AN INTERVIEW WITH
For most regular Terrascope readers, Bert Jansch should need no introduction. For those not familiar with the man and his music, he is a guitarist and songwriter of outstanding ability who has produced some of the most timeless traditional music of the last 30 years. His first LP from 1965, simply entitled 'Bert Jansch', was one of the most accomplished debuts of all time. Fourteen Jansch originals (plus a cover of Davey Graham's ĎAnjií - see our Davey Graham interview) consisting of a mixture of jagged folk tunes and dark, haunting blues songs, the whole album conveying a sense of loss and loneliness that no other artist was doing at the time, the icing on the cake being Bert's brilliant acoustic guitar style.
His second offering 'It Don't Bother Me' featured John Renbourn on two tracks. It was full of beautiful, stoned acoustic gems which gave a glorious snapshot of the hectic London folk scene of the mid sixties. 'Jack Orion', his more traditional third album contained the 10 minute title track (later performed by The Pentangle) which again featured John Renbourn on second guitar, contributing weaving sitar-like acoustic lines which added to the overall haunting effect. Bert continued his long association with John Renbourn when they formed The Pentangle in the late sixties, an outstanding band who fused elements of folk, jazz and psychedelia to create rich tapestries of sound lifted by the marvellous vocals of Jacqui McShea. The interplay between the instruments was outstanding and the jazz tainted rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox pushed the music into uncharted territory hitherto unexplored by the folk community.
Bert's output over the years has been fairly consistent. Considering longish periods out of action recovering from health problems (paying the price for his wild lifestyle in the sixties and seventies) he has produced some classic, yet sadly overlooked albums throughout the seventies and eighties. Four on the Charisma label (including the excellent 'L.A. Turnaround' and 'Santa Barbara Honeymoon') and from 1980 onwards an abundance of smaller, independent labels - all recommended. 'Heartbreak' (1982) probably being his most commercial one to date.
The man has become a reluctant legend over the years and has influenced more guitarists than we can care to mention in these humble pages (check, ahem, Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Rory Gallagher and Bob Dylan, yet he still remains in relative obscurity. The 90's has seen something of a Bert Jansch renaissance however: all the early albums have been reissued on CD, and he has been touring and playing much more frequently. His new material is being issued on the Cooking Vinyl label - 'When The Circus Comes To Town', his latest, was released last year.
How did you first get into music?
Well I suppose like any other kid at the time in the fifties it was mainly rock'n'roll, with a few exceptions. My sister was listening to Frank Sinatra and Johnny Ray, but she was also into Elvis Presley and Little Richard, so I kind of picked up on that.
When did you become interested in the guitar?
I actually tried to make my first acoustic guitar when I was about seven. It was a Spanish guitar 'kit', the strings were so high off of the fretboard it was almost impossible to play. I learnt to play a D chord on it because it was the only chord that I could hold down where the strings were nearer to the frets. I think from then on it was ordained that I should play guitar! The first guitar I actually bought - I'll always remember it 'cause it was stolen - was an old Hofner Cello guitar, really meant for playing jazz. Then when I left school I bought what was called then, the 'Lonnie Donegan' guitar, which had previously been called the 'Josh White' model!! A bit confusing at the time really.
Obviously Josh White and Lonnie Donegan regularly played these particular models!
Ha! No, they probably didn't even know they existed, it was all just a big ploy to try and sell the guitars... it was a nice guitar, mind you, but I didn't have it very long - that one got stolen too.
This would have been in your home town of Edinburgh around the late 50's?
Yes, it was about that time, there was a lot was going on... I was sharing a flat with Clive Palmer and Robin Williamson who were later in The Incredible String Band.
Had you discovered traditional blues and folk music by then?
