“Surely Harper can’t have anything left to say
about Bert Jansch, can he…?”
Well, no, nothing at all as it happens!
The 2006 edition of the Dazzling Stranger biography (see elsewhere on this site) and the essay accompanying the 2007 Pentangle box set closed the book on the subject for me.
That said, I’m delighted that other fine writers like Pete Paphides, Rick Batey and Will Hodgkinson seem to be running with their own enthusiasm for Bert as far as national newspaper and magazine coverage is concerned (and, indeed, another book – Will’s very readable travelogue-cum-guitar-history, Guitar Man, published by Bloomsbury in 2006), while Mark Cooper at BBC4 and, prior to that, BBC2’s Later… has always been a significant champion of Bert’s.
I’ve been very privileged to have been the right man at the right time – during the ‘90s mainly and gliding gently up to the present – to have pushed and shoved, primarily as a fan with a brass neck, the name of Bert Jansch to the fore with the feature and review editors of numerous newspapers and magazines, with impressionable adventurers at various record labels and with sundry publishers, TV and radio people. Sometimes, in those dark days of the early ‘90s, it really did feel like I was the only person writing about Bert in the British and Irish media. But, you know, you really can get a long way by just pushing at doors until they open – and I wasn’t the only one after all.
I’ve lost count – quite honestly – of the number of Bert Jansch and related reissues and compilations I’ve been involved with, on various labels – Demon, Windsong, Snapper, Hux, Castle, Ace… The first series of releases was via Demon in the early ‘90s and then it just mushroomed from there. Undoubtedly the best sounding and best presented reissues of most of Bert’s albums proper – including all of the classic Transatlantic albums, spanning 1965-71 – are those which have appeared since 2001 on Castle (a division of Sanctuary). The same label have also released high quality reissues – sometimes second- or third-time reissues on CD – of other gems from Bert’s back catalogue, including Moonshine (1973), Avocet (1978), From The Outside (1985) and the two albums with his future wife Loren Auerbach, After The Long Night (1984) and Playing The Game (1986), as well as releasing his current work: Crimson Moon (2000), Downunder: Live In Australia (2002) and Edge Of A Dream (2003).
I’ve been involved in all of the remastered album reissues and in many of the compilations from the label involving Bert and/or the Pentangle. The two compilations I’d recommend out of the myriad available are illustrated below. Dazzling Stranger (2000), a 2CD set, came out to coincide with the original release of the book of the same name and is still the most complete ‘best of’ out there, featuring tracks from 18 of Bert’s then 21 solo albums plus some Pentangle and Loren Auerbach collaborations. (Piece of trivia: I was also asked to compile a slightly different version of this comp for the US, leaving out the 1974-77 tracks licensed from Virgin for contractual reasons and replacing them with more Auerbach and Sanctuary-owned material. I must buy myself a copy at some point…)
Running From Home: An Introduction To Bert Jansch (2005) is a single disc, budget-priced set combining tracks from 1965 – 2003, from the Sanctuary-owned/marketed albums. Kicking off with the 2003 single remix of ‘Rock Baby Rock’ I decided to try something a bit radical with this compilation by sequencing the tracks in backwards chronological order. Largely this was because after having been asked to compile X number of Bert Jansch best-ofs in the previous 15 years, there’s only so many ways you can shuffle ‘Angi’, ‘Running From Home’ and ‘Needle Of Death’ around at the start of a disc. And you know what? Hearing it all backwards is a breath of fresh air – and certainly provides a compelling case for the health of Bert’s muse vis-à-vis his ‘60s heyday.
One other Jansch-related album I’d recommend strongly is one I pulled together with Peter Muir at Market Square Records, People On The Highway: A Bert Jansch Encomium (2000) – in short, a 2CD Bert Jansch tribute album featuring many of his peers (Roy Harper, Wizz Jones, Ralph McTell, Duffy Power, Donovan…) alongside more recent admirers (Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler, Kelly Joe Phelps, Eleanor McEvoy, Chris Smither…) and his son Adam. For such a seemingly complex project it came together very easily, and the sincerity and enthusiasm of all the artists involved was obvious. Clearly I’m biased, but I do believe this to be an album of wonderful performances of rarely covered songs, given new perspectives and new life for the listener. If you’re a Jansch fan already, you’ll love it, if you’ve only just dipped your toes in the water you may even find its textures and variety more immediately accessible than the man himself – not that there could ever be any substitute for the real thing!
I really have been very lucky to had the pleasure of working with Bert’s music in these retrospective projects – projects which by their very nature Bert is happy to leave to others – and I hope my approach has always been sympathetic.
There are still a few Bert Jansch reissue and compilation projects that definitely do need to happen – but I must stress that I‘m not a source of information about these!
(Bert’s own website www.bertjansch.com will have whatever info is available – being retired from involvement in such stuff, I don’t have any ’inside track’, sorry!) Firstly, the release in full of Bert’s first three albums for the Charisma label – LA Turnaround (1974), Santa Barbara Honeymoon (1975) and A Rare Conundrum (1977) – now owned by Virgin/EMI. I understand these will definitely appear, on EMI, at some point and with Bert‘s involvement. Secondly, a full-career box set. Sanctuary commissioned me to draft such a compilation (over 4CDs) around 2000/2001, but things have moved on apace since then, with the release of several new studio, live and archival albums, the 2003 BBC4 concert broadcast and so on. Certainly, I won’t be involved in any capacity in a BJ box set now if/when it appears, and quite how the takeover of Sanctuary by Universal in Summer 2007 affects the Bert Jansch back catalogue generally and any existing plans for it I’ve really no idea. Again, Bert’s website is the place for that kind of info.