Brit-Folk Guitar: From Graham to Jansch
by Justin Farrar | June 6, 2013
Unlike their American Primitive counterparts, British-folk guitarists have rarely been instrumentalists exclusively. After all, many of the tradition's most beloved progenitors -- from Bert Jansch and Richard Thompson to Ralph McTell and Davy Graham -- were also vocalists (and excellent ones at that). Moreover, they've long demonstrated far more willingness to strap on electric guitars while applying their talents to rock, pop, jazz, funk and even psychedelia. The late John Martyn might be the most potent example of this: Though a fairly orthodox coffeehouse troubadour in the late '60s, by 1977's utterly brilliant album One World he was fusing singer-songwriter fare to dub, reggae and various ambient techniques pioneered by Brian Eno (one of the record's peak moments, "Small Hours," is spotlighted here).
Of course, there exist numerous musicians who have opted to remain closer to the vine, so to speak. Martin Carthy, one of the most influential artists in the history of modern British folk music, might've served time in the electric-based rock outfit Steeleye Span, but as a solo artist, he has always remained fairly devoted to acoustic traditionalism. Consequently, it was Carthy's gorgeous arrangement of "Scarborough Fair" (originally released in 1965) that Simon & Garfunkel borrowed for their own rendition, which became a major pop hit three years later.
If you are familiar with my American Primitive playlist (see above), then you may note that Michael Chapman and James Blackshaw appear on this one as well. That's because both guitarists, though English born, have developed styles that deftly bridge the divide between American and British folk guitar.