Bert Jansch - A Memorial

by Michael Collins Morton

Bert Jansch (1943 - 2011), the Scottish guitarist known for his work with The Pentangle and also for his standout work as a single performer, was generally acknowledged as one of the major figures in folk music during his lifetime. His rich style was derived from varied sources, but the fundamental integrity of his own talent always was uppermost in his music. In both his performances and his recordings, he gave the frequent and unmistakable impression that he played the guitar not merely for money or to dazzle his listeners, but mainly for the pure and private joy that it brought to him.

Although he wore his fame lightly and never displayed any interest in being a superstar, his musical reputation carried a serous weight. From Donovan (who wrote two songs in honor of him, "Bert's Blues" and "House of Jansch") to Jimmy Page (who transformed Bert's rendering of "Blackwaterside" into "Black Mountain Side," a track on the first album by Led Zeppelin) to Johnny Marr (who described him as "an incredible musician, totally uncompromising as a person and as an artist"), well-known guitarists of several generations praised his deft touch on the strings and dutifully looked to him for guidance. Over more than four decades, his forthright music came to represent a studious honesty that stood on its own.

Bert Jansch was born in Glasgow and grew up in Edinburgh. He took up the guitar as a teenager, learning quickly and steeping himself in the venerable traditions of folk music, and established a close friendship with another Scottish musician, Robin Williamson, who later founded The Incredible String Band. In the early 1960s, Bert Jansch began to perform in clubs throughout the United Kingdom. He also became friendly with a singer from Nottinghamshire, Anne Briggs, who acquainted him with folk songs that had a strong effect on his musical direction. His first two albums, Bert Jansch and It Don't Bother Me, were released in 1965. Bert Jansch included one of his most famous compositions, "Needle of Death," a song that he wrote after one of his friends was killed by an overdose of heroin.

In 1966, Bert Jansch recorded Jack Orion, his third album, and Bert and John, an album that featured him playing his guitar alongside John Renbourn, an English guitarist. Shortly after, the two guitarists joined with Jacqui McShee (vocals), Danny Thompson (double bass), and Terry Cox (drums) to form The Pentangle. In May of 1967, The Pentangle made their first appearance in public at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Their first album, The Pentangle, was released in 1968, and featured a heady mixture of diverse elements, with the guitar and voice of Bert Jansch providing repeated highlights. The Pentangle was followed by Sweet Child (1968), Basket of Light (1969), Cruel Sister (1970), Reflection (1971), and Solomon's Seal (1972). During the same period, Bert Jansch released four more albums on his own: Nicola (1967), Birthday Blues (1969), Rosemary Lane (1971), and Moonshine (1973).

When The Pentangle broke up at the beginning of 1973, Bert Jansch moved to a farm in Wales, seeking relief from the stress of constantly being on tour. He continued to record on his own, releasing L.A. Turnaround in 1974 and Santa Barbara Honeymoon in 1975. Both albums offered a venturesome departure from his earlier approach, and featured a hardy sound that leaned toward country rock. In 1982, the five members of The Pentangle joined together again for a performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival in Cherry Hinton, England, and then undertook a tour of Europe. When John Renbourn and other members later quit the band, Bert Jansch and Jacqui McShee persevered with The Pentangle, but in the late 1980s, Bert Jansch began to experience harmful effects from his many years of heavy drinking. As a result, he chose to stop his heedless intake of alcohol.

In his later years, even as his health continued to falter, he maintained a busy schedule, performing and recording to the best of his considerable abilities. His final album, The Black Swan, was released in 2006. He toured America with Neil Young in 2010, and performed with The Pentangle in England during the summer of 2011. To the end of his life, Bert Jansch remained a musician of unquestioned devotion and understated stature: a humble alchemist of the guitar, steadfastly creating tunes of lasting magic.


