John Renbourn

Rare Performances, 1965-1995 [Video/DVD]

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Running for about 90 minutes, this collects clips from various phases of the first three decades of Renbourn's career, from performances in England, North America, and Europe. For the most part the audio-visual quality of most of the footage is good to excellent, though sometimes the vocals are miced worse than others. The most interesting of these clips, for their rarity and historical value, are the ones from the late '60s and early '70s, including black-and-white footage of Renbourn doing "I Know My Rider" and rehearsing the instrumental that became Pentangle's "Bells" with Bert Jansch. (Note that although this is dated as 1965 on the video package, other sources date this footage from 1967.) There's also Pentangle in 1968, again in black and white, doing "Travelling Song" and "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme"; very good performances, but the vocal mix isn't that good and Jansch's vocal on "Travelling Song" isn't too sharp. The rest of the video's in color, including the sole other Pentangle clip from the early '70s (of the instrumental "In Time"). Throughout these, Renbourn's playing of folk, medieval, blues, and jazz tunes is superb; his vocals are not superb, but they adequately complement the instrumental work (and sometimes aren't heard at all, since a fair number of the selections are instrumentals). Though most of the post-Pentangle clips are Renbourn solo, there's also a 1981 appearance as part of the John Renbourn Group and a couple of duets from the 1980s with Stefan Grossman. The best of these later performances are the ones with the John Renbourn Group, who benefited from Pentangle lead singer Jacqui McShee's vocals and an unusual instrumental lineup, including tabla.