Death of Bert Jansch – inspirational folk guitarist

I was very sad to hear of the death the Scottish guitarist and singer Bert Jansch.

Bert Jansch

He was a wonderful musician who influenced some of the best guitarists of the last 50 years.

Musicians as diverse as Jimmy Page, Neil Young and Johnny Marr all acknowledged their debt to him. When many folk guitarists in the 1960s were still playing basic finger style accompaniments to songs, Jansch was taking the guitar to totally new levels.

He had the technique of a classical guitarist but the feel and spirit of a folk/blues player.

His instrumentals challenged aspiring guitarists.

His instrumentals became hoops for aspiring young guitarists to jump through.

I remember spending hours listening to his arrangement on the track Anji by Davy Graham. I was desperate to be able to play it just like Bert. I played it so many times on my old Dansette record player that I nearly wore it out. I got close to Bert’s version, but never quite nailed it.

I suspect thousands of other aspiring guitarists had similar difficulties. Even the greats were in awe of Jansch. Jimmy Page said: “At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that first LP of his in 1965, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.”

Neil Young’s favourite guitarist

Neil Young described Bert as his favourite guitarist, saying he did for the acoustic guitar what Jimi Hendrix had done for the electric. Johnny Marr, formerly of the The Smiths, quite rightly says that Bert completely reinvented guitar playing and set a standard that has never been surpassed.

In the 1960s, Bert formed the highly influential band Pentangle with John Renbourn. He and Renbourn also toured successfully as a duo. Brilliant though most of that music was, I always preferred to hear Bert play a set on his own. Sometimes it seemed hard to believe that so much varied and wonderful sound could come out of one instrument, but Bert made it happen and he made it look effortless.

Bert saw himself as a singer/songwriter

Despite his brilliance as a guitarist, Bert thought of himself primarily as a singer/songwriter. And with good reason. He wrote some great songs such as Needle of Death which have become folk classics.

I had hoped to see him while in Edinburgh in the summer but his show had to be cancelled because of his failing health. Sadly, he never recovered and died earlier today from cancer. He was 67.

By Patrick Kehoe

Pat Kehoe is a writer for Irish Music Daily. His favourite Irish music bands are the Dubliners and Planxty.