He doesn’t do it every day because sometimes his wife will make him pick up a hammer instead. But in half a century, he has never gone more than two days without playing the guitar. "You have to keep at it," says Bert Jansch, "otherwise your fingers go stiff."
Often, some younger guitarists will drop by the house, listen to the master play and jam with him, but Jansch doesn’t teach them anything because they are already quite accomplished. Johnny Marr, who used to strum for The Smiths, is one; Bernard Butler, the former Suede axeman, another.
Butler is due at the garden flat in Kilburn, north London, tomorrow, when the pair will run through the set for their Celtic Connections show which brings Jansch back to Glasgow, the city of his birth, and will doubtless introduce yet more fans to the unique playing style of a folk icon who says his earliest memory of anything is of clapping eyes on a guitar for the first time.
That was when Jansch was seven and you have to wonder why nothing that happened before then sticks in the mind. What he probably means is that this was the first event of any real significance; only then did his life properly begin. Then again, he’s forgotten quite a lot.
"I had some hard times," he says, "in the early days and again about 15 years ago, and you don’t like to remember much of what went on back then. Except that in hard times you have to sell a few guitars."
Jansch is 60 now, lucky to have survived alcoholism, very lucky to have met his wife Loren. "Without her, I wouldn’t be here," he says. With the bad days hopefully behind him, 17 guitars fight for his attention in the studio at the rear of the flat, while Loren - also his manager - appears to be on DIY duties in another room (their home is still recovering from a flood). But coaxing him into something akin to an expansive mood is difficult. Drop into the conversation the names of those who constantly name drop Bert Jansch and he blushes and shrugs. And yet this is the man whose licks have been "borrowed" by no less a guitar god than Jimmy Page.
The fact that Page neglected to acknowledge the part played by Jansch’s ‘Blackwaterside’ in the creation of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Mountain Side’ is greeted with another shrug; a court action was pursued until the record company ran out of money and the matter, like so much, has almost been forgotten. "I’ve met Jimmy a couple of times but it’s never cropped up," he says. "You see, he’s not very talkative."
This reminds me of the time a colleague of Ronnie Wood’s voiced concern that the Rolling Stone’s lifestyle was becoming too excessive, even for a Satanic Majesty. "That cat needs help," commented Keith Richards, a fine one to talk. Jansch, on the other hand, doesn’t do much talking and admits in a hesitant voice, devoid of a Scottish accent but not of wit, that he’s a bit embarrassed by the A-list adulation, the pilgrimages and the re-writing of rock history to highlight his name in bolder type.
"If I was at a party and the room was crowded, then I’d very quickly fade into the background and you wouldn’t notice me at all." Then, superfluously, he adds: "But I never go to parties.
"It’s nice, I’m not saying it isn’t, that people appreciate my music, but for years I’ve been the kind of guy who can walk to the shops and get on a bus without a single soul spotting me and that’s nice, too." So when was the last time someone came up to him and asked: "Didn’t you used to be Bert Jansch?" "Well, funnily enough, it was two days ago, just down the road."
Apart from the first three months, Jansch spent all his childhood in Edinburgh, in West Pilton. London has been his home since he hitchhiked down in 1964, but he gets back to Scotland often. "I took Loren to West Pilton a few years ago; it was a lot scarier than I remember. And Edinburgh is too busy now, not just during the Festival and at Hogmanay, but all the time."
After marvelling at that exotic Spanish guitar, brought into Pennywell Primary School by a teacher, the seven-year-old Jansch was desperate to learn how to play. He started lessons but his mother couldn’t afford to keep sending him.
Neil Young says Jansch did for the acoustic guitar what Jimi Hendrix did for the electric guitar. And one thing Jimmy Page will admit is that he was "absolutely obsessed" with Jansch when his self-titled debut was released in 1965 (famously made for 99, it was recorded in a friend’s kitchen). So how would he describe his highly individual style? There’s a pause, longer than usual, and the Yamaha he’s been quietly plucking adopts its full defence-shield function. "Everyone asks that but I’m sorry, it’s a mystery to me how it developed like this."
Jansch admits he tried most major drugs before he was 16, which was eight years before the Summer of Love and still four years before 1963 when, according to Phillip Larkin, "Sexual intercourse began... between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP." A prototype hippy, then, and the Howff club in Edinburgh’s High Street was where it was at for Jansch and folkie contemporaries such as Clive Palmer and Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band.
Jansch’s band years were with the fusion outfit Pentangle. "We were known as the quietest band on stage and the loudest off it - the Rolling Stones were choirboys in comparison," he says. Really? Is this true? Jansch doesn’t seem the type to make hollow boasts, but requests for reminiscences about backstage bacchanalia and any possible Pentangle version of the Marianne Faithful/Mars bar incident prompt yet more blushing. "I’d better not," he says, "some of these guys are still alive."
