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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
Bert Jansch

BERT JANSCH
The Jazz Café, Camden Town, London, June 8th 2009

This special show, a prelude to a Jansch tour of North America, has been promoted by Mojo Magazine in the run-up to the unveiling of their 2009 Honours List. In a few days’ time, Jansch, a former prize winner, will be handing out the best Live Act award to the Fleet Foxes.

Tonight he’s struggling to remember that the other reason for the gig is the imminent re-release of three long unavailable albums from the 1970s: LA Turnaround (produced by Mike Nesmith, and apparently a failed attempt to launch Jansch into the mainstream); Santa Barbara Honeymoon and A Rare Conundrum. Introducing ‘One for Jo’ he stumbles at “This one’s from …”, finally adding “…Santa Barbara Honeymoon ... or maybe it's from LA Turnaround ... it was one of those, and it came out about 10 years ago…” Later he plays “another song from one of those albums …”. Fortunately, with only one or two exceptions, he has no difficulty remembering the songs, as he performs a selection that spans his career. And it’s good to see that he’s sufficiently confident in his new material to not worry about disposing of some of his most memorable songs early in the set, almost as warm- ups, rather than saving them for the end. Not many artists would get away easily with starting a performance with songs as strong as ‘Strolling down the highway’, ‘My Donald’, Blackwaterside’ (which as I recall came with a gentle yet pointed mention of Jimmy Page, who famously appropriated much of it), ‘Running from home’ and the lovely ‘Morning brings peace of mind’. Jansch performs them with a seeming nonchalance that’s at odds with the intensity of both his guitar work and his voice, perhaps not quite as strong as it might be, but as haunting as ever, as the I-pod in my head often reminds me.

Bernard Butler, Beth Orton, Bert Jansch
But as Jozzer rightly pointed out, you can have too much of a good thing, and what really makes this evening work is the presence of guests Paul Wassif, who joins on guitar at the end of the first set, and Bernard Butler and Beth Orton who play and sing with him for the end of the second. Orton’s vocals in particular add another dimension to Jansch’s songs which his flat and droning voice (much though I like it) simply can’t achieve. She sings beautifully on ‘Katie Cruel’ and ‘Watch the stars’ from 2006’s Black Swan. Butler is another musician who can add complex and wonderfully complimentary layers and textures to Jansch’s guitar and vocals, which he does on ‘Fresh as a sweet Sunday morning’, ‘It don’t bother me’, ‘Blues run the game’ and ‘Carnival’, the latter two both compositions by the late Jackson C Frank. Of particular note for guitarists is the delicacy and effectiveness with which Butler uses his Bigsby vibrato arm, at the touch of a little finger.
Not that the guitarists in the Jazz Café were paying too much attention to Butler. They were about five deep at the front of the stage, arms crossed to a man, staring intently at Jansch’s fret board, trying no doubt to commit every piece of fingering to memory. They reminded me of something I’d seen before, but I just can’t think what. And whilst Jansch must be well-used to performing in this sort of fishbowl by now, I have to say their rather humourless fanaticism paid poor tribute to this first class show. After all, music (if I dare to suggest, like single malt Scotch whisky) is all about enjoyment, and particularly the thrill of the moment. I’m just glad that I was upstairs, where apart from the two unaccountably sleeping Americans, the fun was flowing as freely as you like. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Bert Jansch on MySpace



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