I’m doing a short opening set for Bert Jansch this coming Wednesday at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Not a bad welcome to the neighborhood eh? Here’s an article about the show where I pitched in a few quotes. It appeared in yesterday’s East Bay Daily News and Palo Alto Daily News.
Two songwriting greats play Great American
The Great American Music Hall will present an exceptional evening of music featuring U.K. folk icon Bert Jansch and his Drag City labelmate, gifted singer-songwriter Edith Frost on Oct. 25.
Jansch, a man of few words, eloquently expresses himself through brilliant guitar work and earnest vocals. Reaction to his latest album, “The Black Swan,” is phenomenal. And he’s playing U.S. dates again for the first time in eight years.
There’s been a resurgence of interest in Jansch since his early albums were released on compact disc a few years back. His new music displays genuine passion. “I’m just carrying on as usual,” he said.
He now records at home. “It’s a lot more conducive to recording at the right time. Being in a home environment, rather than a studio, can have a positive effect on the music.”
Guest artists on the CD include Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart. Jansch will play on a couple of Banhart’s songs at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit on Oct. 21-22.
Jansch said, “I’ve always liked playing with other people. You get more of a kick out of music that way.”
Young is a Jansch fan, having declared that Jimi Hendrix is to electric guitar as Jansch is to acoustic.
Jansch grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, listening to Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, as well as local folk musicians. The sound of their guitars enthralled him as a lad. And lead Jansch to develop a distinctive, blues-inflected style of his own.
Creating music that’s honest and inventive, Jansch’s appeal transcends genre boundaries. “It’s all just music to me. I enjoy styles that cover a large scope. I’m not trying to restrict myself.”
In 1967, Jansch became a founding member of Pentangle, the influential British band that blended folk, rock and jazz elements.
“I loved being in the Pentangle for the time it lasted, about seven years in all. Although I’d been interested in jazz long before that, that’s the first time I’d ever played with anything that could be construed as a jazz band. It was like a fusion-type band.”
Since Jansch last played in the States, there has been a singer-songwriter revival. “It probably is at least partly to do with the political climate, but also partly to do with the nature of the music. Folk music never goes very far away. As each generation comes ’round, they discover it for themselves, as I discovered it back in the ’50s.”
Jansch’s impact has been profound. Jimmy Page “borrowed” liberally from his guitar work. Johnny Marr, Nick Drake and Bernard Butler are counted among his devotees. He helped shape the musical sensibilities of several generations of musicians.
“Though I’m delighted, the attention that my music gets is quite surprising. I don’t ever think of myself as being someone that you’d want to emulate,” Jansch said. “The world’s full of good music and great young guitar players.”
Among those making great music today is Edith Frost. Her latest album, “It’s A Game,” is filled with melodies of understated charm, lyrics of truth and insight, and Frost’s gently riveting vocals. She moved from Chicago to Albany, north of Berkeley, last month.
Of songwriting, she says, “I like to make it personal enough that it means something to me and generic enough that it’ll resonate with other people. I don’t tend to get too personal, as far as details – actual places, names and scenarios. I write more about feelings.
Everybody can relate to that. Ultimately, I want to write a good, solid, catchy song, one that sticks in your head and interests your ear. That’s more important to me than baring my soul.”
For Frost, music became an early obsession. “Being an introvert, I can’t remember I time when I wasn’t wrapped up in music. I’ve been kind of a home creature since I was a little kid. I remember my mother going, ‘Are you going to take off those headphones and join the rest of the family, Ms. Frost?’” she laughed.
“Music becomes such a big part of you.”
Frost began playing classical guitar in her early teens, then became enamored with a friend’s Fender Telecaster. Later, she studied music at the University of Texas.
“It’s good to learn enough about the craft – the mental aspect, the mathematics of it – that you don’t have to think about it anymore. When you’re trying to come up with a song, you can’t think about all that schooling. It just gets in the way when you’re trying to create something.”
She began writing songs at 19, but didn’t perform publicly until her late-20s, when a Brooklyn open-mike host tricked her into it. “Afterwards I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Everybody clapped!’”
Performing, however, didn’t come naturally. “I had to learn to, on the one hand, tune out the audience, in terms of the anxiety that would give you. But on the other hand, to involve the audience and let them into your conversations.
“The older you get, the more you accept yourself the way you are. I don’t get the angst that I used to. If I made a mistake on stage, it would just tear me up. I’d wake up in the middle of the night going, ‘I don’t believe I did that!’ Now I can laugh it off a lot easier.”
Though Frost is about to tour Europe with Drag City mates Espers, she isn’t overly fond of the road. Her career does not consume her.
“Music is fun for me, really rewarding. But it’s not like I want to pimp it to the world. I don’t want to exploit my music. I want to enjoy it. And I want to feel proud of (the) stuff that I do.”