An 80th Birthday Concert for Bert Jansch review – moving homage to 60s folk guitar hero

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.

Robert Plant with his band Saving Grace, featuring Suzi Dian on vocals, at the Royal Festival Hall.
Robert Plant with his band Saving Grace, featuring Suzi Dian on vocals, at the Royal Festival Hall. Photograph: Sonja Horsman/The Guardian

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.

Birthday lineup at the Southbank Centre.
Birthday lineup at the Southbank Centre. Photograph: Sonja Horsman/The Guardian

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.

Source: An 80th Birthday Concert for Bert Jansch review – moving homage to 60s folk guitar hero

The Mysterious Disappearance Of Licorice McKechnie

Licorice McKechnie, a musician from the ’60s that performed at Woodstock, mysteriously disappeared around 1990, with no word since.

By Samantha Sanders

Counterculture figures from the ’60s have not been known to lead the most straight-arrow lifestyles, so when a woman who’d not just been at Woodstock but performed there seemingly drops off the face of the Earth, it might be tempting to dismiss the disappearance as just a free spirit following her bliss. But Licorice McKechnie’s trail didn’t go cold in the era of peace and love; she was last heard from in 1990, well after her days on stage had come to an end. Her last-known destination was the Arizona desert, but after that, the trail ends.

According to the blog Woodstock Whisperer, sometime in the early ’60s, McKechnie left her home in Edinburgh, Scotland, to marry fellow Scottish folkie, Bert Jansch. However, the wedding never took place. Yet, the young woman (who would have been somewhere between her late teens and early 20s) did end up connecting with a man named Robin Williamson, who’d assembled a new group called the Incredible String Band, which McKechnie promptly joined.

Though the Incredible String Band, led by Mike Heron and McKechnie’s then-boyfriend, Williamson, was a forerunner of British psychedelia music — and included fans such as Paul McCartney — their reception at Woodstock was lukewarm at best, recalls the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Thanks to some scheduling snafus, the band got bumped from their original performance date and were relegated to a slot on a heavier, all-electric day when fans were less than taken by their style of folk music. In fact, the band got left out of both the soundtrack and film that seemed to document nearly every moment of the iconic festival.

Though McKechnie has been lauded for her ethereal vocals and musical contributions on the organ, the Incredible String Band never seemed to stake out a firm place in the public’s musical consciousness. Like so many other counterculture figures of the time, members of the group, including McKechnie, also got briefly caught up in Scientology, which had a less notorious reputation then than it does now. Still, despite critical acclaim and a seemingly new spiritual outlook, McKechnie left the band (and Williamson) in 1972. By 1974, the remaining members disbanded and the Incredible String Band was no more.

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Les Cousins Music club was the centre of the universe for British ‘contemporary’ folk and blues

Les Cousins Music club. The centre of the universe for British ‘contemporary’ folk, blues and beyond was a cellar at 49 Greek Street, Soho. By Ian Anderson.

Les Cousins membership card, 1967.

Be careful with bestowing time-sensitive names on emerging movements. Art Nouveau which flourished at the beginning of the last century is now Art Very Vieux. Modern Jazz of the 1950s is now antique, and the New Wave of the late ’70s has long since crashed on the beach. And so it was with the sounds christened Contemporary Folk in the 1960s, now irrevocably tied to nostalgia for that golden age of post-war youth culture of half a century ago. But it had an extraordinary blossoming in its day, and the hothouse and nursery for it all was a basement club at 49 Greek Street in London’s Soho.

On a grey day earlier this summer I rang on the doorbell of a flat in Frith Street and entered a hospitable folk Tardis, spinning back nearly five decades at the invitation of Diana Matheou, wife of the late Andy Matheou (or Matthews, as many knew him), whose parents Loukas and Margaret owned the restaurant below which the club was housed.

But first, a bit of pre-history. Veteran skiffler Ron Gould recalls the years BC (Before Cousins) when the venue housed the Skiffle Cellar. “As far as I remember the Skiffle Cellar was founded by Russell Quaye and Hylda Syms in 1956. The Skiffle Cellar was one of many rival skiffle venues in the area at the time. The most thriving was John Hasted’s club in Gerrard Street; if you went to one you were unlikely to go to the other or The 2i’s. It looked very much like a cave, as did most Soho cellars. After Bruce Turner left Humphrey Lyttleton and formed his own Jump Band, John Jack became their manager and took over the Cellar on Friday and Saturday nights in 1957 for all-nighters, with Bruce Turner’s Jump Band as the headliners.”

