Bert Jansch & Various Artists

What's it called?: 
Acoustic Routes
What does it sound like?: 
Originally recorded in 1993 as the soundtrack to a BBC Scotland film about Bert and his contemporaries, this double CD edition accompanies an expanded DVD version of the film and features an entire disc of unreleased material. Just about everyone here is a nailed-on 60s folk legend and almost without exception they name Jansch as a major influence. While featuring heavily in the film John Renbourn did not appear on the original CD. That's now been rectified and the two Renbourn/Jansch guitar duets are highlights, as are unreleased tracks from Davey Graham and Anne Briggs. Brownie McGhee gets the lion's share of the new material with six songs, which seems like overkill at times. As always, Wizz Jones, Martin Carthy and Davey are essential listening, but this is Bert's party and he carries the show with some style. 20 years on and inevitably we've lost several of the main characters here. Not only Bert himself, but Davey, Brownie and Hamish Imlach have passed on too.
What does it all *mean*?: 
What was originally a collection of contemporary tracks by the heroes of the UK 60s folk scene is now, two decades on, very much a look into the past.
Goes well with …: 
Break out those classic 60s/70s albums by Pentangle, Martin Carthy, Davey Graham and, of course, Bert and John. This is acoustic folk blues guitar at its best.
Might suit people who like …: 
See above. The original CD booklet carried nine closely-typed pages of sleeve notes from the Afterword's very own Colin H. There is no booklet with the new release, so those sleeve notes are seemingly lost forever. For shame!


...they'll appear, slightly tweaked (as below), in the book within the Deluxe Edition. But I see no reason why they can't appear here too...

Acoustic Routes

There we all were, on a cold March morning, standing on the age-worn steps of what had once been the famous Howff Folk Club, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. There was a painter and decorator going about his business in one of the rooms, and here and elsewhere all was covered with plastic sheets, and the bare stone walls inside were scrubbed clean in readiness for plaster and wallpaper. The door was off its hinges. 'I made that door,' said Bert, thinking aloud, to all in earshot - 'Yeah? Well ye can tak it wi' ye if ye like,' said the man with the paintbrush. Somebody phoned the council: yes, we could use the electricity, but they'd be someone along later to check the meter and pocket the cash. There would also be a steady stream of people along, it transpired, throughout the afternoon, with an urgent requirement to look around, tap the walls and point earnestly at nothing in particular. The word was out. No-one knew who the hell Bert Jansch was, but it's not everyday that someone wants to make a film in a vacant council lot, mid-renovation.

'So who is he? said Jimmy, the lighting man, genuinely in the dark, as we hauled his gear from a van on the High Street. It was totally unexpected; how could you possibly answer such a question - explaining in a matter of sentences who he is, who he was, what he's done and why on earth anyone would want to make him the subject of a documentary? I tried (and failed) to answer the question, felt curiously inadequate at not being able to do so, and caught a sense for the first time as to how much of an uphill struggle this film was going to be. It had already been a struggle, over several years, to raise the cash and sell the idea. Now it would just be a question of telling the story, documenting the lives and times, informing and entertaining those of then and those of now: the baffled, the bemused and the converted, the young and the old, and all points in between.

For those who have seen the film, you'll know that this has all been done - not only as well as was possible in terms of the budget, logistics and deadlines, but very probably as well as was possible, period. The original impetus came, incredibly, from Bert himself, in the late '80s. Not normally a man for whom nostalgia holds any appeal, he nevertheless wanted to document in some way, on film, the people of his generation and before who had contributed so much to his music, but remained only as names in the footnotes of British rock history.

'The trouble with players of my generation,' he said, 'is that you can get records of them, but there's no documentation of them themselves. My idea was to set up a half-hour TV show basically, where you could take an artist and do a little portrait of them, and it would be a documentation - a weekly thing. But it never got that far...'

The film's director and editor, Jan Leman, made enquiries throughout the industry on Bert's behalf, but no-one was taking up the offer. A short pilot film of Bert, in performance and interview, was shot as a final crack of the whip and BBC Scotland, to their credit, responded. They wanted a one-off documentary on Bert, but it wasn't long before the goalposts began to shift again. Extra funding was sought, and gratefully received, from the Scottish Film Production Fund; BBC2 became interested, and extended the parameters of length, and of audience; and when the opportunity to premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival, August '92, presented itself, a deadline was set.