A review of the first Pentangle 
album, October 26, 1968
A review of "Lucky 
Thirteen", March 1, 1969
An interview with Bert,
June 29, 1974.
A review of "L.A. Turnaround" 
album, September 14, 1974.
An article from Folk Roots, March 1994.
It includes a short interview with John Renbourn.
A review of Bert's 
last album, "The 
Black Swan".

Below is a an article by my friend, Gary Hodges.
When I informed him of Bert Jansch's 
death he was saddened and offered to 
write some personal thoughts. 
My thanks for his heartfelt efforts.

Below are albums in my collection.

The First Pentangle Album

Eric Clapton 7/21/74

After 3 years of near seclusion, following the demise of Derek and the Dominos, Eric Clapton decided to release a solo album and tour the US. He put together a band, which included bass player, Carl Radle, from Derek and the Dominos. He added a back up singer, Yvonne Elliman, who had performed as Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar”, on album, film and stage. They recorded in Miami, Florida, and titled the album “461 Ocean Boulevard”, after the house they stayed at. The song, “I Shot The Sheriff”, by Bob Marley and the Wailers, became Clapton’s first #1 solo hit. In June 1974, Eric Clapton and his band began their US tour. 

My friends and I saw Eric Clapton and his band perform 
at The Cow Palace near San Francisco July 21, 1974. 
To see photos of that concert and 
read our memoirs, go to ...
Brit Rock By The Bay

The photo below was taken by Dan Cuny 
outside the Cow Palace.
This is the official program from 
the concert. I bought it there for $2.
Below are pages from the book, "Eric Clapton - 
A Visual Documentary by Marc Roberty". 
It documents the events day to day from the 
first announcement to the end of the tour.
©Copyright 1986 Omnibus Press
Below is text from "Clapton - The 
Autobiography". Clapton suggests an affair 
 between him and Yvonne Elliman.
Published by Broadway Books.
©Copyright 2007 E.C. Music Limited.
The photo below is from "Wonderful 
Tonight - George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me"
by Pattie Boyd. 
©Copyright Pattie Boyd 2007
Below is text from "Clapton - The 
Autobiography". Clapton describes how he 
came  to record "I Shot The Sheriff"
and  Bob Marley's response.
Published by Broadway Books.
©Copyright 2007 E.C. Music Limited.
Family tree below is by Pete Frame.
It is taken from the official program.
©Pete Frame June 1974.
The first announcement of 
the tour was ten months 
before it happened. 
Melody Maker did a large 
retrospective of Clapton. 
Published October 10, 1973.
The tour is announced May 11, 1974.
It has rumors about George Harrison
joining him and the possibility of a 
Cream reunion. 
Two weeks later, the US papers 
express doubt that there 
is an album and tour 
in the works. 
The new band and 
album are officially 
announced June 8, 1974.
The rock papers cover the action. 
"New Musical Express" printed a long 
article reviewing a live performance.
Published June 29, 1974.
A review of the band's warm-up
concert in Copenhagen.
Published June 29, 1974.
Tour dates and album 
notes, July 4, 1974.
The album receives 
mixed reviews in the 
British Press, July 13,1974.
A major interview with Eric Clapton
is published in the US just three
days before I saw him perform.
A review of the live show.
August 1, 1974.
A US review of the album.
It received mixed reviews, again.
August 29, 1974.
An over-view of the tour from 
Hit Parader Magazine,
Annual Winter Issue 1974-75
The album "461 Ocean Boulevard"
Yvonne Elliman hit it big playing Mary 
Magdalene on "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Her first album was titled, "I Don't Know 
How To Love Him", from that rock opera.
Yvonne Elliman's second solo album, 1973. 
Pete Townshend helped with it.
Her first album with RSO records 
was "Rising Sun", 1975.
She was married to Bill Oakes, the 
president of the company. He was 
responsible for her meeting Clapton. She 
recorded with his band for five years. She later  
had the hit song, "If I Can't Have You", written
for her by the Bee Gees.

Bass player, Carl Radle passed away 
from substance abuse in 1980
at the age 37.
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