I turned on the radio yesterday at the very end of Lauren Laverne’s morning show on BBC 6 Music. The strains of folk guitar came over the airwaves. “That’s nice”, I thought, “and not Lauren’s usual material”. Crossing the hall on my way to make a cup of tea it struck me that it sounded like John Renbourn. Going back into the living room and checking the display on the DAB tuner I saw that I was right – it was John Renbourn playing I Know My Babe and very good it was, too.
John Renbourn is best known as one fifth of Pentangle but he also performed as a solo artist and in collaboration with several other musicians. He always reminds me of my days at university where I saw Pentangle at the New Theatre, Oxford just before they split up in 1973. At that time I was a mediocre bass guitar player and got to know some of the other student musicians. A few months after the Pentangle performance one of my contacts invited me to a private concert at his college’s folk club.
The club had made a small profit and were putting on a show solely for club members and their guests. It turned out to be John Renbourn and Jacqui McShee – an acoustic session in a small, intimate setting. This wasn’t part of a tour, it wasn’t promoting new material or recordings. John and Jacqui weren’t trying to impress, they were just playing a few folk songs to an attentive and appreciative audience. Perhaps it was this relaxed atmosphere that made for such an enthralling experience.
I don’t remember what was played or who I was with. I just remember walking back to my room in college feeling it had been one of those special occasions and I had been immensely privileged to have been there.
Coming back to 2015, the song ended and Lauren Laverne had an explanation for her unusual choice of material. John Renbourn had died the previous day and this was her tribute to him. I shared her sadness. The world has lost a great guitarist, singer and music teacher.