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Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival [Paperback]

Colin Harper
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 Aug 2006
The guitarists' guitarist and the songwriters' songwriter, the legendary Bert Jansch has influenced stars as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, Donovan, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Bernard Butler, Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart. Unassuming, enigmatic and completely focused on his music, he has remained singularly resilient to the vagaries of fashion, being rediscovered and revered by new generations of artists every few years. Born in Edinburgh in 1943, Jansch became an inspirational and pioneering figure during Britain's 'folk revival' of the 1960s. In 1967 he formed folk/jazz fusion band Pentangle with John Renbourn and enjoyed international success until they split in 1973, when he returned to a solo career. Surviving alcoholism and heart surgery, Jansch has recently enjoyed a career renaissance - delivering a series of albums from 1995 onwards which have secured his standing as one of the true originals of British music.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 2nd Revised edition edition (21 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747587256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747587255
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`A feast for anyone interested in Jansch or the 1960s' -- Scotsman

`A work of considerable importance ... intuitive and informed' -- Q Magazine

`An excellent biography of one of folk's cult figures ... Harper's
narrative is first-rate'
-- Independent on Sunday

`Compulsive reading' -- Folk Roots

`Harper's at his best when he digs deep into the microcosm of
British bohemia that the folk revivalists were a part of ... compelling' -- Will Hodgkinson, Guardian

About the Author

Colin Harper was born in Belfast in 1968. A professional writer on music between 1994-2001, contributing regularly to Mojo, the Independent and the Irish Times, he is currently a librarian at a Belfast music college. Recent projects have included co-authoring, with Trevor Hodgett, Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History (Collins Press, 2004) and creating two wildlife charity albums (www.thewildlifealbum.com) for the benefit of the WWF and Ulster Wildlife Trust.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Anyone who was witness to the British folk scene of the 60s and 70s will find this a fascinating book and a very enjoyable read. Anyone younger who loves the guitar as an instrument will be interested to read about the life of the almost mystical singer, songwriter and musician who was such an important influence on many more recent performers like Bernard Butler and Jonny Marr. The book is excellently researched and is clearly a labour of love which should inspire you to go out and listen to some of Bert's wonderful music.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The previous review is so comprehensive that I won't repeat the content of the book, but I wanted to confirm the pleasure of reading a well written book about an underrated and underexposed artist. I had not appreciated the extent of his influence both on peers in the "folk-boom" and on thousands of steel-strung acoustic guitar players since. If like me you are a fan of acoustic music and the sixties musicians you will find yourself digging out old albums from Paul Simon, Al Stewart, Donovan, Martin Carthy, Pentangle and Bert himself to experience his influence in a new light!
The book is full of fascinating cross-references to the other artists of the time, and is constantly engaging. Highly recommended.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The only disappointment.... 27 Nov 2006
This is a fine book that uncovers a rich history of the folk revival and much more. Great anecdotes and tales are recounted. The influence of the Communist Party is dealt with well although this could have been analysed in greater detail. The CP really had quite a reactionary position in relation to music at the time. Folk was good because it was represented horny handed sons of toil, the new developments in jazz and rock'n'roll, mod culture etc were viewed with deep suspicion. In certain cities the CP had enough influence to be able to mobilise significant numbers and surely one of the organisation's many low points on the artistic front was the encouragement of the barracking of Bob Dylan's 1966 electric tour. Harper charts their declining influence as the young turks of the acoustic revival eschewed categorization, embracing jazz, blues, improvisation and 'world' music. Davy Graham, Robin Williamson, John Renbourn and Jansch were not interested in having their searching creativity confined by sterile cardboard cutout dogma.

