In the early sixties when British ‘folkies’ like John Renbourn were honing their licks, few were truly aware of the origins of the blues tunes they were playing. YouTube wasn’t even a notion and genuine blues musicians were very scarce in the UK ,so they learnt songs from friends and records. This excellent collection of Renbourn’s early tapes finds him playing many of the classics of that era, folk tunes with a strong blues flavour. It kicks off with Davy Graham’s ‘Anji’, a piece covered by pretty much every acoustic guitarist at the time but this version as with most of the twenty songs gathered here was not included in Renbourn’s early releases. It was recorded prior to commercial release it so based on hearing it live at the legendary Les Cousins folk club where Graham was the king of the scene. It’s followed by a fine version of Jackson C Frank’s underrated classic ‘Blues Run the Game’ and another 18 tracks recorded both live and in the ‘studio’, although the term studio suggests something more professional than was often the case.
Sound quality is suprisingly good for the vintage and presumed equipment quality, proving that analogue tape is a forgiving medium especially if the material doesn’t need wide bandwith or dynamic range. Standards vary of course, ‘Picking Up The Sunshine’ featuring Beverley Kutner (soon to become Renbourn) sounds a little crude but you can appreciate the quality of performance from both singer and guitarist. There’s a lovely version of ‘I Know My Babe’ recorded live at Les Cousins and some great picking on ‘Buffalo’. ‘Beth’s Blues (Live)’ is one of several tracks that appeared on Renbourn’s eponymous debut in 1966, giving fans a bit of insight into its origins. Davy Graham himself pops up on an atypical version of ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out (Live)’ which sounds like a later recording but is in fact from the era prior to Renbourn’s first album. With liner notes written by the artist shortly before he passed away last year The Attic Tapes provides an insight into a scene that spawned many great artists and reveals that Renbourn should be as familiar a name as any of them.