The Bert Jansch Sampler, by Bert Jansch
Suggested by Matt Smith
I’m not a fan of Folk.
I’m likely prejudiced against the genre, as it was a constant undercurrent in the family home while I was a burgeoning metalhead teen. My dad would play his folk records – and not even good folk records, generally Lancastrian schmaltz from the Houghton Weavers or similar – at, say, volume six on the family record player, but when I got a chance to play my Iron Maiden records at volume two, I’d invariably be told to turn that racket off, or down. I mean, from volume two there’s only volume one, or volume zero if you fancy Metal by Marcel Marceau. I suspect the complaints were more to do with the medium than the loudness.
Then there’s the gatekeeping displayed by Folk Elitists. Just as the rocking sounds from Maiden were booed by my family, Bob Dylan was famously ostracized from the folk fold when he dared play the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with, shock horror, an electric guitar. Like Jazz, In Folk there seems to be an unspoken and morphing barrier to entry. Take my comment about the Weavers earlier; it’s easy to listen to the wrong kind of folk. It’s all very People’s Front of Judea… “Oh, you like American folk? Louisiana American? Baton Rouge Louisiana? East Baton Rouge? Upper or Lower Mississippi? Lower Mississippi? Well, that’s not real folk, now, is it? I only like real folk, not your pop nonsense.”
Bert Jansch was a folkster from Glasgow, firmly in the downbeat-and-depressed-bloke-with-a-guitar mould. He was a founding member of Pentangle, the five-piece folk-jazz-blues combo that brought us such timeless classics as Hunting Song, Travelling Song, Market Song, and Train Song. Nice music, needs work on the titles.
Bert’s solo career spawned twenty-four studio and eight live albums. The Bert Jansch Sampler is one of a massive thirty six compilation albums, the majority of which I presume are money-grabbing retreads of similar works. The album is missing from my streaming services, so I cobbled it together with a track list and an ounce of gumption.
Jansch’s guitar skills are evident from the first song, and they are on display throughout. I guess that’s only to be expected, since as the tracks are mainly acoustic. There’s a warm tone to the playing, almost comforting and Claptonesque in sound, backed with a rich voice from Jansch that has a twinge of the folky warble without being too irritating.
Tracks such as Go Your Way My Love are pure folk, with a guitar jangle and a storied lyric completing a sound that’s almost druidic. The Wheel is a rolling instrumental that showcases a prodigious picking talent, and a sound that conjures up the track’s title in fine style. One track breaks free from the folk mould: Come Back Baby is a straight Blues number that adds little to the album as a whole.
My favourite track is Jansch’s take on Nottamun Town, a traditional song that waffles on about horses and kings and naked drummers. It’s flighty folk faire through and through, but the playing has a wonderful energy and pace, and Bert’s vocals soar and swoop from peak to trough.
Overall, I can’t say I disliked this album, despite my initial misgivings. I give it a 6/10. It’s not converted me to the genre, but it was a pleasant half hour nonetheless.