Bert Jansch's debut album: "“There are people playing guitar who don’t even realise they’ve been influenced by him"

Half-century anniversary for folk-rock cornerstone.

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It’s impossible to attempt any critical reappraisal of Bert Jansch without examining the nature of influence itself. In many ways, he can be viewed as an archetypal catalyst, hungrily harvesting the innovations of Anne Briggs, Davey Graham et al, nurturing and interpreting them before bestowing the results on countless musicians to follow.

As Johnny Marr wisely surmised, “There are people playing guitar who don’t even realise they’ve been influenced by him one step removed.” Arguments on where the line between cross-fertilisation and exploitation should be drawn are also impossible to ignore: exhibit one – Jimmy Page and Blackwater-gate.

It’s hard to believe Jansch’s debut was recorded 50 years ago on a single microphone in his kitchen. Such is the painstaking remastering job here, it sounds like it could have been recorded last week.

Fusing a deep understanding of American folk-blues and traditional English folk into complex and technically formidable forms, Jansch’s considerable songwriting nous drew it all into a cohesive whole.

The mercurial fingerpicked brilliance of instrumentals Casbah, Finches and melodic masterpiece Alice’s Wonderland are perfectly counterbalanced by the more song-based material like Strolling Down The Highway and Needle Of Death, the latter bequeathing Neil Young both musical inspiration for one song (Ambulance Blues) and the title for another…

Jansch would only improve, successive albums pushing at different corners, always striving in his modest and understated way, yet this will always be the marker: Hendrix, Page, Young, ad infinitum. Inescapable influence.

Tim Batcup

Tim Batcup is a writer for Classic Rock magazine and Prog magazine. He's also the owner of Cover To Cover, Swansea's only independent bookshop, and a director of Storyopolis, a free children’s literacy project based at the Volcano Theatre, Swansea. He likes music, books and Crass.