Big Bill Broonzy was the guy that started me off really. I couldn't figure out how he used to play. I was fascinated by his technique. It was about then that I discovered the Howff Folk Club in Edinburgh, I used to go there regularly, In fact I ended up kind of living there and getting lessons from Jill Doyle and Archie Fisher, who played there a lot - Jill Doyle just happened to be Davey Graham's sister. There were a lot of the old folk players around at that time. People like Owen Hand and Hamish Imlach, who taught John Martyn. Alex Campbell was also involved in that scene... Archie Fisher was a great all round guitar player, he could turn his hand to anything. I learned a lot from Archie. In fact I ended up teaching guitar at the club myself.
So who was performing at the Howff Club about this time?
The club was owned by a guy called Roy Guest. When the Edinburgh Festival was on, he used to invite over some of the big American blues stars to play. One year he got Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee over - Pete Seeger played as well... It was quite brave to bring guys like that over, not many people were doing that at the time.
Did you know Davey Graham then?
Yeah, it was about the same time I met Davey. He used to come up to Scotland and play regularly at a pub called the Waverley Bar.
Is Davey older than you?
Oh yeah, I'm not sure exactly, but he must be about five or six years older than me.
Was he one of your biggest influences?
Very much so! After hearing Davey play, it was just all there. All the old blues players used to play in the 'clawhammer' style. Playing a single lead line with the bass string dampened to create the rhythm - like Big Bill Broonzy. Davey would have several lines all going at once - I couldn't understand that! Mind you, he took his influences from other sources other than the blues, eastern style tunes and stuff like that. He travelled a lot in those days and picked up a lot of his technique on his travels. It was Davey that invented the DADGAD tuning, which everyone uses now.
You went travelling a lot yourself in those days....
I think I was semi-emulating Davey and a few others. The generation before me who were still very much a part of the scene; players like Davey, Alex Campbell and Wizz Jones had all done their fair share of busking around Europe and so I just naturally followed suit. I got as far as Morocco, which was the dope centre of the universe! For a young person at the time, to get outside of Europe and travel around was a real culture shock, it was all totally different; people, clothes, food, values - you know... everything!
You just busked wherever you went. I used to make just about enough money to get by. The best place I ever busked was in St. Tropez with a blonde, buxom girl called Felicity, or 'Fish' as she used to get called....We'd do an hour on the harbour front and make enough money for both of us to live for a week! We'd knock out Leadbelly numbers and anything else we could think of.
Had you moved down to London by then?
No, I didn't live in London then, when I was travelling, I was always coming back to Scotland. We played a lot of clubs in the north of England at that time - anything in striking distance from Edinburgh. I've no head for actual dates! I do remember the first London club I played in was the King and Queen club, run by Cliff Angier and then the Troubadour club after that. Later on Les Cousins opened in Greek Street and that became a regular venue.
Martin Carthy was around at this time as well.
Oh very much so. That was the beginning for me really, when I first came down and started doing clubs like The Troubadour. Martin used to play there a lot, he was part of the set there at that time. I first met him on a TV show with Sydney Carter called Hullabaloo where he was playing some of his songs. He used to go around with Paul Simon when he was over here. He'd learn things from Davey (Graham) and then sidle up to me and say 'Hey, have you learnt this one.....!' Paul Simon was part of all that crowd as well. He was OK, a bit of a show off though - very American! He used to say stuff like 'Oh I'm gonna be really big one day and make lots of money, I'll invite you all over to America!' He did of course make it very big but never asked us over, not surprising really I suppose. We used to play a lot of clubs together - I got rather tired of 'The Sound Of Silence' though!
What about Anne Briggs?
I did a lot of travelling with Anne in the early years. She shared a flat in Earls Court with Robin Williamson and The Young Tradition. We teamed up together and ended up going to a lot of folk clubs trying to get gigs. They were all old traditional type clubs, lots of unaccompanied singing. I actually managed to get away with playing 'Anji' at one of these places. The club's policy was for the artists to play and sing a song from your country or place of origin. It was all a load of bollocks really, because nobody ever used to do it. When we split up she had a boyfriend in Edinburgh called Gary, so she returned to Scotland and lived up there. She still lives up there now, she works for the Forestry Commission.
