Dazzling Stranger – Bert Jansch and the British Folk Revival – Colin Harper

Front cover - looks like the same mattress as below!

The next in my brief seres of 10 essential rock reads, don’t be put off by the word “folk” in the title. Bert was/is undpubtedly a hugh influence in rock circles, Neil Young, Johnny Marr, Jimmy Page et al all quoting him as an influence. here’s Jimmy’s “tribute” from Zep 1 next to Bert’s version of this trad arr number,
Colin Harper’s beautifully written and researched book chronicles the bohemian folk scene of the early 60’s through its key protagonists, Anne Briggs, Archie Fisher, Martin Carthy, Davey Graham etc. Bert cuts a lone path through them all however, collaborating, forming and splitting bands and relationships, descending into and climbing out of alcoholism and emerging at the end as artistically intact as he was at the beginning – a rare thing in the music biz, making a final album (not chronicled here) Black Swan as good as anything since Jack Orion.

Bert's flat - with Beverly Kutner (future Martyn) adorning the mattress. How cool is this?

Colin Harper’s thoroughness is to be applauded, he interviews many from the scene and manages to evoke a time when to be an acoustic troubadour was about as good as it got, when the concept of a singer-songwriter with acoustic guitar in hand was not something to be dreaded but savoured, The smoky rooms and cramped flats come alive, the austerity is palpable (Archie Fisher survives on oatmeal -even curried) but the music is mostly sublime. Give it a try, it’s a glimpse into a past which put us where we are now in a Laura Marling world – but don’t blame Bert for that.
We lost Bert recently of course, and subsequently his devoted partner Lauren, but he went out on a musical high, and left a fabulous body of work. All of his albums are worth a listen, and some are absolute gems. Start with his first, or maybe Rosemary Lane. Lovely.

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