With artists like Devandra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, and more recently, Laura Marling and Jessica Pratt gaining increasing attention, it seems traditional styles of British-inspired folk music are working their way back into somewhat of a revival. Through these artists, a resurgence of interest in the genre has blossomed, and names that had seemingly become artifacts are coming out of the woodwork in the form of new reissues and, in some cases, renewed careers.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, a similar revival took place in Britain when acoustic players like Davey Graham, and John Martyn inspired groups like Pentangle, Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band and so on to cross the styles of folk, blues and rock into a new scene, much of which was centered around the London club Les Cousins.
Among the groups to emerge from this scene was a little known group of players by the name of Dando Shaft, a nod to Dan Calhoun’s 1968 novel by the same name. Kevin Dempsey (acoustic guitar, vocals), Martin Jenkins (vocals, mandolin, fiddle, guitar), Ted Kay (tabla, percussion), Roger Bullen (upright bass), and Dave Cooper (guitar, vocals) formed the group around the West Midland towns of Coventry in 1968, and later added second vocalist Polly Bolton to help fill out their multi-layered vocal harmonies.
While all of the performers that existed around the Les Cousins scene drew from various traditional and outside influences, Dando’s sound relied on a wide array of styles that included Middle Eastern (hence the presence of the tabla) as well as Western styles like bluegrass. Between the years 1968-1973, Dando Shaft released three albums, a debut self-titled album (later titled An Evening With Dando Shaft) in 1970, followed by a second self-titled album in 1971, along with the more ambitiously named Lantaloon in 1972. Some members of the group rejoined in 1977 with guests including Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson to record the final album under the Dando Shaft name, Kingdom.
Dando Shaft’s second album is largely regarded as the group’s finest work and can be found in some of the better record stores thanks to a fine reissue by Sommor Records in 2011. Seek it out and I assure you will be rewarded. Below listen to the opening track, “Coming Home To Me,” and discover the magic that is Dando Shaft.
For as long as I can remember, the name Bert Jansch has meant a great deal to me. Some of my earliest memories are of my father playing “Angi,” or another one of Bert’s many great arrangements for acoustic guitar. Long drives were often accompanied by Bert’s music, and, in our household, his name held a status that went far beyond legendary. To me, Bert Jansch was nothing short of a god, and as the years passed, that impression would only grow. My father shares these thoughts:
“No guitar player has influenced me more than Bert Jansch. His unique style of playing, his choice of tunes, his singing ability, and his brilliant instrumental arrangements all had a profound impact on me. I first saw Bert with Pentangle at Royal Albert Hall for the 1969 the Pop Proms, on a double bill with Fleetwood Mac, then a blues band fronted by ex-John Mayall guitarist Peter Green. I would see Pentangle again in Toronto’s Massey Hall a couple of years later. Bert played solo in Toronto several times after that and I was lucky enough to see most of his shows here. He never achieved the mass audience that he was deserving of. Yet, in the music world he was properly regarded as the great musician that he was.”
I never imagined that I would have the chance to see him perform live. Stories of Bert’s performances were reserved for my father’s tales of meeting the guitarist bar-side at Royal Albert Hall in 1969, seeing him play with Pentangle and so on. But, thanks to Neil Young (who cites Bert as an influence on his first record), my father and I were able to make the trip to see Bert open at Shea Theatre in Buffalo during the winter of 2010. Everything I had ever felt and believed about this great musician came true right before my eyes and, although cliché, it was literally a dream come true.
Following that show, I went home and worked for hours on end trying to play like Bert. My father, a finger picking master on his own, had always tried to show me the style. But—as I was constantly reminded—it would only come with hours of practice, walking around the house using your thumb to control the bassline and your fingers to play the melody. This sent me on a quest through the world of acoustic folk music, which, for a good period of time, caused me to set aside my electric guitar and my closest companion since age 13. That’s how powerful this music was to me.
Earlier this year, I had the chance to see Bert perform a full set at the Iridium along with my good friend Nick, who, by the end, had become a lifelong fan. When I heard Bert would once again be joining Neil on his US tour, I thought to reach out to his manager to see if he would be willing to do a filmed performance at Relix magazine where I work. Months went by with no word, but just weeks before the show I received an e-mail from Bert’s people at Drag City asking if it was still possible. Two weeks later, I was sitting face to face with the god of acoustic guitar, asking him when he first picked up the instrument, who his influences were and what he thought of the contemporary folk revival. Bert performed two songs for us, one of which was a request passed down from my father (watch here), and that was the last I saw of him.
Bert’s music will remain close to my heart for all time to come, and I hope to pass it on the way it was passed on to me. So, if you’re unfamiliar, I hope you will seek out it out.
Rest in peace to one of the greatest musicians of all time, Bert Jansch.
MP3: “It Don’t Bother Me“