How did you come to record your legendary first album?
Well there used to be a London record shop in New Oxford Street called Collett's, which sold all sorts - jazz, folk and blues, there was a book shop there as well, which was run by Jill Cook and Ray... ah, I can't remember Ray's second name but he's still got a record shop near Shaftesbury Avenue called Ray's Jazz Shop. Jill was head of the folk section and ran a few clubs herself, if you wanted to know anything about clubs or singers or wanted to contact someone from that scene, that was the place you'd go. It was through her that I met Bill Leader. Bill was a field recorder, recordist or whatever who was working for Transatlantic records at the time. Before that he had worked for Topic records. He was a true field recordist in the sense that he would take his equipment to the public wherever they were and record fiddle players and anyone who sounded interesting in tiny bars and clubs all over the country. We used to go round to his flat in Camden a lot and he eventually decided he'd like to do an album with me. It was recorded in his front room with a mixer and a revox set up in the kitchen. A couple of Davey's albums were done there too - 'Folk, Blues And Beyond' and the one he did with Shirley Collins, 'Folk Routes, New Routes'.The album was put out the same year on Nat Joseph's Transatlantic label.
How did the 'Needle Of Death' song from this album come about? Was it written for anyone in particular?
It was written for a guy called Buck Polly who was on the folk scene down here in London. He was a friend of Alex Campbell and I got to know him quite well. If Alex and I were going along to a gig, Buck would be the one who would drive you to the gig. He used to buy old vintage cars, do them up and then sell them, so the cars you'd be driven around in were great - it was quite a noisy affair, what with the type of car and a load of drunken folk singers in the back! Yeah that song was written for Buck, he had some problems; I don't really like singing it, I find it very depressing. I re-recorded in the seventies when I was signed to Charisma. I think there may be another version knocking about somewhere as well.
Is it true that you used to use a teaspoon bent round your thumb as a guitar pick?
Hmm, yeah well if I couldn't buy a pick or find one, I'd go into the kitchen and pick up the nearest spoon that was pliable, as it were, to bend round my thumb. The thing was, I saw an old film of Big Bill Broonzy playing in a Paris nightclub and he was using a thumb pick. From then on, I always used a thumb pick when I played. Whether it was a good thing or not I don't know!
The second album 'It Don't Bother Me', had a more laid back feel to it....
Yeah, well that was recorded in a studio under a guitar shop in Denmark street. I can't remember a lot about those sessions. It was along time ago. I think a few bottles were involved. In those days it was just nice to get money from the label to record your material. Its one of those albums I just don't listen to anymore.
Itís a classic!
Ha! You never think at the time its ever going to do anything. It was just good to have a bit of money in your pocket! When I was living in Edinburgh, I used to teach guitar - I soon realised that you got more money for playing! I reckon that was one of the main reasons I started playing in public. That of course and having a great love for the instrument.
Were you playing a lot at this time? I read somewhere that Donovan was around that same scene.
Oh I was playing all the time. Places like Les Cousins and the Troubadour - it was pretty hectic. We were always out and about. Donovan would do some of my songs when he played. His manager used to come round to the flat to try and get songs from me. It was a bit of a mad time.
You played guitar with the Chicago blues harp player Little Walter [Jacobs], when he came over in the mid sixties. He was quite a heavy guy, wasn't he?
That was a long time ago. Well he certainly had a bit of a presence about him. I don't know what he made of me or indeed if he actually remembered the session. It was in a club run by Bill Leader who had him booked with another guitar player. I was just in the audience; the other guitar player didn't show up so he asked me to do it instead. Of course, my style of playing wasn't really appropriate for a serious harmonica player, but it worked, after a fashion. I think he actually quite enjoyed it. The only other person I know who has actually played with him is Peter Kurtley. Now Pete has actually made an album with him - it must have been around the same time, recorded in a club up north somewhere.