At the end of the day, what we have is a unique and remarkable portrait - passionately presented by Billy Connolly - not only of Jansch, but of a whole movement and era which came and went, on the fringes and foothills of the television age. It did so during a time when it was not only still possible to extend and explode the boundaries of music forever - on a single instrument - but at a time when it was happening almost spontaneously, and unknowingly, on a daily basis. It was an era of discovery, born of frustration with the inevitability of working class life, and fired in the imagination by the trickle of beatnik books and music from America. And by Davy Graham.

Any dearth of ideas, passion and integrity in the British music of recent years can only be a reflection on the magnitude of what has gone before, and on the very establishment of the industry itself. Only a fool would suggest that it's all been done before, but then it's easy to be foolish. It's easy, and exciting, to look back and to rediscover music from the age of discovery that has lost none of its fire, none of its beauty and is not, by its very nature, tainted with any sense of parody or over-familiarity. By its sheer 'obscurity' in the rewritten history of popular music, and by its relative absence from the surviving archives of British television, the acoustic music of Scotland and England born at the end of the '50s and beginning of the '60s has an advantage not enjoyed by the beat music, R&B and rock'n'roll whose times it shared. Those sounds and performers are set in time by (tele)visual memory. Not so, to such extent, the sights and sounds of Wizz Jones, Davy Graham, Anne Briggs, and not even, perhaps, of Bert Jansch himself.

In a period of history obsessed with the past, and of a neatly-packaged visual record of the past, Acoustic Routes may never be the Woodstock of British folk, but it secures a tangible, lasting glimpse and glimmer of the magic of people who may otherwise have passed out of memory or drifted along as names on the coat-tails of those they have influenced. It's no secret that Jimmy Page borrowed tunes and arrangements from both Davy Graham and Bert Jansch; likewise, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon took more than inspiration from Martin Carthy.

It was a time when everyone shared their ideas and borrowed from each other, especially in the rediscovery and rearrangement of traditional material which developed hand in hand with the folk/blues guitarists. If people 'broke the rules', well, it was their conscience. Bert himself recalls learning most of Davy Graham's licks second band, from a young and excitable Martin Carthy. John Renbourn was, for his part, and early disciple of Wizz Jones, and set about learning from the turntable the entirety of the first Davy Graham album The Guitar Player (1963) - an extraordinary set of easy listening standards played like no-one else before. Some of the young British players had seen in the flesh American folk/blues pioneers Big Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGhee, and everyone had at least heard on record Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. Everyone had heard the same music, but the best musicians of the generation took what they had beard and made from it something fresh and exciting and relevant to their own time and place. Many of those who did so are in the film, and assuredly the most original and unique of them all was Bert Jansch.

For Jansch today, his music is more than ever at the centre of his life and, as always, his thoughts are on today, not yesterday. For those who were there at the time, his impact on the London club scene of the mid '60s was unforgettable. For those who weren't, it's the stuff of legend. Commercially - and the word was barely present let alone uppermost in his mind - he peaked as a member of the Pentangle (1967-73), who were almost unique in straddling pop, folk, jazz and Renaissance music to huge acclaim and great success. Rarely off the radio or out of the music press, and rarely off the concert stage - including numerous prestige appearances at the Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Fillmores East and West and both Isle of Wight Festivals (1969 and 1970) - they took a genuinely 'progressive' and wholly uncontrived fusion of sounds and ideas well into the popular arena. In basing much of their output on English and American traditional material, they predated and to an extent pioneered the British 'folk-rock' movement of the early '70's.

A series of personal and business issues and constant touring eventually put an end to the band in its original form, although as Bert knowingly remarks in the film 'it keeps threatening to come back - and occasionally it will'. In addition to his solo work, Bert has been the lynch-pin in various recently revamped line-ups of Pentangle, along with the band's original vocalist Jacqui McShee. While the story of the Pentangle is a tale in itself, and well beyond the scope of the film, it has been a very significant part of Bert's life and music, and could hardly be brushed aside completely. American promoters still find it difficult to imagine Jansch without the Pentangle, and still demand semi-reunion tours from its original members. Although no longer an active creative unit in any real sense, Bert, Jacqui and John Renbourn toured the States under such auspices in the Summer of '92, where Bert and Jacqui were filmed in rehearsal for Acoustic Routes performing 'Chasing Love' - a recent and otherwise unrecorded Jansch original. Bert and John were later filmed playing 'First light', another new piece from an abortive Jansch/Renbourn recording project. The former is also present, in full, on this album together with Bert's recording of a third entirely new piece, 'High Emotion'. A fourth new song can be glimpsed in the film, which - for an ostensibly retrospective piece of celluloid - is surely an added bonus.

