A long time ago I took my folk-fan brother-in-law, visiting from Ireland, to the Hackney Empire to see Bert Jansch. This was not the rather more celebrated affair with Pete Doherty, which came later; it was just Bert and his acoustic guitar.
I was unfamiliar with his music and unfamiliar, if truth be told, with most traditional folk music. But as soon as he began to play, in that unique fingerpicking style, I was entranced.
You didn’t have to know the songs to be enveloped in the magical web he wove with that guitar. Or to realise that without Bert, there would probably have been no Neil Young or Jimmy Page, or Paul Simon or, reinforcing his abiding influence, Bernard Butler.
That was the night I realised Bert Jansch is in a pantheon of greats alongside Davey Graham and John Fahey, Martin Carthy and Bert’s erstwhile collaborator John Renbourn.
Thankfully the music has stayed alive through a new generation playing what has come to be called ‘American Primitive’ music, including William Tyler and Gwenifer Raymond (both of whom I am lucky enough to have seen perform live).
Anyway, this is taken from a new box set of 147 rare and unreleased tracks by Bert Jansch – live on air spots, sessions and full concerts – originally broadcast from the BBC.
Bert At The BBC (four LPs or 8 CDs) charts a career that runs from the end of the Home Service/Light Programme era into the digital and streaming age.
Here’s a taster – a century-old song that’s been sung by Dinah Washington and Big Bill Broonzy, and demonstrates the link between folk and the blues (with roots that prefigure the blues).