Your third album,'Jack Orion' was a more traditional folk record, was this purposefully done?
Well I've always been interested in traditional music, It just seemed like a natural progression from the previous ones. It was just something that happened really, although there were a lot more traditional songs on it.
The haunting 10 minute title track makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up!
Mmm... well it was just something we did at the time - John Renbourn played guitar on that as well.
How do you feel about the legendary status those first three records have acquired over the years?
Ha! Well my problem is with the vocals on that early stuff, I can't stand 'em. You've got to remember that it was only the guitar I was interested in, the vocals came as a bit of an afterthought. I was struggling with the vocals all the time then to try and make it sound good; I never really bothered as long as it sounded roughly alright! Nowadays, its the other way round. I never listen to those early albums any more. Nowadays I've never got any time to listen!
How did you meet John Renbourn?
In Les Cousinsí and other folk clubs in London. He used play 'clawhammer' style guitar at about 100 miles an hour and I quite got off on all that kind of playing! We didn't actually do that many clubs together but I ended up sharing a flat with him and another folk singer called Les Bridger, a busker who used to sing cockney songs. You could never guess the age of Les, he always looked like an old man, although he was the same age as we were back then! He had a lovely Martin guitar which I used to borrow for gigs. I ended up helping him out with the monthly instalments on it because I used it so much. I think heís living in Copenhagen now. John and I would nearly always be doing gigs independently of each other. A lot of our playing was actually done in the flat, we'd jam a hell of a lot together and came up with a few tunes, so we decided to go out and do some gigs. The first club we played at was called the Horseshoe club in London which was primarily set up by me and John and a few friends but did actually encompass the whole folk world! Sandy Denny and Martin Carthy would turn up and do short sets one after another, it was great. That was a good club.
You did the 'Bert And John' album in 1966.
That was recorded at a flat in St. John's Wood. That was a good album, only seven minutes each side, it was very short but we managed to squeeze a lot of tunes on there! I'm surprised we weren't done under the Trades Description Act! Mind you, we'd previously played together on one or two tracks on the 'It Don't Bother Me' and 'Jack Orion' albums.....So I suppose it was a natural progression.
Do you ever see John now?
Not really, he lives up in Scotland. His marriage broke up a few years back and that's where he ended up - in Edinburgh. It seems we kind of swapped places. We speak now and again.
You were also friendly with Pete Townshend....
I used to know Pete, yeah. Not that well, mind; we had a mutual friend called John Challice who was a great stride piano player, an expert at that Meade Lux-Lewis kind of stuff. He could play it all. He was at art college and I used to hang out with him quite a bit, Pete was at the same college and we all ended up going round together. I used to go and watch the early rehearsals that The Who did while they were getting together. They used to rehearse in this pub nearby. I went round to his flat a few times, it was always full of artists and people like that. I remember it was all blacked out even during the day, with the shades down and coloured lights everywhere. He had a massive collection of blues singles, old 78's and albums as well, all over the place.
How about the late sixties psychedelic in London? Was that a part of the folk world as well?
It was definitely all part of the folk world, nobody escaped from it! The Horseshoe club used to have it's own resident slide show which was done by Doris Henderson's husband Ron. I think Ron lives in L.A. now. Doris was an old girlfriend of John Renbourn's, and used to do a bit of singing with us sometimes. John and Doris made two albums together a year or two previous - Ron would always do the lights. The whole room used to be swirling in green and orange blobs. Didn't matter if you were a traditional folk singer, everyone got 'em. I think it was compulsory in those days! Doris joined The Eclection about a year later.
The '67 and '68 albums 'Nicola' and 'Birthday Blues' had you teamed up with an orchestra on some tracks, was this your idea?
