ADDING two more shows to a record tally of 108 sellouts at this year’s Celtic Connections – and extending the festival by an extra night – Bert Inspired paid tribute to one of Glasgow’s most musically influential sons, the late guitarist and singer-songwriter Bert Jansch, who died in 2011.
Bert Inspired | Rating: *** | Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
The artists who assembled to reprise their favourite Jansch compositions, alongside some of their own, highlighted both his groundbreaking impact on the UK folk scene of the 1960s and ‘70s, and his enduring importance for subsequent generations, which brought him a late-career renaissance when he was championed by the likes of ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler – who featured here – Devendra Banhart and Beth Orton.
Somewhat regrettably, excitement over the appearance at Celtic Connections of an authentic rock god, in the grizzled shape of former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, had tended to overshadow the concert’s real purpose (both to celebrate its subject’s legacy, and raise funds for the Bert Jansch Foundation, which supports young acoustic musicians), such that it was widely referred to as “the Robert Plant show”.
Plant’s appearance, with his five-piece Sensational Shape Shifters band, seemed to satisfy those fans despite his extremely weathered, underpowered vocals, and while Jansch’s own blunt, flattened tones were very much an acquired taste, the singing elsewhere in the show – by former Pentangle bandmate Jacqui McShee, Blur’s Graham Coxon and US newcomer Ryley Walker – was undistinguished to say the least, with Karine Polwart being a notable exception. What did come across loud and clear, in addition to the genuine affection in which all the performers hold Jansch’s music, was the tremendous potency of his guitar work, with its open tunings, unorthodox chord combinations and borrowings from blues and jazz. Butler, Coxon and Martin Simpson all beautifully illustrated how Jansch’s guitar lines interwove layers of additional colour and emotional complexity, or counterpoint, to his vocal melodies, with Butler in particular displaying how this restive, responsive approach continues to bear rich fruit.
Compared to the vociferous fervour of many Celtic Connections audiences, however – frequently amounting to a rapturous roar – the crowd’s response here seemed decidedly muted, albeit approving. And even if the Jansch/Plant/Butler devotees in attendance went home contented, the show offered scant inspiration for the uninitiated to explore Jansch’s oeuvre further.