Diana picks up the chronology. It seems that in 1959, Loukas Matheou acquired the lease for the ground floor and basement of 49, Greek Street, putting a kitchen in the back of the basement and turning the remainder of both floors into The Soho Grill, a restaurant specialising in French cuisine. It proved larger than was necessary so after a few years he decided to use the other part of the basement for another purpose. French discotheques were taking off – La Poubelle, Le Kilt, and Le Disco­theque had all opened in Soho – so Loukas agreed with a public school customer called Phil (nobody seems to be able to remember his surname) to turn the unused part of the basement into Les Cousins, presumably named after the Claude Chabrol film.‘Les Cousins, Club Continental’ opened on Sunday 4th October 1964, was unlicensed, opened every night and had all-nighters with live bands. “However it didn’t really take off,” says Diana. “At some point there was a falling-out with Phil. Loukas told Andy to sit in each night to make sure everything was above board. Perhaps sensing a change was in the air, Phil asked Noel Murphy along to compère an all-nighter and musicians told each other there was a place to play – much like Chinese whispers. I do know that Phil was dismissed and that Andy was already listening to Dylan and was totally disinterested in running a discotheque. I’m sure these and many other factors all came together – the time, place and people were right and Les Cousins the iconic folk and blues club was born.”

Skiffle Cellar flier circa 1957.

The rebirth opening date that is often quoted is 16th April 1965. Early memories and pictures have it with sports car photos on the wall, plus a wagon wheel and fishing nets to make the disco a bit folkier.

Al Stewart, who at that time had a residency at Bunjies on the fringes of Covent Garden, remembered those early days in his interview in fR367/8. “I was talking to Noel Murphy and he said there was a brand new folk club just opened up a couple of blocks away which turned out to be Les Cousins. So Murphy said ‘Do you want to go over and check it out?’, so I said ‘fine’. I went over with Noel, I went down the stairs – there were maybe twelve people down there and they were all crowded round one guy playing the guitar, and that of course was Bert Jansch …”

“So I’d work at Bunjies and then I’d go over and hang out at Cousins and watch the people. I think it did all-nighters very quickly which is actually where I got my first gig, because Phil – who used to run it before Andy – by about three o’clock in the morning he’d basically had it and wanted to go home, so what he was looking for was someone who’d basically put people on and off. I got the gig as the compère of the Cousins which I had for a couple of years. It was my job to put people on and take them off which meant that round about 4 o’clock in the morning when everyone was asleep I could get up and start doing my own songs!”

The venue took off very quickly. Not only did it have an adventurous booking policy and a growing in-crowd, but it also had those all-nighters on the weekends.

For impecunious youths like myself, hitch-hiking up to London to see all these amazing artists who were being advertised in the Melody Maker Folk Forum each week and enjoying growing fame nationwide, it wasn’t only a musical honeypot but the cheapest hotel in London. And once you’d become accepted as a performer, you even got in for free.

Diana has Andy’s pocket diaries and address book for the Cousins years and they make mind-boggling reading for people familiar with the burgeoning folk scene of the day. Not daring to ask if these valuable artefacts could be borrowed, I read some of the entries into my recorder. Apologies for imminent anorak list overdose and excited squeaks …“April 1966: Al Stewart £3. Diz Disley half the door. Trevor Lucas £8. Davy Graham £15. Long John Baldry £15 for the all-nighter. Sandy Denny, John Foreman… Spider John Koerner £25! (I was probably there for that, 10th April 1966)… Mox & John Lemont. Tuesday 26th, Van Morrison £3. Wednesday 27th, Jo Ann Kelly £6. Malcolm Price, Gerry Lockran, Sandy Bull (the American equivalent to Davy Graham), Bert Jansch, Sandy Denny… what a week!”

“June 1967. Friday, Tom Rush; Diz Disley for the all-nighter. Saturday, John Renbourn; Long John Baldry for the all-nighter. We go through to the following week… Friday 9th June, Sandy Denny in the evening, Cliff Aungier doing the all-nighter. Saturday 10th, Bert Jansch; all-nighter Noel Murphy and Wizz Jones. Friday 16th, Indian music.