Yeah, they were strange ones - it wasn't my idea, they were the record company's idea of what they thought I should be doing. A sort of change of direction I suppose... At one point they had me playing electric guitar in front of a sixty piece orchestra in the studio! It was just mad, I wasn't really happy with it at the time. We were playing this tune called 'Basket of Light', before Pentangle did it,with the orchestra and by the end the producer had managed to totally mix me out of the song! I couldn't believe it! The guitar part on this was very important because it was meant to represent the sound of me imitating the sound of a train or something, the orchestra just drowned the whole thing out; in the end, I don't think it even got on the album.
How about the 'Rosemary Lane' album? - is that another one you cringe at? Surely not!
Oh no, there's quite a lot of nice stuff on that one. All the songs were nice and neat and tidy, a bit more polished. Its definitely one of the best. The first and second albums I think were all first or second takes. 'Rosemary Lane' was a study in trying to get the melody and the guitar playing across at the same time; its one of my favourites, it took a long time to record.
So you decided to get back to the basics after the last two albums. It turned out to be a bit of a masterpiece...
Well, again I went back to Bill Leader. That was the first album that Bill had done since the early ones. It was back to just me and a guitar. A few traditional tunes as well. He used to come down once a month or something, bring his Revox with him, sit around and try and record some stuff. Sometimes we wouldn't record anything, we'd just end up going to the pub. That was when I was living in a cottage in Sussex. Bill used to get a couple of tracks down a month and it slowly built up from there over a year until we finally had enough songs to issue an album. That must have been about 1971. I was playing in Pentangle at the time as well.
How did the formation of The Pentangle come about?
It was at that club that John Renbourn and I started, the Horseshoe, that John met Danny Thompson, who was doing a show with Julie Felix! Danny would be playing all over the place. John ended up inviting him along to play. We had tried a lot of musicians before Danny and Terry Cox but we settled on them because they were part of the house band at Ronnie Scott's and had worked as a team; they were very accomplished jazz players and backed all the big American jazz stars when they came over and played at Ronnie's. It was slightly frowned upon at the time, Danny and Terry playing with us folkies! I don't think it was considered very 'cool', but it worked well. They'd also played in Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. Near the end of that year we signed a management deal with Jo Lustig and one of the first gigs we did was at the Festival Hall, which we sold out. We did some TV appearances as well. It was 5 years from that point on. Pretty hard work if I recall, hard everything - drinking and everything else. How we all got on stage sometimes I'll never know. A lot of the songs had quite complex arrangements as well - I just don't know how we managed it; it amazes me really. Some nights some of us would fall asleep on stage and get woken up when a solo came in. If you couldn't manage to wake them, you'd just have to improvise. Some of the songs would last about half an hour if we were improvising. Sometimes I remember turning round and half the band were missing - they'd just walked offstage to go for a piss! We lasted until about 1973 and then split up.
On a lot of the songs, John played the sitar, this added a great new dimension to the songs. Was it hard to play?
Yes, it was very hard. You had to play every day really to keep your hand in. I donít know what happened to that sitar. I think John must still have it.
Didn't The Pentangle re-form quite soon after that?
Well the original band reformed again in 1980 for about a year. It was actually less than that because in that year Terry had an accident and was in hospital for about six months. I suppose it lasted for six months basically. We were going to do a tour of Italy - it was the promise of the Italian tour which first got us together really. We were going to postpone it after Terry's accident but we ended up doing it anyway with Terry's leg in plaster...
So how did he play the drums?!?
Ha Ha! Well there's just no answer to that one! We did the tour though and after we finished, John was the first one to leave. He went to Dartington College to teach guitar, get away from it all I think, he still teaches there now.The most pleasurable album for me was the one we made when Mike Piggott joined after John left. John never got on that 'reunion' album. It wasn't strictly the original line-up but I still enjoyed it. After that, there were various connotations of people being in the band and a lot of albums were done. I was actually the last person to leave, Jaqui McShea stayed with the band as it was then and as far I know she's still flying the flag, touring and playing. She's the only original member left.
