Acoustic Routes* Review

Film Still
  • Acoustic Routes film still


This exemplary documentary from 1992 serves as a cheerful guide to the ins and outs of the British folk scene.

Though this beautiful, lightly romantic 1992 documentary ostensibly chronicles the the world of obscure, late twentieth century British folk music, there's a sweet universality to its key players, its tales of comercial woe and the crooked landscape of potential performing venues across the land.

Bert Jansch, often dubbed the greatest guitar player of all time next to Jimi Hendrix and who very sadly passed away in 2011, serves as the backbone for this look back at some of the heroes of folk, and he is seen playing alongside some of the great finger-pickers of the age, including Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones, Anne Briggs and the formidable Brownie McGhee, who once jammed with Robert Johnson.

Also ushering business along is an extremely avuncular Billy Connolly who discusses his personal relationships to some of the personalities and his adoration of the records they produced. He amusingly creates an alternate history for Jansch via images which appear on his album covers, from the intense, minimalist cool of his eponymous 1965 debut in which he had no money through to the purportedly lavish sleeve of his 1966 John Renbourn collaboration, Bert and John, in which the pair can be seen lounging on terracotta throw pillows and engaging in a game of Go.

Beyond the sensational live music performances that speckle the film's runtime, there's also ample room given to exploring the social history of the folk scene and some of the most evocative moments see Jansch and co wandering the streets of Soho and reminiscing about all the pubs they played above and all the anonymous basement doorways they entered into.

Also worth looking out for is Davy Graham's rainbow-coloured tie, which perhaps stands as a harsh physical reminder of changing times, fashions and attitudes. Jansch himself makes for a sensitive, articulate and occasionally enigmatic front-man to the doc, and while he's clearly extremely proud of his output, his friends and his dedication to the folk scene, there's a modicum of resentment at the lack of physical spoils along the way.

Perhaps summing up the scene as a whole is a proclamation by McGhee who says the key to playing great folk music is sublime intuition: playing incorrect notes in tandem is a real world application of the notion of two wrongs making a right. On the evidence of Acoustic Routes, the British folk scene functions and develops on a nut-brown brew of collective endeavour and profound mutual understanding.

comments powered by Disqus