Live Music + Gig Reviews

Bert Jansch @ Somerset House, London

14 July 2007

There’s a warm breeze, the sky above us is aturning from a pale pink twilight to a dark indigoblue, the crowd wait patiently for the show to startand one thing cannot be denied: what makes a concertgreat is not only the performers but also the setting.And the better they match, the better the event willbe.

Somerset House, with its architectural splendour,stone courtyard open to the stars and polite,well-mannered crowd, is the perfect place for anevening of acoustic folk. In a noisier venue the soundmight get lost. In an indoor venue you wouldn’t havethe illusion of being in the warm country fields wherefolk really belongs.

The setting and the weather – mild and warm withoutbeing humid or overbearing – combine to weave magic.Or perhaps Bert Jansch just really is so good that hemakes it seem that way. Alone on the stage, withnothing but an acoustic guitar, he carries the showfor the first half an hour, offering Scottish andIrish folk melodies that leave no-one in any doubt whyso many of the great guitarists and songwriters of thelast 50 years, from Nick Drake to JohnnyMarr have cited him as an influence.

As has Bernard Butler, former lead guitaristwith Suede, who is the first guest he bringsout to accompany him. Armed alternately with acousticand semi-acoustic guitars, Butler fills out the soundas they cycle through the second half hour, whichincludes Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning and Poison.

After a short interval, Jansch is back solo for acouple of numbers before bringing out Paul Wassif inthe role previously filled by Butler, replacing aformer album collaborator with the man from his mostrecent offering, Black Swan. Wassif adds acountry tinge to the music, which remains as sweet asever as their first number ignores vocals to revelinstead in these guitarists’ undiluted skill, beforegoing on to familiar songs including My Pocket’sEmpty.

Butler returns for two Jackson C Franknumbers, including My Name Is Carnival, before beingreplaced by the last special guest of the night:Beth Orton.

Here, unfortunately, the magic falters. There isnothing wrong with Orton’s performance, but by takingover the vocals from Jansch (only he has sung so far),she inevitably takes over his concert, and there seemslittle need when he was doing so well. She does adecent job of songs including Katie Cruel, but itwould have been just as good to see Jansch continuealone.

Still, what’s done is done, and you can’t fault thefinale – all four of the evening’s performers reunitedfor a run-through of Watch The Stars (for which Ortonprovided vocals on Black Swan as well).

By the encore, Orton might be the star of the show,the biggest name and quite possibly the one that drewin the majority of the crowd but no-one here willleave disappointed. Perfect music on a perfect nightin a perfect venue, perfectly matched. It puts lastnight’s performance by Kasabian to shame.

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