Author’s Note: This is a longer version of the piece that was published in Mojo. It was adapted and expanded, with additional material (including the interview with Davy Graham, whom I had chosen not to interview for the book but rather to quote from existing sources) from Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch And The British Folk & Blues Revival (Bloomsbury). The Mojo piece tied in with the publication of the book. In addition to using material from my own interviews with Davy Graham and Wizz Jones in this piece, I also used some quotes – in paragraphs 11 and 15, from memory – from both artists from a Folk Roots piece on Davy by Ken Hunt.
BERT JANSCH & DAVY GRAHAM
Published: Mojo, July 2000
‘I am living in the past’ says Davy Graham, quite out of the blue. ‘I am sitting on my laurels – because that’s what they’re for. God, if you’ve got go out and do bloody auditions at my age, nearly 60, then life is a bowl of weevils isn’t it? If I’ve got anything happening for me now, it’s because I worked hard when I was young. It’s the same for anyone isn’t it? And I can’t play as fast as I used to.’
Viewers of last year’s Channel 4 documentary on Graham, Blame It On My Youth – and screened at 3am, their number will be few – may be forgiven in wondering if the godfather of British folk guitar can really play much at all these days. For that reason – that prospect of disappointment in meeting a fallen hero – and in deference to a man who is often said to be in ill health, and frankly also in fear of a man reputed to rage at the name of Jansch, I have long avoided meeting Davy Graham. I am, and cannot deny being, Bert Jansch’s biographer.
Davy’s name has been linked to Bert’s for decades. Their styles of playing are superficially similar but while Davy was the first – the first acoustic guitar hero Britain ever had, the first herald of fusion and world music – Bert was simply, and by far, the successful one. As Davy disappeared at the dawn of the seventies, sporadically to reappear thereafter, Bert never stopped. However much he drifted out of fashion, Bert was always there. Davy was a figure from the past. It seems strange, thinking about it, to have met such a man in colour, in the 21st Century, striding the streets of Camden in search of hyacinths and a cheery thought for the day. Now, with his studio work finally re-emerging on CD and a steady stream of vintage amateur live recordings retrieving his true magnificence from oblivion, a modest Davy Graham revival is underway. He is once again playing in public, content to be the semi-active curator of his own museum, and working on an autobiography.
‘I’ll never be rich’ he says, ‘a man who loves pleasure will never be rich – but I’ve no illusions. I’ve travelled a lot and I’ve seen starvation and death and all kinds of things. I’m very lucky. If other people think I’m unlucky they can think I’m unlucky. The biography can deal with why I was unlucky.’ It may or may not affect his own prospects, but it remains a subtle irony that just as Davy Graham’s own star is re-ascending, and deservedly so, it will be overshadowed once again by a stream of product – book, film and a new album entitled Crimson Moon this month, a tribute album in August and other goodies to follow – bearing the name of Jansch. It all started forty years ago and I doubt it will ever change…
Between August 1959 and the early weeks of 1962, 369 High Street, Edinburgh, had played host to an extraordinary social, cultural and musical phenomenon. It was something almost entirely unheard of anywhere in Great Britain: a folk club. Its name was The Howff – from the Scots dialect, a place of secrecy where rogues would meet to revel and conspire. Its founder, a colourful character by the name of Roy Guest, was one such himself, of the loveable variety: a musician of little distinction perhaps, but a galvaniser of people and a daring entrepreneur.
Allegedly on the run from creditors in London, Roy and his girlfriend Jill Doyle found themselves at the Edinburgh Festival of 1959 and chanced upon a disshevelled building in the High Street tenanted by the Sporran Slitters, an obscure group of Scottish Nationalists. Aware that a nascent ‘folk revival’ was taking hold here as it was in London, Roy persuaded the Sporran Slitters to sub-let the premises to himself. Over the next two and a half years, he would create a bohemian Mecca for traditional singers, guitar slingers and every kind of social misfit going. Some locals, like the never-recorded blues guitar hero Len Partridge (who had casually co-written ‘Hey Joe’ with visiting Yankee Bill Roberts in an Edinburgh coffee bar back in 1957) and the young Hebridean traditional singer Dolina MacLennan, were already settled into their respective arts. Others, like Bert Jansch, would serve their musical apprenticeships amidst the thriving scene of disparate talents and personalities to whom The Howff was a magnet. Visiting Americans like Brownie McGhee, Pete Seeger and Sister Rosetta Tharpe would all play there, as would many of the earliest of Britain’s own travelling folk singers, among them an extraordinary guitarist called Davy Graham.
During the first half of 1960, local man Archie Fisher and Roy’s partner Jill Doyle (half sister of Davy Graham) gave guitar lessons at the club. One of their earliest pupils was Bert Jansch – a withdrawn 16 year old who had recently left school for market gardening. Within weeks he had exhausted his teachers’ expertise and moved on to the deeper knowledge of Len Partridge. He had also left gardening and left home, moving first into The Howff and then on to a series of squats shared with future Incredible String Band founders Robin Williamson and Clive Palmer: three dreamers with no money, no interest in what conventional post-war life had to offer, and all the time in the world to find a viable alternative. Shortly after New Year 1962, once again dogged with the rumour of financial improprieties, Roy Guest disappeared overseas. He would return in 1964 to find an exponentially developed national folk scene and a career in concert promotions there for the taking. But back in the Spring of 1962, The Howff quietly became an upmarket tea-room. It had done its bit: folk music and the lifestyle that went with were no longer unknown concepts in Edinburgh. There were now plenty more venues available, and plenty of young people willing to fill them.
Shortly after The Howff had drifted into history, Bert Jansch hitch-hiked to St Tropez. It was his second trip to Europe and by the time he returned he had written ‘Strolling Down The Highway’. The style was, even then, unmistakeably his own, if at least partly a product of influences. Instrumentally, Bert was already better than any of his Scottish contemporaries. But just as Bert was heading sun-wards there emerged, at last, a recorded benchmark by which his increasingly singular guitar playing could truly be judged. That benchmark, for an entire generation of would-be folk guitar heroes, was a deceptively simple little tune called ‘Angi’. And its maker was Davy Graham.
‘Angi’ first appeared circa April 1962 on 3/4 A. D., a collaborative EP pairing Davy Graham with Alexis Korner and issued by the otherwise austere Topic label – a once-subsidised offshoot of the Workers’ Music Association, tentatively moving into the commercial arena. But this was strange, innovative music with the dark muscle of Delta blues, the structural rigour of European baroque and the time signatures of modern jazz. ‘Angi’, a solo guitar piece written and performed by Graham, was short but effective. For those who could learn to play it, it would be their passport to folk club bookings all over the country for the rest of the decade. Bert Jansch took the piece, turned it inside out and made his the version everyone else would copy. And he never even bought the record.
