Sunday, February 05, 2006

One Morning Fair, I took the air, down by Black Water Side

We all have pieces of music that for one reason or other are so special. Sometimes the reasoning is obvious, it reminds you of a specific time or person. Other times it is not so clear. To have a tune, or a specific recording of a tune that speaks so directly, so vividly that everytime you hear it, it sends a shiver down the spine is a strange yet beautiful sensation. I have a lot of tunes that evoke that response and one of them is Bert Jansch's recording of "Black Water Side", a traditional Irish folk song. Being a folk song it is about love and loss and the woman coming off very badly, though in "Black Water Side" there is more resilience in the wronged woman's voice than is usually the case in folk music. The track is on "Jack Orion", Jansch's 1966 album of traditional songs and was one of the first songs that got me interested in folk music. There is a simple direct and gentle fury in Jansch's delivery that gives a force to the lyrics that no other rendition (even Anne Briggs') can quite match. This when accompanied by some of Jansch's best and most lucid guitar playing makes for an electrifying experience. The guitar playing is so good that Jimmy Page pinched it and repurposed the melody as "Blackmountainside" on Led Zeppelin I.

Why this big preamble? Last night I went to The Barbican for the last night of the "Folk Britannia" festival. I was underwhelmed by much of it, mostly large bands who failed to create the intimacy that a folk gig needs to work. But opening the show was Bert. On his own. And the second song he played was "Black Water Side". I nearly cried; he's still got it 40 years on. It was as if the intervening time had never happened and I could see why the denizens of Les Cousins and the other 50s and 60s folk clubs had been so thrilled and excited. The man has magic emanating from him and he still weaves an entrancing spell, even in a huge concert hall like The Barbican. In a small venue the effect would be devastating. It's one of the things I have always wanted to see and never thought would happen. This morning I am the happiest little folkie in the world.

Visit and buy all his records, your ears will love you forever.


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