Legendary guitarist Bert Jansch has lost his battle with cancer at the age of 67. The musician, hailed by some as the British Bob Dylan, was a leading figure of the British folk revival in the 60s and a founding member of Pentagle. Born in Glasgow on 3 November 1943, he released 23 solo albums, the last of which, The Black Swan (2006), featured collaborations with Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart.
In June 2009, he discovered a tumour the size of a golf ball on one of his lungs following what was at first a routine visit to the dentist. Following treatment, he went on to co-headline a US tour with Neil Young anyway, but had recently been forced to cancel a live show in Edinburgh due to ill health. He was living in a hospice in north London at the time of his death.
Jansch was hugely respected by other musicians of his time and since. He received two lifetime achievement prizes at the BBC Folk awards – one while with Pentagle and one for his solo career. To Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Jansch was “the innovator of the time … so far ahead of what anyone else was doing”. Johnny Marr of the Smiths described Jansch’s effect on his musicianship as “massive … one of the most influential and intriguing musicians to have come out of the British music scene”. Other artists he influenced included Paul Simon, Donovan and Neil Young, with whom Jansch toured in the US in 2010.
On stage, he was an introverted, shy, yet riveting solo performer. In his early days especially, he was often unkempt on stage and unconventional off it – a non-conformist who cared little for personal possessions and who often had no fixed address. But even he could not contest his own talent: “I’m not one for showing off. But I guess my guitar-playing sticks out,” he commented in an interview with the Guardian.
His finger-picking playing style included a good deal of improvisation, bending the strings and varying the time signatures to fit the natural rhythm of the words of a song.
Speaking as someone who has spent hours trying to immitate Bert Jansch’s style, I can safely say that the extent of his skill on the guitar really was immense, and coupled with a melancholy voice, made for fantastic folk music. This is especially evident in his interpretations of old folk songs, such as ‘She moved through the fair’.
Rest in peace Bert, you will be missed, but I don’t doubt that your music will live on and on.
Images: Wikipedia, Lyricspond