Another good one gone…Bert Jansch RIP

A person would be a moron not to appreciate McLaughlin’s technique. The guy has certainly found out how to operate a guitar as if it were a machine gun. But I’m not always enthusiastic about the lines I hear or the ways in which they’re used. I don’t think you can fault him, though, for the amount of time and effort it must have taken to play an instrument that fast. I think anybody who can play that fast is just wonderful. And I’m sure 90% of teenage America would agree, since the whole trend in the business has been "faster is better."

So said the late, great Frank Zappa about fellow guitarist John McLaughlin in 1977.

Frank had a point as it seems, since then, that one only has to plug in an electric guitar, strike a few dramatic poses, gurn a lot and play very loud and very fast and you too can immediately become a guitar god.

Remember the worst excesses of shred?

For every talented shredder like Steve Vai…


…there were several of these…


…and, if you were really very fucking unlucky, one of these sorry-ass motherfuckers…


But what if you never went electric in the first place?

Well, that question can be answered by going back some dozen years before Uncle Frank said it like it was.

Never mind guitar gods, I’m talking the Holy Fucking Trinity here…

Davey Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn.

I’ve blogged about Davey here already on the sad occasion of his death, and now he’s been joined by Bert.

Together with Renbourn they represented the flowering of solo steel string acoustic guitar playing that came to prominence in the early to mid 1960s and established the instrument as a worthy antidote to some of the excesses of the electric guitar.

Jansch and Renbourn teamed up as a duo, in fact, and then went on to form an acoustic band called ‘Pentangle’, which gigged alongside the usual suspects, including a certain Jimi Hendrix, and in the same haunts both in the UK and the US.



But back to Bert – solo.

Less jazz, blues and classically orientated than Graham, and less mannered than Renbourn, Jansch adopted a more melodic and lyrical approach towards the instrument and used it a lot to support his vocals, as he was a prolific songwriter.

My favourite Jansch recordings are mainly his take on traditional tunes. You may have thought that Jimmy Page’s solo showcase with Led Zeppelin was original, but he actually ripped off Bert’s arrangement as on the second clip here…


Are you listening, Jimmy?

In my own personal context, I was listening to Bert alongside Clapton with Mayall, Bloomfield with Butterfield, Dylan – newly gone electric – and Simon and Garfunkel.

The electric guitar dominated my formative playing years, so Bert’s influence was minimal – for one thing, I lacked the ability to copy him and the skill to try. That’s still the case, but it’s not stopped me enjoying the man’s music for over 45 years and for those with more proficiency on the acoustic guitar than I have, his influence is destined to last a lot longer.

One last one from Bert…


RIP Davey Graham

I was deeply saddened today to hear of the death of Davey Graham.

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried and that’s something Davey only shares with Alex Harvey and Jimi.

I first heard him when I was about 16. I was heavily into Cream and Hendrix by then and already gigging and playing guitar too loudly.

A friend of mine turned me on to Davey by lending me a copy of his seminal album Folk Blues & Beyond.

It totally blew me away – I mean I was into acoustic stuff, mainly Dylan’s earlier recordings, but I didn’t realise anyone could play acoustic guitar with such balls and excitement.

That set me off looking for the people who followed on from Davey – Jansch, Renbourn, etc – but somehow I always went back to him.

No-one ever played such a vast range of material, blurred the genres or ‘dug in’ quite like Davey – and no-one’s ever come close since.

I wrote the piece below for a newsgroup tribute post – any typos, etc can just bloody stay in it – and describes how I once met him and supported him – LITERALLY! – some 36 or so years ago…

I used to run a folk club at college and several of us were well into people like Jansch, Renbourn and the guy who really started that whole
school of British solo acoustic guitar- DG.

Anyway, we booked Davey for a college folk night.

We went and met him off the London train and he was, quite frankly, out of it. He was narcotically compromised by something and I don’t
think it was booze.

Anyway, we walked him up to the college – about 10 minutes from the station usually although I recall the walk as much longer… – got him
to one of the bedrooms, plied him with strong black coffee, and thought we’d straightened him out enough for his gig that night.

Anyway, after the usual supporting artists – including the duo I was in – so, YES, I actually supported Davey Graham once! – he went on.

I’d like to say he rose above whatever chemical he’d ingested but he didn’t – he was absolutely fucking terrible…

He played about three numbers very, very badly – I can’t be more precise and recall what they were because I was stoned myself – and
then he just basically lost all power of movement and sat there like a frightened rabbit in the headlights.

Anyway, we hauled him off, took him back to the bedroom, plied him with more coffee and then took another extended walk – this time
*back* to the station.

We put him on the next Euston train and didn’t give him his fee.

At the time we were all more than a tad pissed off but looking back it’s very amusing.

At his peak and in his prime he was a peerless player – basically the mid to late 1960s.

If you never hear anything else by him there are two albums anyone with the smallest bit of interest in modern acoustic guitar should
hear – After Hours, an amateur recording made in a student bedroom after a gig with Davey just playing because he *loved* to play, and
Folk Blues & Beyond, a virtuouso album that trancends several genres and takes my breath away even today.

RIP Davey.

Looking back, it all seems like some sort of hallucination. There we were, all fans of the man, all in our early 20s, excited, slightly stoned on some shitty dope that the resident ‘source’ had got hold of for the night, going down to the station to meet Davey Graham and then finding him totally out of his skull…I can vividly remember my best mate Paul – soon to become the usher at my wedding and now sadly, like Davey, no longer with us, saying in a low voice, ‘Oh shit, Steve’ as we tried to stop the guy tottering into the road as we walked him up to college. Then the sheer, blind, sphincter-tightening panic as we tried to ready him to play. Paul even had to tune his guitar for him as he was totally incapable.

And then, in that crappy UV-lit little student bedroom, just before he staggered through the doorway out into the corridor he just played a few licks and, just very briefly, we heard the magic and thought everything was going to be OK.

It wasn’t, but that’s history and for what we have received, am I ever fucking grateful…

Thank you, Davey.

Davey’s site is here.