Folk hero Bert Jansch plays Oakland
on June 21, 2010
Bert Jansch is thought of as one of the most influential folk guitarists in history. With the innovative way he finger-picks his acoustic guitar, bending chord notes and using unusual timing, Jansch blends acoustic folk, traditional Irish and Scottish music with some blues and jazz. Combine that with his soft voice and penchant for both political and love songs and what is created is a mix between Peter Paul & Mary-esque harmonies, Simon & Garfunkel-style folk ballads and a Woody Guthrie-esque acoustic virtuosity.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1943, Jansch got his start as the founding member of folk band, Pentangle. After leaving the band, Jansch worked as a solo artist and with other various groups. Famous musicians from the 1960’s and 70’s, such as Donovon and Jimmy Page, as well as more contemporary singer/songwriters like Nick Drake, Pete Doherty and Devendra Banhart, have devotedly followed and covered Jansch’s music. Neil Young recently said, “As much of a great guitar player as Jimi [Hendrix] was, Bert Jansch is the same thing for acoustic guitar…and my favorite.”
On Thursday, this historic musician headlined an intimate concert at the New Parish nightclub in downtown Oakland. Wearing jeans and a black short-sleeved shirt, Jansch sat with his acoustic guitar in his lap and slightly tapped his foot as he played. He performed his guitar mastery while belting out some of his most famous songs, including “Blackwater Side,” “Rosemary Lane,” “Strolling down the Highway” and “Ducking and Diving.” Many of these songs have long harmonic guitar intros and lyrics that create poetic ballads.
Over the course of his career Jansch recorded over 25 albums and has received two Lifetime Achievement Awards at the BBC Folk Awards. Now, just coming off tour with Neil Young last month, Jansch is headlining his own short tour throughout the United States; the Pegi Young Band (Neil Young’s wife’s band) is opening for him. Jansch has not toured the U.S. since 2007.
With his Scottish lilt, Jansch sang songs from his entire cannon at the New Parish show. “This is an Irish song about the abolishment of capital punishment in Ireland,” Jansch told the crowd. “The tune itself might be from a traditional song.” As he played the chords and sang the lyrics to “The Old Triangle,” the audience was silent.
The New Parish venue is so intimate that fans could have conversations with Jansch. During the show, one man requested the bittersweet 1967 love-song lullaby, “Love is teasing.” Jansch replied, “That’s a whole other gig,” referring to fact that the song wasn’t on his set list. But then to appease the fan said, “How about this one?” and played a more recent love song, “Crimson Moon.”
As he finished up his set and three-song encore, Jansch said, “I’ll leave you with this one little song—I haven’t sung it in awhile.” It was one of his most famous songs, “Needle of Death,” which is a haunting song about a friend’s heroin overdose. The song is reportedly one of Neil Young’s favorites—Young says it influenced him to write his own song about friends addicted to heroin, “The Needle and the Damage Done.” As Jansch sang the last lyric, “And your troubled young life will make you turn to a needle of death,” and strung the last notes, the crowd whooped and clapped.
Jansch’s solo tour will end at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago on June 26, where he will perform with BB King, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, Robert Cray and others. Other upcoming shows at the New Parish include: Dum Dum Girls, The Entrance Band and Rupa & the April Fishes.
Lead image: Bert Jansch. Photo courtesy of Bert Jansch.
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