Shel Talmy produced a lot of The Who records, he also produced some of the original Pentangle stuff, did this come about through Pete Townsend? Did you know Shel Talmy quite well?
I didn't get to know him at all really, he didn't have very good hearing, though I'm not surprised after being involved with The Who! His eyesight was quite bad as well and you had to be careful you didn't say the wrong thing in the studio which the band was pretty good at, given the state we were in a lot of the time! I think he did very well actually.
In the 70's you gave up music for a while, why was this?
Well I bought a farm in Wales and became a farmer. Joined the union and everything, the guitar was put aside for a couple of years and I just didn't play it. It sat and gathered dust in the corner. I think I just wanted a break. This was after Pentangle split up for the first time. I was signed to Charisma at the time and I'd just done the 'Santa Barbara Honeymoon' album.
Didn't you own a music shop as well?
Mmm, yeah, it was quite a good shop actually. It was also at the height of my drinking days so consequently it wasn't much of a success. Me and business just don't mix, which was half the problem really. We sold mainly British hand-made guitars, quite a lot of money some of them, but really nice instruments. All made by real craftsmen. In the end we just went bankrupt; well I suppose ended up making myself bankrupt really, It was the only way of getting out of it. About the same time I was invited over to America by two guys that had been big Pentangle fans in the sixties when they were both about fourteen(!), and who were now producers, to do an album which came out as 'Heartbreak'. That's another one that I've got a soft spot for. Albert Lee played some guitar on that album.
What amazed me was Albert Lee, who is an amazing player in his own right, played rhythm guitar for Eric Clapton in the seventies!
Albert Lee is a great player. I know what you mean, I'm not a keen lover of Eric Clapton's stuff. I liked it much more when he was in Cream. That band was really alive, unfortunately I never actually saw them. I know that Danny Thompson was friendly with Ginger Baker through his jazz connections. When it got to the days of Clapton doing all his solo stuff and playing Wembley and all that, I found it so utterly boring, really bad! That stuff was just churned out....
How about The Bert Jansch Conundrum from the early eighties with Martin Jenkins - that was a good band...
I got to know Martin in that period between the original Pentangle splitting up and the beginning of the eighties. I knew him pretty well and we did a lot of gigs together. At one point we were playing with Rod Clements, who used to be in Lindisfarne and Pick Withers on drums - I seem to remember Mike Piggott was involved as well; I've been in so many different line-ups I just can't honestly remember!
You did an album called 'The Bert Jansch Conundrum - Live In Concert' which was recorded by the BBC in 1982 which was particularly good.
I've never actually heard that album.
It was released about 4 years ago on the Windsong label.
There's a lot of stuff that's out at the moment that I've not actually heard. I know there's a live bootleg of me at the Twelve Bar Club in Denmark Street, London. People seem to really like it but I've never really heard it!
Is that just you playing solo material?
Yeah, that's just me on my own. Actually, I think I may have heard one track at some point... though I'm not sure. Its just taken straight off the mixing desk.
I saw Roy Harper there a few months back, I think he only managed about five or six songs, he didn't seem to be too happy. [Damon and Naomi played a blinding set there last March as well - Ed.] - You've known Roy for a long time haven't you?
That sounds like Roy. He has his good days and bad days like we all do! I've known Roy for years and years; right from the beginning. I did the sleeve notes on his first album. I think the last time I saw him must have been about six months ago. He lives in Ireland now, somewhere on the west coast, near Cork. I know his son a bit better than him these days - Nick. Nick's a very good musician. He plays quite a lot at the Twelve Bar Club.
Going back to the early eighties, you had some health problems - what happened?
