From the archives: Why One Writes
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Tunes for a Monday Morning

John Renbourn

Today, four songs from the great John Renbourn, whose music was the soundtrack of my adolescence -- introducing me and many others of my generation to the Early Music and folk ballads of the British Isles. John died last week, at aged 70, but his music will certainly live on. (There's a really lovely tribute by Peter Paphrides here.)

Raised in London and Surrey, John studied classical and medieval musical until his interest veered to folk and blues during his college years in London. While playing at Les Cousins and other Soho folk clubs, he met and teamed up with another brilliant, folk-obsessed young guitarist, Bert Jansch. Their first album together, Bert and John (1966), pioneered an Early Music and jazz inflected folk style that they called "folk baroque."

John Renbourn's music

Bert and John then went on to create the hugely influential folk band Pentangle, with vocalist Jacqui McShee, bass player Danny Thompson, and drummer Terry Cox. The group's name, representing its five members, came from the device on Sir Gawain's shield in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Over the next thirty years, John founded two more bands, The John Renbourn Group and The Ship of Fools, in addition to collaborating with other musicians and touring and recording extensively on his own. He released over two dozen albums, from John Renbourn in 1965 to Live in Italy in 2006. For more information, visit the John Renbourn website.

Above, John's legendary guitar skills are evident in "Rosslyn," recorded in the early 1970s. He makes it look so easy....

Below, Pentangle performs "The House Carpenter" (a.k.a. "The Daemon Lover," Child Ballad 243) on British television in 1970. The song is introduced by Bert, with John playing citar and Bert on banjo. This mix of world music rhythms and instruments with traditional English folk material was highly unusual (and controversial) at the time, and was a very early forerunner of the mixed-tradition, mixed-genre world music bands and performers prevalent today, from Loreena McKennitt to The Imagined Village.

Above, "The Trees They Do Grown High" (audio only), from Pentangle's third album, Basket of Light (1969).

Below, in a rare recording from the 1960s, Pentangle performs the Anglo-American spiritual "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"  -- a fitting song to end on, I think. Goodbye, John, and thank you for all that you gave us, and all that you've left us.

John Renbourn at Hawick

The photograph of John at the top of this post was taken in 1970; the photo at the bottom is more recent, taken by his home in a converted chapel on the Scottish borders. If you'd like a little more music from Pentangle and The John Renbourn Group this morning, go here.

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