Bert Jansch: An introductory guide

Following the sad news of the passing of Pentangle guitarist and transcendent folk troubadour, Bert Jansch, VF users and journalists remember a true master of his art.

There’s a great difficulty in introducing the illustrious career of Bert Jansch. An inexhaustibly prolific songwriter, Jansch crafted and created some of the most exquisite tracks and albums in folk, influencing not just peers but generations of guitarists from many a genre to often-understated reverence.

Johnny Marr from The Smiths has extolled the Glaswegian for his sway in helping define his own playing style, while Blur’s Graham Coxon once honoured him with a bashful: “I’m not as good as Bert – but I’m a huge fan of him.”

His self-titled debut bled experience, both lyrically and musically, with ‘Needle of Death’ aching with memories of a heroin overdose: “How strange, your happy words / Have ceased to bring a smile from everyone / How tears have filled the eyes / Of friends that you once had walked among”.

The album went on to sell well over 100,000 records, which helped start a career that lasted over four decades. It was during this time that the six-stringed maestro showed a natural brilliance in technique often leaving some of his critically-approved solo efforts for alternative musings in approach.

During the more Gaelic offerings on ‘Thirteen Down’, under the one-time guise of the Bert Jansch Conundrum, the glossy keys and shadowed vocals of ‘Time And Love’ stood him firmly in Van Morrison territory, Jansch’s familiar flat-picking evident throughout.

But before this, it was the inescapable excellence of his work with Pentangle that arguably helped to form him as such a legendary figure. Again he, along with the group, experimented with a variety of techniques as the group tested out new sounds and instruments.

The jazz timings and relative popularity of ‘Light Flight’ from their third album ‘Basket Of Light’ is among the footholds that allowed them to experiment with different arrangements and multi-voiced harmonies.

The group reformed to headline Green Man Festival back in 2008, where VF writer Kai Jones wrote: “It’s even harder watching Pentangle close a wondrous weekend with their psychedelic folk and not think you’re floating off into the Beacons with the bubbles.”

Newer fans may have discovered Jansch through an improbable association with Pete Doherty. The acoustic grace of ‘Lost Art Of Murder’, which concludes the generally under-par album ‘Shotter’s Nation’, gleams through a balance of glistening guitars and fine string-picking, regally imposing the rest of the LP and hopefully allowing the Jansch legend to live on for another generation.

Download our Bert Jansch: An introduction Spotify Playlist.

Below, Virtual Festivals users and journalists share memories of their favourite tracks:

‘Crimson Moon’

Jansch, for the fair-weather music fan, may mark only as a reference point in musical history. Jimmy Page, Johnny Marr and most recently Peter Doherty have all given the Scottish artist acclaim both vocally and stylistically but he was more than this: Jansch was a master of guitar.

His lyrics often nodded to the Romanticism of old and so exemplary were his guitar skills that they made a canvas of the words. In ‘Crimson Moon’, the licks, jumps and the string flourishes evoke the warmth of a summer’s night, while dove-tailing perfectly with his pleas of help to win over the girl he loves. If there was ever doubt in his love life, there certainly wasn’t in his music. – Alex Fahey

‘It Don’t Bother Me’

My Dad, who died earlier this year, played me the first few albums all the time when I was a kid and ‘It Don’t Bother Me’ and ‘900 Miles’ remain big favourites. – @lavender1940

‘900 Miles’

‘Needle Of Death’

‘Needle Of Death’ is an outstanding classic. With a name which would often offer connotations to a genre of extreme music, it delicately discusses deep and engaging topics whilst retaining an acoustic beauty so often attempted but very rarely achieved in such a sublime fashion. – Ryan Duggleby