Oh yeah, in fact I'm going to the hospital tomorrow for a check up on the operation I had. It was the drinking to start with, I collapsed while I was on tour with Rod Clements and ended up in hospital up near Newcastle. The doctor said if I'd have been any later getting to the hospital, I wouldn't have made it. My pancreas had given up altogether. I was counselled up there by a doctor who was a big fan. She had nothing to do with my case but knew I was in the hospital and came and found me; she'd come and talk to me all the time I was in there. I never did get to know her name but she kind of helped me through it. I was there for a couple of weeks and they told me 'Well you've only got one pancreas - once it goes, you've had it - that's it!' I had to give up drinking there and then. About a year after that I was in hospital again with arterial problem; I had the two main arteries to my legs replaced which was quite a big operation. I didn't realise how big the operation was at the time, I thought it was just going to be a minor one. As is the way with me it was always something unusual, it was the first time this particular surgeon had done an operation like this, it was me and another guy having the same operation. Like I said, I'm going back tomorrow to have a check-up. Apparently these artificial veins only last about fifteen years and, well fifteen years is up now...
Have you given up drinking altogether now?
I still have a low alcohol beer every now and again, especially at gigs. It always seems natural to have a drink at a gig. It just wouldn't seem right not to have something! I gave up smoking as well because that was the cause of the artery problems. In that same year I gave up both things, it was hard, very hard, but the shock of being in hospital helped it along a bit. Although I must say, there were guys in the hospital who were in for the same smoking related operations as me - some of them a lot more major, who were still sneaking out all the time to have a cigarette. That was just madness. That was how strong the addiction was I suppose.
Around 1990, in the 'Acoustic Routes' documentary, you met up and played with Brownie McGhee over in the USA, what was that like?
Oh that actual program was great. We all went over to his house to meet him. The place was full of people. His whole family - children, sons, daughters, nephews, wives, lovers, girlfriends, neighbours! I mean they were all just there, such a mixture of people just in and around his house! It was in Oakland, just outside San Francisco. It was a fantastic afternoon. Once he got going or wound up, you just couldn't stop him; he plays the piano as well - he's quite good....The crew were amazed at all this going on. The walls of his house were just covered with old blues posters and records of himself!.
You must have been nervous....
Oh God, yeah! You see there was no rehearsal or anything beforehand, so first of all you didn't know if you were going to be in tune with him and secondly you didn't know if you were going to be in the right key, but he was great. It was great to play with him.
What about the albums you're releasing now, are you happy with the new material your doing?
Well I must say, some of the gigs I've been playing lately I've been really pleased with. It hasn't always been like that, you know? But whether I can actually translate what I'm playing on stage onto tape is another matter - unless you've got a permanent setup, like I've got here, it takes hours just to set the equipment up so you can actually perform and catch a certain moment on tape. I can piece it together from here a lot better, which I'm happy with. I can record some backing tracks, take them into the studio and other musicians can play along to them. Its really useful. I've been working with a sax player on the latest material and the last album, 'When The Circus Comes To Town'. We had a great gig the other night at the Twelve Bar Club. Next year the plan is to go out with a keyboard player as well, maybe someone who can double up on as many instruments as possible.
All the early albums have now been reissued on CD - are you getting royalties for them? I heard a story that you were paid £100 for the first album and that was the deal...
Oh, that, I just don't recall the £100 but yes, I do get royalties for them, but reissues always hamper anything new your doing, because everyone for some reason wants to go out and buy the old stuff. I'm signed to Cooking Vinyl who have to wait until this spate of reissues dies down before they can put another album out, which may be around August time, people just say, oh another one of Bert's records! 'Rosemary Lane's' just been reissued, its funny because that one was originally reissued on a German label, while the first three were re-issued on Demon Records, I think Castle are putting them out now quite cheaply - sort of two on one if you like. I don't know when its going to stop - they've even started re-issuing re-issues!
Any new projects in the pipeline?
Well hopefully I'll be playing on Johnny Hodge's new stuff. Then the plan is to get the new album for Cooking Vinyl released. By the time that happens I'll have enough material for about two more albums. I think there's another two I'm signed up for on Cooking Vinyl. After that, who knows? If I'm still alive I'll retire or something! Ha!
