An 80th Birthday Concert For Bert Jansch.
The Royal Festival Hall, 4/11/23

Words: Paul Davies    Pictures: Anete Lapsa


The blend of grandees and burgeoning folk talent mixed in perfect harmony to pay homage to one of this shore’s greatest folk troubadours, on what would have been his 80th birthday.


On the stage where Pentangle made their live debut in 1967, it was fitting that legendary Pentangle singer, Jacqui McShee, opened and closed an evening celebrating the music of Bert Jansch. Talking of musical legends, it was the late addition of Robert Plant’s wonderful latest outfit, Saving Grace, with the alluring presence of Suzi Dian’s contrasting vocal harmonies with Plant, who also played bass on a groovy It Don’t Bother Me, that generated huge plaudits. They further entranced this devoted full house with a duo of traditional songs, Gospel Plow and The Cuckoo, the latter collected by Plant from early American field recordings. They resonated with the folk tradition of resurrecting long-lost songs for a new era.

At the current frontline of exceptional folk guitar interpreters, Martin Simpson, accompanied by Louis Campbell, revived Jansch’s arrangement of Angie. Simpson later joined Kathryn Williams, who travelled here from her home in Jersey, for a captivating version of Needle Of Death. Elsewhere, Jansch champion and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, regaled the audience with stories about recording with Bert as he led an ensemble through further arrangements of Jansch’s songs, Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning and, later, on Veronica with a line-up of four guitarists and backing Sam Lee. Scottish folk star James Yorkston, with Indian singer Ranjana Ghatak and bassist Jon Thorne, remarkably collaborated on a reworked repertoire of Bert songs. Reminding everyone of Jansch’s ornithological interests, Sarathy Korwar’s percussion, sax and cello trio impressed on instrumentals Osprey and The Black Swan.

Under the constant gaze of a black-and-white backdrop picture of a smiling Bert Jansch, one final fitting tribute occurred as all of tonight’s musicians assembled to take a final bow. This smooth-running production was superbly linked together by Stewart Lee who impressed with his folk knowledge and anecdotes of seeing Bert play live. Moreover, his humorous observations on this genre and gentle audience joshing endeared him to everyone in this venerated hall.