I've always been puzzled by the lack of the widespread appreciation of John Renbourn. I saw them both within weeks of each other at the East Dulwich Tavern in South East London in about 2000. Renbourn was astonishing - easily Bert's equal and as the book acknowledges the superior technician. I think Mojo did a 50 greatest guitarists a few years ago and Renbourn didn't even figure whilst Jansch was number 9 or thereabouts. Maybe his life is not so romantic - a bit like John Martyn struggling to be recognised to the same extent as Nick Drake.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling Story 19 Nov 2006
Anyone with an interest in the UK folk/acoustic scene in the 60s and later years should read this book. Whilst its main focus is quite rightly on Bert Jansch, the book also contains a wealth of information and anecdote on others involved in the music of the time: talents as diverse as Donovan and Neil Young, as well or little known as Jimmy Page and Hamish Imlach, as firmly established as John Renbourn and Ralph McTell. Colin Harper traces Bert's story from his beginnings in Edinburgh (where he learned everything his guitar teachers knew in six weeks) to his meteoric rise to solo fame in the underground folk and blues scene which came to thrive in the basement clubs of Soho and a thousand pubs and colleges across the land. There is a good outline of his meetings with John Renbourn and the other musicians with whom the ultra-hip duo of 'Bert & John'joined to form The Pentangle. Harper narrates in some detail the story of Pentangle in its heyday and subsequent revivals and of Bert's solo career in the aftermath of that band. The author does not gloss over the difficulties: Bert's problems with alcohol and its effects upon his health and career, and his complex personal life are covered but only insofar as they impinge upon the music. The book ends with Bert beginning the renaissance which started in 1995 and continues to the present time, and the apparent peace and security brought about by his marriage to Loren Auerbach. Harper writes clearly and perceptively, with a guitarist's understanding of the complexities of Jansch's music and a true devotee's grasp of the man's significance. I bought a first edition of this when it was published and have read it several times since: it's absolutely essential reading for fans of Bert Jansch and of the 60s folk and blues scene.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling performer 8 Oct 2003
If you are into the British folk and blues scene of the early 60s, then this is the book for you. It vividly describes the burgeoning Edinburgh folk scene of the Scottish revival. It was here where Jansch developed his unique guitar style, drawing heavily upon such blues stylists as Big Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGee. London had its own burgeoning folk scene, dominated by larger than life personalities like Ewan McColl, A.L.Loyd, Dominic Behan, and Davy Graham, who was furrowing a similar furrow to Jansch. Jansch drifted down to London where he met the English folk singer, Annie Briggs. They struck up a close relationship. He learnt a large part of his repertoire from her, to which he would apply his own blues oriented stylistic approach. This would bloom with his third album, "Jack Orion", where he approached traditional English folk songs as if he were a blues artist: extending phrases and slurring them. For instance, "The Gardener" is sung in a wordless vocal similar to Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night-Cold Was The Ground." The title track is a hypnotic and spellbinding 9 minutes long. There had been nothing like this in folk music before. With this album, he extended and fully realised the folk-boroque style, which drew upon folk, blues, and jazz, and was pioneered by Davy Graham with his album, "Folk, Blues and Beyond."
Jansch was not only a unique and masterly guitarist and singer, but an excellent songwriter. Steering clear of politics, to the disgust of McColl, he honed in on the personal. He celebrated personal independence with "Strolling Down The Highway" and "Rambling's Going To Be The Death Of Me." He wrote incredibly moving love songs such as "A Dream, A Dream, A Dream" and "Oh How Your Love Is Strong.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely title
Arrived in good state, and have started to read it,but too much else to do! this period of folk music is my 'specialty' area to learn about, so with a title like that you can;t go... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Debsom
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Not finished reading it yet, but the title sums it up pretty well. Sets Jansch well in his context. Highly recommended if you're at all interested in (a) contemporary British folk... Read more
Published 4 months ago by JonR
4.0 out of 5 stars Great incite into the world of Bert Jansch
This is a no brainer for any Jansch fan. I am, and found the book satisfied much of my desire to find out more about the man. Is it a well written book though? Read more
Published 11 months ago by Pash
4.0 out of 5 stars A VERY GOOD READ
Published 23 months ago by Mr. Aa James
4.0 out of 5 stars I'd forgotten about them! and him!
This is a pretty good read by any standards, but if you're into finding out about how things got to be the way they are
then it's even better. Read more
Published on 24 Aug 2011 by 12stringdh
4.0 out of 5 stars illuminating: bert in context
As a long-time admirer, I came away with a deeper appreciation of just how remarkable his style was and how influential he would prove to be. Read more
Published on 11 Jan 2010 by Floyd Atheus
4.0 out of 5 stars Jansch book review
I first saw Jansch at Les Cousins (maybe 1965) and later in Cambridge. I had friends in the "folk scene" at the time (Picadilly Line and Edwards Hand). Read more
Published on 2 Dec 2009 by Mr. Rodger Jenkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended - will have you relooking old albums...
Previous reviews are comprehensive so I won't repeat the content of the book, but I wanted to confirm the pleasure of reading a well written book about an underrated and... Read more
Published on 7 Mar 2007 by RiffRaff
4.0 out of 5 stars You didn't have to there (for a change) ...
Who needs a Tardis when you've got a writer who can so engagingly evoke a sense of time and place as Colin Harper does London at the birth of folk rock? Read more
Published on 23 Feb 2007 by Rob Brook
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