Many of the artists present were filmed and recorded performing music from their past, but almost all, with the venerable exception of the 79 year-old Brownie McGhee, are still recording and touring today on the strength of that material. Some, in particular Martin Carthy and Ralph McTell, remain very much the forefront of their chosen fields. Nevertheless, as a film record of people whose place in music will always be secured by what they did 25, 30 or more years ago Acoustic Routes is necessarily, and unashamedly, a record of the past. And that past for Bert and many others besides begins, like the film, in the Glasgow and Edinburgh of the late 1950s.

'I first ran into the Glasgow scene when I worked in theatre,' says Martin Carthy. 'I was the assistant stage manager on a touring show called The Merry Widow, and we did two weeks in Glasgow. The master carpenter at the theatre was a folkie and he kept talking about the Glasgow Folk Song Club, so I went along with him on the night I had off, which was a Sunday night. Josh McRae was there, Archie Fisher, Ray Fisher, Hamish lmlach, Bobby Campbell was there. I met Gordon McCulloch in the street later on. But, actually, my first contact with all those people was when a guy called Chris Gormley took me to Hamish's. You couldn't call it a house - he lived in a mews, in a stable. I met Ray and Archie Fisher and Bobby Campbell there and went to the Glasgow Folk Song Club that night. Then I was out of theatre and into playing full time - well, as full time as you possibly could in those days, 'cos there weren't the gigs, so you did gigs anywhere. You're 18, 19, 20, all balls and no forehead - and you just go at it. As far as you're concerned, it's all happening because it's all happening around you. But down in London there was the first stirrings of something going on…'

This was all around 1957, 1958. Ewan McColl and Bert Lloyd, the godfathers of the English folk revival, were involved in running the Ballads & Blues Club - a movable feast around various pubs and hotels in London. Glasgow and Edinburgh were a law unto themselves, and had the benefit of having a club each with permanent premises. In comparison to the solemnity and middle class socialism of the English revival, the Scottish scene was a thriving, autonomous melting pot of people brought up on American blues records, Scottish traditional music, caustic humour and radical politics - especially in the heavy industrial background of Glasgow, which enjoyed for years a love/hate rivalry with the softies from Edinburgh.

Hamish Imlach was giving guitar lessons in the Glasgow club. Archie Fisher, his old school friend, was doing the same in Edinburgh. Many of the folk world's greatest names share this same background, not the least of which is Bert Jansch, but for all the great names that 'made it', there are a dozen more besides who either should have done but chose not to bother (like Bert's early mentor Len Partridge) or who, like Bert's friend and contemporary Owen Hand, made a couple of records and then contended themselves with life on the road, just playing the gigs and playing music for pleasure. The City of Glasgow had given their Folk Song Club a premises for next to nothing, but as Owen recalls, the origins of Edinburgh's Howff were a little more colourful:

'It was a derelict property,' he recalled, 'and it was tenanted by an organisation called the Sporran Slitters. Seriously! They couldn't get the landlord to do any repairs on it whatsoever. It had this toilet: when you flushed it the water level under the stage rose quite considerably. There was all kinds of broken pipes. The landlord, to get rid of this problem, offered it to the Sporran Slitters. They wouldn't buy it because it was going to be expensive, It was something like £50. [Promoter] Roy Guest eventually bought it and renovated it he didn't renovate it himself - he got idiots like Bert and Bert's pal Harry to knock all the plaster off the walls and once they'd got down to the basic stone, they repointed it. All this work was done by me (not very often), Bert and Harry. Len never actually got involved - he wouldn't do any work!

'So, it started off as a folk club, but once it actually got going the Howff was open every day. You could go there in the early hours of the morning and get a bowl of soup you could stand your spoon up in. In the afternoon you'd get all sods of people dropping in. There were magazines and newspapers lying on the tables. You could play chess, you could play draughts . It was meant to be a kind of club but it was a hippy club. It was quite an establishment for Edinburgh at that point!'

'Coincidence played a part in it too,' said Hamish, 'because Martin Carthy came up and spent months here when he was in the chorus of The Merry Widow. He'd taken some lessons from Peggy Seeger, and he came to a party at my house and said, 'Oh, do some Peggy Seeger picking'. And I said, 'Huh?', 'cos I'd never heard of Peggy Seeger. I'd heard of Pete Seeger, but I'd never heard of Peggy.' When we started the folk club in Glasgow in '59 there weren't any people to book. We paid the expenses of traditional singers like Jeannie Robertson and Jimmy MacBeath and Davey Stewart, but at that time all of us were into Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, from the skiffle thing and American music. And then Davy Graham came up...'

