First, a few words on hitchhiking. Once virtually de rigueur among the young and adventurous, thumbing a ride has fallen out of favour considerably in recent years, at least in the UK. I’m not sure why, but I’d guess it’s primarily a safely concern. But back in the 60s and 70s almost everyone I knew under 30 hitchhiked. It was a romantic image, it made you feel like a character from a Jack Kerouac novel, but most of all, it was the cheapest way to travel. Rain or shine motorway slip roads and major intersections were lined with hopefuls trying to score a free ride to destinations near and far. Popular culture is steeped with idealistic references to hitchhiking. It features in countless films (Easy Rider), books (On The Road), songs (“Coyote” by Joni Mitchell) and TV programmes (The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy). There was even a dance craze called the Hitch Hike which grew from the 1963 Marvin Gaye hit record of that name.
|*Recorded in 1965 and released the following year, this is the first John Renbourn album|
Folk music was still a long way from crossing over into the mainstream, however. Renbourn and Jansch may have been viewed like rock stars in the folk music world, but at that time your average record buyer wouldn’t have had the first idea who these people were. When they weren’t playing the trendy London folk clubs or prestigious university circuit, artists like Jansch, Renbourn, John Martyn, Roy Harper, Ralph McTell and the rest made a living on the endless treadmill of provincial pub and club gigs. I should mention that between 1967 and 1972 Jansch and Renbourn were also members of Pentangle, the UK’s first folk supergroup, but both men continued to record their own albums and play occasional solo gigs during that time.
As was often the case back then the Burton-on-Trent folk club was basically just an austere upstairs room above a pub with lino on the floor and maybe 20 small tables seating less than 100 people. I took a seat near the front and sat nursing a half pint of shandy for most of the evening. As usual, Renbourn delivered an incendiary set. He’d released just three solo albums at that point (John Renbourn, Another Monday and Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng and ye Grene Knyghte) and we got a selection from all of them.
|*Pentangle in 1968. John Renbourn, bassist Danny Thompson, drummer Terry Cox, singer Jacqui McShee and Bert Jansch|
*Another Monday, John Renbourn’s second solo album from 1966 shows him playing his famous Gibson J50. The cover photo was taken on the steps leading to the Duke of York Column, just off The Mall in London
|*John Renbourn makes the cover of Folk Roots in April 1993 with an unseen picture from the 1965 photo session for his self-titled first Transatlantic LP|
|*From 1963, The Guitar Player, the first LP by Davy (later Davey) Graham|
|*Remy Froissart is now the custodian of John’s Gibson J50, seen here minus its pickguard. The legendary Wizz Jones is also pictured (left) with his Epiphone Texan. (Picture courtesy of Renbourn Guitar Workshops) https://www.facebook.com/|
|*Mike Walker with John Renbourn’s famous Gibson J50 at one of the Renbourn Guitar Workshop annual gatherings in 2016. John used this guitar in live performance for 10 years from 1966 – 76 and it can be heard on at least 11 of his albums (solo and with Pentangle) https://www.facebook.com/|
In memory of those we have lost:
John Renbourn died at his home in Hawick in the Scottish Borders on March 26, 2015, aged 70.
Bert Jansch died in Hampstead, London on October 5, 2011, aged 67
Davey Graham died in London on December 15, 2008, aged 68