Pentangle played the Isle of Wight Festival twice with the likes of Hendrix and Bob Dylan, but Jansch hated the outdoor mega-gigs. "I had a phobia of festivals, those great seas of people, and I don’t think I ever played them well. I suffer from stage-fright anyway, but I’m usually OK in a folk club where everyone sits down, including me, with just my guitar and a beer to steady my nerves."
At first Jansch had used alcohol to help him overcome his shyness, but eventually it dominated his life. "Looking back on the Pentangle days, John [Renbourn] and I wonder how we ever managed to play."
He had a 15-year battle with the bottle before being ordered by his doctor to stop drinking after he almost died in 1987 when he was rushed to hospital with pancreatic failure. He stopped smoking then, too, and once again he credits Loren for ensuring the warnings were heeded.
"Quitting booze and fags at the same time was tough, really tough. I was a walking compendium of ailments. Things were touch and go for a while." He says that during this period many people thought he had gone to that great gig in the sky. "I lost count of the number of people who thought I’d died."
That all changed when he met two big Jansch devotees, Alan King and Matt Quinn.
"Alan semi-managed me when I got a residency in London, playing the 12 Bar Club every Wednesday, and I don’t know how he did it but he filled the place. I think he was kidnapping people in the street.
"And Matt is this film guy who came along to one of my gigs. He sort of invited himself round to the flat for guitar lessons and then one day he told me he wanted, just for himself, to make a wee documentary about me involving some young fellows who he said liked my stuff."
It is typical of the supremely modest Jansch that he assumes the promoter rather than performer deserves the credit for selling out a venue and that a film profile of him would attract an audience of one. But three years ago, Dreamweaver was screened on Channel 4, acknowledging his influence on the Britpop generation.
Jansch had never heard of The Smiths before he met Marr. Nor Colm O’Ciosoig before the My Bloody Valentine drummer acclaimed his genius, along with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and Noel Gallagher of Oasis. And he hadn’t played his old song ‘Poison’ for 15 years before Butler, 10 minutes after being introduced to his hero, suggested they dust if off for that TV tribute.
"I play in quite a cluttered way," says Jansch, which is about as lyrical as he gets when discussing his technique. "Bernard is not dissimilar so we have to adapt when we play together, otherwise it gets quite crowded."
Another Jansch acolyte is Hope Sandoval of the American band Mazzy Star. "She told me she’d been a fan almost since birth, which freaked me out a bit. She invited me along to a Mazzy Star gig in London. The place was full of kids and they were all standing up. That was frightening."
But Jansch survived the experience and, after Sandoval sang at his 60th birthday concert last November, he’s about to return the compliment and play on the new Mazzy Star album.
Again, it’s typical Jansch that he’s more comfortable talking about the musicians he would like to have met, but didn’t, than the cult following engendered by the ones who have sought audiences with him. "I never got to meet Nick Drake. It was arranged, but then he died."
Then, in 1985, he went along to a recording session for a female singer in the hope he might bump into Peter Green. He missed the former Fleetwood Mac guitarist but it wasn’t a wasted day; the singer was Loren Auerbach and, although she was 20 years his junior, the pair hit it off right away. They finally married four years ago with the normally laidback Jansch for once being forced to put his foot down - he refused to walk down the aisle to Metallica, his wife’s choice of music.
Jansch has lost lovers and he’s lost guitars. He says the story of his romantic entanglements is "too bloody complicated" - they have produced three sons, the youngest of whom, 22-year-old Adam, has backed his old man - but talks longingly about his all-time favourite guitar, the second one he owned, "a sweet little Zenith called ‘The Josh White’ which a good friend borrowed one day and I haven’t seen him or it since".
He’s lost his appetite for travel, this veteran of the hippy trail regretting that it’s become too much hassle. He has lost count of the number of albums he’s made since that 1965 debut (including Pentangle, it’s 30-plus). And he says that after all that’s happened to him, he’s lost any fear of dying.
But in the past few years he has been gaining more new friends than could ever squeeze into his cluttered studio at any one time. Presumably, once they have consulted him on guitary matters like technique and tunings, they all want to know how rock and roll he used to be. "Not really," he says, unconvincingly.
"OK, I’ll tell you one story from the Pentangle days. It was our first tour of America and we arrived in New York in the middle of a violent snowstorm. We checked in to the Algonquin, very swish, near Central Park, but we ended up being stuck there all week. We blew the entire budget for the trip on champagne, but only the best French kind.
"When that ran out and they tried to fob us off with some Californian stuff, we sent it back and started chucking TV sets around. They make a lovely sound when they are dropped from a great height onto snow, you know."
Bert Jansch and Bernard Butler play the Barrowlands, January 23, 8.30pm