Some time prior to its release, Davy had sent a tape of his new recording up to his sister Jill in Edinburgh. Everyone would hear it and be dumbfounded. ‘There was a guitar pool at that time’ says Archie Fisher. ‘Everybody shared what they learned and knew.’ ‘Angi’ was a mystery. Bert Jansch became the first to unlock its puzzle and consequently introduced the new technique it held to all those around him. After hearing first Big Bill Broonzy and then the mind-bending sounds of Charlie Mingus on record, seeing Brownie McGhee at close range and learning by a little tuition and a lot of osmosis from his own local peers Archic Fisher, Hamish Imlach and Len Partridge, Davy Graham was the final piece of the jigsaw. Bert would work on assimilating Davy’s ideas the rest of the decade into something uniquely his own, but his musical education was now effectively complete: ‘The only three people that I’ve ever copied were Big Bill Broonzy, Davy Graham and Archie Fisher’ says Bert. ‘After hearing Davy play, it was just all there.’
Curiously, although introduced to Davy, in passing, at Edinburgh’s Waverley Bar, Bert never witnessed the master playing in the flesh until late ‘64 and in London. On one occasion, Davy had brought his girlfriend Angi, who had inspired the tune, to The Howff. The regulars were tickled pink to meet her, but the young lady’s immortalizer was a different prospect entirely: ‘Extraordinarily intense’ is Dolina MacLennan’s recollection. ‘I wouldn’t have spoken to him.’
So where had this extraordinary man with his extraordinary music come from? Born in Leicester on November 22 1940, his father Hamish from Skye, his mother Winifrid from Guyana, Davy was brought up in the racially volatile Notting Hill area of London. The ages of 10 and 12 have been given variously as the starting point of his guitar playing but either way Davy was, like Bert, 16 before he owned one: ‘I started not doing homework and playing ‘My Baby Left Me’, ‘Mystery Train’ and Lonnie Donegan hits. I couldn’t concentrate at school thinking of Lonnie Donegan.’ Davy left school in 1958 and became one of the first to follow in the footsteps of Alex Campbell, the very first of Britain’s travelling folk-singers, and go busking on the streets of Paris. Wizz Jones followed the same path: ‘When I hit Paris [in 1959] it was late at night’ says Wizz, ‘and suddenly Davy came round the corner. I remember seeing this vision of this tall, blond-haired, statuesque, deep-tanned, god type of person as he was walking towards me. I thought ‘That’s what I wanna be!’ And he said ‘I’ve just come up from Greece, man.’ He was so cool.’
By the turn of the sixties, Davy Graharn exuded a strange, military bearing that counterpointed brilliantly his exoticism as an instrumentalist. At least a degree of this was an affectation which Davy maintained and very probably grew into but it was, perhaps, a necessary part of coping with the rigours of life from an unusual background. As Duffy Power, one of Britain’s earliest rock’n’roll artists, recalls: ‘He lived on Westboume Grove but chose to go to a school south of the river, miles from where he lived. I get the feeling this might have been to keep his mixed race background private. There were race riots around Notting Hill at that time, plus he’d damaged his eye with a pencil as a kid and he was slightly withdrawn anyway, so you don’t know what kind of trials he had in the ‘50s.’
Others who recall Davy Graham from his pre-perfomiing days affirm this picture of a bookish and circumspect individual. He was, like Bert, good with his hands. Duffy Power, for instance, recalls ‘a fine line in homemade copper jewellery’. But while Jansch was intuitively gifted in almost casual fashion, Graham was on a mission to master his instrument and take it to new horizons. Through the genteel pioneering of Steve Benbow – the first man to marry solo guitar to British Isles traditional song – there were already signposts on the path.
‘I’d met Alex Campbell, the street singer’ says Davy. ‘He was the embodiment of the outdoor life with a denim suit and cowboy boots – a rumbunctious type. Steve was much cooler. He was one of the first that I heard who was any good. He stretched me. But I suppose there weren’t all that many other people around then. The scene was wide open if you applied yourself. I was just in the right place at the right time.’
During 1959, Steve Benbow was recording with Roy Guest (before his flight to Edinburgh) and others as The Wanderers on BBC radio’s Saturday Club. ‘Davy, this kid, used to sit in the corner at rehearsals and watch’ says Benbow, ‘and every so often he’d say ‘Could you show me that chord?’ And of course we did. We had no idea he’d become so good. It was unbelievable what happened. He went away to Morocco, came back and blew a hole through everyone.’
Over the next couple of years, the combination of natural shyness and dedicated effort at his instrument were apparent to anyone who cared to wander into any one of a number of coffee-bars and restaurants in and around Soho. Long John Baldry was Davy’s sparring partner at the time: ‘They had a feud going’ says Wizz Jones, ‘but everyone used to say ‘Wouldn’t it he wonderful to see them play together?’ ‘Cos John had such a great voice and Davy was such a brilliant player – a true innovator.’ Long John and Davy worked together at least once on TV (ABC’s Hullaballoo in 1963 – one of six episodes featuring Davy and remarkably all still extant) but never on record. While Davy was undoubtedly a gifted and innovative instrumentalist, his vocal abilities, evidenced on his eventual album recordings, were merely adequate – however charming in that quintessentially English, sixties sort of way.
But it was during his earliest and largely unrecorded performing years prior to 1965 that Davy Graham truly secured his reputation and set the standards for followers to reach and, as Bert Jansch and others would do, to adapt into a commercially viable form. The real beginning of Davy Graham as a guitar legend, as an astonishingly advanced technician amongst a peer group of guitar pickers still happy to master the basic licks on Broonzy and Leadbelly records, was an appearance in Ken Russell’s BBC film Hound Dogs And Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze, broadcast in June 1959. Budding guitarists all over Britain watched Davy performing alongside Julian Bream, Bert Weedon and Lonnie Donegan. Martin Carthy was one of those whose jaw was on the floor: ‘The 12 bar blues he played seemed to have about three parts going at the same time. Contrapuntal blues! It was outrageously brilliant.’ Hamish Imlach suddenly saw his future in comedy, not music: ‘It was okay when there was only one of him. But then Bert came along.’
