January ’69 – A Bert Jansch Folk & Blues Classic

Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues

In the late 1960’s and early ’70’s there was seemingly an alternate universe of musicians and bands happening right alongside the mega groups, and in some cases (cough Led Zeppelin cough) they were a serious influence, even providing the only female vocal ever heard on a song by that parenthetical band. This was a British world of mostly acoustic “folk revival” performers including Davey Graham, Nick Drake, Al Stewart, the Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and the duo and solo acts within those groups (John Renbourn, Sandy Denny, and Richard Thompson, to name a few). There were, of course, many more. One of them was Renbourn’s duo counterpart and fellow member of the Pentangle, Scotsman Bert Jansch. He released his fifth solo album, Birthday Blues, 50 years ago this month.


The Pentangle had just released its pinnacle album Basket of Light, and Birthday Blues is basically a Pentangle album without singer Jacqui McShee or fellow guitarist Renbourn (he’s backed by the band’s rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox on this release). It is considered Jansch’s most “pop” record, but it’s firmly in the folk and blues genre. It’s alternatively playful and moody, as the album’s title suggests. Jansch was a dynamic guitarist with a distinctive singing voice – a good combination – so if you like this style of music, there’s a lot to enjoy on this release. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell is a beautiful instrumental inspired by his wife, who also designed the album cover. Poison is a haunting track on the folk rock side of things with heavier drums and an eerie guitar and harmonica that give a feeling of foreboding. A Woman Like You is another one in that vein.


Trying to recall what inspired me to learn about Bert Jansch, it was probably a Roots of Led Zeppelin sampler CD that came attached to an issue of MOJO Magazine or one like it around 2003 with Jansch’s 1966 take on the traditional Blackwater Side. I purchased a Best of Bert Jansch CD and was on my way. It didn’t occur to me at the time to even bother looking into whether or not he still performed live. Even if he did, it seemed highly unlikely he would pass through Texas. Then one day in 2010 I read he was going to perform at the local symphony hall – opening for and performing with Neil Young! Then I looked at the ticket prices.  Then I looked at my bank account. Wasn’t happening. A little over a year later Jansch died of lung cancer. Missing that show is a big music regret of mine.


Side A:

  1. Come Sing Me a Happy Song to Prove We Can All Get Along the Lumpy, Bumpy, Long & Dusty Road
  2. The Bright New Year
  3. Tree Song
  4. Poison
  5. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell
  6. I’ve Got a Woman

Side B:

  1. A Woman Like You
  2. I Am Lonely
  3. Promised Land
  4. Birthday Blues
  5. Wishing Well
  6. Blues





Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues LP



November 1 – Sophomore Success for the Pentangle

The Pentangle – Sweet Child

Continuing a busy day of significant 1968 album releases, British folk rock group the Pentangle released their second album of the year and second overall on this date fifty years ago, and on it they proved they were no one-album wonder.  Sweet Child is a double album; half of it was recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in June of ’68, the other half in the studio.

L-R:  John Renbourn, Danny Thompson (standing), Terry Cox, Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch

In addition to the folk and rock element, the Pentangle added experimental jazz and blues to their repertoire – something which set them apart from contemporaries Fairport Convention.  To illustrate how prolific they were at the time, the live half of the album on the original release contains only one song from their debut earlier in the year, with the rest of it and the second disc being completely new material.  Its tracks’ origins run the gamut, from traditional songs, to jazz and blues from the likes of Charles Mingus and Furry Lewis, to originals by the group.  The album jacket was designed by Peter Blake, of Sgt. Pepper fame.


In his AllMusic review, Matthew Greenwald calls Sweet Child “an awesome and delightful collection, and probably their finest hour.”  It’s also an hour for which I’ve arrived quite late.  When it comes to British folk rock groups, I’ve always favored Fairport Convention while giving short shrift to the Pentangle.  My only explanation is that I prefer Sandy Denny’s vocals to Jacqui McShee’s.

But I’m acquiring a taste for her singing, and there’s so much more to this group anyway with dual virtuoso guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch (not to mention the latter’s vocals), as well as Danny Thompson’s jazz-infused stand up bass.  I’ve been enjoying solo Renbourn and Jansch for a while now, so it’s a no-brainer.  I’m finally waking up to this amazing group.


