Making Space for South Asian Music
South Asian artists to take part in tribute concert honouring British folk music legend Bert Jansch.
It may seem that British folk music and Indian music make for unlikely bedfellows. However, a one of a kind of music event honouring the 80th birthday anniversary of iconic British folk guitarist and vocalist, Bert Jansch at the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday November 4th provides an opportunity to draw on these two music traditions within the context of the late singer’s body of work. Indian vocalist, and performer, Ranjana Ghatak will join forces with her collaborators, Scottish folk musician/singer James Yorkston and double bass player Jon Thorne on the night to delve into the music of seminal British folk band Pentangle. Meanwhile, renowned South Asian jazz musician, Sarathy Korwar will reimagine some of Jansch’s material with his band comprising baritone saxophone player, flute and tabla.
Singer/songwriter Bert Jansch became a prominent figure in the British folk revival during the sixties. He was also renowned for his versatile guitar style comprising an intricate finger picking style, a mastery of harmonics, as well as an ability to incorporate influences from music genres such as the blues and jazz into his playing. Jansch co-founded the British folk band Pentangle in 1967, which provided the ideal space to consolidate these outside influences as result of the varied musical backgrounds and interests of other members including Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson, Terry Cox, and John Renbourn. Jansch is said to have remarked that if one of the members were extensively listening to the music of Pandit Ravi Shankar, it would somehow appear in the music. Indeed, band member John Renbourn would play the sitar on tracks such as “Cruel Sister.” Pentangle went onto achieve commercial success and eventually disbanded in the early seventies, to reform with new members at various points during the eighties and nineties. During his lifetime, Jansch released an extensive number of records including 21 studio albums starting from the sixties until the mid 2000’s. He died from lung cancer at the age of 67 in 2011. His legacy leaving behind an indelible mark on leading guitarists across the board, including Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Neil Young, Bernard Butler (Suede), Graham Coxon (Blur) to folk artists such as Ralph McTell.
Jazz musician Sarathy Korwar is a classically trained tabla player who is known for incorporating Indian, non-Indian percussion and electronics into his sound, describes Pentangle as an “extraordinary band who pushed the boundaries of folk, blues, jazz, rock and storytelling.” It was Bert Jansch’s sister-in-law, Karen Kidson - a manager of the late singer’s estate - who invited Korwar to perform at the tribute. “For 10 years (2012-2022), I worked and made music in what was Bert Jansch’s old studio in Kilburn, and Karen was my landlady,” he says. “I felt very lucky to inhabit the same space that he had also once used to create music.”
Similarly, James Yorkston says he has known Jansch’s music for almost forty years, which led to his reawakened interest in traditional music, and lead him to personally meet his fellow Scotsman, “I actually did my first ever solo show with him, supporting him at a club in Edinburgh. He was very kind and a lovely intuitive player.” Furthermore, Yorkston says Jansch was not only a “originator of the guitar style that dominated UK and Irish traditional music,” but he was also someone “who pushed music in different directions.” Yorkston with jazz double bass player, Jon Thorne has collaborated with South Asian artists including sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan, and more recently with Ranjana Ghatak on projects that explore the crossover between Indian, jazz, and folk music. As a result, it seemed fitting for Yorkston to invite Ghatak to join him with Jon Thorne on stage for the evening. He says, “Ranj and I get on well musically and personally, so it makes the long trip down South a little more fun for me.”
Ranjana Ghatak, is a classically trained Hindustani vocalist who has been under the guidance of India’s Hindustani classical vocal legend, Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty. She explores the potential junctures that exist between North Indian vocal forms and other genres including British folk music. As well as her collaboration with Yorkston & Thorne, and performing with them at the Orkney Folk Festival, she released the Cove EP with folk singer Iona Lane earlier this year. She observes the parallels between the two traditions, “I feel there is a real alignment in some of the approaches to British folk music and Indian music. The aspect of storytelling and a similarity in using the natural voice when singing. This is something I have noticed.” Ghatak has been learning some of Pentangle’s material ahead of the tribute concert on November 4th, which provides a golden opportunity to dig deeper. She says, “I spent time with the two songs that we’ll be performing and listened out for places where I could hear similarities to ragas/scales that I could introduce.”
Sarathy Korwar, James Yorkston, Ranjana Ghatak and Jon Thorne will share the stage with some of the good and great of British folk and rock music, including Robert Plant’s Saving Grace, Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee with Mike Piggott & Kevin Dempsey, Kathryn Williams, Bernard Butler (former Suede lead guitarist) and others. The Royal Festival Hall provides a poignant backdrop for the tribute given Jansch had a long history of performing at the venue. According to the organisers at the Bert Jansch Foundation, the artist line up especially with the inclusion of South Asian artists “shows that his timeless music resonates through many cultures and traditions.” Meanwhile, Ghatak says, “I’m looking forward to being part of such an incredible tribute and hearing and feeling a true celebration of an iconic musician.” The evening promises to be a fitting birthday tribute to the late singer who would have turned 80 years old this year. No doubt, the coming together of these two unlikely bedfellows – Indian music and British folk music - would have ignited Jansch’s musical curiosity if he were still alive.
An 80th Birthday Concert for Bret Jansch, Saturday 4th November – Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre – 7pm.