See all items covering the Bert Jansch commemoration at this link: https://www.salutlive.com/bert-jansch/
For the latest addition to Salut! Live's growing bundle of Bert Jansch nostalgia, three days as I write from what would have been his 80th birthday, here's something of a collector's item: a scholarly contribution from a multi-instrument musician, mentor and illustrator with an intimate knowledge of Jansch's work (see footnote).
Jon Riley writes about another track from the 1960s, a love song that he says Jansch had every right to take pride in. What I think will be the final instalment of this part of our commemoration - individual thoughts on specific songs - will appear on the birthday itself, Friday, and has been written by Andrew Curry, whose idea it was to mark the occasion ...
Image: Chris Barber. https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisbarber/
The bootleg recording of this song on Young Man Blues (from 1964 or 1965) preserves Bert’s hesitant introduction:
'This one’s called I Am Lonely, I Am Lost.
It’s a form of love song, which – er – rather strange love song, it’s not a love song in the sense that you’re crazy about someone and you’re singing about them, it’s not that sort of love song at all.
In fact, I couldn’t really tell you what sort of love song it is, to tell you the truth. In fact, I don’t really know what it’s about at all, and that’s really the truth. But [aside from] all that rubbish it’s quite nice to listen to and goes like this.'
It’s easy to tell he was particularly proud of it and rightly so.
It’s in D major (played as C with capo on 2), with a minor V chord for the title refrain. The right-hand guitar technique is in simple alternating bass style, while the left hand forms some unusual and inventive shapes, in very effective voicings.
The combination of guitar style and melancholy introspection was probably inspired by Jackson C Frank (who arrived in Britain in 1964), and that mood is expressed eloquently in the guitar patterns alone, even before we get to the lyric.
The original version had the following form. The chords used are shown beside each line (shapes, not concert pitch). The slashes indicate inversions, the bass note being to the right of the slash.
[A] Oh please understand, my love, what I say
I am lonely, I am lost
[B] And lately I wonder who shall capture my heart
Like the windy leaves do fall on to the ground
I am lonely, I am lost
[A] And though I be a young man, my body does decay
Like a wooden craft on a sandy bay
[B] Come bring to me a basket filled unto the brim with coloured shells
Then set them down that I may choose but one.
I am lonely, I am lost
By the time of the version recorded for Birthday Blues (1969), he had removed the first [B] section, so the song changed from being two verses in AB-AB form to a single AAB form.
This makes for a more satisfying structure, as the first two lines then repeat their melody and chords – forming two nine-bar sections - before the departure to “come bring to me...” which works like a bridge, 10 bars rising to a melodic peak, and followed by a four-bar repeat of the refrain. No more lyrics were added, so the song is very short. The later version is extended by including a nine-bar (A section) intro, a full instrumental verse (AAB) after the vocal, then a repeat of the whole vocal.
The song is all the more effective for its economy. The deleted lines about capturing his heart and the windy leaves can be seen to be superfluous (those “windy leaves” had now appeared in 1967’s Go You Way My Love anyway), while the part about the basket of shells (with the same melody) stands alone as a jewel-like metaphor.
This recording sees the song in its finished form, a polished gem surpassing his hero Jackson C Frank, whose evocations of melancholy were prosaic in comparison: direct and honest, but less expressive.
It’s significant that most of the tonic chords (C), especially the last, are inverted. Putting the 5th (G) in the bass makes them unstable, inconclusive. This is intuitive on Bert’s part, recognising that that sound expresses a restlessness that suits the theme. The idea probably arose from the four-note descending bass in the first line (C-B-A-G) – common enough in a lot of popular music – leading to the idea to keep the bass on that G, so the key – already subverted by that Gm chord – stays unresolved, as if not knowing which way to go; having no “home”. But also, the picking patterns and open voicings of the chords play their sweetly poignant part too.
Below: Excerpt from the second part of the song (in guitar transposition). As well as the open chord voicings and inversions, notice the close harmonies in the middle of the chords: the unison Gs and the G and A in bar 13; his shapes allow these notes to ring across one another, creating a sweet major 2nd dissonance in bars 13-14, enhanced by the “lonely” high C in 14. Following the G/B, the bass line descends through F/A, Am to C/G.
And here is a clip from a Glasgow live recording
Jon Riley on himself:
I'm a self-taught musician, mainly on guitar, but also bass, mandolin, banjo and keyboard. Since my teens in the 1960s, I've played in various bands, amateur and semi-pro: folk, blues, rock, soul, jazz. I saw Bert and Pentangle (among many others) in the late 60s, and played in a band with pre-Pentangle Mike Piggott in the mid-70s. I've worked as a freelance illustrator since the 1980s, studied jazz in the 1990s, and have been a guitar teacher since 2003. I helped prepare the two Bert Transcribed songbooks, and have taught Bert's style in workshops run by the Bert Jansch Foundation. Currently writing a treatise on his songwriting.