Bernard Butler spent more than a decade working with Bert Jansch and it fell to him to curate a definitive best of collection. It can’t have been easy. Like most singers of his generation he moved between labels and publishers while his copyrights changed hands as new repackages of his music were issued. I met Bert once, back in the 80s, and he had no idea how many records with his name on were out there. I tried to compile a list and it wasn’t easy. Just A Simple Soul contains thirty-nine newly remastered tracks and it can only give a glimpse of more than forty years of music making.
The early selections are easy to decide on. The set opens with ‘Strolling Down The Highway’ from his debut album followed by ‘Angie’. I was surprised to hear the fire he brought to the piece and his playing in later years was, as you might expect, rather more considered although still a wonder to behold. Next comes ‘Needle Of Death’, a song that brought his name to wider attention, and then ‘It Don’t Bother Me’.
From there it’s very much a matter of personal choice. Butler’s next selection is the light-hearted ‘A Man I’d Rather Be’ which originally featured Roy Harper on vocals although this remix removes him – if, indeed, this is actually that original recording. ‘The Waggoner’s Lad’ is the second instrumental and ‘Black Water Side’ is a must but did Butler agonise over omitting ‘Jack Orion’? ‘Soho’ is a duet from Bert And John although I might have gone for ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’. By now, you, me and Bernard will have compiled three completely different set lists. For me, ‘Reynardine’ is another essential cut but ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ isn’t despite its very original arrangement. So it goes.
The second disc opens with the first two tracks from L.A. Turnaround; the longtime favourite ‘Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning’ and ‘Chambertin’ and adding ‘Blacksmith’ from the same set. The first and last add Michael Nesmith’s country-edged production to Bert’s British folk style. Whether as a direct consequence or not, Bert’s musical horizons expanded even further as tracks from A Rare Conundrum, Avocet and Thirteen Down testify. In the latter stages of his career, Bert often returned to re-record old songs and Butler notes that his music was always evolving and that there was always a better version waiting.
This set omits one or two obvious crowd-pleasers; there is no ‘Blues Run The Game’ or ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ but the selection has pointed up the original albums I don’t have (this could get expensive) and is skilfully programmed to make it excellent listening.
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Artist’s official website: https://bertjansch.com/
‘Poison’ – live. Bert had a heavy cold and was unusually gravelly: