Live at the 12 Bar is an “authorized” bootleg of a gig Bert Jansch gave in London back in 1995. Someone had the foresight to hit the “record” button on a DAT machine that night, so this isn’t exactly the most professional-sounding recording there is. Bumps against the microphone stands make their way through the mixing desk and Jansch’s voice sometimes comes across distorted. But in the end, Bert Jansch decided that the good far outweighed the bad and had the album release it the following year. After being available only at gigs, Live at the 12 Bar was handed over to Cooking Vinyl after Jansch signed a deal with the label.
Somehow, a pressing under Cooking Vinyl never came to be and the rights were then handed over to Earth Recordings, a label currently in the thick of releasing reissues by the late great Scottish folk guitar hero. This new edition of Live at the 12 Bar brandishes new cover art with the performer’s snapshot being replaced by an illustration of the candid on the cover of the Lucky Thirteen compilation. The album’s ragged integrity remains untouched: no fancy bells and whistles on this reissue. These are the essential elements of Bert Jansch’s artistry conveniently boiled down to their raw form. You know, kind of like his first album in a way.
The 12 Bar is a London establishment that has a reputation for being a folk music haven. The crowd noise that seeps through to the microphones give the impression that it’s a pretty intimate place (it has since moved). Jansch prefers to let the music do the talking overall, keeping the between-song banter to a minimum. The most he says to the audience is in his introduction to “Let Me Sing”, a song for Chilean artist Victor Jara who was “murdered in a coup in his country just for singing and playing his guitar.” Bert Jansch was promoting his When the Circus Comes to Town album at the time and includes four of its songs in the set. Live at the 12 Bar features Jansch originals by majority, but the handful of covers that tossed into the set make the most indelible impressions upon first contact. He’s got the blues covered with Richard M. Jones’s “Trouble in Mind” and Walter Davis’s “Come Back Baby”. He reaches way back into collective folk memory, both Irish and American, for “Curragh of Kildare” and “Lily of the West”. He also applies a gentle treatment to the oft-covered Jackson C. Frank song “Blues Run the Game”, giving Live at the 12 Bar a very well-rounded impression from a distance.
But when you move up close, you’ll hear that Bert Jansch has stamped himself all over these songs. Here was a singer-songwriter who could roll Scotland, Ireland, America, and Chile into a unified ball and hold it up for all to admire for a little less than one hour in a little London folk club. No wonder he’s so sorely missed.