A CELEBRATION OF BERT JANSCH, Royal Festival Hall – Evening Standard, 4 Dec 2013


Bert Jansch was present at this venue for his 60th birthday celebrations but not, sadly, his 70th. In the same room that the late guitarist’s folk-rock group Pentangle made their 1967 debut, a wide gathering of notable friends played his music for his admirers.

Even before he died in 2011 and the plaudits arrived in force, it was obvious that the Scot’s influence spanned generations. In recent years he had been seen playing with Beth Orton, Pete Doherty and Bernard Butler. The latter unshowily backed Robert Plant on a powerful version of Go Your Way my Love this evening.

The fluttering tones of relative newcomer Lisa Knapp were among the most remarkable of the night, impressive when others present included a powerhouse Beverley Martyn and Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee. Great guitarists also abounded, showing Jansch was far from the only dextrous fingerpicker in the Sixties folk revival. Ralph McTell took on the taxing Angie, while Wizz Jones stomped through Weeping Willow Blues. Martin Simpson, who once enjoyed a school trip to see Pentangle, gave Heartbreak Hotel a complex makeover alongside Danny Thompson.

The stage was done up like a folk club with bare walls, lightbulbs and a cartwheel. The performers sat at tables around the edges after doing their bits, giving a casual feel to the evening that meant the audience remained relaxed when Martin Carthy kept fluffing his lines.

Neil Young and Jack White appeared on screen like award winners who couldn’t attend the ceremony, Young delivering an intensely intimate Needle of Death from a booth in Nashville. In a richly varied evening, there was just one crucial element missing.