Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee as well as Robert Plant, Bernard Butler and Sam Lee were among stellar acts celebrating the late musician in impressive style
The lineup was remarkable, with rock and folk musicians including Robert Plant, Bernard Butler, Sam Lee, James Yorkston and Martin Simpson joining in on Strolling Down the Highway, from Bert Jansch’s 1965 debut album. It was the climax to a celebration of what would have been Bert’s 80th birthday (he died in 2011), and the cast included those who admired or worked with him in the 60s, as well as younger musicians who helped to revive his career after he had fallen out of fashion.
Jansch became a guitar hero thanks to his unique finger-picking style and fusion of folk, blues and jazz. He was also a thoughtful, emotional songwriter and both sides of his work were reflected in a surprisingly slick show in which the constantly-changing cast were introduced by the very funny and impressively knowledgeable Stewart Lee.
Jansch reached his largest audience with the classic early lineup of Pentangle, who made their debut on this same stage in 1967, and the band’s singer Jacqui McShee opened and closed the show with folk-jazz favourites from the era. Bert’s admirers in the 60s included Led Zeppelin, and Robert Plant has kept his memory alive, recording two of his songs with Alison Krauss on Raise the Roof (2021). Here, playing with his Saving Grace band, he started out on bass guitar as he joined Suzi Dian for a fine and gently gutsy treatment of It Don’t Bother Me.
Bernard Butler, once with Suede, played an important part in bringing Jansch’s music to a new generation, and he played a key role here, first with his electric guitar reworking of Fresh As a Sweet Sunday Morning, then providing backing for Sam Lee and Kathryn Williams, and leading four other guitarists through an adventurous treatment of Veronica. Another fine guitarist, Martin Simpson, was joined by Louis Campbell to revive Jansch’s celebrated arrangement of Angie, and later backed Williams for her powerful and thoughtful treatment of Needle of Death.
And as reminder that Jansch liked to break down barriers, the Scottish folk star James Yorkston was joined by Indian singer Ranjana Ghatak and Jon Thorne on bass to rework traditional songs from Jansch’s repertoire, while percussionist Sarathy Korwar led his sax and cello trio through his instrumental pieces, Osprey and The Black Swan. It was a moving and impressive tribute.