Even when it involves an artist as auspicious as the late and indubitably great acoustic guitarist Bert Jansch, an eight-CD set is a massive commitment. With tracks here ranging from 1966 to 2006, five years before his death, the remarkable thing is that so much material was kept. But be glad it was. Be very glad. It’s a chance to hear the evolution of the man and his approach to songs as they recur over the years (the perennial “Blues Run The Game,” for instance, and the definitive fingerpicked instrumental “Angi” – also called “Angie” in a few instances here – are prime examples).
Jansch was classed as a folk musician, but the reality was so much more. Yes, he was one of the pillars of Pentangle, and his partnership with fellow guitarist John Renbourn yielded plenty of musical gold. But his playing strayed into jazz here and there, as well as blues, plus some delicious acoustic rock’n’roll abandon on “Heartbreak Hotel.” Then there’s his influence, most notably on Jimmy Page, who tried hard to copy Jansch’s playing on “Backwaterside” (a traditional song Jansch learned from girlfriend Anne Briggs) and made it into “Black Mountain Side,” – while claiming composition credit.
Another Briggs song (“The Time Has Come”) shows up early in the proceedings, along with plenty of other Jansch-penned material like “Running From Home” and “Strolling Down The Highway,” it seems he never recorded “Needle Of Death” for the Beeb; perhaps the powers that be frowned on songs about heroin in those days.
There might not be much from his Mike Nesmith-produced L.A. Turnaround . More’s the pity, but there are reminders here of some great little aggregations he had, like the duo with former Lindisfarne man Rod Clements where they turn in a roaring “Bogie’s Bonny Belle” along others.
Jansch had his health problems, resulting in an order to stop drinking. But he never went away, and with his return to excellent form in the mid 1990s, when he was playing weekly gigs at London’s 12 Bar Club (commemorated on CD, but superb and intimate in the flesh, too) and writing some of the strongest material of his career, like “When The Circus Comes to Town” and “Crimson Moon,” he acquired an elder statesman’s mantle. Several full concert recordings from the time, spread across three of the discs, are worth the price of admission by themselves.
One of the great joys of radio recordings is that they carry the immediacy and spontaneity of a live performance, but with the sound quality of a studio. The best of both words, and this doesn’t disappoint.
Praise to the compilers for doing such a thorough job in the archives, and also to Colin Harper, who literally wrote the book on Jansch, for his exhaustive and very informative sleeve notes.