Bert Jansch, as a performer, did not exist before some indefinable point in 1962. Prior to that, he was an amazing player in the corner of a room, on somebody else’s guitar, and not yet readily inclined to sing. ‘Bert was a nuisance at The Howff’ remembers Dolina MacLennan, with great affection, ‘he was under everybody’s feet, sitting for hours with a guitar going plink-a-plonk, plink-a-plonk to such an extent that you wanted to break it over his head! He was like a dog with a bone.’
In the meantime, Davy Graham had single-handedly introduced Britain to the concept of the folk guitar instrumental. It is often said that over in America John Fabey, in releasing a private pressing of his bizarre all-instrumental blues pastiche The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death in 1959, invented both steel-strung guitar music and the industry to support it, but Davy Graham could hardly have known what was going on m the curious world of John Fahey. In Britain, Davy Graham can claim the mantle of inventor. ‘Davy was the first person I ever heard play more than one line of music at once on the guitar’ says Robin Williamson. ‘He’d kind of done a Big Bill Broonzy/baroque thing – making a baroque bassline, moving it slightly. The classic example of that was ‘Angi’. Bert developed that considerably further but Davy was the man – the first to have a go at it in Britain.’
Alongside this outrageous concept of multiple parts on one stringed instrument the exploration of alternate tunings was becoming a valid pastime for the more intrepid. Martin Carthy, a regular visitor to Edinburgh by this stage, was still working mainly in standard tuning. But he had begun the process of groping in the uncharted dark for any useable alternatives. By the end of the decade he had found, by process of elimination, the tuning that would most easily adapt to the demands of accompanying English traditional song and thus effectively create the distinctive Martin Carthy sound: CGCDGA. That tuning would remain largely exclusive to Carthy’s vision. But he had almost, before Davy, stumbled upon the tuning that would become a technicolour revelation in the hands of Bert Jansch (who has employed it much less frequently than many assume) and something integral to the subsequent careers of Archie Fisher, Dick Gaughan, Stephen Stills, Jimmy Page and virtually every future accompanist of Scottish and Irish traditional music: DADGAD.
‘I met this old-timey band from Harvard University, the Charles River Holy Boys, in 1961/’62’ says Carthy, ‘and I worked out this tuning that was one step away from DADGAD: DGDGAD, a G9th tuning. I was trying to accompany a particular song of theirs and it did the job but it wasn’t very adaptable. I remember showing it to Davy and later Davy came up with DADGAD. I’m not trying to take credit. I don’t know if what I showed him had anything to do with it at all. But he was the man. When he invented DADGAD that was the moment life got interesting.’
‘People were nice enough to say I was something unusual’ says Davy. ‘But Julian Bream and Ali Akhbar Khan had already done a duet on ‘Greensleeves’ for sarod and guitar, so I certainly wasn’t the first ‘fusion’ event. Anyway, Sandy Bull in the States arrived at the same thing, on the other side of the world.’
In lay terms, Graham’s discovery opened up hitherto impossible new chord sequences, new melodic possibilities (albeit within a limited range of keys) and created a bigger, richer voicing on the instrument. Recorded with a live audience in a Decca studio on July 3 1963, his DADGAD debut – a free-wheeling extemporisation on the Irish theme ‘She Moved Thro’ The Fair’ – was a ground-breaking moment. It sneaked out two months later on From A London Hootenanny, an EP shared with Martin Carthy’s skiffle-hangover group The Thameside Four. With the honourable exception of Johnny Kidd’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’, rarely has a b-side been more influential.
A truly successful alternate tuning was, however, still a mythical beast when ‘Angi’ appeared on record. Here was an excercise in standard tuning, but one that expanded forever the musical parameters of the folk form. ‘Some of his style was more like piano playing than guitar’ says Archie Fisher, ‘using big, massive 7ths, 11ths, things with funny numbers after them, but picking them cleanly with his right hand, imposing a classical or jazz technique on blues and then traditional music.’
Davy was by now listening to the likes of Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Mingus and Ornette Coleman. Regarding blues, Snooks Eaglin was a particular favourite but during 1962 the folk and blues scenes in London – which had grown together as mutually supportive, interactive secret socities – were at last going their separate ways. Davy Graham was, by default, falling on the folk side of the fence. Although involved for some months in Alexis Komer’s group Blues Incorporated (and indeed subsequently in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers), the godfather of British blues was not ultimately convinced that Davy was on the right wavelength: ‘Alexis told me he didn’t think Davy had a good feel for the blues’ says Duffy Power. For Davy, his admiration for Alexis was as much to do with the latter’s loveably rogueish tendencies: ‘He was a terrific hustler’ says Davy. ‘He once asked me to do a gig for him that he couldn’t do. I did it and got twelve pounds for it and he got the other twenty!’
It was nevertheless Alexis who had realised the importance of getting ‘Angi’ on record, and who had arranged the session (with freelance engineer Bill Leader). Alexis’ patronage within British blues has long been recognised, but his patronage of Davy Graham would prove no less crucial to British folk. ‘Folk-baroque’, from the coined terminology of Melody Maker writer Karl Dallas, may have been a controversial phrase, but in describing a music that blended folk, baroque, blues, jazz and other exotica together on an acoustic guitar, it would come as close as anything to putting a label on Davy Graham. And later, on Bert Jansch.
Folksong in the very early sixties was a working class preserve and any young performer on the scene in those days was expected to fit into one of two camps: traditional music or contemporary songs espousing the correct political values. Robin Williamson and Bert Jansch, with their proto-alternative lifestyles, were unusual in being markedly non-political:
‘It was a funny sort of time’ says Robin. ‘I think most of us saw ourselves as some sort of bohemian. The Jack Kerouac era hadn’t quite petered out and the hippy era hadn’t quite petered in. So it was somewhere in between. The notion was that there was an intellectual approach to a sort of ‘zen life’ – bumming it with no money in a very stoned manner, which somehow linked into the traditional music scene. A very curious mixture. But we did a hell of a lot of playing then, and mainly for no money! There was very little time to do anything other than rolling up dog-ends and having a go at this or that tuning. I was interested in singing, Bert was interested in guitar riffs. He went through a brief period of carving wood – he tried to make a chess set, which became gradually more and more arcane. Mainly all I remember about Bert is Bert playing the guitar.’
One of Bert’s earliest paid gigs, in September 1962 at a club in Paisley run by Danny Kyle, was captured on a battered reel-to-reel by Frank Coia, a 14 year old schoolboy. Unearthed as Young Man Blues (Ace, 1998), it remains the earliest known recording of Bert Jansch and reveals beyond any doubt how extraordinary, for that time and place, his music really was. ‘He had this sort of attitude’ says Coia, ‘it was like he was cocooned in his own world of music, everything else was peripheral.’