To the Scottish folk/blues fraternity, Davy Graham might as well have been a visitor from Venus. As a guitarist he was simply light years ahead of his time. He was always too erratic, or too unlucky, to ever capitalise on his abilities, but his influence and importance to British folk, blues and rock music can't be overestimated. He fused jazz and eastern influences with the blues and with traditional material before anyone else, and invented the DADGAD guitar tuning - now standard in Celtic traditional music accompaniment - for the purpose. His monumental 1963 recording of the Irish song 'She Moved Through The Fair' was the first demonstration of this, while an even earlier piece, 'Anji' (itself based on a Cannonball Adderley tune), became the yardstick by which all 'folk' guitarists of the '60s were to be judged. As Bert says in the film, if you could play 'Anji', you were in. Everyone - Hamish, Archie, Martin Carthy - remembers vividly seeing Graham for the first time, on BBC television (a 1959 Ken Russell production, Hound Dogs & Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze), playing 'Cry Me A River' and an amazing 12-bar blues. The latter is now lost but a brief glimpse of the former can be seen in Acoustic Routes. When Davy finally appeared to the Scots, his whole persona could only add to the sense of disbelief. As Glasgow musician Danny Kyle recalls:

'All of a sudden, here was this man wearing a poncho and a Spanish hat, just raving on at concerts. Davy was probably the first concert man as opposed to clubs. He was there and he was actually playing the guitar, he wasn't just hitting it. Excitement isn't the word I'd use about Davy Graham, I'd say silence - total shocked silence! But I'd draw a comparison between Davy and Bert: Davy was, for some of us, all of a sudden there, on a concert stage, playing this wonderful but weird music; Bert we could watch growing up. Bert was one of us - he wasn't an all-of-a-sudden thing, he was a growing thing. With Davy you could go and sit in total awe of the man; with Bert, you would go and listen and look and you would say to yourself, 'Here, perhaps I could do some of that'. Because he made it seem attainable. All of a sudden I didn't have to be a shipyard worker. When I listened to Bert Jansch I could see 'le continent'. We were all reading Kerouac, and here was a man saying through the guitar what Kerouac was alluding to in his books. That opened up books, poetry, guitar work, travel - all that came out of people like Bert Jansch.'

There's no doubt that Bert was influenced, as were all the players of his generation, by Davy Graham. Like Graham before him, and like many others to come, Bert would do his fair share of bumming around Europe and North Africa in the early years of the '60s. It an experience that fuelled the imagery of songs and compositions like 'Strolling Down The Highway' and 'Veronica', from his legendary first album, Bert Jansch (1965). Where Jansch differed crucially from Graham was in originality. Davy's talents were those of an interpreter, not an originator, and his self-written output was limited to a handful of instrumentals. Jansch, on the other hand, was writing songs (of startling originality) from day one. Anne Briggs who visited Edinburgh with a friend of Archie Fisher's in 1959 and ended up meeting Bert on that occasion recalls 'Courting Blues' as one of his earliest:

'He'd just given up his job working for Glasgow Corporation as a gardener and he was playing this guitar music. He hadn't been playing for very long but he was obviously a born guitarist. He was just playing amazingly good music. He had heard Davy Graham, he had beard Archie Fisher and he had heard quite a lot of traditional blues, old blues, and this sort of thing had really influenced his playing. At that point he was playing an amalgam of that stuff, plus he was starting to write one or two of his own songs.'

Like Davy, Anne would later be a frequent visitor to Edinburgh and a lasting influence on Bert. She would soon be taken under the wing of English revivalist Bert Lloyd, record for Topic and become recognised as the finest traditional singer of her generation. Occasionally also, they'd write songs together:

'They arrived very quickly,' she said. 'I mean, we never bothered working on anything. If it wasn't together by the end of the afternoon we didn't bother singing it that night, sort of thing. There was a lot of stuff that just drifted away.'

One that didn't was 'Go Your Way My Love', previously recorded separately by both Bert and Anne, and appearing here in unison for the first time.

