December 2011

Trending Now

15 great tracks by artists who influenced Waits or were inspired by him, including Captain Beefheart, Beirut, Howlin’ Wolf, Harry Partch, Johnny Dowd, Frank Sinatra and The Low Anthem

I was going to write something to mark the sad passing of Bert Jansch, in addition to John Robinson’s fine tribute in this month’s issue. But after reading Roy Harper’s fond farewell to his old friend on, I asked Roy if I could reprint it here, which he was happy for me to do. This is some of what Roy wrote:

“Bert Jansch and I arrived at the same club in London within three months of each other in 1965. We’d both had very separate journeys to get there, we knew nothing of each other, but we arrived at Les Cousins in Greek St, Soho, for the same reason. We were both inspired to play music to people. I was introduced to the club by Peter Bellamy of The Young Tradition.

“Within a week I realised that this was going to be my new home. There was lots to take in. There were so many fantastic young musicians. I can remember being absolutely blown away by a young American called Danny Kalb in the first week. Going home and thinking that as far as the blues was concerned, I was miles behind where I could have been. I’d been in my own vacuum, it was time to get involved.

“The young players were all very gifted but very different people. It was an amazing place to be. Among the many I saw in that first week were John Renbourn, Alexis Korner, Paul Simon and Alex Campbell, oh, and yes, someone called Bert Jansch. Bert who? How d’you spell that then? At first I didn’t know what to think about Bert except that, in all probability, from a woman’s point of view, he was incredibly attractive. He was very softly spoken and obviously very shy

“For a young man of 20, his songs were astounding. Things like ‘Needle Of Death’, ‘Running From Home’ and ‘Strolling Down The Highway’, as well as his own version of Davy Graham’s famous ‘Anji’ were truly magic pieces of their age. He was a humble powerhouse whose honesty was so obviously unquestionable.

“Bert was always such a very private man. Getting him to respond was sometimes an undertaking. It was often a struggle for him to speak, but then again, his songs spoke for him. They were often among the most eloquent pieces of musical folk art imaginable. Plaintive, intricate and beckoning, with seemingly an ancient root reaching back across long centuries to some deeply pure and mysterious earth knowledge.

“As a presence, and particularly as a young man, his effect on most of his friends was beyond description… He gave love in such a gentle way that it was impossible not to immediately identify with that and be forever enraptured by one so gifted in that respect. Bert wrote his songs, and treated his friends from the heart, and his friends will never forget him. Ever.”