John Renbourn - Live in Kyoto 1978 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

John Renbourn - Live in Kyoto 1978

by Bill Golembeski Rating:8 Release Date:2018-06-22
John Renbourn - Live in Kyoto 1978
John Renbourn - Live in Kyoto 1978

For once, my words are so slow because this music is such a quiet contemplative part of my life. I’m just a midwestern American boy, and England was a sweet distant song for me. I suppose the grass is always greener. And my dad was there during World War II. I loved his stories. So, I didn’t buy The Allman Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, or ZZ Top. Instead, I searched the import racks (and the occasional American release) for albums by Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson, Roy Harper, Michael Chapman, John Martyn, and, of course, John Renbourn.

This was magic to me.

Odd. Some of that magic was carried on the Gulf Stream bluesy winds that some of us never really understood until it blew back from Mother England. I listened to Ralph McTell, before I knew about Blind Willie McTell. I know that’s weird. It just happened that way.

Anyway, John Renbourn is part of that magical pastoral English crop circle about which I dreamed. This live album captures that crop circle-America through Brit eyes music from a Renbourn solo concert in, of all places, Kyoto, Japan. Talk about world music. Oh, the sound quality of this live recording from 1978 is excellent. It’s very intimate, just JR’s voice and his amazing guitar.

Now, I suppose, this one is for the Renbourn aficionados. Here is the guy, just guitar and voice. And that’s a rare butterfly, indeed. As is the idea that music can break barriers and skid all over the place, sort of like the universe does all the time as it expands.

“Candyman” (from his first solo record) touches the blues boom roots. This is American blues filtered through an English guy who fell in love with this stuff, just as I sought out the green fields of England. By the way, I had no idea whatsoever what that “dog-end” was that Jethro Tull’s Aqualung “picked” up. And, I did, sadly, think there probably were “elephants and lions too in Piccadilly Circus.”

Oh well.

Then John plays Davey Graham’s signature tune (and the right of passage for any young guitarist wannabe) “Anji.” The heavens open with this one. That one goes back to the start of the British folk blues boom. Graham’s later albums, Folk, Blues & Beyond and Folk Roots, New Routes with Shirley Collins are early classics that pushed the bounds of Anglo-folk music to include Eastern Modes and scales. John Renbourn continued in this tradition of mixing so many genres.

“I Know My Babe” is another old one. And really, there is a distinct kinship with fellow Pentangler Bert Jansch.

“So Early in the Spring” resurrects an old Scottish song. That’s just the thing: Mississippi blues so easily morph into Highland folk song. As stated, this album, skids allover the place. Next is a Furry Lewis blues tune, “Kokomo.” And then “The Cuckoo” (from Faro Annie) follows, and, of course, this song, while being a traditional British tune, has travelled all over the world in various guises several times over. It perfectly exemplifies the ethos of John Renbourn’s inclusive musical soul.

Ah, but the next songs, “Banks of the Sweet Primroses” and “John Barleycorn” are stone circle, Lake District poetry, the Venerable Bede, lovely sheep, and English pub with pint in hand beautiful. Sure, that grass is always greener, but this grass is the wonderful Britain of my dreams.  As is the brief “The Earl of Salisbury” and “Transfusion” which are taken from his brilliant album, Sir John A lot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & ye Green Knyght. There is also “Lamentation for Owen Roe O’ Neill” from The Hermit, which is blended into the crowd clap-a-long “The Orphan” and “The English Dance,” which is from his 1979 So Early in the Spring.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this Englandes Musyk Thyng an “Appellation fiddle tune” known as “Peacock Rag” is tossed into the fray.

The album ends with the “insane” lute composed and now guitar rendered medley of “Gypsy Dance” and “Jew’s Dance” (from The John Renbourn Group’s A Maid in Bedlam) which, apparently, has the accompaniment in one key while the actual melody is in another. The crowd responds with laughter, applause, and a bit of awe; but these grooves travel time well and, even today while listening to this music, my quiet contemplation is broken, and the replay button is quickly pressed, which is my best attempt at laughing, applauding, and nodding in approving awe.

So, thank you to Drag City for making this marvelous music available. This is a very fine acoustic overview of John Renbourn’s diverse muse. The album Bert (Jansch) and John, contains a song called “Stepping Stones.” And hopefully, the songs on this live recording will be stepping stones to (the beautiful) JR solo album The Lady and the Unicorn, Pentangle’s Basket of Light, Renbourn’s later group’s second effort The Enchanted Garden, and his even later group, Ship of Fools. And then go all the way back to the very first Transatlantic album, with tough guy John on the cover, and listen to a Blind Boy Fuller song, the love song to “Judy,” a Rev Gary Davis tune, a John Donne poem set to music, a “bottle-neck version of an old spiritual,” and, of course, “The Wildest Pig in Captivity,” which, in JR’s liner note words, “is dedicated to a friend of mine Hogsnort Rupert, in whose rock ‘n’ roll band The Famous Porkestra, I once played.

And then laugh, applaud, and listen in awe (and press the replay button) to a great player who played it all, loved it all, entertained us all; and was (while perhaps not the wildest British guitar guy) the wisest ever professor player, who avoided any cage of (to quote William Blake) “the Mind Forg’d Manacles” of musical captivity.

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