‘We were all trying to escape from something’ said Danny Kyle. ‘We were trying to escape from shipyards and grimey buildings and all of a sudden you could put on a backpack and bomb off to France – at least in your head you could – because of that music. We were all reading Kerouac and here was a man saying through the guitar what Kerouac was alluding to in his books. That opened up poetry, guitar work, travel… With Davy Graham you could go and sit in total awe of the man; with Bert you would go and listen and look and you would say to yourself ‘Here, perhaps I could do some of that’ because he made it seem attainable.’
This curious perception of a ‘common touch’ would carry Bert through the rest of the decade as a performer of unique, utterly uncontrived charisma. Audiences would multiply in inverse proportion to his non-existent skills as a conventional entertainer, communicator and exemplifier of text-book guitar styles. Where Davy Graham gave out an aura of aloof and unattainable brilliance, with poise and learning, Bert Jansch on a stage cried vulnerability, repression, the ‘small man’ aching for a better way through life – a man of the people. It was an extraordinary illusion: Bert Jansch was very different in character to Davy Graham, but he was every bit as much of a loner and even more uncopiable as a technician.
‘Davy Graham played a lot of bar chords’ says Coia, ‘whereas Bert never used them. It was just such a total diversity from normal playing – in tonality, in dissonance, in his ideas on chord progressions. He didn’t play conventional chords, he played something that his ear wanted him to play, conventional or not.’
‘He’s just as bloody-minded as I was’ says Davy Graham. ‘He sat in the corner and played all day. But I didn’t have the same formation as Bert. I was southern, where Tennyson observed people to be capricious and fickle, while the northerner is the true romantic. Bert’s a romantic undoubtedly and this James Dean image he had with women is something that was alien to me. I thought that a bit juvenile. I read On The Road and formed the impression that Jack Kerouac might be the same sort of person!’
There were songs from Broonzy and Brownie McGhee, a hint of Charlie Mingus, ‘Strolling Down The Highway’ with its enigmatic references to Algerian terrorists, hitch-hiking and garlic, and not least the extraordinary ‘Joint Control’. Never released at the time, it presaged a style of playing that would come to be instantly recogniscable as that of Bert Jansch. ‘It’s years ahead of its time’ said Robin Williamson, on hearing ‘Joint Control’ for the first time in decades through Coia’s recording. ‘It’s years before anyone had ever heard African kora music – yet it’s got all those rhythms going on. It’s almost like Bert had instinctively invented the ancestor of the blues.’ With ‘Angi’ his broadsword, Davy Graham had claimed a throne and won it without a single challenge. But even before the record had been released, there was already a young pretender in the wings.
The winter of 1962/63 was unusually cold. Pipes were bursting in London, the Thames was frozen, the building trade was laid off en masse. It was hardly an opportune time for a couple of complete unknowns to trek down from Edinburgh in search of an audience. But so the cards had been shuffled. Anthea Joseph, involved in running The Troubadour in Earl’s Court, had seen Robin performing in Edinburgh and offered him a gig, on Saturday January 19 1963. Bert came along for the ride: ‘We went picking potatoes to got our bus fare to London’ says Robin, ‘on the strength of that one gig’.
They stayed with Davy Graham’s brother Nick for a few days before finding a squat in Earl’s Court. ‘I got to know Davy really only later’ says Bert. ‘But I already knew his brother Nick and his sister Jill – in fact, I seemed to know all his family except him. He was much more enigmatic than anyone else, and still is exactly the same. You still can’t have a conversation with him.’
Robin was advertised, Bert was not; both played, neither remembers a thing about it. ‘I’m not surprised’ says Martin Carthy, also on the bill, ‘they were both very, very stoned indeed! I’d met Robin before, in Edinburgh, and you couldn’t help but be hugely impressed. I’d heard of Bert from various people – and he lived up to expectations. What he was playing, you’d call it blues but it’d have to be a very, very loose definition of the blues. He had this drive, this incredible drive. His only concession to everybody else was to play ‘Angi’ – and he played it all wrong! Still does. If I say Davy touched everybody it’s true, but there are some people who could not have survived had it not been for Davy. Bert always had more than that. He never sounded like anybody but Bert.’
The Troubadour gig came and went and there were no other bookings in the can. Hustling around for the next number of weeks, Robin secured a couple of further gigs but there was nothing for Bert. By the end of March Robin was on his way back home. Lingering awhile in London, Bert had become close to a free-spirited young traditional singer called Anne Briggs. Her record debut, on Topic’s thematic album The Iron Muse, had been released in February to fervent acclaim. Anne was the one with the record and the Melody Maker write-up and as a consequence the realistic prospect of actually getting some gigs around the country. Once again, Bert went along for the ride.
By May 1963, they had made their way from London to Scotland. Anne had a gig at a club in Dunfermline and the organiser had graciously include Bert’s name in the local press ads – the first time it had appeared in print. Flagged as a ‘London based blues singer’, in truth Bert was not really based anywhere any more: he was certainly now of a mind not to limit his horizons to Edinburgh. As a guitar player he had already outstripped his one-time master Len Partridge and he knew it. So too did Len: ‘Bert was the only person who ever apologised for being better than I was, which I thought was quite funny! I don’t know how I was meant to take it but he seemed quite concerned about it. There were lots and lots of people better than I was, and there would continue to be ever more so.’
Gigs were hard to come by and, like Hamish Imlach and Archie Fisher before him, a brief spell giving guitar lessons in Glasgow meant steady income and food on the table. Bert spent his tiine in the city at the home of Archie Fisher’s family. Archie himself was over in Edinburgh with Jill Doyle, running a Thursday night folk club at the Crown Bar. Shortly after he had returned disconsolate from London, Robin Williamson had initiated his own club at the same venue, together with Clive Palmer and their increasingly errant flatmate Bert Jansch. ‘It was basically the only way to get a place to play’ says Robin. ‘And it was always full.’ ‘I think this is where the division started’ says Bert. ‘Archie’s club became very much more traditionally orientated, whereas ours went the other way – contemporary and more freaky stuff for the stoned heads, as you might say.’
When the Edinburgh Festival of that year, 1963, finally came around, it brought with it the fairy godfather. A budding entrepreneur, Cambridge graduate and ex-cabaret artiste, his name was Nat Joseph: ‘Somehow I persuaded Decca to give me a lot of money to go and record the folk music at the Edinburgh Festival’ says Nat, who had tentatively launched, in the recent past, his Transatlantic Records label, focussing initially on spoken word and novelty releases. From landing the Edinburgh jaunt Nat was to go on to change fortunes for a generation of acoustic musicians. ‘There was a wonderful man called Hugh Mendel at Decca at the time, who’d discovered Tommy Steele’ he recalls. ‘He liked the idea of folk music ‘coming up’ but didn’t know anything about it. ‘Why don’t you go and make some records for us?’ I think I’d originally gone in there looking for a distribution deal…’
Never one to miss an opportunity, Nat got onto Bill Leader forthwith. Brian Shuel, a young photographer who would himself become the most prolific visual documentarist of British folkdom, came too. There was very little folk music in the programme proper but, as Birmingham singer Ian Campbell (by this stage the only non-professional member of his own group) later recalled, ‘it seemed that every folksinger in Britain had made his way to Edinburgh, either to appear in one of the innumerable fringe shows or to bum around for three weeks while taking whatever opportunity presented itself to do his thing.’
After-hours jam sessions involving Carolyn Hester, Julian Bream, Larry Adler and Ravi Shankar are fondly remembered and it was in this rarefied atmosphere that Nat Joseph, Bill Leader and Brian Shuel hit town: the entrepreneur, the engineer and the image consultant. They lost no time at all in creating what later became, over two gently disingenuous volumes, The Edinburgh Folk Festival: ‘Bill took me around saying ‘This is the chap who’s conned Decca, etcetera, etcetera’’ says Nat, ‘and everybody thought it was a huge laugh. They were wonderful people, and the parties were incredible. Somebody said there were 100 different kinds of malt whiskey and I seem to remember we got through 52. It was a bloody good trip! I guess that’s where I met Ian Campbell and the people who later formalised themselves into The Dubliners.’ Nat and Bill put the word out and the entirety of the Edinburgh folk scene and a horde of its seasonal stragglers turned up for the session. Organising a venue had been the last thing on anybody’s mind. Dolina MacLennan, off in Glasgow for the day, came home to her flat at 19 Bristo Place astonished to find a hundred people recording live albums in her bedroom: ‘I rang the bell and got hell from somebody because this recording was happening. ‘What the hell’s going on?’ I said, or words to that effect! I think I recorded something for it …’
As they stand the two Edinburgh Folk Festival albums represent a formidable document of an era: Robin Williamson & Clive Palmer, Archie Fisher, Anne Briggs, Dolina MacLennan, The Ian Campbell Group, Owen Hand, Hamish lmlach and many more. But the opportunity had been there to create a document still greater. Davy Graham, for one, is known to have been in town. So too was Bert Jansch. After the farrago at Dolina’s flat, a studio had been hired, where Brian Shuel shot several reels of wonderfully candid B&W’s. No one remembers Bert Jansch being around – not even Bert himself – but there he is in the studio, playing his guitar at two angle-poised microphones on five frames of Shuel’s film.
The scale of the advance Nat received from Decca has never been revealed, but to this day those involved in the sessions still argue the toss about who among those performing received the biggest fee: figures range between a fiver and tenner. There would be no royalties. Nat returned to London with enough profit to buy a premises in Hampstead and establish Transatlantic Records as a serious enterprise: ‘I remember saying to Bill ‘These people aren’t signed up – this is the basis of a label.’’
Many of those whom Nat had met in Edinburgh would reappear on Transatlantic over the following years. The first to be signed were The Ian Campbell Folk Group, and shortly afterwards The Dubliners. The success of both groups would go a long way towards allowing Nat’s A&R policy to expand into riskier, less obviously commercial areas. None more so, 25 records in, than the eventual debut of Bert Jansch.
By the beginning of 1964, the lure of London on the Scottish musicians was becoming hard to resist. Some, like Hamish Imlach, were so popular at home that they would rarely accept the long travelling and derisory fees associated with performing in London. For others of a cannier disposition, like Bert, it was a means to an end. ‘You didn’t actually make your living in London’ he says. ‘But I think we were there to get our names in the Melody Maker. That got you into all the clubs in the country.’
Bert’s very first Melody Maker advertised engagement was a return to The Troubadour, on March 17 1964. He had travelled down early and was staying with one John Challis in Ealing. Challis, who would go on to work as an animator on Yellow Submarine and narrowly escape membership of Foghat, was a student at Ealing Art College. Recognising his friend’s music as something truly exceptional, he was a tireless champion: ‘One of the tragedies about Bert is that he was so far ahead then that every bugger in the world copied him. People who’ve come later don’t realise that there was that time when he was unique: there was nobody like him. What he was doing was as authentic as the traditional blues or folk music we were all listening to, but it was his. It was his thing. There you were sitting around with your mates, trying to play a Leadbelly number – and making a reasonable fist of it, because we weren’t fools – and suddenly it was as if you had met Robert Johnson or Blind Lemon Jefferson – and he was the same age as you! I’d got a couple of good friends by the lapels and said ‘You’ve got to hear this guy!’’
One of John’s friends, an 18 year old by the name of Pete Townshend, had recently dropped out the college to pursue music full time. ‘Everyone was saying what a brave and risky thing it was to do’ says Challis, ‘when he could very easily become an art teacher!’ Invited by Challis, Townshend came round to the flat to see what all the fuss was about. In a haze of pot smoke, two guitars were swinging – the second belonged to Archie Fisher, due to appear at The Troubadour himself, three days before Bert.
‘I remember that first meeting so clearly because it was so profound’ says Townshend. ‘I found Bert very, very, very impressive. What I generally saw in the musicians I met then was competitiveness and ambition and he didn’t have that. It sounds like a cliché, but what I got was a sense that he was the music. There was also something very mysterious going on between the two players. I think Bert was using a regularly tuned guitar but the other player, I think, was playing an open tuning. They were discussing chords and obviously one or other was translating. I’ve often thought about this: if I’d actually said to them ‘What are you doing? What’s different? Write it down.’ I was too proud. I was too afraid to ask for the secret and if I had, what it would have done to change my style… What I also remember him doing was extemporizing: he was making things up, they were firing off one another and I don’t think I’d been in a room watching two people do that before. They sat and played for about an hour and I just watched, really. There wasn’t a third guitar, although once or twice Bert gave me his to play. They played ‘Angi’, I remember that. And that day I went and got a copy of the record and I’ve still got it. I could [later] play ‘Angi’ quite well! I made an arrangement to see Bert play at The Troubadour but I couldn’t go for some reason. Maybe The Who had a gig.’
