The 1960s Second Wave of the Folk Revival in the UK saw the emergence of a handful of master guitarists: Bert Jansch, Davey Graham, Gordon Giltrap, John James and, premier amongst them John Renbourn. There were of course great singers like Martin Carthy and Nic Jones whose playing matched their singing but John Renbourn and the others I’ve mentioned were primarily known as folk guitarists.
John was classically trained but as a teenager was seduced by John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry and the world of rock and roll into the bowels of the Soho music scene where he played along with greats like Alexis Korner, Long JohnBaldry, Cyril Davies and Danny Thompson.
Teaming up with Bert Jansch he became a fixture at Les Cousins – the go-to club for all the beats, singer songwriters and musicians that were hitting the London scene in those days: people like Donovan, Wizz Jones, Davy Graham, Martin Carthy, Al Stewart, Anne Briggs, John Martyn, the Incredible String Band, Cat Stevens, Bridget St John, Sandy Denny, Jackson C Frank and Paul Simon.
He made some seminal instrumental recordings with Bert Jansch before going on with him to found Pentangle; a letter from him to a friend records,
“I’m not doing many folky clubs these days as Bert and I have formed a group called Pentangle which has got Alexis Korner’s old bass and drums and a lady called Jacquie [sic] who sings and looks moody. It’s a weird sound.”
Pentangle of course went on to become one of the biggest folk / jazz / fusion bands in the world and John toured with them until the band folded. When the band reformed a few years back he was in good a form as ever.
Alongside his carer with Pentangle John Renbourn made a cluster of fine solo instrumental albums and made a wonderful album with Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle as John Renbourn’s Ship Of Fools.
He spent his latter years living in a remote, converted chapel in the Scottish borderlands and was was working right until his death in March 2015.