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This review is from: Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival (Paperback)
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." His anti-drug song, "Needle of Death", was greatly admired by Neil Young, and was to influence Young's own collection of anti-drug songs, "Tonight's the Night."
Jansch met up with John Renbourne and found someone who was not only on the same musical wavelength but who could match him for ability. They recorded "Bert & John" together, a beautiful album of guitar duets, and then they went on to form Pentangle, which had Bert and John on guitars, backed by a jazz rhythm section, and fronted by a traditional English folk singer. It was here that they hit the big time, touring the world and raking in the money.
Jansch is a private man, permanently scruffy and reserved, seemingly unconcerned with the trappings of stardom. However, Colin Harper has successfully brought this man to life, describing Jansch's weakness for alcohol, his failed marriages, and his various friendships, the most important of which seem to be Annie Briggs and John Renbourne. The best part of the book is the first half where he describes Jansch's developing talent and the misic scene in which he developed it. The latter of part of the book is not so interesting because Jansch is himself less interesting, no longer pioneering, and living off his past reputation.
If you love Jansch then you will want to read this book. If you love the British folk and blues revival, then you will also want to read it, because the period and the characters that dominated it are brought vividly to life. Colin Harper deserves credit for that.