Virgin/EMI have this week reissued three Bert Jansch albums, which were originally released on the Famous Charisma Label in the mid Seventies. Having been unavailable for many years (Bert had to buy his copy of L.A. Turnaround on eBay) and never before on CD, the albums will be sought by all fans of the man’s work, especially in the light of the recent(ish) Pentangle reunion and new folk boom.
The Famous Charisma label was a semi-independent label founded by entrepreneur Tony Stratton-Smith. He seems to have been one of those larger-than-life characters that gravitated towards musicians in those days; a bon viveur. He managed the Bonzos for a while and put out the Monty Python albums, not to mention discs by Johns Arlott and Betjeman. In 1973, with Pentangle fizzling out, as opposed to breaking up, Stratton-Smith signed Jansch and these three albums are the result.
The idea was to open his appeal from the narrow folk alley and market him as a solo singer-songwriter, very much in vogue at the time, particularly in the States. The outcome can only be considered partially successful. It would appear that the albums sold poorly, despite L.A. Turnaround getting great reviews.
From a distance of three and a half decades, the albums can be reappraised and, if you’re partial to this sort of thing, then for around twenty quid, you can pick up the set. I only have reservations about Santa Barbara Honeymoon and, playing it again this morning, it has significantly improved from first listen. The second of the three, it was recorded in the States in 1975. Yes, the folk roots come through, but a mix of straight and faintly bizarre arrangements make for a rum work. I don’t care much for the album’s opener, Love Anew, but it is followed by the album’s highlight, Mary and Joseph. By no means a bad album, it’s just the patchiest of the three.
Thr first of the trio, L.A. Turnaround, was recorded in a mobile studio, one of those nice American Airstream caravans, in the grounds of Stratton-Smith’s chocolate box Sussex mansion. TSS drafted in Monkee Mike Nesmith to produce the session and the result is a minor classic, marrying Jansch’s guitar-based songs with Red Rhodes pedal steel.
The album kicks off with a song that is worth the price of any album, the hauntingly sublime, Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning. When you buy this ECD, for I promise you this song is worth it, you can view the bonus track of a charming 13-minute home movie never previously seen. I am a sucker for anything shot on Super 8, reminiscent of my grandad’s films. Aside from songs (including Sweet Sunday) being laid down, it shows the musicians relaxing at the mansion, in the garden and down the local boozer over a game of bar billiards. The remainder of the album, a mix of gentle folk and blues, cannot match the exquisite opener but neither does it disappoint. It falls just short of minor classic status, but only just.
A Rare Conundrum, is possibly the best of the trio, though it lacks a stand-out number like Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning. It sees Jansch returning to the UK and producing a more simple folk and blues-orientated album than SB Honeymoon. I guess 1977 was not the best time to release such an album, but 2009 should find it a more sympathetic audience.
Jansch himself has overseen the release, packaging and re-mastering of each album, which all contain bonus tracks. Alas, I don’t seem to be able to find any of this material on youtube, but anyone with an ear for John Martyn, Davy Graham, Graham Coxon, Nick Drake, Vashti Bunyan, Devendra Banhart, Bat for Lashes, Espers and the like should check these out.