Bert Jansch Interview (SKINNYFEST2)

I don't really think about a legacy. It just never really occurs in my head.

Feature by Miles Johnson | 14 Aug 2006

For musicians, the epithet "legendary" has lost much of its strength, with seemingly everyone from Tom Jones to Cher having had the accolade tossed upon them at some point or another. There are, however, certain rare individuals so great that even the most cynical would struggle to deny them such a level of praise.

Guitarist Bert Jansch is one of them. Born in Glasgow in 1943 and spending the early 1960's grafting on the British folk club circuit he later hitch-hiked through Europe, earning his keep through busking. Jansch then moved to London where he made his name as a player of exceptional skill, recording the album 'It Don't Bother Me' and winning a cult following for his brilliant skill and delicate song-smithery.

While it is easy to affectionately gush over him, Jansch himself is suspicious of the idea of a 'legacy'. "I don't really think about that. It just never really occurs in my head", he says in a soft hum of a voice. "If I have influenced people that's great though." This is Jansch being overly modest. In the last fifteen years people like Johnny Marr and Bernard Butler have been queuing up to work with a man who they near idolise, the latest of these admirers coming in the somewhat unlikely form of American gypsy-chic weirdo Davendra Banhart who features heavily on his new record 'The Black Swan'. "I met him at quite a few gigs", Jansch enthuses, "one of them being (experimental music festival) All Tomorrows Parties and eventually almost his whole band ended up playing on the album."

Beth Orton is another young 'un who features, providing vocals for three tracks. It seems through such collaborations Jansch has become aware that his music has been revealed to a younger audience - "I was initially quite shocked that a lot of audiences were in their twenties" - and now even has a Myspace page to promote his music. "The wife does all that", he laughs. "I'm familiar with the technology but I don't really like getting too involved with it."

Despite this slight dabbling in cyberspace, when asked about how he has changed over the years Jansch, somewhat predictably, denies that much has changed at all. "Well, in the early days I wasn't much of a singer. I can't actually say I'm much of a singer these days but I've certainly improved in that department. The guitar playing is much the same though."

As he continues to tour and record into his Sixties, being scheduled to play three dates at this year's fringe, it appears that, aided by the quality of his latest effort, Jansch will continue to win fans both young and old. Even so, for a man who was awarded a Life Time Achievement by the BBC, he refuses to talk himself up. "These things", Jansch adds just before our conversation ends, "they just happen over time."

St. Brides Centre Aug 21, 22 and 27, 21.00, £14.00 (£12.00)