REVIEW; Unplugged and unheard, but heroes anyway

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Bert Jansch and Brooks Williams

Rotterdam Bar, Belfast

He's shared bills with Hendrix, had his tunes "borrowed" by Led Zeppelin and Neil Young (in the days before copyright began to stalk the multinationals like Judge Dredd) but, 32 years after his legendary debut, Bert Jansch can still be found playing the same sort of characterful little joints he started in. And they don't come any more characterful than Belfast's Rotterdam Bar.

Jansch has played the venue many times and smirks at the idea of playing before the notorious Friday-night crowd - the one that, in his experience, has turned up no matter what night of the week he's been there. As ever, a squad of guitar buffs (all men, tolerant girlfriends in tow) grab chairs and plonk themselves down three feet from the stage. Led Zeppelin diehards, another regular contingent, make up the next phalanx, and further back are the sort of people who, quite fantastically, turn up here at acoustic guitar hero shows and spend the entire night drinking beer and talking about acoustic guitar heroes, seemingly deaf to whichever one is actually playing in the corner at the time.

Characteristically if ironically, given that his highly influential melting pot of legatos, pull-offs and hammer-ons (twangs, thumps and twiddles to you) were forged out of a need to be heard unamplified in the Soho bars of the 1960s, Jansch makes no effort to attract his audience's attention. He just plays and sings, leaving half the room in a trance at the mesmerising blur of his voice and the still strange, inimitable quality of rolling, unresolving chord sequences made effortless.

"Anji" - the instrumental on which musical ability was once judged - was played here with an intensity missing at a Dublin gig with twice the crowd and pin-drop silence just three days before. Audience reverence has almost no bearing on Jansch's performance. Bizarrely, he chose this Belfast date to dust off the fragile, rarely played "Rosemary Lane" and, equally bizarrely, it was the brand-new "Toy Balloon" - a similarly beautiful children's song - that finally stilled the room.

Brooks Williams, going on last for logistical reasons, is a shining example of Jansch's influence. An increasingly brilliant writer and guitarist himself, from Statesboro, Williams's early recording career (seven albums in as many years) was benchmarked by an obsession with Jansch. Not only were they meeting one another for the very first time here in Belfast, but Williams was debuting in a venue he'd already eulogised on record simply on the strength of its reputation.

Somehow handling the weird challenge of working a tough crowd while having his absolute idol watch from the front row, Williams worked hard, worked brilliantly and quite simply demanded and received even the noisiest punter's attention with a machine-gun combination of stage presence, supreme musicianship, sheer likeability and a repertoire of original songs that - with the addition of the new album, Seven Sisters - is enviable. It was clearly a moment of great pride for the man that, half an hour after closing-time, he was still being called back for encores.

Colin Harper

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