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.
From his 1965 iconic debut album, Bert’s peerless musicality, songwriting and interpretation of traditional song has held generation after generation spellbound and inspired musicians in all genres. Just A Simple Soul – named after the closing track on his 1998 album Toy Balloon - is the first collection of Bert Jansch’s entire solo career, with insightful liner notes by Bernard Butler (Suede) who compiled this selection with the Bert Jansch Estate. As a writer and player, Jansch has inspired countless other music icons including Jimmy Page, Paul Simon, Johnny Marr, Laura Marling, Graham Coxon, Fleet Foxes and Neil Young.
Presented chronologically the collection begins by drawing from his prolific 1960s period, during which he released six albums between 1965 and 1969. His self-titled debut, sometimes referred to as The Blue Album, is listed at #3 in NME’s Best Folk Albums Of All Time, and this collection plucks three tracks including the harrowing ‘Needle Of Death’; about the tragic passing of Bert’s friend, folk singer Buck Polly. The influence of young singer Anne Briggs began to show in this period, and the traditional folk songs she taught him, plus his bluesy, improvised guitar accompaniment which dominated his third solo album, Jack Orion (1966), featuring John Renbourn on guitar. That same year, the collaborative album Bert & John laid the foundations of the trad folk supergroup Pentangle. Jack Orion included ‘Blackwaterside’ (featured in this collection), a traditional song Jansch learned from Briggs. Elsewhere, eco-warning ‘Poison’ and ‘The Bright New Year’ are included from Bert’s fifth solo album Birthday Blues (1969), with Pentangle colleagues Danny Thompson and Terry Cox.
Jansch recorded three solo albums while part of Pentangle, notably Rosemary Lane (1971), an album described by The Guardian as “a stark, reflective work”, which again included a traditional song learned from Briggs (‘Reynardine’, included here) alongside his own compositions. Also featured here is ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’ (originally written by Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger) as a duet with Mary Hopkin. ‘Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning’ and ‘Chambertin’, lifted from 1974’s L.A. Turnaround, highlight a significant passage, being recorded after Pentangle’s demise, featuring erstwhile Monkee Mike Nesmith on production. Jansch’s 70s’ output is drawn to a close with the inclusion of ‘Kittiwake’ from his 1979 album Avocet, on which he teamed up with the multi-instrumentalist Martin Jenkins and Danny Thompson for a concept album inspired by birds.
Pentangle reunions and illness limited Jansch’s 80s’ solo output. It’s represented by ‘Sweet Rose’ from From The Outside (1985) which was described by Irish author and composer Colin Harper as “Bert’s rawest and most cathartic work since Bert Jansch twenty years earlier.”When The Circus Comes To Town (1995) was the start of a renaissance for Bert with the title track featured here, as well as ‘Morning Brings Peace of Mind’. This collection takes its name from ‘Just A Simple Soul’, on 1998’s follow-up Toy Balloon, which also included Bert’s take on Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Carnival’ which was a perennial in his live sets.
Jansch’s 21st century output is represented by ‘Crimson Moon’ (Crimson Moon, 2000) and ‘On The Edge Of A Dream’ (Edge Of A Dream, 2002), two records that bookend his 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Edge Of A Dream featured Bernard Butler on electric guitar, Bert’s son, Adam, on bass and vocals of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. This collection is concluded with ‘High Days’, taken from Bert’s 23rd and, tragically, final studio album The Black Swan. Released through Sanctuary and Drag City, it featured prominent admirers including Beth Orton, Devendra Banhart and Helena Epsvall. It was dubbed an instant classic, described by Pitchfork as “immaculate but natural”, and named one of the best albums of 2006 by MOJO, who described it as “a beautiful, evocative piece of music… his strongest album in years.”
Just A Simple Soul reminds us of Bert Jansch’s enduring legacy and his influence across the musical spectrum. As Bernard Butler eloquently puts it; “Bert lived and breathed the sound of the guitar and its endless possibilities for communication, storytelling, conversation, emotional dialogue. We have a life’s work here, and what a life Bert Jansch has given us.”
Beverley Martyn started her musical career at just 16 with the jug band The Levee Breakers and recorded her first single “Babe I’m Leaving You” in 1965. In 1966 she was chosen to launch Deram Records and released a single, “Happy New Year” written by Randy Newman. She contributed to the Simon & Garfunkel album Bookends, toured America with the duo and later appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival on 16 June 1967.
In 1969 she met John Martyn, whom she later married. As a duo they issued two albums, Stormbringer! and The Road to Ruin. Although she was spending more time with her children, Beverley continued to contribute to John’s solo projects until the breakdown of their marriage.
At various times, Martyn has worked with Levon Helm, Jimmy Page, Dave Pegg, Richard Thompson, John Renbourn, Ralph McTell, Davy Graham, and Sandy Denny. She appeared in the photograph on the album sleeve of Bert Jansch’s 1965 album It Don’t Bother Me; where she can be seen lounging in the background. In December 2013, Beverley appeared at the Royal Festival Hall as part of a celebration of Bert Jansch, alongside friends and contemporaries such as Donovan, Martin Carthy, Pentangle and Robert Plant. Her powerhouse performance of “” was described by Mojo as ‘sounding almost Janis Joplin-esque’. A film of the event is due to be shown by the BBC in the spring.
In 2004, Fat Boy Slim sampled Beverley Martyn’s song “Primrose Hill” for the track “North West Three” which is on his album Palookaville. Beverley still performs the song live along with ‘Auntie Aviator’, also from The Road The Ruin.
April 2014 will see the release of her new album entitled The Phoenix and the Turtle. Described by Beverley as a very personal album, it features songs written throughout her entire career, from her very first song, “Sweet Joy”, to the previously unrecorded Nick Drake & Beverley Martyn song “Reckless Jane” which was started in 1974 when Drake lived nearby Beverley in Hampstead. “We started writing the song as a bit of a joke,” she says, “I couldn’t look at it for a long time after he died, but then finally I decided to finish it.”
“When The Levee Breaks’ and ‘Going To Germany’ are songs Beverley used to sing with The Levee Breakers. Another song, ‘Women And Malt Whiskey’ is, in part, about John Martyn and other friends from the scene back then.
The Phoenix and the Turtle is Beverley’s first album in fourteen years and was recorded in Wales with guitarist and producer Mark Pavey; it also features contributions from bass player Matt Malley, ex-Counting Crows and drummer Victor Bisetti, ex-Los Lobos which were recorded “by the magic of computer” in California. The album “still has that in-a-room feel,” said Beverley recently, “it sounds like an old style analogue record. It’s very me, very transatlantic.”
From January 2013, the venerable and redoubtable Topic Records (now 74 years old) will be making available another of its ‘gifts to the nation’, in the form of The Great Big Digital Archive Project. Thereafter, a programme of 6 – 10 additional titles will be released every month throughout the year. With the possible exception of Smithsonian Records in the US, this will probably constitute the largest digital project of its kind undertaken by an independent record company anywhere in the world.
Topic has always had the underlying philosophy of making traditional based music as widely available as possible. The ambition of the label is now to make as much of its vast historical catalogue available using the current format – digital. What makes this project distinctive is that at the moment, digital delivery all too often divorces the audio recording from all artwork, documentation and sleeve-notes. The plan at Topic is to restore and include all of the information that accompanied the original releases of the past.
In January 2013, 84 of these albums will be available to download complete with digital booklets. The digital booklets will be available from the Topic website as well as iTunes. There will also be a short YouTube film explaining the project in detail and the content of specific digital booklets.
The first tranche of 84 digital releases will include albums originally released on vinyl LP in the late 1950s, the 60s, 70s and 80s. Many have been out of print for twenty years or more and include titles which were championed by John Peel and other influential broadcasters.
Much of the repertoire on the field recordings included in the Topic archive has fed into the latest British folk revival, whilst many recordings of Irish traditional music are of cultural and political significance and date from a period when there were few domestic labels in Ireland releasing such music.
The original recording of Davy Graham’s ‘Angi’ was made in Bill Leader’s Camden Town basement flat in 1962 and released on the seminal Topic 7″ vinyl EP – 3/4 AD. The vinyl release appeared in three different sleeves during the early 60s and with slightly different sleeve notes by Alexis Korner. The digital booklet will incorporate all the sleeve notes and illustrate the variant sleeve designs.
‘Angi’ is widely regarded as one of the cornerstone compositions of the sixties’ acoustic guitar movement, famously recorded by Bert Jansch, Paul Simon, Ralph McTell, etc.
And – looking a little further ahead – leading up to Topic’s 75th birthday in 2014, the label also plans to make available digital booklets for all current Topic releases, artist by artist, as well as new “themed” digital collections.
The first 84 TOPIC archive digital releases for January 2013
TSDL035 DOMINIC BEHAN Down By The Liffeyside (Irish Street Songs)
TSDL051 A L LLOYD Outback Ballads
TSDL070 DAVY GRAHAM 3/4 AD
TSDL084 THE WILLETT FAMILY The Roving Journeyman
TSDL093 RAMBLING JACK ELLIOTT Talking Woody Guthrie
TSDL110 VARIOUS ARTISTS Sea Songs & Shanties
TSDL113 PEGGY SEEGER & TOM PALEY Who’s Going To Shoe You’re Pretty Little Foot?
TSDL117 HEDY WEST Old Times and Hard Times
TSDL118 A L LLOYD First Person
TSDL120 THE CAMPBELL FAMILY The Singing Campbells
TSDL125 VARIOUS ARTISTS New Voices
TSDL130 EWAN MacCOLL Bundook Ballads
TSDL134 JESSE FULLER Move On Down The Line
TSDL137 THE FISHER FAMILY Traditional & New Songs From Scotland
TSDL139 PADDY TUNNEY A Wild Bees’ Nest
TSDL147 EWAN MacCOLL The Manchester Angel
TSDL163 HEDY WEST Ballads
TSDL175 WILLIE CLANCY The Minstrel From Clare
TSDL182 MRS. SARAH MAKEM Ulster Ballad Singer
TSDL183 WILLIE SCOTT The Shepherd’s Song
TSDL185 LIZZIE HIGGINS Princess Of The Thistle
TSDL186 THE HIGH LEVEL RANTERS Northumberland Forever
TSDL190 DAVE & TONI ARTHUR The Lark In The Morning
TSDL193 PHOEBE SMITH Once I Had A True Love
TSDL200 PETER BELLAMY The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate
TSDL203 A L LLOYD The Great Australian Legend
TSDL206 THE OLDHAM TINKERS Oldham’s Burning Sands
TSDL212 OAK Welcome To Our Fair
TSDL214 THE CHEVIOT RANTERS The Sound Of The Cheviots
TSDL216 FRANKIE ARMSTRONG Lovely On The Water
TSDL222 THE CHEVIOT RANTERS The Cheviot Hills
TSDL229 VARIOUS ARTISTS English Country Music From East Anglia
TSDL230 VARIOUS ARTISTS The Lark In The Clear Air
TSDL237 THE OLDHAM TINKERS Best O’ T’ Bunch
TSDL240 VARIOUS ARTISTS Boscastle Breakdown
TSDL247 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS The Rose Of Britain’s Isle
TSDL250 SEAMUS ENNIS The Wandering Minstrel
TSDL251 THE RUSSELL FAMILY Of Doolin, County Clare
TSDL253 VARIOUS ARTISTS Songs Of The Open Road
TSDL256 ROY HARRIS Champions Of Folly
TSDL274 BOB DAVENPORT Down The Long Road
TSDL275 BOB CANN West Country Melodeon
TSDL276 THE OLDHAM TINKERS For Old Time’s Sake
TSDL277 ARCHIE FISHER Will Ye Gang, Love
TSDL286 GEORGE MAYNARD Ye Subjects Of England
TSDL295 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS Among The Many Attractions At The Show…
TSDL297 THE HIGH LEVEL RANTERS Ranting Lads
TSDL305 THE O’HALLORAN BROTHERS The Men Of The Island
TSDL306 JIMMY POWER Irish Fiddle Player
TSDL307 BELLE STEWART Queen Among The Heather
TSDL315 DICK GAUGHAN Coppers & Brass
TSDL316 ROSE MURPHY Milltown Lass
TSDL318 BOB DAVENPORT Postcards Home
TSDL319 BOB SMITH’S IDEAL BAND Ideal Music
TSDL323 THE OLDHAM TINKERS Sit Thee Down
TSDL335 TOMMY HEALY & JOHN DUFFY Memories Of Sligo
TSDL337 JACK & CHARLIE COEN The Branch Line
TSDL350 BOB DAVENPORT & THE RAKES 1977
TSDL355 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS Shreds & Patches
TSDL361 BOB ROBERTS Songs From The Sailing Barges
TSDL362 MARY-ANN CAROLAN Songs From The Irish Tradition
TSDL366 DAN SULLIVAN’S SHAMROCK BAND
TSDL371 ALISTAIR ANDERSON Corby Crag
TSDL378 VIN GARBUTT Eston California
TSDL380 SHIRLEY & DOLLY COLLINS For As Many As Will
TSDL382 NEW VICTORY BAND One More Dance & Then
TSDL385 VIN GARBUTT Tossin A Wobbler
TSDL388 THE HIGH LEVEL RANTERS Four In A Bar
TSDL392 WALTER PARDON A Country Life
TSDL398 JOHN DOHERTY Bundle And Go
TSDL399 THE OLDHAM TINKERS That Lancashire Band
TSDL403 ALISON McMORLAND & PETA WEBB
TSDL405 CILLA FISHER & ARTIE TREZISE Cilla And Artie
TSDL408 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS Facing The Music
TSDL416 UMPS AND DUMPS The Moon’s In A Fit
TSDL430 MARTIN SIMPSON Grinning In Your Face
TSDL435 CURLEW Fiddle Music From Shetland & Beyond
TSDL438 MARTIN SIMPSON Sad Or High Kicking!
TSDL441 BILL CADDICK The Wild West Show
TSDL446 MARTIN & JESSICA SIMPSON True Dare Or Promise
TSDL447 ANDREW CRONSHAW Till The Beast’s Returning
TSDL453 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS Stolen Ground
Presenting the soundtrack to Rob Young’s ground-breaking survey of music making in the British Isles.
Universal Music Catalogue has now released Electric Eden, a new compilation, hand-picked by author and journalist Rob Young. The two disc set is designed to serve as a companion to Young’s highly acclaimed book Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music which was published by Faber & Faber in 2010.
Just as the book mapped out a native British musical voice that reflected the complex relationships between town and country, progress and nostalgia, radicalism and conservatism, so too does this compilation.
It’s a veritable connoisseur’s choice of folk music which collects together such diverse artists as Archie Fisher, Meic Stevens, Bill Fay, Comus, and Mick Softley, even David Bowie – alongside the more expected names such as Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, The Incredible String Band and Nick Drake.
The two disc set is divided into an Acoustic Eden and an Electric Eden and comes with comprehensive, track-by-track notes by Rob Young.
Comments Rob young: ‘This compilation is designed to follow the flow from acoustic to electric folk in the late 60s and early 70s, a magical time in British music. I’ve tried to include a mixture of rarities, unheard versions, familiar names and unjustly neglected heroes and heroines. I’m particularly proud of including a rare original version of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ by Fairport Convention, literally the first time a rock drum kit was ever used on a traditional folk song. History in the making!’
1. Peter Bellamy – ‘Oak, Ash and Thorn’
2. Traffic – ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’
3. Bert Jansch – ‘The Waggoner’s Lad’
4. Fairport Convention – ‘Stranger to Himself’
5. Archie Fisher – ‘Reynardine’
6. Bread, Love and Dreams – ‘Brother John’
7. Bill Fay – ‘Garden Song’
8. Water Into Wine Band – ‘Stranger in the World’
9. Tudor Lodge – ‘Willow Tree’
10. Comus – ‘Diana’
11. Meic Stevens – ‘Yorric’
12. Magic Carpet – ‘The Dream’
13. Sweeney’s Men – ‘The Pipe on the Hob’
14. Tim Hart & Maddy Prior – ‘False Knight on the Road’
15. Dr Strangely Strange – ‘Dark-Haired Lady’
16. Albion Country Band – ‘I Was a Young Man’
17. COB – ‘Music of the Ages’
18. Roger Nicholson – ‘The Carman’s Whistle’
19. Bridget St John – ‘Fly High’
20. John Martyn – ‘She Moves Through the Fair’
1. Richard Thompson – ‘Roll over Vaughn Williams’
2. Steeleye Span – ‘The Lark in the Morning’
3. Unicorn – ‘Country Road’
4. Fairport Convention – ‘A Sailor’s Life’
5. Trees – ‘Glasgerion’
6. Fotheringay – ‘Gypsy Davey’
7. David Bowie – ‘Black Country Rock’
8. John Martyn – ‘Glistening Glyndebourne’
9. Mike Cooper – ‘Paper and Smoke’
10. Shelagh McDonald – ‘Mirage’
11. Spirogyra – ‘Disraeli’s Problem’
12. Mick Softley – ‘Time Machine’
13. Shirley Collins & The Albion Country Band – ‘Murder of Maria Marten’
I was very sad to learn today that Bert Jansch has died of lung cancer. I was lucky enough to catch the man back-stage at the London Fleadh in 2000 which I will always remember as we shared a banana in his caravan prior to the interview.
Bert was a virtuoso guitarist, hailed by the likes of Jimmy Page, Neil Young and Johnny Marr of the Smiths as a force to be reckoned with -and learned from, and was recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time. He was also a prolific songwriter. The man was at the very center of the British folk revival of the late 1960s and early 1970s . He was a founder member of Pentangle, who were unique, with their slightly different, visionary mix of folk and jazz music that found a huge audience for its complex arrangements and stunning musicianship.
His solo career was bookended by the outstanding “Bert Jansch” album in 1965 – recorded on borrowed guitars – and the critically acclaimed “Black Swan” CD released in 2006.
Neil Young, who earlier this year invited Jansch to open for him on a concert tour, said that Jansch created a new approach to the acoustic guitar much as Jimi Hendrix changed the sound of the electric guitar.
John Barrow, Bert’s U.K. concert booking agent said: “I’ve been his agent for just over 10 years and when I met him he was at a low ebb and not really getting the recognition he deserved,” Barrow said. “But it is a measure of the man that he had at that point continued playing in a pub in Carnaby Street in London. Even at that time Liam and Noel Gallagher from Oasis were turning up at that pub to listen to him.”
Bert was born in Scotland, & was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music in 2007 by Edinburgh Napier University.
Pentangle was hailed by critics and fans for providing modern renditions of classic folk songs, helping to keep traditional music alive and vibrant, and also for innovative, jazz-inflected new material. They attracted a substantial following in an era when Bob Dylan, Donovan, Fairport Convention and others were looking to traditional acoustic sounds for inspiration.
Bert’s final performance was at with Pentangle at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Aug. 1. Bert died at the Marie Curie Hospice in north London. He had recently been forced to cancel several planned solo concerts because of his failing health.
Folk singer Eddi Reader called Jansch “a gentle, gentle gentleman.” In a message on Twitter she said: “God speed, darlin’ Bert – get us on the guest list.”
Bert is survived by his wife, Loren, and son, Adam.