The Wire

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Bert Jansch RIP

Bert Jansch has died at the age of 67 after a long battle with cancer. Jansch played a series of shows in the UK recently, but was forced to cancel a show in Edinburgh in August as he was not well enough to perform.

Jansch was born in Glasgow in 1943, and said he first played a guitar at seven or eight, when a teacher brought one into school. As a teenager he took guitar lessons from Davy Graham's sister Jill Doyle at Edinburgh folk club The Howff, and in 2007 he described to Mike Barnes first hearing Big Bill Broonzy at age 15: "I found a little EP in an Edinburgh store and for the next year that's all I listened to. It was a complete mystery to me at the time, because I was trying to learn guitar, but couldn't understand how you could pick out more than one melody at the same time. I was really intrigued by that. And to this day I wear a thumb pick like he did."

Jansch began performing in London in the early 60s after hitchhiking to the capital from Edinburgh. He recorded his debut self titled album in Camden using borrowed guitars and a reel to reel. It was released on Transatlantic in 1965, and featured protest song "Do You Hear Me Now", which was covered by Donovan. He later teamed up with folk guitarist John Renbourn and recorded the 1966 album Bert And John.

Pentangle formed in 1967 with Jansch and Renbourn adding Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. The group achieved considerable success but disbanded in 1973. Jansch said of the split: "I think the band broke down because of its own success. I don't think any of us could cope with the amount of success it had, and the manager kept us working all the time. He kept saying we could be the new Modern Jazz Quartet. We went around the world three times, and it was, literally, when you got around once you were off again. After six years or so of it, we were all desperate to do something else."

After Pentangle split, Jansch briefly turned to farming. During the 80s he continued to record but struggled with drink problems. He made a full return to the scene in 1995 when he played a series of shows at London's 12 Bar Club, and in the following years was referenced and asked to play by artists involved with the freak folk scene, prompting a renaissance for Jansch. He released a number of albums, including Crimson Moon in 2000, and Black Swan in 2006, and played with Devendra Banhart, Hope Sandoval, and Bernard Butler, among others.

Pentangle recently reformed to play a series of shows in the UK, including Glastonbury Festival in June this year, and were reported to be working on new material together.

Quotes and facts taken from Mike Barnes's Invisible Jukebox with Bert Jansch in The Wire 276, and Rob Young's Electric Eden.