John Renbourn. Not exactly a household name in 2019 but back in the day (mid-1960s), his name was synonymous with the innovations in Acoustic Finger Picking guitar styles. That era was a hot bed of musical innovation for acoustic guitar players. In the UK and Ireland the “folk music revival” of that time fostered interest in the American acoustic finger picking styles of the Rev. Gary Davis, Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotten, Dave Van Ronk, Joseph Spence, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Merle Travis and many more “roots” musician. Guitarists of today probably do not realize the extent of the volatility of the acoustic guitar scene of that era. Memories of that scene have been somewhat over shadowed by the explosive growth of the “British Rock and Roll” phenomenon and the electric guitar scene that followed shortly after. At that time acoustic guitarists were very fortunate to be exposed to the increased availability of recorded material, a huge number of touring folk musician legends, and a steady improvement in the quality of acoustic instruments. The acceptance of the guitar into the traditional folk scene was not immediate. The guitar was then considered foreign to the unaccompanied vocal traditions that were prevalent in the British folk clubs. However, a number of acoustic guitarists adapted the imported styles and created blends of techniques and musical styles to create new, unique ways of playing “folk music”. Innovators of the day included Davey Graham (the inventor of DADGAD tuning), Nic Jones, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch and of course John Renbourn. Most of the innovators have gone and the only one still playing at the peak of his powers is probably Martin Carthy. Nic Jones is till alive but still suffering the effects of a catastrophic car accident. On March 26, 2015 at the age of 70 years John Renbourn passed away.
I was very fortunate to be in Banff on Thursday, September 26, 2001. I was coming off a back packing trip to Mount Assiniboine when I spotted a poster for a concert by John Renbourn at the Banff Centre. I was fortunate enough to land a seat no more than six feet away from John. I had smuggled in my camera and I managed to snap some illegal photos right at the end of the show. That was just before I was nailed by the usher. It was a small price to pay for the opportunity. Apart from the music the thing that struck me most about this master musician was how old looked. He must have been only in his late 50’s but he looked more like eighty. He did have a reputation for living hard and it showed when he shuffled on stage, sat down and had to physically hoist his one leg across his knee to support his guitar. That didn’t seem to impair his technical ability or his musicianship. It was a memorable concert and one that has come flooding back after viewing this attached video.
I think the video speaks for itself. There are some interesting anecdotes as well as demonstrations of John’s playing. Clive Carroll is a name that is new to me but obviously one deserving of attention. His playing ranks right up there with other modern masters and I am looking forward to hearing more of his work.
Also here is a video of John performing one of his iconic master pieces – SWEET POTATO
After viewing the videos I went looking for the photos I took on that night to add to this blog. They are buried deep in the masses of photos I have taken over the years and I have not been able to find them. But all was not lost. I did a search on the internet and lo and behold I came up with a link to my original article written at the time. So here are the photos ……
All in all it has been a nice reminder that there is more to guitar playing than strumming three chords.