There’s a palpable buzz of anticipation around the wonderful Victorian Fruitmarket tonight. Rock royalty is in town. We’re here to celebrate the life and musical legacy of folk icon Bert Jansch, and Robert Plant’s admiration for and musical debt to Bert is well recorded. It will be duly celebrated across the evening.
Martin Simpson is up first, opening the show with Jackson C Frank’s Blues Run The Game. One thing about Bert’s guitar playing, as Karine Polwart later observed, was that he made complicated guitar playing sound simple. He did just that on his version of this song, which he made his own. Although Martin manages to do the opposite, he is soon joined by Polwart for a slightly less fussy version of Reynardine, learned by Bert from Anne Briggs, who is apparently present tonight (see article on film screening of Acoustic Routes and Anne Briggs Interview). Briggs’s name pops up many times over the course of the evening and her influence on Bert can’t be overstated.
Archie Fisher is up next. Well into his seventies and still going strong, Fisher’s influence on Bert, many of his contemporaries and subsequent followers is unquestionable. His solo renditions of Blackwaterside, Dave Goulder’s January Man and his own You Took The Day suffer a little from inadequate amplification in the cavernous hall, but are heard in appropriately silent reverence of the performer’s lifetime achievements.
Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee and Mike Piggott then take to the stage for a delightful rendition of Tell Me What Is True Love, from Bert’s 1971 Rosemary Lane album, surprisingly the first full Jansch composition of the evening. McShee, who sang with Bert in Pentangle from 1967-73, remains in fine voice, as versions of Is It Real, and I’ve Got A Feeling (for which Bert put words to Miles Davis’s jazz number) testify.
Next up is Graham Coxon, and the Blur guitarist immediately comes across as a true Bert fan, genuinely humbled to be present. His solo renditions of Running From Home and One For Jo more than pass muster, although his justification for playing his own song, Latte, stating that after writing it he realised that it was “imbued by Bert” is less convincing.
Then comes Robert Plant, his rapturous welcome indicating just how large a proportion of the audience he has drawn. Accompanied by his own acoustic based Sensational Space Shifters, Plant offers another Jansch-via-Briggs song, Go Your Way, My Love before delivering a fine version of the blues classic Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, which inevitably goes down a storm. Plant closes the first half with his Band of Joy arrangement of Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down.
The second half opens with a video, originally produced for a similar concert held in London in 2013, of Bert admirer Neil Young recording Needle of Death in Jack White’s Third Man Records vintage booth. Noting the similarity in lyrical themes with Young’s own Needle And the Damage Done is unavoidable.
Ben Watts and Bernard Butler open the second half’s live proceedings, with accomplished versions of It Don’t Bother Me and Morning Brings Peace Of Mind highlighting, Watts says, the contrast between Bert’s ‘young and old’ styles. The two guitars are well rehearsed and work well together, particularly on a new arrangement of Soho. The pair are then joined by Jacqui McShee for another Anne Briggs song The Time Has Come.
Karine Polwart returns to sing an excellent, polished set of songs including High Days from Bert’s final Black Swan album, and Tree Song on which she does great justice to those simple sounding but hard to play guitar parts. She is joined by Coxon and Simpson for a respectful version of Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning. One of the show’s highlights.
Chicago’s Ryley Walker provides the transatlantic flavour to the evening, another humble fan whose versions of Build Another Band and I Am Lonely are sufficiently well performed to allow him the indulgence of one of his own songs, Roundabout, which is not out of place.
Plant and band return for a rousing version of The Cuckoo, and finally Bert’s Poison, followed by Simpson and Coxon with an authentic duo version of Davy Graham’s iconic guitar instrumental Angie.
Finally all 15 performers return to the stage for an ensemble version of Strolling Down The Highway, a fitting end to a respectful tribute show.
It’s in the nature of many of this type of collaborative show that some acts are under-rehearsed, that the organisation is less than efficient, or that the technical side of the show is less than slick. None of these faults can be applied to tonight, Karine Polwart making the same point from the stage during her set, and for that credit must go to the Bert Jansch Foundation, the organisers, and all the performers for putting on an excellent show, and a fitting tribute to Bert Jansch.
Review By: Ian Taylor
The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow