Borders-based guitarist inspired generations

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With the death last week at his Borders home of John Renbourn, the world of acoustic guitar music has lost one of its finest exponents and greatest advocates. He was 70.

He had been due to perform with his old friend and guitar contemporary Wizz Jones at The Ferry in Glasgow on Wednesday night, but when he failed to appear, concerned friends contacted the police.

He was found dead the following evening, having suffered a suspected heart attack at The Snoot (pictured), a remote former church on the Borthwick Water near Roberton, where he had lived for two decades. Tributes have flooded in for the London-born musician who was a leading figure of the British folk music revival of the 1960s.

After studying classical guitar at school, Renbourn teamed up with Scottish guitarist Bert Jansch, the pair developing an intricate duet style known as “folk baroque”.

In 1968 Renbourn and Jansch, along with Danny Thomson (bass), Jacqui McShee (vocals), Sue Draheim (fiddle) and Terry Cox (drums), formed Pentangle.

That seminal group enjoyed worldwide commercial and artistic success over the next four years, particularly in the US where they performed to sell-out crowds at Carnegie Hall and Newport Folk Festival.

With influences running the gamut of classical, folk, jazz and blues, Renbourn recorded many solo albums and struck up notable collaborations, including with another Borders-based folk legend, Archie Fisher, with whom he toured the US.

His reputation as a tutor was greatly enhanced by many teaching videos which are now available on YouTube and his renowned residential workshops in Spain, France and Crete.

In recent years, he had resumed a long-standing performing relationship with Jones, the 75-year-old guitarist cited by Keith Richards and Rod Stewart as an inspiring influence during the early Sixties.

Renbourn, who lived in San Francisco before moving to the Borders in 1995, did his most recent recordings at the Penicuik studio of Border Boogie Band percussionist Colin Hood.

“We had just finished an album and John was really upbeat about it during our last session which was last Tuesday night,” said Hood.

“It’s thus so tragic that he has gone. He was a lovely man, so generous in sharing his gift, whose playing was as fresh and beautiful as ever.

“He loved living in the Borders and found great inspiration from the place and its people.”

Last month Renbourn and Jones were the guests of ex-Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews on her BBC Radio 6 music show, reflecting on their careers and enthusiastically sharing their playing and teaching plans for the future.

After his death was announced, she tweeted: “So sorry to hear of John Renbourn’s passing. A loving, lovely man. RIP John. It was an honour and pleasure meeting you.”

John Renbourn is survived by the four children of his two marriages, Joel, Jessie, Ben and Jake.