Out of all the albums you've done, have you any particular favourites?
My favourite album....well I don't suppose there is one, although I quite liked the last one as a whole. 'Rosemary Lane' comes close and so does ' Heartbreak'. All the others have got one or two tracks that are OK, the rest you can discard. Basically, the reason I don't like listening to any album - mine included - is that there's usually only one or two tracks that you really love and the rest you don't bother with. That's what's good about modern day CD's, you can just play the tracks you like a lot easier.
Has anyone put forward the idea of a Bert Jansch tribute album? Other artists doing versions of your songs?
Well that idea has been knocking around for years. I've no interest in other 'stars' or whatever doing versions of my songs, it just doesn't interest me. I just like the actual songs to be there for people to listen to or else learn to play by themselves. That's what its all about really.
What other guitarists or musicians do you admire?
Well I've no particular favourites really. Davey Graham I suppose. Davey had a way of making music that wasn't guitar music come alive on the guitar, if you see what I mean. I like traditional singers like Anne Briggs... Maggie Boyle as well. With guitar playing, there's always somebody faster or a bit flashier than somebody else. I do like some of the African guitarists and some of the electric players, its just astonishing what they can do with an electric guitar. As far as the acoustic guitar goes, Dick Gaughan's still pushing back the boundaries a bit, he's a very good player.
How would you like to be remembered?
When I finally give up the ghost, as long as I've left behind enough songs for people to listen to, I think that'll be enough. I'd like to document them all one day as well - maybe a job for when I retire! Apart from that, who knows!
Thanks for your time, just one more thing, I read in the sleeve notes on one of your reissued CD's that apparently you had the only reported case of scurvy in the UK in the sixties through living solely on fish and chips and wine!!
Ha Ha! Well I've never heard that one before. I think you should go back and ask whoever wrote that when I was meant to have had it!! No, that's total fabrication - I've had most things but by God I've never had scurvy! Ha!
Thanks Bert, just wanted to clear that one up....
by Paul Simmons
Bert Jansch Discography:
For space reasons, I have only included official albums. Bert and The Pentangle have also appeared on numerous compilations and made guest appearances on other albums (as well as singles). Nearly all these listed below have been (or are in the process of being) reissued on CD:
Bert Jansch (Transatlantic) - 1965
It Don't Bother Me (Transatlantic) - 1965
Jack Orion (Transatlantic) - 1966
Bert And John (with John Renbourn) (Transatlantic) - 1966
Nicola (Transatlantic) - 1967
Birthday Blues (Transatlantic) - 1969
Rosemary Lane (Transatlantic) - 1971
Moonshine (Reprise) - 1973
L.A. Turnaround (Charisma) - 1974
Santa Barbara Honeymoon (Charisma) - 1975
A Rare Conundrum (Charisma) - 1977
Avocet (Charisma) - 1979
Thirteen Down (with The Bert Jansch Conundrum) (Sonet) - 1980
Heartbreak (Logo) - 1982
From The Outside (Konexion) - 1985
Leather Launderette (with Rod Clements) (Black Crow) - 1988
Sketches (Hypertension) - 1990
The Ornament Tree (Run River) - 1990
When The Circus Comes To Town (Cooking Vinyl) - 1995
The Pentangle Discography:
The Pentangle (Transatlantic) - 1968
Sweet Child (Transatlantic) - 1968
Basket Of Light (Transatlantic) - 1969
Cruel Sister (Transatlantic) - 1970
Reflection (Transatlantic) - 1971
Solomon's Seal (Transatlantic) - 1972
Open The Door (Transatlantic) - 1985
In The Round (Transatlantic) - 1986
So Early In The Spring (Transatlantic) - 1989
Think Of Tomorrow (Transatlantic) - 1991
Thanks to Colin Harper for help with discography details.