Saturday 17th, Alex Campbell in the evening, Davy Graham on the all-nighter. Friday 23rd, Roy Harper evening, Al Stewart all-nighter. Saturday 24th, Young Tradition evening, Alexis Korner the all-nighter. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

In 1967, Loukas decided to change the restaurant from French cuisine to Greek and renamed it Dionysus. Downstairs the wagon wheel went, the space was enlarged, the stage put in the centre, the old sofas and chairs replaced by church pews, and a friend of Andy’s came in to paint the walls with squirls and whirls inspired by acid trips. The Cousins (as most people knew it by then, not knowing who this bloke called Les was!) entered its golden years. It also, unlike most small clubs of the day, had a microphone plugged into a fairly decent hi-fi amplifier that fed the house speakers behind the stage.
I have a theory that the Cousins mic was single-handedly responsible for the performing posture of most of the 1960s singer/ songwriter/ guitarist legends. Look at photos of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Al Stewart or John Martyn from those days, and they’re likely to be hunched on a stool over their instruments, bringing mouth and sound hole as close as possible together. This was before the advent of pick-ups in acoustic guitars – the early Barcus Berry transducers didn’t become ubiquitous until the start of the next decade – so you needed to direct everything into that one microphone, as closely as possible. We all got rather adept at it.

In her book about the era, A Blues For Annie (available via Amazon, recommended!), Annie Matthews recalls arriving there around that time. “Al Stewart, who played at Bunjies, was finishing the night by going to Les Cousins. A crowd were going with him. So we walked the several blocks or so to Greek Street, and we came to a narrow doorway. It would have been easy to miss. There was a folded sign by the door that had the name of the performer written on it. A steep flight of stairs led down into darkness. At the bottom was a stout young man with a round face and short black hair. He was collecting money from people as they went in. I followed everyone in to yet another dark cellar. It was a very large one. There was a small stage with a piano behind it, and church pews for seats all around it. At one end of the room was a section that was behind a counter where a young man sold sodas, coffee, and sandwiches. He had an Oriental cast to his face and a Fu Manchu moustache. Jet black hair swung around his ears. He bounced around to the music as he served customers coffee. The club was thick with cigarette smoke. Everyone was smoking. I stayed there all night.”

Mike Cooper remembers that “the all-nighters on a Saturday were a trial by fire of stamina and patience both for audience and performers. Leaving there on Sunday morning we would stagger bleary-eyed into a Greek Street being hosed down and swept clean, ridding all trace of the previous night’s reveries, and going for what was sold as coffee in glass cups at the Pollo Bar (still there but don’t read the Trip Advisor reviews) around the corner at 20 Old Compton Street.

John Martyn & Andy Matheou. Photo: Ray Stevenson.

“But when you played Les Cousins you had joined ‘the scene’; been acknowledged, made it, whatever that meant at the time. It was the Vatican and Mecca and Jerusalem of the folk scene.”

“Iwandered outside in the interval of one session to roll another roll-up and Andy who ran the place was talking to a short, curly-haired guy in a brown suede jacket, who looked remarkably like Tim Buckley. So much so that I told him. He replied, with a smile, ‘I am Tim Buckley’ – to which I replied ‘Yes and I’m Tim Hardin.’ It was Tim Buckley, I later discovered, and lost the opportunity to tell him how much I admired his music and I still do. David Bowie turned up once as well and wanted to play but the guest list was full for that evening. Sorry David.”

You never knew who would turn up to play on an all-nighter. The singer-songwriter introduced as Steve Adams, who grew up to be Cat Stevens. A short American who Noel Murphy would stick on at 4am to try out some remarkable song he’d just written was called Paul Simon. A wonderful set from another American who’d come across to experience Cambridge Folk Festival but we already had his records: Eric Andersen. A really nervous, undistinguished singer-songwriter called Nick Drake who sent the audience to sleep. I have fond memories of a night when Spider John Koerner put Al Jones and myself on for a small-hours floor spot and Davy Graham got up and played bongos with us, and of Ron Geesin disembowelling the piano, passing bits of it out into the pews while playing, searching for an elusive sound. And of transporting music from the Third Ear Band …

Andy Matheou’s booking methods were delightfully ramshackle. Once he liked and trusted a performer, they’d be booked every few weeks. I remember when I was living in London over the blues boom winter of ‘68 / ’69 I’d get the tube in from Notting Hill every Wednesday lunch­time to get a Melody Maker at the news stand at Tottenham Court Road tube station, hot off the press.