Sometime around August/September 1964, Bill Leader agreed to make a record with Bert Jansch and to find a record label, any record label, to release it. What became the legendary Bert Jansch was recorded sporadically over three or four months. ‘Anne Briggs took me firmly by the throat and said ‘Look, for God’s sake you must do this record’’ says Leader. ‘It was done on spec. Bert sat on the edge of the bed, we borrowed a guitar from someone and he just sang his little heart out. I don’t claim that I fully understood or appreciated his music when I first heard it but I suppose I had my ‘junior entrepreneur’ kit on, because there was a big swell of opinion about the importance of Bert and what he was doing at the time.’
In between the Jansch sessions, Leader was also putting time and effort into something equally strange, termed the Collins/Graham project. The release of ‘She Moved Thro’ The Fair’ back in September 1963 had sown the seed of entirely new possibilities within the folk context. Encouraged by Austin John Marshall, entrepreneurial husband of Sussex traditional singer Shirley Collins, the tirne was now right for Davy Graham to take further the idea of raga-drenched guitar accompanying British Isles traditional music. A concert on July 29 1964 at London’s Mercury Theatre marked the debut of an experimental partnership between Graham and Collins with the stated aim of merging traditional song with modem jazz. ‘The concert will have an Eastern flavour’ noted Melody Maker writer Jeff Smith. ‘For two years Davy’s interest in Oriental forms has led him to experiment with different tunings, themes and rhythms (he recently spent three months in the Arab quarter of Tangier, sitting in with the local groups).’ The following week, Smith declared the concert both musically successful and profitable, announcing further dates and the likelihood of a record.
Graham had also been quietly fulfilling, for some time, a residency at Nick’s Diner in Fulham. In this context, he had cameoed in the Joseph Losey film The Servant (1963) while an album deal with budget label Golden Guinea, seemingly secured through the influence of TV comedian Bob Monkhouse, had allowed the release of an album. The Guitar Player (1963), garishly packaged and boasting bizarre if dextrous six string assaults on such MOR staples as ‘Yellow Bird’ and ‘Cry Me A River’, was Graham’s bistro repertoire minus the clatter of cutlery. Its chief benefit to Graham’s longer-term career was in introducing him to A&R man Ray Horricks. He would subsequently record a series of albums, under Horricks’ direction, for Decca. The Collins/Graham LP Folk Routes, New Routes was consequently optioned by the company. It would be released in February 1965 – one month after Graham’s first solo album proper, the remarkable Folk, Blues & Beyond.
Graham was now living nearby to Bill Leader in Camden: ‘He’d be walking round like a young retired colonel’ says Leader, ‘brisk walk, short hair cut, which was out of keeping at that time and very out of keeping with the idea you had of him.’ Bert would spectate on at least one of the Collins/Graham sessions. It was the first time he had had an opportunity to watch Graham playing although he was already familiar with his techniques, mostly through Martin Carthy: ‘Martin was forever coming up to me and saying ‘Hey, have you heard this one yet?’, and he’d show me something he’d picked up from Davy. I’d be learning all his licks second-hand!’ Midway through the sessions for both the Jansch and Collins/Graham albums, Leader enlisted both guitarists for something quite extraordinary: they were to accompany, on respective nights at his Broadside Folk Club, the Chicago blues legend Little Walter Jacobs.
The originator of the amplified harmonica style synonymous with Chicago blues, Little Walter was a man with a hard-drinking, tough-talking reputation who would die in a street fight in 1968. Strung out on booze, Walter’s best years as a musician were already behind him when he toured Britain for the first and last time in September-October 1964. But amplified blues was all the rage, and Walter’s arrival was a big deal. A UK single would be released to coincide and there would be several appearances on TV pop shows, including Ready Steady Go!, the barometer of the hip and happening. Coming to prominence as harp player in Muddy Waters’ band during the early ‘50s, Walter had struck out with a series of solo records that had been R&B chart hits in America. The last of these, a brooding interpretation of Broonzy’s ‘Key To The Highway’ in 195 8, was just about the only thing in his repertoire with any possible connection to that of Bert Jansch.
Quite how the clearly incongruous duo of Jansch and Walter came to pass is unclear – conceivably Bill Leader had originally assumed that Walter, like previous visiting bluesmen, was a self-contained performer. Bert himself believes some other guitarist had simply failed to show up. Yet Bert had been advertised, whether he knew it or not, at least a week in advance. ‘With Little Walter on Friday is young blues guitarist and composer Bert Jansch’ noted the Melody Maker. ‘Bert’s new group may be doing a couple of spots too.’ This would be the sole print reference to a short-lived electric trio Bert had put together with John Challis. The third member was Keith De Groot, a third division Larry Parnes act who had recorded as Gerry Temple. Allegedly, it is De Groot’s harmonica on Millie’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’. ‘He was very shady’ says Bert, ‘a drug dealer basically. The cops were always after him. He kept disappearing!’
De Groot’s saving graces were his qualities as a bongo drummer and Chicago-style harp player, clearly inspired by Little Walter. A tape of the trio rehearsing survives as a unique document of what might have been. Three numbers are played, not least a magnificent, mesmerising take on ‘Angi’. ‘I don’t think we ever did a whole gig’ says Challis, ‘but we had spots at places like The Troubadour and The Scot’s Hoose – places with a piano. Bert was trying to get Bill Leader to front up some money to buy a portable electric keyboard. I was thinking in terms of an organ, like Graham Bond but more folky! Everybody at Ealing was into Chicago blues and I was also listening to pre-war city blues: Sonny Boy Williamson, Tampa Red… We actually did a Tampa Red number with the band.’
Bert was thus not entirely unfamiliar with the pantheon of electric blues but on September 25 1964, the concern was not Tampa Red’s material but Little Walter’s. An additional problem was actually finding the gig at all: an Irish pub in Willesden Green, temporary accomodation for the previously Soho-based Broadside Club. ‘Nobody knew where it was’ says Challis. ‘It was all a complete dog’s breakfast. Looking back, I get the feeling Bill Leader was in a bit of a panic and had asked Bert to get him out of a spot. Bert hadn’t heard any of Walter’s music but it so happened that I had The Best Of Little Walter on Chess. So Bert borrowed it for the afternoon and I arranged to meet him down there later in the day, where he gave me the record back.
