Acoustic Guitarists of the Sixties – Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, John Renbourn and Roy Harper.

The mid-sixties produced a wealth of great acoustic music loosely under the initial heading of Folk-Blues but in reality extending much further than that. The Greenwich Village Scene, sparked off by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs, had sparked a massive resurgence in folk music and made it a commercial proposition. So much so that the record companies were chasing acoustic performers and the Pop Charts featured them. The popular performers, like Donovan, were propelled into Pop stardom. But there was an underlying scene that did not see itself as part of the Pop scene at all. They were producing music for a new generation of aficionados.

Davy Graham was probably the most seminal to the movement. His brand of Folk-Blues was adulterated, if that is the right word, with jazz and middle Eastern rhythms and chords. He started the ball rolling with his brilliant Angie (Anji) which set a new innovative standard in guitar playing. Teaming up with the Folk Traditionalist Shirley Collins he took Contemporary Folk in a different direction.

Bert Jansch came roaring down from Scotland with venom and spark to illuminate the Folk Scene with his verve and mastery of the guitar coupled with strident singing.

John was more mellow and melodic and based a lot of his music on more traditional material. He was the ideal foil for Bert and together they produced some excellent music before expanding and teaming up with Danny Thompson and Jacqui McShee to form Pentangle.

Roy burst on the scene a little later, befriended Davy, Bert and John, and developed his own acoustic style that tended to be more aggressive, at least in those early days. For a time Roy had a number of musical directions to follow – his love songs, social protests, humour and instrumentals. It was a toss up as to which he was going to progress.

I was fortunate to see all of them perform on a number of occasions back in the days of Les Cousins, The Barge and Bunjies and I enjoyed them all. I also used to frequent the Three Horse Shoes where, in the basement, Pentangle performed for free – more a meeting of friends.

My feeling was that the fires that stoked Davy, Bert and John cooled pretty quickly as their proficiency developed. Their music was sophisticated and high quality but I preferred the energy, vibe and stridency of the Harper songs – like One For All, or Blackpool. They had an urgency about them. Though Roy was not as technically proficient as Bert, Davy or John, he more than made up for that with his drive and innovation. But then, as with everything, it is always a matter of taste, isn’t it? And musical proficiency does not always produce the best music, does it? Sometimes a bit of raucous energy injects a spark that is lacking in more sophisticated exponents and propels the music into a different dimension.

Oh for the wonders of those days. I’d give anything to see those four perform again. It is so strange to think that Roy is the only one of those four who is still alive.

 

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One thought on “Acoustic Guitarists of the Sixties – Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, John Renbourn and Roy Harper.

  1. Are you serious thinking the Greenwich Village Scene was “sparked off” by Dylan, Baez and Ochs? Give us a break. You really should know better. It wasn’t just New York, but widespread across most cities with universities and colleges and had their own scenes in Chicago, Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, Kansas to name a few.
    Starter for ten would be The Weavers (their 1957 live album was a top seller), The Almanac Singers, followed by Odetta (her later 1963 album “Odetta Sings Folk Songs” outsold all other folk music albums in 1963), Harry Belafonte who’d been having hits since the late 40’s and The Kingston Trio, who sold millions of records 1958-61. Jean Ritchie deserves mention too, as she toured all the time throughout the US for years before, Eric von Schmidt and Dave Van Ronk.
    Ochs was only one of many who came through at the end of the last wave, joined by Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, Fred Neil, Harry Chapin, Gordon Lightfoot, Bufffy Saint-Marie, Judy Collins, John Denver, Arlo Guthrie to name a few.

    I must disagree with your take on musical proficiency or preferential taste for a lack of it. Otherwise albums such as Electric Ladyland, Hot Rats and Physical Graffiti might never have been made. And Roger Waters in particular, without some extremely gifted musicians would never have been able to produce the most amazing live shows ever staged, some 200+ of them between 2010-13 of The Wall. It would be an impossibility for Waters to be the single highest earning solo artist in the history of live music performance were he or his outfit merely semi-musically proficient. Or that of Hendrix commanding $100k per US show in 1969.

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