Open Road

A piece by Bert, played by Jason McNiff

“This is a track from When the Circus Comes to Town, the first record I bought by Bert. It begins with the line, ‘It must be the gypsy inside me…’ and you can tell Bert feels a deep connection with the myth and magic of travelling people. Perhaps he was a gypsy in a past life.  It’s also such fun to play with the little finger slap and bass line echoing the vocal melody. A little piece of genius! I love this whole album. Bert was beginning his comeback with When the Circus Comes to Town just as I was starting out and moving to London. I was deeply inspired by Bert’s playing then and still am today.”

Jason writes about his journey into the world of Bert Jansch:

“I first heard the name Bert Jansch at the flat of local Nottingham legend Dave Turner. I was 21 years old and getting ready to move to London. ‘Here’s something you’ve never heard before that’s going to blow your mind’, were the words as he lowered the needle down into the groove. A couple of weeks later, I was in Denmark Street putting up an advert for ‘bass player into blues, country and Bob Dylan’ when I saw on a little billboard, at the entrance to the alley, a poster saying ‘Bert Jansch here tonight.’ It seemed strange. I thought the artist Dave had played me was from the ’60s and even if he was still alive, wouldn’t he be too famous to be playing in this little place? Later that evening, I paid my £5 entrance fee and entered a dingy little cave called the 12-bar club. The place wouldn’t have held more than 40 people when packed-out, but tonight, even a venue such as this looked empty. I sat in the front row and waited. Three pints later, a guy in his mid-fifties, with jeans and bright white trainers, carrying a new Yamaha guitar, ambled on to the stage. He looked very uncool but exuded a charisma – a kind of lightness of spirit, like a friendly ghost. Someone shouted out “Play some Pentangle”, which got a cheer and a wry smile from Bert, but it clearly wasn’t going to be indulged.

‘I liked the music, but to be quite honest, I didn’t really understand most of it (apart from ‘Anji’, which I knew from Paul Simon’s version). It was the start, though, of my journey into the world of Bert, and for the next few months, I went back every Wednesday (it was a weekly residency) and witnessed the club slowly fill until, by the end, it was rammed to its 14th-century rafters. I bought the albums, starting with When the Circus Comes to Town, working backwards. I grew to love the style and tried to copy it. I went to more shows elsewhere. I got to know his brother-in-law, who was starting a record label (with whom I would eventually release some albums.) I was invited to the house. I got to see Bert’s home studio and watch him work. I was young and tongue-tied and didn’t say much, but I was learning a lot. I found him to be a gentle and kind person, generous and sympathetic with a youngster caught in a spell.

Since that time, Bert Jansch has remained one of my most important influences. I have phased in and out but never grown tired. His style is layered and deep and so influential. Just ask Neil Young or Johnny Marr. In fact, influential is its essence. Just writing about him now makes me want to pick up the guitar. Oops, I just did… Sorry, I’ll be back in a minute.

Ok, I’m back. You know, there are many, many, great guitarists, many great musicians in the world. Most of their names you will never know, though you might hear them on record.  But, we do know the name Bert Jansch. I think that is because there is only one.”