British folk singer and songwriter Bert Jansch has passed away at the age of 67. Jansch, a leading figure in the British folk movement (and founder of the band Pentangle) died of cancer. He influenced many musicians. The Guardian noted: “Those he influenced included Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, Graham Coxon, Donovan, Bernard Butler and Paul Simon. According to fellow guitarist Johnny Marr: “He completely reinvented guitar playing and set a standard that is still unequaled today … without Bert Jansch, rock music as it developed in the 60s and 70s would have been very different.”
Led Zeppelin recorded a song called “Black Mountain Side” on its debut album. The arrangement of the song was based on an arrangement of it that Jansch recorded on his 1966 release Jack Orion and became one of Jansch’s best known songs. An in-studio version of it appears on the new Live At The World Cafe, 20th Anniversary Edition CD. Jansch performed it on World Cafe when he was on the show in June, which you can listen to here.
Jansch influenced new singer-songwriters and indie-folk artists including Beth Orton, Devendra Banhart, Philly’s Meg Baird (she performed with Jansch last December at Johnny Brenda’s) and Strand Of Oaks. This morning Timothy Showalter of Strand Of Oaks tweeted: “Rest in Peace Bert Jansch. One of my musical heroes, you will be missed.” We asked Tim to reflect on Jansch.
If I could play guitar as well as Bert Jansch, I probably wouldn’t have been motivated to play music professionally. If I had his talent, I would be content to sit alone and just play for myself — or as I often imagine, sitting by a peat fire with a Harris Tweed Jacket on some distant Herbides Isle. (Yes, I do dream of this.) I have escaped so many times into the music of Bert Jansch. His music is the perfect fodder for a person that has yet to give up their childhood imagination. Listening to his masterful picking can turn a lonely Philadelphia apartment into a Middle Earth landscape. I know this seems like a light-hearted metaphor, but pure escapism is the highest compliment I could give to music. But alas, I will never have his grace and innovative approach to such an overused instrument. No one will. Bert Jansch is someone to be archived, cherished, and constantly rediscovered. Here are three songs out of so many that I love. RIP Bert.
That quiet, unassuming 60-something making his way toward the stage with his acoustic guitar? Oh, it’s only Bert Jansch. No big deal. He’s just the Scottish folk musician that Neil Young once described as doing for the acoustic guitar what Jimi Hendrix did for the electric guitar. And the guy whose arrangement of a traditional Irish folk song would later form the basis of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Mountain Side.” And, you know, a founding member of the British folk-rock band Pentangle. Oh, and the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2001 BBC Folk Awards. Aaaand a pretty major influence on guitarists ranging from Paul Simon to Nick Drake to Jimmy Page. Yup, that guy right there. He’s just stopping by Johnny Brenda’s tonight as part of an incredibly rare (and short) U.S. tour. So it’s not like you should cancel any and all plans you had for tonight and buy a ticket for tonight’s show right now. Bert Jansch performs with Meg Baird at 9:15 at Johnny Brenda’s; tickets to the 21+ show are $15.