A piece by Bert Jansch played by Hassam Mahmood
“‘Paper Houses’ is one of my absolute favourites. When my brother and I were travelling around England, sightseeing, from one town to the next, there was one song on repeat most of the time– it was ‘Paper Houses’ from the album Toy Balloon of 1997. It has been thrilling to play it on one of Bert’s preferred Yamaha instruments.”
“Here is a short account of how Bert Jansch became my hero in music and in life as well, owing to his exemplary humility, kindness, and modesty.
By 2009, I had been introduced to the music of all of the Guitar Gods, or so I thought. Everyone around me was more or less aware of the usual legends of the guitar – the likes of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Mark Knopfler and others. All of these musicians were spectacular, and I loved their music. Everything under the sun seemed to have influence derived from these icons, and nothing stood out as completely unique art.
But on a fateful evening in November 2009, a video showed up in my YouTube recommended list: Bert Jansch – Moonshine. It is difficult to articulate what I felt watching his performance. I was amazed and confused at the same time. Amazed owing to the extremely original touch on the guitar, the power of the composition, the effortless singing, the modest and cool attitude, the little chuckle on Ralph McTell’s mistake, and the inspired creativity with which he combined all aspects of his performance. He did not over-do anything. It was magical. Even though the quality of the recording was very low, his genius spoke through it all – the guitar dynamics were spectacular. He was spanking, pulling, hammering, and sliding strings in ways I had never seen before (or seen since).
And it confused me because a talent of this magnitude was relatively unknown to the masses. After a lot of research, I came to know that in fact he had had tremendous influence on many musicians, including Jimmy Page and Neil Young. And owing to a period of shunning the spotlight, he had created some of his best work.
His modesty might have kept him away from commercial promotion, but an artist of such brilliance does not remain hidden for long. Watching Acoustic Routes, a copy of which was gifted to me by Steve Tilston, I fell in love with the gentle soul Bert had. Far from the flamboyance of his contemporaries, he was unconcerned with statistics and the limelight. He was a man of a virtually non-existent ego.
Even after Pentangle and his hiatus from performing, he would not consider it beneath him to play at a local pub – and he would give his all. And he was not someone who would pick a fight. Even after Jimmy Page performed a track based on Bert’s arrangement, Bert was too cool to make a big fuss about it. He was lavish in his praise of other musicians and shared his knowledge heartily. These qualities made him someone I look up to, like an old sage. A sage whose legacy I want to contribute towards, both in terms of his music, and his way of life. I believe I can only keep his music alive if I also internalize his nature.
I intend to take this journey further, being a vehicle for his music to shine alongside songs inspired by it. The last birthday gift I received, was his songbook, which makes me extremely grateful for the effort put in by Jansch experts. I will try my best to not let Bert down in my music career, while keeping his memory and songs alive.”