John Renbourn 1944 – 2015


We were on holiday in Cornwall and wandering around the back streets of Penzance when we saw the poster outside the Acorn Arts Centre, announcing an appearance by folk guitarist and singer John Renbourn in just a few days time. This was August of 2013. Now I hadn’t seen Renbourn live since the heady days when he was an integral part of Pentangle and, one or two pieces side, such as his perfectly understated version of “Lord Franklin”, I had listened to little of his music in a good while. Besides which, when I’d gone to see his former sparring partner, Bert Jansch, at the Acorn, just a few years before, I’d been sadly disappointed. But we talked it over with a pair of good friends who are more into the British folk scene than ourselves, and decided to give it a go.

The hall, set out with tables and chairs, was more or less full when we arrived – surely a good sign – and when Renbourn was introduced the applause was warm and heartfelt. The first sight of him, though, as he made his way, bulkily, almost warily, to the centre of the stage, as if uncertain of his balance, did not augur well. But then he sat down and proceeded to play. Little if any of the dexterity that had always been a hallmark of his playing seemed to have gone – a lengthy improvisation around Randy Weston’s “Little Niles” was as breathtaking as watching a man expertly walk a high wire – and the voice – that almost ghostly whisper – has lost little of its immediacy; and as the evening went on, you could sense him warming to the audience’s very real appreciation of his music, his very presence.

It was, simply, one of the best, most richly enjoyable  events of its kind I’ve been privileged to attend, and, at its end, we were all staggered to hear that, rather than spending the night there in Penzance, Renbourn was going to drive himself all the way from almost the furthest point in the south-west, to where he lived on the Scottish borders. It beggared belief. But, seemingly, that’s what he did. All the time. Drive himself to gigs and back in his little green van.

Just a few days ago, March 2015, due at a gig in Glasgow, the little green van failed to arrive. Friends found Renbourn dead at his home, having suffered a heart attack.

There’s an excellent piece by Pete Paphides


Author: John Harvey


3 thoughts on “John Renbourn 1944 – 2015”

  1. Thank you for that. John Renbourn has always been a part of our lives. Old folkies never die.

  2. I saw John on the current tour with Wizz Jones, who I don’t much care for, but John’s presence more than made up for that.The joint tour gave him an excuse to sit back a bit, but he played well and looked fit enough. My favourite memory is of him at the Gladstone, up the road from me in Carrington, a small, smokey room above the pub, packed to the rafters on New Year’s Eve in the early 90’s, where he played a spellbinding set. RIP.

  3. I loved John so much . The only time I spoke to him was to talk about “So Clear ” a song which I have lived with and loved for over 40 years >He was as gracious as everyone says . Did enjoy his recent concert at Bearsden , with Wizz , for whom I did care . I just find his loss stunning

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