Personalities | John Renbourn | Father of Modern Folk | Guitar Heroes

John Renbourn (b. 1944) is a father of contemporary British folk music and an acknowledged master of fingerstyle guitar. He is best known for his collaboration with guitarist Bert Jansch and his work with the folk group Pentangle. Renbourn created music that fused British and Celtic folk with blues, jazz, British early music, classical guitar and Eastern forms.

Renbourn began playing guitar as a teen in his native Torquay, England. At first he was into skiffle, a style that became popular as the folk-music revival was beginning. An instructional book introduced Renbourn to the music of many American folk artists, and he began to research them. In 1964 he began studying classical guitar at the George Abbot School in Guildford. Two years later he was playing folk music in Soho where he met many other musicians, including Paul Simon, Davey Graham and Bert Jansch. Renbourn and Jansch were roommates for a while, and they developed a rapport when jamming together. Both men had fledgling recording careers at the time. Renbourn performed on Jansch’s second album and afterwards they teamed up formally to record Bert And John (1966). They developed an intricate duet style that became known as ‘folk baroque’.

In 1967 the two founded Pentangle and remained together through to 1978. Renbourn, as with the other group members, continued to release such solo albums as The Hermit (1976) and The Black Balloon (1979). He formed the John Renbourn Group in the Eighties and began adding East Indian percussion and jazz woodwinds to his music. Around the mid-Eighties, he teamed up with guitarist Stefan Grossman and embarked upon a series of world tours. The two also recorded a few albums before Renbourn went on to found the ensemble Ship Of Fools and play music with a stronger Celtic influence.

He continues to tour alone and with other guitarists including Grossman, Larry Coryell and Isaac Guillory. He also occasionally reunites with Jansch and sometimes tours with Scottish storyteller Robin Williamson. In 2005 he toured Japan and collaborated with Clive Carroll on the score for the film Driving Lessons. He continues to perform and give guitar workshops.

Early on, Renbourn played the English-made Scarth guitar. In the mid-Sixties, he acquired a Gibson J-50 and later played a Guild D-55.

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