Herbert Jansch was born in 1943 in Glasgow. He grew up in Edinburgh and learned to play the guitar as a teenager. His first guitar was made from a kit but he later got a "Lonnie Donegan guitar" (Zenith). Influenced by the blossoming folk music boom he hung around the Edinburgh folk clubs. Bert’s early influences were Anne Briggs, Clive Palmer, and Davey Graham.
He started playing one-night stands around the UK during which times he was exposed to a range of influences including Brownie McGhee and Big Bill Broonzy.
Between 1963 and 1965, he hitched around Europe earning a living by busking and casual musical performances in bars and cafes. When he came back to London in the mid 60s he had developed his own guitar style. This included a claw hammer style of right-hand playing combined with distinguished chord voicings. Another characteristic was his ability to hold a chord in the lower strings whilst bending an upper string.
In his songs he also fitted the accompaniment to the natural rhythm of the words of his songs, rather than playing a consistent rhythm throughout. Bert signed for Transatlantic Records, and had his first album released in 1965.
It sold 150,000 copies and included Jansch's "Do You Hear Me Now." Later Donovan included his version of the song on his Universal Soldier EP, which reached No. 1 in the UK EP chart.
In quick succession Bert brought out another two albums: It Don't Bother Me and Jack Orion.
The latter contained his first recording of "Blackwaterside."
Bert mixed with many gifted musicians and played at the main folk club venues in London. There he rubbed shoulders with Paul Simon, Davey Graham and John Renbourn. Renbourn and Jansch frequently played together and developed a style of intricate interplay which became known as the 'Folk baroque'. They recorded the Bert and John album in 1966 and became the resident musicians at The Horseshoe pub, 264-267 Tottenham Court Road.
This was a popular haunt for folkies in the UK and many would jam with the duo on stage. Eventually in 1968 the nucleus became Pentangle. The line up consisted of Jacqui McShee (singer), John Renbourn (guitar), Bert Jansch (guitar), Danny Thompson (string bass) and Terry Cox (drums). The group played jazz folk fusion and signed to Transatlantic Records.
The album, Basket of Light (1969) was a huge commercial success with Light Flight released as a single. The song was made popular after it was used as theme music for a TV drama series Take Three Girls (BBC). A year later, at the peak of their popularity, they recorded a soundtrack for the film Tam Lin, but their fourth album, Cruel Sister, was a commercial disaster and their popularity began dwindle.
Tired from touring and of working together the band fell out with Transatlantic, in a bitter dispute regarding royalties. They moved to Warner Brothers/Reprise for their final album, Solomon's Seal.
Pentangle broke up in 1972 after which Bert took a few years' break from music before returning in the late 1970s to work on a series of projects with other musicians.
He toured Australia, Japan and the US with a band called The Bert Jansch Conundrum and after the group broke up he recorded Heartbreak album with Albert Lee.
He also toured Scandinavia with Martin Jenkins before opening his own guitar shop in Fulham. Pentangle reformed in the early 1980s and Bert Jansch remained with them until 1995. The original band again reformed in 2008 and in 2011 to play concerts.
Bert continued as a solo artist until his death from cancer in 2011. Bert remains one of the more influential UK musicians who inspired many, many others including Donovan, Paul Simon and Neil Young.
Worth a listen
Do You Hear Me Now (1965)
Needle of Death (1965)
Birthday blues (1969)
Magdalina’s dance (2006)
Blues run the game
Sweet Child (1969)
Haitian Flight Song (1968)
Basket of light (1969)