Jan Leman’s Acoustic Routes documentary celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2013 with its release on DVD – digitally remastered and extended. The film charts the story of legendary guitarist Bert Jansch whose legacy is being celebrated at Celtic Connections this year under ‘Bert Inspired’ events. This includes a screening of the documentary (31 January at Glasgow Film Theatre) at which there will also be a rare interview with Anne Briggs who will talk about the Scottish and London folk scenes with Bert Jansch in the 1960s.
Anne, like Bert, is still very much, for me and many others, a folk music legend. She formed a link between traditional folk and the contemporary and she inspired and influenced many others including June Tabor, Sandy Denny and of course Bert himself. According to John Renbourn, Bert’s playing imitated her singing for a while and Anne, of course, taught him the wonderful Black Waterside. She has always been depicted has something of a wild child – Richard Thompson’s Beeswing is based on her:
She was a rare thing
Fine as a beeswing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child
She was running wild
She said as long as there’s no price on love I’ll stay
And you wouldn’t want me any other way
Looking back and reading what others have said about Anne I wonder if it was also her passion and independence that were often mistook for wildness. From a young age she demonstrated an immense passion for folk music when at just 17 she and a friend cycled from their home in Nottingham to Edinburgh to visit Archie Fisher. In Mick Houghton’s biography on Sandy Denny, ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn‘, Anne is quoted as saying ‘People like me and Sandy emerged saying, “Right, we’re women, times are changing, we can go out and drink in pubs, we can travel around, we can do anything,”…’And we did.’
For a while Bert and Anne were inseparable, living together in a London squat. They shared a lot in common, not just looks, which often led to them being mistaken for brother and sister, but also a dislike or disinterest for the music business side of things. Some of what Bert said in interviews is a sentiment that could equally be applied to Anne Briggs. According to the Bert Jansch biography, Dazling Stranger, by Colin Harper, he told the Evening Standard in an interview (1995)
‘People saying, “If you hadn’t done that then this would have happened.” It’s a strange thing: it doesn’t bother me personally [thinking of what might have been], but it does seem to bother a lot of people on my behalf.’
In many ways we’re very lucky that her Topic recordings exist (click here for details) as she loathed the studio, preferring live singing, although stage fright soon put an end to that part of her life. It’s often quoted that she kept her past hidden away – her daughter was apparently unaware of her being a singer until around 1990. Quite a few different reasons are given for her daughter’s discovery although it wouldn’t surprise me if this turned out to be a myth based on the number of different stories. However, it was around 1990-92 that Anne was encouraged (apparently by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick according to the biography Dazling Stranger) to perform live which resulted in her appearance with Bert in Acoustic Routes filmed in March ’92.
Both the lives and music of Anne and Bert are fascinating and Acoustic Routes is nothing short of a magical walk down memory lane. If you don’t get to see the screening, at least get the DVD.
Also taking place at Celtic Connections is Bert Inspired: a Concert for Bert Jansch at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow on 31 January and the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on 1 February featuring Jacqui McShee, Robert Plant, Archie Fisher, Karine Polwart, Martin Simpson, Ben Watt and Bernard Butler and Ryler Walker plus more special guests. We will be featuring a review of the concert. Details here.
Later, on 5th Feb, Earth Recordings will release Bert Jansch’s ‘Avocet’ an art edition vinyl and bookback cd. It was first issued over 25 years ago, and it has now been remastered from the original tapes. Read our news article here.