On Jan 31 and Feb 1 2016 I took part in two amazing tribute concerts for the late folk-guitarist and singer-songwriter, Bert Jansch. They took place in Glasgow at the Old Fruitmarket and Royal Concert Hall as part of the Celtic Connections Festival. 4,000 attended across the two nights. Other musicians on the night included Robert Plant with his band, Graham Coxon, Martin Simpson and Pentangle's Jacqui McShee. I performed with Bernard Butler. In the run-up I was interviewed by The Independent newspaper. Only a few comments were used in the final feature, so here is the full transcript.
When did you first discover Bert's music? What song/record was it, and what effect did it have on you?
Although I heard guitarists like Nick Drake, Davy Graham and John Martyn in my teens in the late 70s - guitarists who very much influenced my style - Bert Jansch was a closed book and remained so for many years. I think I thought he was going to be 'too folk’, whatever that means. My dad was a jazz musician. He steered me more towards people like Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Louis Stewart. It was only when working with Bernard for the first time in 2013 and heard about his time with Bert, that I decided to take a proper look. I began at the beginning. And what struck me was the attitude as much as anything - the bluntness mixed with dexterity. The attack on the strings. Dark and light at the same time. It felt like the fault line between folk and rock.
What has Bert's music meant to you in the context of your own life? Do you listen to it a lot, has it soundtracked any particular times for you? Please elaborate, if so. Has it helped you through hard times, to understand your own art, etc?
I came to Bert’s music late. I am moved by the different ages of the voices I hear in his work. Early songs like 'It Don’t Bother Me' are full of attitude and youthful indifference. On a later song like 'Morning Brings Peace of Mind' I hear the voice of an older man addressing simple pleasures, admitting memory loss.
What has Bert's work taught you as a guitar player? Has it helped you figure out how to be a better player, and how did it do this? Are there any technical aspect which you copy, are in awe of and wish you could do, etc?
As a newcomer to his work, his style of playing has certainly made me rethink my own style. I have always played in a cleaner way; suspensions, folk-jazz inflections, clean moves between chords. Bert uses more aggression on the strings, more tone from the fretboard, ragged yet complex fingering. It is something I see in Bernard’s playing too. It is very committed. With Bernard I tend to play more with unusual open tunings and atmospheric suspensions as a counterpoint to his distorted bluesier lead playing, but when I play solo I mix more of the two together, and for that I have borrowed a few hammers and blunt edges and odd bar lengths from Bert. Although famed for his unpredictability Bert also has strong grounding in traditional folk fingerpicking. The thumb often stays on the low string keeping the pulse. I tend to move the thumb into the mid-strings after the downbeat and leave more hanging. When I try and copy Bert’s fingering on some songs I realise we come at the guitar from different places.
Do you have a favourite song or record of his? Can you explain why, with reference to whatever works about it for you - personal meaning, quality of playing etc.
The songs we are playing at the show are among my favourites - It Don’t Bother Me, Morning Brings Peace of Mind, Soho. The lyrics to all are very different: some defiant, some trippy, some elegaic. I like the mix.
Can you cite any of your own songs which you feel may have been influenced by Bert's work? In what way(s) did this influence show?
Hard to say directly, but nothing until recently, as he is a new discovery. But all musicians are magpies. Stealing a shiny bit here, a darker bit there, adding them to their own style built up over years. There is definitely a harder grainier edge to my new album and perhaps some of that is down to listening to Bert over the past few months.