player like that.”
Buy Jack Orion and browse other Bert Jansch records here (opens in new tab).
Rod Brakes is a music writer with an expertise in all things guitar-related. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a journalist covering artists, industry pros and gear includes writing hundreds of articles and features for the likes of Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Player and MusicRadar, as well as contributions for specialist books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.
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