Bert Jansch

Bert JanschFrom: Edinburgh, Scotland

Herbert “Bert” Jansch was a Scottish folk musician and founding member of the band Pentangle. Born in Glasgow, Jansch came to prominence in London in the 1960s. He recorded at least 25 albums and toured extensively over the duration of his career.

One of the leading figures in the British folk music revival, Jansch toured many folk clubs and recorded several solo albums, as well as collaborating with other musicians such as John Renbourn and Anne Briggs. Jansch co-founded the band Pentangle in 1968, and was with the band until their break up in 1972. After taking a short break from music, Jansch returned in the late 1970s to work on a number of projects with different artists. He was a part of the reformed Pentangle in the early 1980s, remaining with the band through its various changes of personnel until 1995. Until his death in 2011, at the age of 67, Jansch continued to work as a solo artist.

The list of musicians that sight Bert Jansch as an influence is extremely lengthy. Some of the key artists he has influenced are Al Stewart, Paul Simon, Johnny Marr, Elton John, Ian Anderson, Bernie Taupin, Bernard Butler, Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, Graham Coxon, Donovan, Neil Young, Fleet Foxes, Devendra Banhart, Neil Halstead, and Roy Harper. Jansch received two Lifetime Achievement Awards at the BBC Folk Awards, the first in 2001 for his solo achievements, and the second in  2007 as a member of Pentangle.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1943, Jansch is a descendant of a family originally from Hamburg, Germany who settled in Scotland during the Victorian era. Most people pronounce the name Yansh. However, Bert and some close members of his family pronounce it Jansh. Bert acquired his first guitar in his teen years, and started visiting a local folk club called The Howff. It was here that Jansch met Archie Fischer and Jill Doyle (Davey Graham’s half-sister). They introduced Jansch to the music of Big Bill Broonzy, Pete Seeger, Brownie McGee, and Woody Guthrie. He also met and shared a place with Robin Williamson, who remained a friend after Jansch moved to London.

Upon completing his schooling, Jansch took a job as a nurseryman. He quit this job in August 1960, with the intention of being a full-time musician. Jansch became the self-appointed unofficial caretaker at The Howff, where he slept and may have earned some money as a novice performer who did not own his own guitar. For the next two years, Jansch spent his time playing one-night stands in British folk clubs, something that exposed him to a range of influences, including Martin Carthy, Ian Cambell, and especially, Anne Briggs. Briggs taught him some of the songs that would later be highlights of Jansch’s recording career, such as “Blackwaterside” and “Reynardine.”

Bert Jansch moved to London where there was a burgeoning interest in folk music. He met engineer and producer Bill Leader, who made a recording of Jansch’s music on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Leader sold the tape for £100 to Transatlantic Records, who went onto produce an album directly from this. Jansch’s self-titled album was released in 1965 and would sell 150,000 copies. Included on the album was the protest song “Do You Hear Me Now” which was later covered by Donovan and released on his Universal Soldier EP. Bert Jansch also included the anti-drug song “Needle Of Death,” written after a friend died of a heroin overdose.

Many times early in his career, Bert Jansch was characterized as a British Bob Dylan. During this time, Jansch said “the only three people I’ve ever copied were Big Bill Broonzy, Davy Graham, and Archie Fisher” Jansch his first album with two quick releases: Id Don’t Bother Me and Jack Orion, the later of which contained “Blackwaterside,” later taken by Jimmy Page and recorded by Led Zeppelin as “Black Mountain Side.” Transatlantic attempted to take legal action against Led Zeppelin, however, this proved too daunting a task and was too expensive, and was never pursued.

Jansch met up with several other innovative acoustic guitar players while in London, including John Renbourn, Davey Graham, Wizz Jones, Roy Harper, and Paul Simon. Jansch and Renbourn frequently played together, and in 1966, the two recorded the album Bert And John together. In late 1967, the two became the resident musicians at a music venue set up by Bruce Dunnett at the Horseshoe Pub.

Between 1968-1973, Jansch performed with the band Pentangle. The band released a slew of albums over their five-year existence, before Jansch left the band and temporarily withdrew from the concert circuit. In the late 1970s, Jansch left his wife and family to return to music. He officially divorced in 1988. Jansch continued to write and record well into the 2000s. In October 2011, Jansch passed away at age 67 after a long battle with lung cancer.

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1967 album Nicola

  • Life Depends On Love
  • Woe Is Love, My Dear