It's well known that Bert had always set his sights on being a gardener, like his elder brother Charlie, but after several attempts at making a guitar he went to the Howff, aged 14, and finally had one in his hands 'and that was it'. As far as he recalls, there had been no great musical tradition in his family:

'I think I just heard music from records of my sister's. When I was six or seven my mother sent me to piano lessons, but it didn't last very long and from that it jumped to guitar, from watching Elvis Presley and rock'n'roll films. I got listening to records, and one of the first records I ever bought was a Big Bill Broonzy, by chance. A schoolmate found it in a shop, and I jumped from Little Richard to Big Bill Broonzy - a major jump, really, away from the skiffle thing that was going on. But later it all went hand in hand.'

The first musician he ever saw at the Howff was none other than Hamish Imlach, and a few weeks later the great Brownie McGhee. It was an occasion that Owen Hand recalls:

'Bert just sat in the front of Brownie and watched him play 'The Key To The Highway', and then asked him 'Could you play that again?' And the next morning Bert was playing 'The Key To The Highway'. he just sat there all night and watched Brownie McGhee's fingers.'

Bert had only been playing a matter of weeks at that point, taking lessons from Archie Fisher, Len Partridge and Davy Graham's sister, Jill Doyle. In no time at all he had exhausted their knowledge and soon became, himself, the resident teacher at the Howff. Also resident caretaker, soup-maker and (it would appear) door-maker. When Owen first met him, he had jacked in the gardening and become a grocer. That didn't last, but the guitar-playing certainly did. Hamish Imlach was only one of many already in the process of being taken aback, baffled and irritated beyond belief by the introverted young man with the angst and the instrument, and the incessant desire to do nothing else but play the thing, day in, day out:

'It was people like Bert,' he said, 'that made me decide to become a comedian! In the middle of a bloody meal he'd pick up a guitar - between the soup and the main course! Davy Graham was the same, John Martyn's the same. They couldn't sit still for half an hour if there was a guitar in the room without picking it up and fiddling about with it.'

But it would soon be paying off. After several trips to London, more though a sense of adventure than any ideas about fame and fortune, Bert was finally recorded, in 1964, on a Revox machine in freelance engineer Bill Leader's kitchen, with a motley assortment of borrowed guitars. Held by many to be one of the great debuts of all time, the resulting album was eventually sold to Nat Joseph's Transatlantic label for next to nothing. Nat was a young entrepreneur and Cambridge University graduate, best remembered in the lore of such places for having a cabaret act better paid that David Frost's. He had spent a year importing spoken word recordings from the States and generally thinking about how to make a fortune in the entertainment world. The popularising of British folk music (until then the preserve of solemn and socialist labels like Topic) was looking like a healthy option. Fittingly, the first venture that really set him up, and set him off down this track, was the recording of two albums entitled Edinburgh Folk Festival in 1963, bankrolled by established label Decca, for which he enlisted the help of Bill Leader. The artists involved, including Annie Briggs, Archie and Hamish Imlach, got a fiver a song and everyone was happy.

Within a few months, Bill Leader was hearing a lot more about someone he didn't record on that occasion, from someone he did:

'My memory is that Anne Briggs ran a steady campaign, hounding my earhole, to tell me I must record this fellow! Nat wasn't initially interested because, like a lot of people at the time, he thought that Bert couldn't sing - and the style in which he was performing was new to a lot of people. But I think Anne also used to natter in Nat's earhole…'

Bert (still more or less living in Edinburgh) had already exploded onto the London folk scene, and in terms of presentation and material was quite unlike anyone else around. As Martin Carthy recalls:

'His reputation had preceded him. People talked about Bert as being a bloke who had only been playing a matter of months and already had learned everything - everything his teachers could throw at him. He would go off on his own track. His only concession to anybody else was to play 'Anji' - and he played it all wrong! He didn't play it like Davy, he played it like Bert. People saw him as a rival to Bob Dylan. When his first album was coming out it was a really big day - Bert had recorded this album and it was coming out on Transatlantic! It was a big deal.'

The actual deal for the rights to release it wasn't anywhere near as big: a flat £100 and almost no royalties. It's an outrage only in hindsight, for at the time no other label (and Bill bad tried) would have touched Bert with a barge-pole. The need to actually got something out there, to build on his rapid rise as a live attraction, simply outweighed any longer term financial concerns.