‘There were only about three people in the club when we got there and one of them was Little Walter, who’d just drunk his first bottle of whisky of the day and was starting on the second. He was still quite compos mentos, obviously used to it, but at the same time on a slightly different wavelength. On the other hand, I’d had several spliffs before we’d set out. So I became completely tongue-tied, thinking ‘Bloody Hell, it’s Little Walter!’ Bert and everybody else just cleared off and left me with him. They were obviously having a row in the back room. So he’s standing there going in and out of focus, and I’m sure he was having the same problem with me, and neither of us could think of a thing to say. Suddenly I remembered this record which was in a carrier bag. So I took it out and said ‘Would you mind autographing this for me?’. ‘Sure, have you got a pen?’ He sat down, licked the end of the pen – which was a biro – and spent about five minutes more or less drawing his signature from memory.’
The show itself was no less awkward. As one commentator later put it: ‘With unnerving instinct Jansch’s gloriously slovenly playing might add or deduct a half bar or so from a 12 bar blues, the dictionary definition of mistake expressed as style; he took risks with all the split second timing and casual aplomb of a high-wire act.’ Little Walter had no interest in the circus. ‘He was trying to get me to play as simply as possible’ says Bert, ‘but of course I tend to play quite a few lines all at the same time. He was slightly thrown.’
A few days earlier a little sign had appeared in Collet’s record shop (hub of the London folk scene) declaring ‘Best Blues In Town: Bert Jansch’. It had a confirming effect on another young guitarist on the scene: John Renbourn. He’d heard all the talk and the card in the window was the final incentive. Renbourn went to see Bert at Bunjies, a little coffee bar in Litchfield Street, and came away stunned: ‘I heard the first set and he was just unbelievable, wonderful’ says Renbourn. ‘We went to the pub in the interval and Bert was there having a drink – but although we went back for the second set Bert never came back!’ Bert’s next gig was the one with Little Walter. Walter’s oft-repeated plea of ‘Easy on the fingers, baby!’ remains Renbourn’s abiding memory of the occasion.
‘They were chalk and cheese’ says Challis. ‘They took a break, more drinking was done and the break got longer and longer. Never mind the stress that Bert was under, by the time the break arrived I was completely out of my face myself because of all the stress I’d been through! Actually, I felt very sorry for Little Walter: here he was 5000 miles from home, pissed out of his head in Willesden and trying to put a show together with a load of people who didn’t understand him. What he must have thought of it all…’
Davy Graham, alas, recalls nothing whatsoever of his own Walter experience the following night and a week later the Broadside Club was back in Soho. Bill Leader had been offered the use of The Scot’s Hoose, on Cambridge Circus. By January 1965, Bill would have relinquished the club to one Bruce Dunnet – a die-hard Communist but a canny operator when it came to the Capitalist expansion of folk music. Bill would concentrate on record producing; Bruce would make The Scot’s Hoose a cornerstone venue in the rapidly spreading ‘folk boom’. Things were beginning to change. For both Bert’s career and the British scene as a whole, the next few months would see the ending of one era and the beginning of another.
If there is a line in the sand between the old order of ‘folksong’ epitomised by Ewan MacColl and his left-wing agenda and the new dis-order of individual ‘folk singers’ with songs that espoused largely personal politics then it lies on Friday April 16 1965: a date that saw both the release of Bert Jansch and the opening of a new club called Les Cousins at 49 Greek Street, Soho. In the period between the Little Walter gig of September 1964 and the point where he finally became a recording artist in the public domain, Bert would settle permanently in London, build a constituency second to none among his peers and a reputation to rival the all but assured dominance of Davy Graham in the mushrooming new scene. ‘Swinging London’ was just around the corner. By the time the summer of 1965 had passed ‘The Sixties’ had arrived.
Folk, Blues & Beyond was Davy Graham’s opening salvo at the very dawn of that new era. Released in January 1965, three months before Bert Jansch, it was hardly a folk record by any conventional wisdom but it epitomised the sense of adventure abroad in all forms of popular music at the time. Bert had already taken what he felt he needed from Graham’s playing, from the tape of ‘Angi’ years previous to DADGAD and the regular trickle of licks filtering through Martin Carthy. Folk, Blues & Beyond would be a revelation to the wider constituency but it would alter little the path which Bert was already on: ‘There was something he said’ recalls Wizz Jones, ‘‘You listen to other people and you copy but you don’t do it for long – you find your own thing.’ Bert got to the point where he didn’t listen to anybody – he was on his own trip.’
Crafted and muscular as it was, Folk, Blues & Beyond did little to hide Graham’s essential weaknesses as a vocalist and writer of songs. The Collins/Graham album Folk Roots, New Routes, meanwhile, was welcomed more for its ideas than its execution – a blueprint for what would later emerge as British folk-rock. By the time both albums were released Graham’s lifestyle had taken a notorious turn. ‘He lived with danger all the time’ says Martin Carthy, one of Davy’s greatest admirers then and now. ‘He decided to become a junkie. He did that quite deliberately because his heroes – people like Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, all those guys – were addicts. It was like you were supposed to become one to be a serious musician and Davy took all that in. We were walking down the road and he told me ‘I had my first fix yesterday’. He was a good man, but he was always a very strange man. I remember meeting Alexis Korner three weeks later and his opening remark to me was ‘Do you know what that stupid bastard has done?’ And it was basically bye bye Davy for four years.’
‘The trouble is artists are self-indulgent’ Graham explained, to the writer Ken Hunt some years later. ‘I always thought art was the product of self-denial. It seems to me you deny yourself something to acquire a technique over an instrument. When you’ve got the technique it’s as if you’ve got a dog. The neighbours don’t understand you.’
For the first half of 1965, Davy Graham maintained his presence and momentum. The Collins/Graham project trundled on with periodic dates concluding in a London concert with a jazz orchestra on May 30. Shirley Collins had decided to call it quits before the obvious incongruities – in their lifestyles let alone musics – became any more transparent. In July, Davy disappeared off on one of his prolonged adventures, to the Middle East. While no-one was thinking in such terms at the time, as a career move this was suicidal. It may have grieved him in the past, but from the vantage point of the present Graham has no regrets: ‘You can’t blame anybody for wanting to live like an iguana – a nice simple life where you just sunbathed and played the guitar and travelled the world. Everybody wants it simple. But I don’t think you can escape. Some people have sunny dispositions. Not me. I yearned for new experiences. I sometimes travelled to get away from the drugs scene, that was part of it. But I don’t think men are prime movers in their fates, I think planets are. People born between 1940 and ’42 had Neptune in Virgo – a very bad place for that planet to be.’ The cold light of retrospect reveals early ’65 as the apex of Davy Graham’s career; it was only the beginning of Bert’s.
