Friday, 20 September 2013

Bert Jansch

I spent a couple of hours last night watching Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning, a DVD of a Bert Jansch performance at Sheffield's Memorial Hall in 2006.

It's funny how unassuming and laid back Bert is for someone of his stature. He was like some part-timer performing a set at his local village hall for a bit of beer money. He played most of the old favourites in the film - Carnival, Blues Run the Game, She Moves Through the Fair, Strolling Down the Highway, Blackwaterside - but no Anji unfortunately. I've seen clips of Bert playing the Davy Graham classic on YouTube many a time, but I just fancied seeing him do it in 37-inch widescreen!

I think I've nearly mastered Anji now, took a while though - that tricky descending bass line on the low E while doing pull-offs on the B and all those little slides and riffs. I'm attempting to get a few more Jansch numbers in my hands, the only problem with me is (besides the obvious technical difficulty), I tend to get sections of finger-picking tunes mixed up and all sort of coagulated. For example, I'll play a bit of Here Comes the Sun and fall into Norwegian Wood. Sometimes this is a happy accident, just a little improv and see where it goes, often, I just get confused. Maybe it's old age, more likely it's just yours truly getting easily distracted as usual.

Another great resource for the Jansch-ophile is the biography Dazzling Stranger by Colin Harper with a Forward by Johnny Marr. The book reads like a DIY manual for any aspiring Beatniks - sort of Kerouac with guitars. It's interesting to read how really 'out there' and radical these folk guys (and gals) were in the late 50's and early 60's, often putting a lot of the supposed wild children of rock to shame. The oppressive presence of Ewan MacColl is well documented; how he often bullied people into his rigid, socialistic view of how folk music should be played and sang - very traditionally and, if possible, keeping the regional accent intact.

Bert comes across as very laid back, enigmatic kinda dude throughout the book, a genuine 'dazzling stranger' who beguiled people with his personality as much as his music. I loved reading about the beginnings and heyday of the Les Cousin's legendary folk club in 60's London, the John Martyn v Bert Jansch punch-up on the ill-fated Australian tour and Bert's many alcohol fuelled escapades and scrapes. What comes out of the book and the DVD for me though, is Bert's modesty and quiet brilliance - he doesn't do the showmanship bullshit, he just plays guitar and gets on with it.

Sad that I never saw the guy play live and now never will of course.

~ H-Allen