A Celebration of Bert Jansch – review

Royal Festival Hall, London
Robert Plant, Bernard Butler, Donovan and many others turned out for a fitting commemoration of what would have been the folk singer's 70th birthday

"No one has seen this before", says Martin Simpson, and Neil Young appeared on a screen at the back of the stage to perform his own tribute to Bert Jansch with a gently powerful new treatment of Needle of Death, Jansch's anti-drug classic from back in 1965. The two had toured just a few months before Jansch's death two years ago.

It was one of several unexpected and emotional moments in a celebration to mark what would have been Jansch's 70th birthday. Jansch was a thoughtful songwriter and gently powerful singer, who mixed folk, blues and jazz in his extraordinary finger-picking guitar work. He was admired by both folk and rock musicians, as was clear from tonight's celebration.

The main celebrity on stage was Robert Plant, who provided a thoughtful treatment of Jansch's Go Your Way My Love, and then talked of "daring" to visit his dressing room, and how they discussed shared influences. Next came a powerful duet between Plant and Bonnie Dobson on her song Morning Dew, with backing from Bernard Butler and Danny Thompson, Jansch's colleague in Pentangle.

There were other surprises. Thompson discussed Jansch's love of jazz and then reworked Charles Mingus's Goodbye Pork Pie Hat as a double-bass solo. There was impressive guitar work from the veteran Wizz Jones on Jansch's High Days, and from Simpson on a rousing Heartbreak Hotel. And then there was Ralph McTell with a song about Anne Briggs teaching Blackwaterside to Jansch, followed by an exquisite treatment of the song itself by Lisa Knapp and Martin Carthy.

There were some disappointments: no Eric Clapton – who had been billed to appear but cancelled, Carthy forgetting the words to Rosemary Lane and Donovan failing to do justice to Oh Deed I Do. But this was the celebration that Jansch deserved.

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Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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