By the time Bert’s first album hit the streets in April, he was already recording his second (It Don’t Bother Me, released in November). Throughout the summer, when everyone else of any reputation on the London folk scene had wandered off like Davy Graham, Bert Jansch was still there putting in the graft. He held down weekly residencies in both The Scot’s Hoose and Les Cousins for the year’s duration and often played a third London show in any given week. Practically every other day available he was playing up and down the country, as the club scene exploded nationwide. ‘The term ‘underground’ was borrowed later on’ says Martin Carthy, ‘to talk about Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, stuff like that. But there had been an ‘underground’ going on since 1960/61. When this ‘folk boom’ took shape and gained momentum by the mid sixties you’re talking about millions of people going to clubs. It was never, ever reflected in record sales but it has to be true. Every sizeable town in England at that time had a choice of folk clubs, every night of the week. It was huge.’
Every movement needs a hero, and by virtue of chance, talent and the periodic absenteeism of his only serious rival as a worker of steel-strung magic Bert Jansch was the one: ‘Offstage, you couldn’t get anyone more anonymous’ says Wizz Jones. ‘But onstage he had everything, he had amazing charisma. When I first started playing Davy, he was the original. I sat down and tried to learn Davy’s songs. At the same time Bert was up in Edinburgh doing the same thing. Bert got to grips with it, perfected the style and went on to become a total original. When he hit London you wouldn’t believe the impact he had. He was dynamite – nobody had heard anything like it. The fact that you don’t say much or you’re very laid back – you can be like that. When you’re older it’s stupid, you can’t do it. But Bert was a young, cool guy on the scene and he came alive just by playing.’
Ashley Hutchings, who subsequently drew on both Jansch and Graham for inspiration and repertoire with Fairport Convention and the furtherance of British folk-rock, was not slow in spotting the Achilles heel in Davy’s ascendency: ‘Regular club-goers in London obviously knew Davy well’ he recalls, ‘but the casual listener would have known Bert Jansch – and Davy hardly at all. Because Bert was the man on the road. As a guy in the audience I was told I should go and listen to Davy; Bert was the one you went to see because you wanted to see him. Davy was a shadowy character and Bert was a romantic figure, a hero – a very big difference.’
If Davy Graham was doomed to miss the boat of wider acceptance, to fellow performers he remained long – and still, for many, remains – in reverence. During November 1965, Bert’s old friend Danny Kyle was in town and was invited to a party at 30 Somali Road, a now legendary flat shared by Bert Jansch and John Renbourn: ‘I had my guitar with me’ said Danny, ‘a three-chord merchant, playing my wee Scottish songs, and there was Bert, Davy Graham and all that crowd. They started chopping up this black stuff, cooking it and smoking it, and I had a go of that. Then the guitar work started and I just quietly put my guitar away.’ Roy Harper, who lived only a few streets away, was also present. It was something of a rare contact, either socially or professionally, between Davy (just returned from his four months in the Middle East), and Bert and John who were, at the same time, both his devotees and his rivals: ‘Suffice to say I didn’t even pick my guitar up’ says Roy. ‘Bert put his down after about five minutes and five minutes later so did John. Davy never managed to turn his talent into a brand that people could go out and buy and enjoy, but in those days he was just amazing. He would turn up and play the entirety of Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, which is a pretty strange thing to do, but you could tell where each instrument came in – the clarinet, the trombones, the bassoons – all in one guitar.’
In January 1966, the proprieters of Les Cousins could proudly announce that Davy Graham had finally agreed to a residency. Of course, it was not to last – Davy Graham was not one to be pinned down. Any time he did appear, queues down the street are always recalled but his moment had passed. With everyone from The Beatles down discovering India, the novelty of Davy’s easternisms was no longer of value. He was no songwriter either, and future releases – patchy if occasionally brilliant – would appear less prolifically than those of Bert Jansch or even John Renbourn. By all accounts the drugs were making his performances unpredictable, though against that it remains a glorious irony that an atmospheric amateur recording of a May ’66 concert in St Andrews (due for imminent release on Rollercoaster) provides the definitive document of Davy Graham at his stunning best. ‘I’m lucky that somebody recorded it’ says Davy, in a rare moment of pride. ‘That would the one for people who’ve never heard me before – and if Bert plays like that, I’m a Dutch uncle!’
‘We only kicked into rock’n’roll in 1956’ says Duffy Power, ‘and that includes the folkies. And the first one to pop up who was decent, who was inspirational, using world ideas, was Davy Graham. But then along comes another bloke who’s better, and that was Bert. And then up comes another one and another one. I think for Davy that must have been a bit of a blow. He was inspired, but not a genius. Then again maybe it’s a kind of genius once, when it’s your moment. He was ahead of his time.’
‘He was a legend in front of your eyes’ says Ian Anderson, now editor of Folk Roots. ‘And talking to him offstage he was a lovely, unassuming bloke full of enthusiasms. He liked to cultivate a bit of an image but he was basically alright. John Renbourn was also very approachable. But Bert seemed to throw up an aura of ‘don’t come near me’. Even in the back room at the Cousins you wouldn’t approach him. Whether that was something he erected or we erected in our own heads I don’t know. But I wouldn’t say I was unique in that view.’
Bert wound up his Cousins residency on December 23 1965, handing Thursdays over to Alexis Korner for the following year – a year that would see Bert’s ascendency reach still greater heights with the landmark albums Jack Orion and, with Renbourn, Bert & John. No doubt in the spirit of Christmas, that final night was a treat for the regulars and something symbolic for all those on the stage. Momentarily burying the rivalries and appearing together for one night only, in the heart of Soho, the three kings: John Renbourn, Davy Graham and Bert Jansch.
Bert and Davy have shared more stages in the last 10 years than they ever did in the sixties. There’s only three years between them, but Bert still regards Davy with the deference of a pupil to a master. There is a scene in the recently filmed Jansch documentary Dream Weaver where Bert acknowledges the debt openly and profoundly; there is another where Davy, door-stepped for a comment, concedes that Bert’s arrangement of ‘Blackwater Side’ is a masterpiece ‘but I haven’t heard anything else of his that I’d go out and buy.’As our interview drew to a close, Davy expressed an interest in the mini-disc player brought along for the purpose. What was the quality like, he wondered? I suggested he play a tune and listen back to it himself. He was pleasantly surprised. So was I: what he played was many times better than anything played on his own documentary. So it goes. As to that old rivalry: ‘I wasn’t dealing in mystique’ he concludes, ‘I was trying to be a good guitar player. I’ll have a drink with Bert but what will the conversation be? I don’t think we’ll have anything in common – gardening, maybe that…’