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Sunday, December 2, 2012

John Renbourn - the lesser known side

I have a 40+ years long liason with John Renbourn... I spent loooong hours on his music sheets, learning and trying to master his fingering and overall sound... and saw him playing alive several, several times, from 1976 onward.

My first exposure to John's playing and music happened one day when I got attracted by a multi-coloured cover... it was The Pentangle's "Reflection" on Transatlantic records...

I bought it at "Draghi Libreria Internazionale",  a book shop in my hometown, Padua.

Those were the days, pals... book-shops (also) sold records... usually "strange" music, enriching or politically hinting, like Intillimani, Ivan della Mea, Giovanna Marini, Paolo Pietrangeli.

I bought this disc which later in the years proved to be a VERY first issue and... it opened a brand new world for a younger me... it was 1972 and I already was into music and records... every record was a financial bankrupcy for my empty pockets... yet, I was able to buy one or two records per month.

"Reflection" was... is a masterpiece... I owned an acoustic guitar since the year before, a nylon strung Aria classical guitar and those so clean and bell-like acoustic guitars sounds, those duets played by Bert Jansch and John Renbourn (Omie Wise) and the relaxed vocals... well, I sold Aria and bought a Yamaha acoustic.

I became an avid Pentangle, Jansch and Renbourn collector... and my guitar playing was deeply influenced by Folk Baroque, a classically tinted way of playing which was so onobxious to my friends only strumming or, later, rocking on cheap electric guitars.

John Renbourn and Bert Jansch and later, Dave Evans, (some) Stefan Grossman were my VERY own musical world... it was listening and playing my own versions of the above masters' tunes.

Living music.

This made me very musically specialized... through John's mediaval stuff I got into ancient music, Clemencic, Munrow, Deller, Kees Otten... and my (guitar) world was only acoustic, period.

Years went on and on... when John's "The Hermit" reached the shops in 1976, it was last shot of beauty... I spent years on the music booklet of the tunes contained in that album.

The GREAT satisfaction I got (and still get) from playing these songs was and is... a love affaire.

In 1976 I fell in love with John Fahey, Peter Lang and Robbie Basho's music and playing... but that's another story:)

While I continued to try to master John Renbourn's pieces, I someway suffered from lacking of new music from England...

... but it happened that, also on those WEB-less days, from Melody Maker, Il Mucchio Selvaggio, L'Ultimo Buscadero, Hi Folks, Frets, Guitar Player, Folk Roots and other magazines... every time I read or knew about some Renbourn's collaborations, I searched and bought it.

So, Renbourn & Grossman (Renbourn and Grossman and Under the Volcano), John James and John Renbourn (Descriptive Guitar Instrumentals and Head in the Clouds), and Duck Baker and John Renbourn, and John Renbourn and Gordon Giltrap (on Fylde Acoustics)... then I sort-of felt the need to broaden my search and, in WEB times, I found that Renbourn's playing was well present in sought-after Dorris Henderson's "Watch the Stars" on Fontana and "There you Go!" on EMI... and Julie Felix' "Changes" on Fontana... and... and...

Being a completist and a scholar, whatever the field, is wonderful and terrible, at same time...

Anyway... that's my karma:-)

Yesterday afternoon, during a pleasant and quite teeny listening sessions, I found on disks shelf a dusty, seldom listened CD: John Renbourn's "Lost Tapes" on Edsel... now out-of-print.

... and while appreciating the Nic Kinsey's superb engineering and the beautiful, quite un-Renbourn-ey songs... remembering "Faro Annie", at times and I remembered it ALL!

When I got "The John Renbourn Song Book" I found - among the songs I already knew - some titles I tried to learn, O Death, To Glastonbury, Young Man's Song, Riverboat Song, Floating Stone while on the Songbook, never, NEVER appeared on any record, yet...

Roy Babbington, Keshave Sathe, Tony Roberts, Sue Draheim and John Renbourn, ALL were at Livingstone Studios in High Barnet, North London, while Tonmeister Nic Kinsey was rolling his tapes... all having good time, in 1973. Then... zut! the tapes went (almost) lost in some dusty shelf... for decades, 'til 1996, when EDSEL issued the recordings.

The surprise when I first heard those ghost songs I tried to handle from the music sheet was great... I knew these songs but they sounded so different, arranged for a small ensemble, faster or slower than I imagined, yet they represent a real gem, a mix of smooth country-blues, great guitar playing, beautiful John Donne-like texts AND, MOST OF ALL, the closing of a circle for yours truly...

The ghost songs became beautiful, real songs... and yesterday afternoon ALL the  power of this mistery reached me, while grooving on these songs from a better world...

It was 1973.

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