Nat Joseph, to his credit, finally recognised something potentially great:

'I remember listening to it,' he said, 'and I thought, 'Some of these songs are terrific'. I mean, they really were exceptionally good. I was less struck than anyone else was on the guitar work. I don't mean to say that I didn't think it was terrific, but for me I was never particularly interested in musical technique. What interested me were the words, because to me it was always the words that communicated themselves both to people of my generation and younger, and I still think to a large extent that this is the case. I don't think Dylan became great because he played great harmonica: Dylan became great because the words said something to his generation; ditto Paul Simon; ditto Bert Jansch.'

Nevertheless, that first record, which included 'Needle Of Death', 'Strolling Down The Highway' and the mesmerising 'Running From Home', stood out because of those instrumental quirks and eccentricities:

'Well, both because of the instrumental eccentricities and also because of the dark lyrical content, if you like,' said Nat. 'And also, there was this sort of fascination - I'm afraid there was - with Bert's character. I mean, his gigs were extraordinary. Bert didn't just tune up - half the performance was tuning up, grunting, mumbling, sipping his beer and then have a cigarette and then playing a couple of chords and whatever. I'm bound to say he used to drive me crazy! I used to say, 'Look, you're a great artist, but great artists have to be performers - you have an audience out there!' He was one of the most untogether acts I've ever seen. He improved greatly when he was with Pentangle. I think they were collectively a very good influence on that aspect of it. But Bert was amazing. He was a one-off, and I think after my initial bewilderment at how somebody could squander such marvellous material by performing live often so badly and without caring about an audience and what they would think, I just realised, 'Well, he's a one-off and he'll just do it his way, and there's nothing that anybody is going to do about it'. His image was a non-image; it was an anti-image. I mean, there was no attempt at presentation. But for him it worked. It doesn't work for many. Audiences can spot phonies but one thing Bert never was in his life was a phony. He felt everything too deeply, and that was the thing which was, I guess, in the end the most damaging.'

Bert's integrity as a writer and artist of extraordinary depth has never been in question, whatever his ups and downs in live performance or in personal circumstances. His commitment to his music is second to none. But Nat Joseph certainly wasn't alone in being completely mystified by his extraordinary stage presence. To people like Ralph McTell, down in London, the very existence of such a character, and such music, outside of the capital was nothing short of a revelation in itself:

'It was really strange,' said Ralph, 'because everyone thought that this music was their own discovery, and when I discovered Bert I was staggered that somebody else had gone the same route as I had - miles and miles away, up in Scotland - and that there was this scene going on up there. Billy Connolly puts it perfectly in the film, about the sleeve on the first Bert Jansch record. That photograph by Brian Shuel had so much character, and it wasn't an affectation from Bert. He really was this person, who lived in student style squalor, and didn't have a guitar, and would sometimes be drunk, and the girls used to fall over themselves for him... He had all that mystique and everything, and I guess everybody wanted to be like that. Unfortunately, the first time I went to see him, he was out of the game - stuck a matchbox in his mouth, blew all the matches over the audience, said, 'That's an old folk custom', and wobbled off. Which is all the sort of stuff legends are made of!'

Wizz Jones, a Londoner who had emerged by stealth, as Ralph McTell had, via a nascent folk scene in Cornwall, couldn't believe it either:

'When he hit London you wouldn't believe the impact he had, because he was dynamite - nobody had heard anything like it! If you're a young, good-looking guy, and you're playing really well, and playing something so different and so fashionable, or exciting and offbeat, you don't need any stage personality. You can just be cool. And the fact you don't say much, or you're very laid back, you can be like that. When you get older it's stupid - you can't do it. But if you're a young, cool guy on the scene... I mean, Bert came alive on stage just by playing. He had everything, a true original.'

The London scene was itself exploding into something really vibrant and happening by this stage the mid '60's. From small beginnings on the coat-tails of jazz and skiffle movements, which had sustained people like Davy and Wizz, and hand in hand with the Ewan MacColl-led traditional revival, London's Soho area was suddenly alive with late-night music venues, fostering all kinds of new and exciting music. The leading all-nighter folk club, Les Cousins, can be seen in the film, hosting a rare glimpse of the hugely influential Jackson Frank. People like Bert, Owen Hand and Anne Briggs were starting to live there more or less permanently. Others of like mind were arriving from all over the place, many getting recored deals: Al Stewart, John Renbourn, even Billy Connolly.

Once exception in the rush to London was Hamish Imlach:

'I was quite happy in Scotland. I had tons of gigs up here, and the money was better. Make a record and get your name in the Melody Maker - that was the only reason for going to London!'