Side One:

  1. Market Song
  2. No More My Lord
  3. Turn Your Money Green
  4. Haitian Fight Song
  5. A Woman Like You
  6. Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat

Side Two:

  1. Three Dances:  a) Brentzel Gay b) La Rotta c) The Earl of Salisbury
  2. Watch the Stars
  3. So Early in the Spring
  4. No Exit
  5. The Time Has Come
  6. Bruton Town

Side Three:

  1. Sweet Child
  2. I Loved a Lass
  3. Three-Part Thing
  4. Sovay
  5. In Time

Side Four:

  1. In Your Mind
  2. I’ve Got a Feeling
  3. The Trees They Do Grow High
  4. Moon Dog
  5. Hole in My Coal





May, Fading, Pt. 2

5/17/68:  The Pentangle 

May brought the outstanding self-titled debut release of the influential British folk-jazz group, The Pentangle, consisting of vocalist Jacqui McShee, guitarist/vocalist John Renbourn, guitarist/vocalist Bert Jansch, bassist Danny Thompson, and drummer Terry Cox – all of whom were accomplished musicians prior to the formation of this unit.


I find The Pentangle and British folk music in general from the mid-late 60’s, including  Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, and Davey Graham, to be the perfect tonic when I want that 60’s vibe but from a different angle than the electric scene we know so well.  This is a timeless musical stew of folk, jazz, blues and rock.


Side One:

  1. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme
  2. Bells
  3. Hear My Call
  4. Pentangling

Side Two:

  1. Mirage
  2. Way Behind the Sun
  3. Bruton Town
  4. Waltz


5/30:  The Beatles White Album sessions commence

It’s hard to say any one year in the Beatles’ existence was more of a whirlwind than the others, but 1968 was packed with activity and notable moments in the band’s lore.  The four spent varying lengths of time in India in February, where in addition to taking the Maharishi’s meditation course John and Paul wrote most of the songs that would wind up on the group’s eponymous release later in the year.  The film Wonderwall, with its Harrison-produced soundtrack, premiered at Cannes on May 17, and in the midst of all the recording activity during the year, the Fabs would appear in psychedelic cartoon form in Yellow Submarine, though their actual contribution (other than the music) was limited to a cameo at the end of the film.


John and Paul returned from their US publicity tour for the introduction of the group’s new company, Apple Corps, Ltd., in mid-May, and on an unspecified date later in the month, the Beatles assembled at George’s house in Esher to record demos of the songs they’d written in India.  Finally, on this date 50 years ago, recording sessions began in earnest at Abbey Road Studios and would continue until October 14.  Some sessions would take place at Trident Studios.


While traces of the Beatles’ demise can be seen as far back as the final concert tour in ’66 (and even earlier when taking into account some of George’s comments), the sessions for this double album marked the beginning of a definite acceleration of their split two years later.  Engineer Geoff Emerick quit, and producer George Martin took a hiatus during recording, as did Ringo in a story recounted in the Anthology documentary and George Harrison:  Living in the Material World.  


Personal issues and resentments began to foment, as Yoko became a permanent presence in the studio.  For that matter, Pattie, Maureen, and Paul’s girlfriend Francie were also present at times, breaking the group’s rule up until then of not allowing wives and girlfriends in the studio.  George was growing rapidly as a songwriter, yet was still alloted minimal room for his songs on the album (a couple of his tunes, Not Guilty and Sour Milk Sea, would’ve been among my favorites had they been included on the album).


As we’ll see in August, the sessions would also yield another monumental non-album, double A-sided single with accompanying promotional films.  When all was said and done, a glorious mish-mash of songs and sound experiments – “very varied” as Paul refers to it in the Anthology – would be released as a self-titled double album in November.  A common argument among fans is whether the album is too long, too short, or just right.  Perhaps we’ll discuss this debate further down the line on the release anniversary date, but for now I’ll just mention that hopefully those of us in the “More please!” crowd will be satiated with the anticipated 50th anniversary White Album reissue later this year.


Among the recordings many of us would like to see cleaned up for a deluxe anniversary White Album reissue are the above-mentioned Esher Demos linked below: