Thursday, 6 October 2011

Obituary: Bert Jansch

Over the course of a musical career that lasted for over 40 years, Paul Simon, Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler, Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, Graham Coxon, Donovan, Neil Young, Fleet Foxes and Devendra Banhart have all cited Bert Jansch as being a huge influence on their own music. A leading figure in the British folk revival of the 1960s, Jansch himself never achieved fame to the same level as some of the musicians who would not exist today if it weren't for his sublime talents as a guitarist and singer-songwriter. Waking up this morning to read that he had died after a battle with throat cancer at the age of 67 not only left me with a pang that we had lost one of the greatest guitarists to have ever graced the world of music, but a pang that Jansch's death was minimally reported, generally rather bypassed and not treated with as much importance as the deaths of far inferior musicians and personalities.

Bert Jansch is one of Scotland's own; born in Glasgow in 1943, he was the founding member of the band Pentangle who gained some commerical success and won Jansch one of his two Lifetime Achievement Awards at the BBC Folk Awards, the other being for his solo work. Pentangle continue to play after having several line up shuffles and are also seen as an influential band in the folk world. Jansch grew up in Edinburgh and began to play guitar in his teenage years. After leaving school, he began to play as a novice performer in various folk clubs around the UK with the intention of becoming a full time musician. At the age of 20 he began hitch-hiking across Europe and beyond, living off of earnings from busking and performances in bars and caf├ęs.

As folk music grew to prominence in the mid 1960s, Jansch saw his opportunity to record his eponymous debut album. The tape recording was sent to Transatlantic Records and went on to sell 150,000 copies. A protest song Do You Hear Me Now?that featured on the album was later covered and popularised by Donovan, who wasn't the only musician whose attention was caught by Jansch's talents. Two more of his 25 albums were recorded in quick success soon after, one of which including the first recording of Blackwaterside which was then recorded in homage by Led Zeppelin as Black Mountain Side.

Jansch still went on to influence contemporary musicians right up until to his death and will certainly continue to do so. In 2007 he appeared on Babyshambles track The Lost Art Of Murder playing acoustic guitar followed by a tour with Peter Doherty. He has also appeared on a BBC4 documentary on the acoustic guitar and was cited as one of the acoustic greats alongside The Kinks, The Beatles and Kurt Cobain's unplugged performance. He had recently reappeared on the scene with UK tours and a support slot with Neil Young on a US and Canadian tour. His final album The Black Swan was released in 2006 and featured Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart on various tracks throughout the album. His superior skills that were admired by some of the greatest musicians on the planet were accompanied by a great modesty and down to Earth nature. His eclectic style of off-kilter jazz-folk has made a huge impact on the world of music and if you hadn't previously heard of Bert Jansch, it's almost certain that some of your favourite musicians make the music they make thanks to him.

Bert Jansch: 3 November 1943 - 5 October 2011

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