And, of course, many did. The Melody Maker offices were just around the corner from all the folk clubs, and if the actual circuit was still pretty small, the credibility and press coverage (at the time) was huge. Prior to the Pentangle, Bert enjoyed his most influential years, releasing a series of records that consistently broke new ground in songwriting, playing and acoustic music in general. As a soloist at that time, and on that circuit, he had gone as far as anyone possibly could.

'He didn't get bigger and bigger,' says Martin Carthy, 'because people didn't get bigger and bigger. You could get only so big on that circuit. This is before Bob Dylan ever had a hit. To give you an idea of how apart we felt from the general music scene, Albert Grossman (Dylan's manager) did an interview with a national magazine in England, about Bob Dylan, and the headline said. 'This is the hit parade of tomorrow'. And we fell off our chairs with laughter and said. 'Oh, Albert you are a wag! My God, you've really conned them this time. That's brilliant! Well done!' But within a year we were eating our words. The person who came out of the blue in Britain, in the wake of Bob Dylan’s jump into the hit parade was Donovan, and he was thoroughly marketed. He was a marketable, English Bob Dylan, who, as it happened, wrote one or two rather nice songs. If he was disappointing later, well, he was just disappointing later... Bert was never going to get that big in England. He was unacceptable, Nobody could get their heads round the way he played guitar and sang, not commercially. That's not an insult to Bert, it was just a fact.'

Donovan's hero, nonetheless, was Bert Jansch. When Pentangle took off, it may have been an extraordinary commercial success, but to many, his own fragile and unique identity was lost in the sound of the instruments, and drained by constant touring. When the band split up years later, the folk scene had changed beyond recognition. No longer at the cutting edge of anything in particular, it was just another type of music. All the originals - Davy, Wizz, Martin Carthy and the rest - had made their reputations in the heyday of the scene, and all the lucky ones had found their niche into the new decade and beyond. Ralph got on the international concert circuit; Al Stewart found success in America; Anne Briggs disappeared for years on end; others, like Bert, just continued to plough their own particular furrow.

The music they had made, in the Britain of the 1960's had a lasting effect on all sorts of musicians from all over the world, for many years to come. It still does to this day. Duck Baker is not least among America's acoustic musicians who took inspiration from the music of Bert Jansch and his friends and contemporaries. Aside from Page, electric pioneers like Neil Young and Rory Gallagher have always paid tribute to the music and playing of Bert Jansch, and one only has to listen to Richard Thompson to hear a connection.

Jimmy Page and Nell Young almost appeared in the film; Robin Williamson was missed through unavoidable circumstances (the LA riots); Roy Harper was missed through time - and lack of budget. It was a film that could have gone on forever. Who knows, they may even have found Jackson Frank, wherever he may be now. What we do have, though, is a priceless record of the whole incredible, spontaneous movement that flourished for a few years in the middle '60s before individuals dispersed, died, disappeared, sunk to the fringes or moved to the mainstream or, in Bert's case, just picked up the pieces and carried on being Bert.

'I think a lot of people have been influenced by Bert,' says Jacqui McShee, 'a hell of a lot of people. Maybe a lot of people wouldn't admit to it. He's actually a very shy person. He's very deep. He'll observe and he'll take things in. And he never actually says anything bad about anybody, but you know when he doesn't like somebody. He likes to keep himself to himself. He doesn't like to give anything away - he doesn't like to give anything of himself away.'

Whether he gives or not, he still communicates like no one else:

'A strange thing happened to me, watching the film today,' said Danny Kyle, perhaps an hour or two after we'd all sat in wonder at the premiere, one fine summer's day in Edinburgh. 'I realised that Bert is certainly the guitarist they all keep talking about, but I saw the poet today. I've know Bert for 25, 30 years and I saw the poet today. I realised the poetry of the man. I wish he could do more. I wish he would come back more often than he has. Maybe the film will help. What I saw today, I went there expecting huge lumps of nostalgia - and there was a lump in my throat at times - but what was there was an era. The film has captured an era, and maybe that's what the young people are looking for today. Sing 'Needle Of Death' today, in 1992, and it fits more than ever. I wish he would come back.'

listening to you rabbit on and you never mentioned that you did those sleevenotes. I bought this when it first came out. Great comp and great sleevenotes. didn't ask...

And wouldn't it have been great to see Jimmy Page, Neil Young and Donovan in the film, too?

...and Jan Leman tried again, this time around, to secure BBC4 funding to film BJ & Neil Young (to add to the new cut of the film) when they played together in the US 3 or 4 years back. But none was forthcoming.

has always jarred with me and I see they haven't edited/fixed it in the new version.