Loukas Matheou

That was how you found out if you’d got a gig at the Cousins that coming weekend! But you didn’t mind because not only was it a great gig, those listings were pored over by folk fans and organisers all over the country and if you were listed there, you’d – as Mike Cooper said – made it. It was a guaranteed career boost.

Back to the diary: “October 1968: Friday 4th Michael Chapman and Saturday 5th, Jackson C Frank and Ron Geesin. Saturday 12th Young Tradition, Mike Cooper and Peter Sarstedt. Thursday 17th October – Al Jones and Ian Anderson (beginning a residency! Yay! There you go!). Saturday 19th October Al Stewart, evening; John Martyn on the all-nighter – Al Stewart was up to £20 by then! Gordon Giltrap, Sally Oldfield, The Strawbs, Andy Fernbach…”

As well as becoming an accomplished young blues singer and harmonica player who later joined Panama Limited, recording for EMI Harvest, Annie Matthews also ended up working there. Again from her book: “There was an opportunity to work behind the bar. I talked it over with Mr Matheou. The other person who applied for the job was a homeless man nicknamed Divinity. When his wife had died he had some sort of mental breakdown and lost his home, and ever since then he had been going around the soup kitchens and shelters. He did not have a big interest in music but Cousins was open all night. Mr Matheou suggested that he get a real job, and offered to give him money to buy a suit, but he refused.”

“One of our acts at Cousins, Ralph McTell, had a huge hit [The Streets Of London] telling a young woman who was complaining about her life that homeless people had a tougher lot, and that she should be grateful for her life. I had this nasty feeling that I had inspired this song.”

Annie remembers some of the other characters associated with the place. “There were a number of accompanying musicians and street performers who played between the main sets. Some of these people performed for the theatre lines and then came to Les Cousins as a warm place to stay until the first buses and trains ran in the morning. One example was Don Partridge. He was a one-man band. He had a guitar, harmonica, bass drum, and a cymbal attached to him. He was regarded as a novelty act. However, in the years to come he released a single that went to the top of the British charts.”

“Some other street performers that associated with him found out about Les Cousins through him. ‘Old Meg’ sang Danny Boy in a high trembling warble. That seemed to be the only song that she knew. ‘Paris Nat’ Schaffer played the accordeon and sang. He wore a peaked cloth hat to cover his bald head. He had some comedy songs that he performed again and again.”

Diana Matheou (Soar, as she was then) had begun singing at Colchester Folk Club in the early 1960s. “I came to drama school in London when I was nineteen. Before that my brother was studying here and when I was seventeen I came up to go to a do at his college and he said ‘There’s an all-nighter down at Cousins. You could go and sing. We should go to that.’ Anyway, I went down and I didn’t know when I passed by this chubby, woolly-haired guy on the door that this was going to be the love of my life! We just went in. It was the old Cousins, Derroll Adams was playing, there were old sofas, just old chairs, it was packed out. And I sat on this sofa all night talking to Steve Adams, soon to become Cat Stevens. And we got on really well… I was starting to do a bit of songwriting myself, he was telling me all about how he was too.”

Signed by agent Julia Creasey to Roy Guest’s Folk Directions agency, Diana started going to the Cousins regularly and by 1969 she and Andy Matheou had become an item. “It was like being at the centre of the universe. After I became pregnant, I moved in here in 1970. We were running the club from here, and I’d push Em, our little baby, in the pram, put her in the corridor of the restaurant upstairs, go downstairs and run the club. I did the door for a couple or three years.”

“Some singers and musicians became close friends to Andy and me, in particular John Martyn. He and Andy had a bond and a recognition beyond the ordinary. It was that which John initially wrote about in May You Never. One summer day he bounded into the Frith Street flat with the DJ Jeff Dexter and told us, ‘I’ve written a song for you.’ He and Andy spent loads of time together. Bev and John had a flat in Denning Road. Bev got pregnant with her daughter about two months before me so we shared our pregnancy and I went over to Denning Road quite a lot. Nick Drake was there as well, and Bridget St John.”

“The Matheou family’s contribution is hardly ever mentioned as, understandably, it’s the music and radiancy of the time that people remember most. However the fact of the family’s nurturing was significant. The young man who Andy was had an honest, fearless nature, a capable, curious mind, a generous heart – like his parents – and loved music. The Matheou family were the right people in the right place.”

“Andy was quick to discern what was authentic and, not being materially driven, became part of the family of musicians and the ethos of the time. Many turned up at the family flat in Frith Street, were fed and sometimes housed there too. Jackson C Frank truly became part of the family while he was in London, referring to Loukas and Margaret as ‘like his parents’.”

