Bert Jansch Tribute – Royal Festival Hall

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(This performance (unsurprisingly) received a standing ovation. But, unfortunately, this video cuts off before the end due to over-officious South Bank stewards.)

Why this gig?

Because Bert Jansch and his music is an embarrassing hole in my knowledge of the history of English folk music. And this seemed like a great opportunity to start to correct that.

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No. This wasn’t that kind of gig. This was lots of people taking in turns to sing Bert Jansch songs.

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There was no headline act either. Just an ever-changing set of people on stage giving tribute to Bert Jansch. The evening was compered by Martin Simpson, who started by introducing Ralph McTell – the first of many old friends of Bert Jansch to appear. McTell was followed by Donovan, who stuck the only really dodgy note of the evening. But then I always find him rather disappointing beyond his well-known songs.

I don’t know much about Jansch’s music so forgive me if I don’t name the songs. Early on, Jansch’s Pentangle band-mate Jaquie McShee sang with a band made up of top quality folk session musicians (I recognised Fairport Convention’s Gerry Conway). Later another former Pentangle member, Danny Thompson, demonstrated why he plays double bass on pretty much every top quality fold album recorded in the UK in the last forty years. At the end of the first half Pentangle’s drummer Terry Cox joined McShee, Thompson and Bernard Butler (standing in for Jansch himself) in a Pentangle reunion. It wasn’t clear what had happened to John Renbourn.

The second half was more of the same. Martin Carthy provided accompaniment for Lisa Knapp singing “Blackwaterside”, but then took two or three attempts to get “Rosemary Lane”. The audience didn’t mind at all. The small mistakes just added to the emotion of the night. The atmosphere was also helped by the layout of the stage. It was made to look like a folk club with lots of seating at the back of the stage where the artists sat waiting when they weren’t performing.

Gordon Giltrap and Wizz Jones were both impressive, but towards the end of the second half Robert Plant and Bernard Butler took the stage for “Go Your Way My Love”, one of the highlights of the evening.

The quality of the musicians on show was a mark of the respect in which Jansch is held and the emotion of the evening was a mark of his importance to the English folk movement. I’m even more embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of his work and I’ll be putting the right immediately.

The show was filmed. I believe it will be broadcast on BBC Four at some point next year.

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