As you say Billy Connolly presents the film with passion and charm and he was the perfect choice for the role, having been a part of the 60s folk movement himself. But even Billy was caught off guard when the copy of Bert's second LP It Don't Bother Me he is handed (and expected to speak about off the cuff) turns out to be an unrecognisable cheap 80s re-issue with a totally different sleeve. He's thrown for moment, but recovers well. I would have fixed that scene, perhaps with a still of the correct LP sleeve. A little detail like that can make all the difference. Those records are important, after all.

I noticed the copy of the first John Renbourn LP Billy speaks about had something like "BBC Scotland Music Library" hand-written on the front in ballpoint pen. So I'm guessing all the records shown in the film came from there and not, as I fondly imagined at first, from Billy's own collection. does seem strange that they didn't have the originals of all those 60s LPs. The original sleeve of IDBM would have worked magnificently with Billy's running gag about furniture etc. And he would have done something splendid with the original 'Nicola' sleeve (all outdoor pics) if they'd had it.

That would have been my ideal time and place for this music (the story that Martin Carthy tells). Most of what came just after - Bert etc - isn't really my bag. I love the singers and the songs rather than instrumental technique. But I'll be getting hold of this for sure.

This week saw my copy of the Jess Roden boxed set arrive, and now that you've posted this review, I'm holding my breath in case when I get home from work, the BJ set will have arrived too.....

*crosses fingers, fidgets with glee*

an entire scene featuring Martin Carthy telling the story of how Paul Simon lifted (and copyrighted) his (Carthy's) arrangement of Scarborough Fair has been removed from the new version of the film.

I wonder if Carthy is now feeling a little less aggrieved about it than he was 20 years ago? I hear the two men did meet up a few years ago, so perhaps they've finally sorted it all out.

that something along these lines did happen. The big problem with this one was that the arrangement and song didn't stay in the folk ghetto but crossed over big time into the mainstream. There are loads of examples of such borrowings in the roots music field.

Martin Carthy spoke about this when he was on Desert Island Discs. He said, more or less, that he now wished he hadn't got in a lather about it.

I think the programme is still on the BBC website.

I do remember him saying something along those lines on DID.

That was a very interesting read and I think I'll track down a copy of the documentary. I might have to watch it alone, wife can't abide Bert Jansch!

I only saw Bert perform twice and both times were in 1983. Once with a reformed Pentangle at Newcastle City Hall and about a month later as a solo artist at Sheffield's Leadmill. It was the only time I've seen someone divide his show into three sets! It was because he seemed quite keen to get a beer from the bar at regular intervals.

At least he was in his heyday (and beyond).

Back in the late 60s at Les Cousins he never showed up at the allotted time. Someone was usually sent to drag him out of a nearby pub to perform his set. It never seemed to affect his playing, though.

Is a bargain. Just ordered it direct from the universal website.

on the deluxe edition, compared to the 2/CD version?

as well, called "Walk On":

"Bonus Documentary featuring Brownie McGhee and Bert Jansch. From Blind Boy Fuller, to Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, Leadbelly, and Chris Barber, Brownie plays and tells the story of his life to Bert in this remarkable musical encounter (never before released on DVD)"

So it's 2 CDs and 2 DVDs for thirty sovs. Pretty good if you're a Bert fan. It's not due out until May 6th apparently. Which is a Bank Holiday Monday. Genius.

*drums fingers*

...comes with the deluxe set, including the above sleevenote plus handwritten lyrics from Ralph, Wizz, Anne and others and photos, other text etc

...eventually, after a lot of searching. What a firkin rubbish website. Doesn't seem to have occurred to Universal that a search facility on the home page might not be a bad idea.

There are a few vintage clips of Bert on the Tube.

To even mention this in such august company, is rather like offering to teach one's granny how to suck eggs. What you guys don't know is clearly not worth knowing.

Colin's the Man. I'm just a fan.

...he no longer owns any of this music. As for Moje's comment below: yes.

As mentioned in the review, despite featuring heavily in the documentary Renbourn was missing from the original 1993 version of the CD. This was strange because no one is more closely associated with Bert and their association/friendship dates back to 1965.

I heard a rumour that they'd had a major falling-out after the film and that could explain Renbourn's absence from the 1993 CD.

Anyway, all is well now because those wonderful Bert and John duets are now featured on the extra disc that comes with the 2013 reissue.

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