Here’s a nice curio – that seems to make more sense now than it perhaps did at the time; among a bunch of Bert Jansch reissues – lovingly handled with booklet-length liners, et al – comes this bonkers-but-charming album-length paean to British birds, Avocet. Recorded in 1979 it arrived in punk/post-punk times and its pastoral/baroque-folk shadings must have been so easy to spit on.
But listen to it today, with a head full of Ryley Walker and William Tyler perhaps, and it makes so much sense.
Jansch was whatever ‘star’ he would be well by the time of Avocet. He’d been discovered, had become a huge influence – which has lasted – but he was very nearly dried up and done.
The opening, 18-minute title track here is almost a career-summary, to listen to it now. It’s everything he had to offer in one sprawling mini-masterwork; an album’s worth of quality right at the get-go.
There are other things to consider here, now, also: Lapwing’s jaunty piano setting (just 90 seconds of Jansch, Ralph Towner-like, switching away from his primary instrument) or Bittern’s gently muscular knots of tightly coiled melody-and-rhythm, undulating, overlapping, moving as one.
There’s the John Martyn-meets-Martin Carthy setting for Kingfisher, Osprey’s Nick Drake-esque intensity and Goldfinch’s lovely, autumnal sway – assisted, as is the case with the towering opener, by Danny Thompson’s proud nods of anchoring bass.
Again, it makes more sense now – so close to what Steve Gunn’s doing that you could probably fool people quite easily.
There’s a charm and sincerity here and some lovely playing. And because it comes from a decade removed (nearly two) from Jansch’s sixties work, his introduction, there’s something interesting and offbeat about this. It works. It’s lovely.