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John Renbourn - 1944-2015

It's with great sadness that we have lost another stalwart of the Folk Revival. John was a dear friend and neighbour up here in the beautiful Scottish Borders. I will miss him and his crazy stories very much. He was a man with incredible energy and charm who lived every day like it was his first and last!

Where some musicians have patchy careers, John consistently wrote, recorded and gigged until the day he died, his motivation was to seek new experiences and meet new people to play with. As a teacher, a more patient and inspiring man you could not meet.

John was the most knowledgeable person in music I have ever met. He had an extensive library of music, books and decades of recordings from which he took his inspiration. Many of the luminaries in this collection, John had met and worked with personally.

Blues was John’s first love, with Big Bill Broonzy a great influence. His music was so often the soundtrack to the time I spent with John. With a brain that was truly like an encyclopedia and a memory that would shame many young men, he would recount hilarious and fascinating stories, usually with the aid of something red and French.

There were many stories of the sixties and what really happened then. Also, John’s famous account of how the Les Cousins club was discovered is legendary. For myself, a self-confessed folk geek, I was so happy to learn the tale of the two drunken men, John and his sidekick Bert Jansch, returning home through Soho early one morning. After an all night drinking session, they crashed through the door of a Sunday School for convent girls, guitars flying. The gaggle of shocked young ladies scooped up the disheveled pair and gave them tea and cake. In payment, Bert and John sang them songs and, after regular visits back there, Les Cousins was born.

John’s real talent was his ability to make a simple experience into a great tale. Several years back he told me about the time he was on the way to a gig in the West Country one warm summer’s evening. As the country lanes got smaller and John got more lost, he found himself driving down a very smart driveway that eventually arrived at a large country pile. Realising he had rudely intruded on a very smart garden party, he quickly tried to manoeuvre his van back the way he came. Just at that moment a very well spoken lady came running over to him and said, “Who are you?” John politely wound down the window and said, “I'm turning,” to which the lady shrieked, “Oh Mr Turning, how wonderful of you to come. Please park here and come and join us.” Before John could explain he was being dragged across the garden by the lady and spent several hours being plied with champagne and canapés. Too polite to disappoint her, he only made his gig with five minutes to spare.

John Renbourn had another way of looking at life; different from anyone I've ever met. A warm hearted, funny man, he only had nice things to say about others and his generosity left his mark on everyone he met. Rest with the great and good John!

Rob Armstrong (Tarras)