HOUSE OF JANSCH

In 1967 Bert Jansch was highly regarded in folk circles but still some months away from forming breakthrough folk-rock-jazz five-piece band Pentangle with his six-string mate John Renbourn.

He had, however, released three guitar+voice albums plus another with Renbourn. Bert had also been hanging out with Donovan where he had been enough impressed with the trappings of pop success that he was convinced to try his hand at a similar kind of gently psychedelic chamber pop.

Jansch had a new girlfriend (Judy Nicola Cross), the services of a bright young arranger (David Palmer), and considerable cache on the folk circuit.

The result was the album Nicola, recorded in April 1967 and released in July.

“Go your way my love” is a mossy green wonder of an opener. Bert’s delicate guitar picking accompanies his oh-so-human voice in a brooding minor key song he co-wrote with folk legend Anne Briggs. It is a wonderful beginning. (Listen here)

There was a single from Nicola and it’s up next. If you think “Woe is love, my dear” is a downbeat title for a sunny pop single in the summer of ’67, you’re not alone. The single stiffed, despite having a full-on orchestral arrangement including piccolo trumpet just like “Penny Lane” (released a month earlier). It’s sweet and nicely done, but rather derivative.

The master-folky is on much safer ground with the instrumental “Nicola”, where the guitar is accompanied by a sparse baroque string arrangement that owes a whole heap to the work of John Renbourn (with whom Bert and Nicola were sharing a house at the time). When the tune goes jazzy, it works a treat and presages Pentangle deliciously.

“Come back baby” is a classic acoustic blues: voice, guitar and the loss of a woman. Basic and brilliant. (Or at least as basic as Jansch’s guitar work ever gets.)

As we saw in the previous post, Donovan was strongly influenced by Jansch. “A little sweet sunshine” suggest that the process was not entirely one-way. This song sounds just like a Donovan cut, substituting Bert’s casual, down-at-heel voice for Don’s mannered tenor. It’s a mid-60s pop-by-numbers number and not especially memorable.

Side two opens with a timeless piece of English whimsy. “Rabbit run” gathers images from The Wind in the Willows and pours them into a classic folk song with a double-tracked Bert vocal. Then we are back in chamber pop territory for “Life depends on love”, with another lavish Palmer arrangement. Again, it’s sweet and by the time its 1:45 has passed you’re happy enough for it to be over.

How refreshing then, to have this confection followed by another palate cleansing acoustic blues, “Weeping willow blues”. Another simple acoustic number is next, “Box made of love”. As you may have gathered I prefer these stripped back numbers, though that may be because I already knew the folk-blues albums of that came before and after Nicola.

Another pop song with backing follows before the album finishes in a low key way with the guitar blues “If the world wasn’t there”. It’s a Jansch original that sounds like it’s been around for decades.

Here’s the thing about Nicola. If you like a lush 60s pop sound, you’ll probably enjoy the Palmer-arranged set pieces and tolerate the acoustic stuff, while folk/blues fans may be put off by the fancy-schmancy orchestral foliage and prefer the ‘pure’ pruned material.

I’m generally in the latter category. If you are too, try an earlier or a later Bert Jansch album. I’d recommend 1966’s Jack Orion or, from 1969, Birthday Blues. Or Pentangle, of course. They’re marvellous.

Bert Jansch — Nicola

Released: July 1967

Label: Transatlantic

Duration: 31:38

THE 1967 SERIES (as of 1st May)

The Doors—The Doors

Jefferson Airplane—Surrealistic Pillow

The Byrds—Younger Than Yesterday

Aretha Franklin—I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You

Aretha Franklin—Aretha Arrives

Donovan—Mellow Yellow

Gary Burton—Duster

Gary Burton—Lofty Fake Anagram

Booker T & The MGs—Hip Hug-Her

Cream—Disraeli Gears

Leonard Cohen—Songs of Leonard Cohen

 

31 comments

  1. One man’s fancy-schmancy is another man’s pure, or so I’m inclined to also believe. My sister came home one summer with a Pentangle album (“Sweet Child”). They were an interesting group. Good that you shined a light on them, Bruce, and a perfect follow-up to your Donovan post. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Marty. “Sweet Child” is a fabulous album. Must write on it some day…

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  2. The first Track „Go Your Way My Love“ is also done by Anne Briggs who you will love if you like Jansch.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really lovely looking artwork. I must confess that I’ve never really explored Jansch. My brother had a few albums and had suggested it would be something I’d like. But he has a habit of suggesting that I like ‘hippie nonsense’, so wasn’t particularly interested in proving him right, or giving him the satisfaction of suggesting something that was worthwhile. Seemed easier just to ignore him.

    Now, if you are to suggest Jack Onion, I’d say “is that right, Bruce? I’ll need to check that out”. Which you have done. So I’ll check that out. Then I’ll tell my brother – next time I see him and I’m looking at his music collection – “oh, Jack Onion? My mate Bruce got me into that”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be an older brother, yes? 🙂

      Well, you are safe on multiple grounds with Jack Orion (tho’ the rare Jack Onion LP is very desirable if you ever see a copy (‘Damn you, auto-correct!’ said James). It’s a very solid album from the Scottish folky. Stripped back, intense nasal vocals, passionate guitar playing. More than happy to have my name associated with that choice!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Damn you, auto-correct! I really should have proofread that comment!

        … and my brother is actually younger, though he likes to think he knows best when it comes to music.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful pick Bruce, I know this a little bit from my folks and it is a lovely artifact of its time and place and you’re spot on about ‘Come Back Baby’ I love that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Bert’s more at ease with the blues and roots material, that’s for sure. But as you say, a pleasing artefact if not the essential Jansch album!
      Your folks have an OG on Transatlantic, eh? What was their address again?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OG? Is that hip hop lingo?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. OG = Original, dude. Call yourself a record collector?

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  5. I gather some of my favourite guitarists (like Johnny Marr) were big fans of his – he’s got one on the 1001, I think from ’65, that I’ve yet to explore.
    I like that list of reviews so far at the end – A fine collection of albums/artists/posts!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s probably “It don’t bother me”, which is fabulous. I also really like the album with John Renbourn from 1966.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. PS. Thanks for commenting on the mini-index. I think I needed to remind myself that some progress was actually being made through the 1967 shelf!

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  6. Fantastic post. A name I know, but have never pursued (yet). Loving the series, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers, Aaron.

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  7. Never even heard the name before, you never get to old to learn something new.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good, innit?

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  8. CB pleads ignorance on Bert. Always like to fill in the many holes in my musical knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Given your love of guitar players, I think Bert would be a pretty safe bet. As I mentioned to J. above, the ‘Jack Orion’ album is excellent, as is the later ‘Birthday Blues’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I seen that recommendation to J. I will take that and your feel for my tastes and pursue some Bert Jansch. Thanks Bruce. My musical horizons are expanding. A good thing.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Soho (London) or SOHO (NY)!

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      1. totally LONDON

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  9. I met Jansch at a private party which I crashed after his last ever performance with the reformed Pentangle

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe he was a pleasant, quite gentle man.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yes but he was v ill at that stage

        Liked by 1 person

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