Bert Jansch, legendary songwriter and guitarist, is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential musicians of all time. Since the mid-1960s, generation after generation have been held spellbound by his extraordinary groundbreaking acoustic guitar playing and classic emotive songs. Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Nick Drake,Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler and Beth Orton have all been devotees, and further generations, led by Devendra Banhart and Pete Doherty, are still discovering Jansch for themselves.
Bert began performing his unique synthesis of folk, blues and jazz in the early 1960s, having hitch-hiked to London from his hometown of Edinburgh. His iconic first album, Bert Jansch (April 1965), was played on borrowed guitars and recorded on a reel-to-reel tape deck. Bert Jansch caused a sensation for its innovative guitar technique and powerful songs, and has been phenomenally influential to this day, cited by legions of guitar players (famous and otherwise) as a major inspiration. It was followed by It Don’t Bother Me(December 1965) and the hugely influential Jack Orion(September 1966), where Bert began exploring innovative treatments of traditional folk, something he took further with Pentangle, the acoustic supergroup he formed in 1967 with John Renbourn, Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox.
After Pentangle split in 1973, Bert returned to his prolific solo career. His 21st solo album, Crimson Moon, appeared in 2000 accompanied by a Channel 4 documentary, Dreamweaver, and Bloomsbury’s publication of a major biography:Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival by Colin Harper (new expanded edition August 2006 with foreword by Johnny Marr). In 2001, Bert was awarded a BBC Radio 2 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Radio 2 Folk Awards. Edge of a Dream (featuring Bernard Butler, Hope Sandoval, Dave Swarbrick and Ralph McTell) was released in October 2002 to widespread critical acclaim across Europe. In November 2003, Bert celebrated his 60th birthday with a BBC TV Special shown on BBC4, and a sell-out birthday concert with guests at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
In 2006, Bert worked with some of the latest musicians to emerge on the scene on his highly acclaimed most recent album, The Black Swan, including producer Noah Georgeson (Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow, Joanna Newsom – Milk-Eyed Mender); and musicians and vocalists Beth Orton, Devendra Banhart, Otto Hauser(Espers, Vetiver), Helena Espvall (Espers) and Kevin Barker (Currituck Co). The Black Swan was hailed internationally as one of Bert’s greatest albums – MOJO called it an “instant classic” and gave it five stars (something hardly ever seen), while in the US it was “better than Dylan”.
On 5 June 2006, Bert received the MOJO Merit Award from MOJO magazine at the MOJO Honours List ceremony. The award was “based around an expanded career that still continues to be inspirational” and was presented by Beth Orton and Roy Harper. Bert was also involved in the major BBC TV series Folk Britannia, and featured in Will Hodgkinson’s acclaimed books: Guitar Man and Song Man. In November 2007, Bert received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Napier University in Edinburgh.
A lavish Pentangle box set, The Time Has Come, featuring much previously unheard material, appeared in March 2007 to extensive commercial and critical acclaim, and Pentangle received a Lifetime Achievement Award of their own at the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, where they performed two songs – the first time the original band had played together in 35 years. A full UK tour for Pentangle followed in 2008 – a truly triumphant reunion, hailed by press and public alike.
Bert’s own classic solo back catalogue has also been digitally remastered and is now available beautifully re-packaged, featuring all the original artwork plus new sleeve notes and photographs and many extra bonus tracks. This culminated in 2009 with the long awaited first-time CD release of Bert’s three Charisma albums: the seminal L.A. Turnaround, Santa Barbara Honeymoon and A Rare Conundrum. The re-mastering of these most sought-after albums in Bert’s catalogue was supervised by Bert himself, and as well as unreleased bonus tracks, the new CD ofL.A. Turnaround includes a previously unseen 13-minute film made during the recording of the album. Each of these new editions is gorgeously packaged using the original artwork along with contemporary photos and memorabilia as well as specially written notes.
On the eve of a 2009 US tour, Bert was diagnosed with lung cancer. Following treatment, he returned to the live scene at the invitation of Eric Clapton at his 2010 Crossroads festival and completed three US tours as the special guest of Neil Young in 2010 and 2011. Despite a reoccurrence of his illness in the summer of 2011, Bert kept working: playing with Pentangle at Glastonbury and Cambridge Folk Festivals and a spellbinding headline show at Royal Festival Hall that proved to be his last performance. He died on 5 October 2011 at a Marie Curie hospice in the arms of his wife, Loren, who tragically died from a different type of cancer just a couple of months later. They are laid to rest at Highgate Cemetery.
Bert Jansch leaves us an impressive catalogue of some of the most haunting songs in the British canon, carried in the hearts of millions who over the last 50 years have been touched and in many cases irrevocably changed by the emotional resonance of Bert’s music.