A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in September 2016.
Annie Briggs was a leading figure in the English folk revival of the early 1960s, inspiring Bert Jansch (famously, in Blackwater Side), Sandy Denny, The Watersons and many more. But she was a restless spirit, travelling through the British Isles and Ireland, finding songs and living close to the earth.
As Sandy Denny depicted her in The Pond and the Stream: Annie wanders on the land. She loves the freedom of the air. She finds a friend in ev’ry place she goes. There’s always a face she knows. I wish that I was there.
And so she remains, now a grandmother living by the water in the west of Scotland. She’s always resolutely resisted celebrity and commercial success, withdrawing from the folk scene in the early 1970s, but her legacy – her voice and her attitude – continue to inspire and to carry a link to life as it was once lived in ‘the imagined village’.
Annie talks to Alan Hall about childhood holidays singing along with the waves, writing songs while living on a beach in west Ireland, her garden and the wildlife that she shares it with, and the ballad tradition she discovered as a teenager and that she ‘belongs to’.
From the 2008 debut to 2020’s acclaimed Song For Our Daughter
A follow-up to this spring’s Song For Our Daughter may be a little way off, explains Laura Marling. “If I’m on the road for an extended period of time, I tend to have written an album by the time I get back,” she says. “Obviously that’s been completely scuppered by coronavirus. When I’m at home I play the guitar but I don’t really feel the need to write – I mean, I’m at home, I’ve got nothing to miss.”
For now, though, there’s her extensive back catalogue to enjoy, and it’s this body of work that the songwriter is taking us through here; from her first studio experiences to orchestral arrangements for three bass guitars, via her own personal highpoint, 2013’s Once I Was An Eagle: “It’s just one of those things, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Along the way, Marling ponders her time in Los Angeles, being one half of Lump and her mission as a solo artist today. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel,” she says. “As much as I love Blake Mills’ production on Semper Femina – and I would take that any day – really it’s about whether I’m a good songwriter. That’s all I’m really interested in.”
ALAS, I CANNOT SWIM VIRGIN, 2008 Marling’s debut, produced by Noah & The Whale’s Charlie Fink
We had four weeks at Eastcote Studios, two weeks doing my record and then a further two weeks back-to-back doing the Noah & The Whale record. We laid down the bass, drums, guitar and vocal all at once, and then we did overdubs – this is the same for all albums I’ve done, pretty much. My dad ran a recording studio which shut down when I was quite small, but I remember growing up around all of that outboard gear at home. So I guess I was slightly more familiar with the studio than the average 17-year-old, but still it was my first proper session. These were all my first songs, written from the age of 16-17. There was a batch of songs before that that were on an EP, “London Town” – I didn’t like them very much by the time I got to making this. I haven’t listened to this for a long while, I very rarely play any of those songs live, so it’s a bit of a distant memory to me now. And the production was very much of the time I guess, that ‘new folk’ world – glockenspiels and banjos and whatever – which is good, that’s what it was supposed to be then. I don’t really think of this as part of my catalogue. Continue reading →
From Uncut’s January 2010 issue, John Robinson talks to Bert Jansch about LA Turnaround, alcohol and Led Zeppelin
964. A notice in a London music shop launches the career of one of Britain’s greatest guitarists. Four-and-a-half decades on, Jansch and his accomplices tell the story of an unassuming master craftsman and a songwriter who wrote the definitive heroin ballad while being strictly a “26-pints-a-night man”…
As the guitarist John Renbourn remembers it, he first read that there was an important new face on the capital’s folk music scene when he looked at the notice board of a record shop in London’s West End. Browsing in the folk department of Collet’s in New Oxford Street with the guitarist Wizz Jones, he looked up and read a terse, but emphatic announcement: “Bert Jansch,” it said. “Best blues in town.”
Interestingly, the note did not specify which town, an omission which with hindsight seems entirely sensible. Jansch, after all, has spent the best part of 45 years drawing his own map for music, never resting in the same place for long. He has travelled, of course, most notably around the world as part of Pentangle, the folk-rock supergroup that he helped form in 1968. Maybe more important, though, is the fact that Jansch remains on a creative journey that’s still productively continuing.
But from the stark compositions that comprised his stunning 1965 debut, Bert Jansch, to the lush arrangements and baroque melodies that you’ll find on 1974’s LA Turnaround, the first 10 years of Jansch’s career saw him visit musical places far from his starting point. From solo performer, to persuasive composer, to thrilling collaborator, to group performer, in these years, Jansch established a reputation less to be metered by heroic excesses, famous friends or bawdy anecdotes, but by the much more admirable fact of his having done exactly what he perceived to be right at the time.
“Bert was very alluring,” says Johnny Marr, a fan and later collaborator, who discovered Jansch’s music as a teenager. “He was mysterious, and came off as quite heavy, and reclusive. He was uncompromising, and that was particularly appealing. You knew it wasn’t a pose. He wasn’t trying to be liked, he was very cool, and his playing backed it up.”
“He was kind of a wild guy,” says John Renbourn, who took the advice of the note in Collet’s, and immediately went to check out this new player. “He was loose, I tell you that. Some people responded well to it and others didn’t. A lot of people liked him because he was crazy and unreliable. A lot of people just thought he was great.”
“I didn’t think in terms of career,” says Bert himself, now a softly spoken and politely intransigent 66-year-old. “I never have. In those days, you didn’t rely on media to get anywhere. Your reputation would precede you.”
In the days before he had a reputation – even before he had a guitar – Bert Jansch had a passion for blues and traditional music. A fan of the playing of Scottish guitarist Archie Fisher, and exposed to the Eastern-influenced music of guitarist Davy Graham (he learned Graham’s “Anji” from a demo tape), Jansch was intoxicated by the possibilities of the guitar, and thirsty for experience. Continue reading →