Bert Jansch’s grave; An unexpected visit

Bert Jansch's grave

Bert Jansch’s grave, Highgate Cemetery

On the way out of Highgate Cemetery, running to catch up with my friends who were a little way ahead of me, I accidentally came across Bert Jansch’s grave. It is roughly opposite Douglas Adams’s plaque, with its repository for biros, very near the main entrance. Marx’s monstrous 1950s edifice, with its massive ugly bust, is a short walk away.

I’ve listened to Bert’s music more than anyone else’s. For me, as for many, he was an intimate part of life. I have had his songs on repeat play in my head for decades. I remember sitting down on the steps of St Mary’s cathedral in Edinburgh one morning in 1996 or 7 — I had a guitar with me — because I suddenly thought I had figured out how to play Blackwaterside. He was like a family member — though of course he didn’t know who we were — as my mum had been working out his arrangements since the early 1960s, and today pretty much whenever we meet up we compare notes on the latest discoveries.

Coming across his grave was so unexpected, and the grave so modest, it brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t know that his wife had died so soon after him; her grave is alongside his (see r.d.i’s picture on flickr; he or she has had exactly the same experience as me, it seems).

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3 Responses to Bert Jansch’s grave; An unexpected visit

  1. Tom Bingham says:

    This picture reminds us of our own mortality, those of us who grew up at the same time. Bert & Loren what a damn tragedy when he truly was returning to form guided by a wonderful woman.

  2. Allan Copland says:

    I saw Bert perform in Glasgow many times over the years, both solo and as a member of The Pentangle. From day one, the first time I heard Pantangle, Bert was my favourite guitarist, Unconventional, hardly played recognisable chords, bent the time signature to suit the flow of the music, often using open tunings and dropped D, he was like a one man band. His Glasgow gig in 1974 when he played a load of tracks was particularly memorable. It was a rotten cold wet November day but Bert changed all that in five minutes. Chambertin (fiendishly difficult) and The Blacksmith were two of the great tunes he played that night. Stone Monkey, a tune I was previously not a fan of, became a firm favourite, with Bert telling the story of Tripitaka. I still don’t remember going hone that night… it was so good. A major influence on many guitarists, both very well known ones and some lesser known one. To finish, I’ll post a link for you. This is Chambertin, played beautifully here by Sean Siegfried who presents a beautifully polished rendition of Bert’s epic instrumental. https://youtu.be/-whI3BQQfsA

    • Ben says:

      Thanks for a wonderful comment! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. And is that Glasgow gig you refer to the one released as “The River Sessions”? It’s an unparalleled combination of songwriting and guitar playing, and like you say, the guitar does not stand off by itself but remains anchored in the lyrics and the story. No one else (with the small exception of the Afro-American blues musicians from whom Bert drew so much) has managed this so well. I love that Stone Monkey song in particular since I’ve been telling my son the full (recently translated) epic Journey to the West. Never did have a clue what was going on in the Monkey Magic series — turns out, it’s awesome.

      Thanks for the link. Yes that version is brilliant, though I once found a French guitarist on youtude who plays it — if possible — even better. If I find that link again, I’ll post it.

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