“Anyone coming into the restaurant kitchen hungry didn’t stay that way for long. Loukas would listen to the hard luck stories, responding with wisdom, dry wit and food.”

As Diana recounts, Loukas and Margaret returned briefly to Cyprus but within a year came the Turkish invasion and they were forced to come back to Soho. Margaret was dying of cancer. Within eighteen months Loukas lost his home, his land and his loving wife. “Loukas then went to Barking in East London to help his brother, also made a refugee who’d lost everything, helped him with a kebab shop, and he said to Andy ‘Listen boy, you’ve got a daughter and you’re not earning any money, and I’m going to open a wet fish shop in Barking. You should come and do it with me.’ So he did. I gave up my teaching and I went and did it too. We did that for eighteen years. Still living here, we’d commute. But it was beautiful. So we went into that, and it was as far apart from what we’d done before as you can imagine. But it gave us a very broad life. And we kept close to some of those folk who we’d always been close to through the club. We always kept in touch with Bert and Roy.”

Sadly, Andy Matheou passed away in 2005 from a heart attack brought on by diabetes, leaving Diana the custodian of the Cousins history and many happy memories. But there’s one sour twist to the story. There’s now an organisation and record label calling itself Les Cousins and it even uses the old Cousins logo from its membership cards.

“Something called ‘Les Cousins Music’ can be found on the internet run by a man called Mark Pavey,” says Diana. “He had nothing whatsoever to do with the club and has used the name and provenance without permission. I need to let this be known to honour the Matheou family whose hard work and generosity were fundamental to the club’s existence. It’s a little like someone taking your music and putting their own name to it – much like Paul Simon did to Martin Carthy with Scarborough Fair all those years ago. This behaviour is in direct opposition to the ethos of the club.”

Really, Les Cousins deserves a book!

Source: Les Cousins Music Club, Soho — Al Stewart, Bert Jansch

Folk Radio – Ep128 “A Festive Winter Mix”

A festive mix feat. Olivia Chaney, Steve Tilston, Anne Briggs, Bert Jansch, Dick Gaughan, Coope, Boyes & Simpson, Jean Ritchie, Martin Carthy and more.

My first festive mix of the year featuring Olivia Chaney, Steve Tilston, Anne Briggs, Bert Jansch, Dick Gaughan, Lady Maisery and Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith, Coope, Boyes & Simpson, Martha Tilston, Jean Ritchie, Blind Boy Grunt (Bob Dylan)/Richard Fariña/Eric Von Schmidt, Nadia Cattouse, Jethro Tull, Johnny Cunningham, Susan McKeown & Aidan Brennan, Martin Carthy (with June Tabor), Richard Thompson, Chris Wood, Ewan McCall and Peggy Seeger, Lal Waterson, Bernard Wrigley and David Strawbridge & Tim Laycock.


  1. Olivia Chaney – Waxwing
  2. Steve Tilston – Roving on a Winter’s Night
  3. Anne Briggs – Fire And Wine
  4. Bert Jansch – The January Man
  5. Dick Gaughan – The Snows They Melt The Soonest
  6. Lady Maisery and Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith – Winter Berries
  7. Lady Maisery and Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith – The Old Churchyard
  8. Coope, Boyes & Simpson – The Meadowhall Carol
  9. Martha Tilston – Winter Flowers
  10. Jean Ritchie – Wintergrace
  11. Blind Boy Grunt/Richard Fariña/Eric Von Schmidt – Xmas Island
  12. Nadia Cattouse – Red & Green Christmas
  13. Jethro Tull – First Snow in Brooklyn
  14. Johnny Cunningham, Susan McKeown & Aidan Brennan – A Christmas Childhood
  15. Johnny Cunningham, Susan McKeown & Aidan Brennan – My Singing Bird
  16. John Kirkpatrick – Wassail
  17. Martin Carthy – Hunting The Cutty Wren (w/ June Tabor)
  18. Richard Thompson – The Snow Goose
  19. Chris Wood – Turtle Soup
  20. Ewan McCall and Peggy Seeger – Moving on Song
  21. Lal Waterson – Christmas Is Now Drawing Near at Hand
  22. Bernard Wrigley – The Wassail Song
  23. David Strawbridge & Tim Laycock – The Humstrum

Photo by Toa Heftiba

Source: Folk Show – Episode 128 (a Festive Winter Mix)