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John Renbourn

In the '60s and '70s, John Renbourn was one of the leading lights of the British folk scene as the founder of the eclectic and innovative folk-rock band the Pentangle, who added the melodic twists and structural freedoms of jazz to the dark but compelling traditions of U.K. folk. After leaving the group, Renbourn went on to a distinguished solo career, where he broadened his repertoire to include classical guitar, and he earned an international reputation as an instrumentalist with remarkable technical skills as well as impressive taste and vision.

John McCombe was born on August 8, 1944 in Marylebone, London. His father, Robert McCombe, served in the Royal Highland Tank Regiment during World War II, and died in action when John was very young. John's mother, Dorothy, married a doctor, Edward Tobias Renbourn, in 1952, and John took his stepfather's surname. John grew up in a musical household -- his mother played the piano, and his great uncle Dan played cello, sometimes accompanying Dorothy at home -- and after the family moved to Surrey, young John began taking piano lessons. At the age of 12, John was studying theory and early music, and he soon discovered American folk and blues music after seeing a concert by Josh White. By the time he was 20, Renbourn had taken up guitar (originally studying in the classical style), and while hitchhiking across Europe he crossed paths with U.K. folk-blues artists Davy Graham, Wizz Jones, and Mac MacLeod; Renbourn and MacLeod spent a few years busking together, and cut some demo tapes that failed to lead to a record deal. After a brief spell in a rhythm & blues combo, Renbourn met Dorris Henderson, an American folk, blues, and gospel singer, and he signed on as her accompanist, cutting two albums with Henderson, 1965's There You Go and 1967's Watch the Stars. The year 1965 also saw the release of Renbourn's first solo album, simply titled John Renbourn; on a pair of songs, John was accompanied by Bert Jansch, a like-minded guitarist with whom he was sharing a flat, and in 1966, the two cut an album together, Bert & John.

In 1968, Renbourn released another solo album, Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & ye Grene Knyghte, which combined his passion for British folk and early music with more contemporary sounds; later that same year, Renbourn's desire to explore new boundaries within the folk tradition led to the formation of the group the Pentangle, with Renbourn and Bert Jansch on guitars, Jacqui McShee (who appeared on Renbourn's second solo effort, 1967's Another Monday) on vocals, Terry Cox (who played on Sir John Alot) on percussion, and Danny Thompson on bass. The Pentangle (later simply Pentangle) became one of the most popular groups on the British folk-rock scene, rivaling Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, and they frequently toured in the U.K., Europe, and the United States. Pentangle released six albums between 1968 and 1972, when the original lineup split up, falling victim to the fatigue of their busy schedule. During this period, Renbourn still maintained his solo career, releasing The Lady and the Unicorn in 1970 and Faro Annie in 1972, and after Pentangle folded, he began playing solo shows and published the first of many books of classical and folk guitar pieces. Renbourn continued to record and perform with Bert Jansch on occasion, and Jacqui McShee sang with John's post-Pentangle project the John Renbourn Group, whose 1981 concert album Live in America earned a Grammy nomination. Renbourn also cut several albums with the American guitarist Stefan Grossman, the first a self-titled effort in 1978.

In 1982, Renbourn enrolled at Darlington College in Darlington, England, where he spent three years studying composition, early music, the sitar, and the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute). Renbourn told an interviewer that his studies were "an awesome experience," though Renbourn continued to record and perform as time permitted, and at one point had to arrange to postpone an exam because it would interfere with a concert date -- sharing a bill with Doc Watson at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Renbourn would later return to academia as an instructor, teaching a degree-level course in steel-string guitar at Darlington and leading International Guitar Seminars in Quebec, Vancouver, and New York City. In 1987, for a concert in New York, Renbourn assembled a group he called Ship of Fools, with Maggie Boyle (vocals and flute), Steve Tilston (guitar and mandolin), and Tony Roberts (wind instruments), and he was happy enough with the results that the group stayed together for several years. Renbourn also participated in a Pentangle reunion tour in 1983, though he left before the group recorded the album Open the Door later that year.

Renbourn stayed busy in the '90s and the new millennium, as he taught, composed, toured internationally, and periodically recorded, and in 2007, when Pentangle received a lifetime achievement award from the BBC Folk Awards, Renbourn joined his bandmates from the original lineup to accept their honors from Sir David Attenborough and perform for the occasion. In 2008, Renbourn joined Pentangle for a short tour, followed by teaching projects in Ireland and the South of France. In 2010, the Martin Guitar Company bestowed a unique honor by introducing a John Renbourn signature model, and in 2011, Pentangle played the U.K.'s biggest annual music event, the Glastonbury Festival, and staged a farewell concert at London's Festival Hall. (Bert Jansch died a few months after the London show, in October 2011.) In March 2015, Renbourn was in the midst of a tour with his friend and mentor Wizz Jones when, after he failed to arrive for a concert date, he was found dead in his home on March 26, 2015, claimed by a heart attack at the age of 70. Renbourn's final material, Joint Control, recorded with Jones just before his death, was released in September 2016. ~ Mark Deming
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: The Attic Tapes

1. Anji

2. Blues Run The Game

3. Rosslyn

4. Picking Up The Sunshine (Feat. Beverley Martyn) (Live)

5. I Know My Babe (Live At Les Cousins)

6. The Wildest Pig In Captivity

7. Candyman

8. Buffalo

9. National Seven (Live)

10. Come Back Baby (Feat. Beverley Martyn) (Live)

11. Train Tune (Live)

12. Judy (Live)

13. Beth's Blues (Live)

14. Cocaine (Feat. Mac MacLeod)

15. Courting Blues

16. It Hurts Me Too (Feat. Mac MacLeod)

17. Portland Town (Live)

18. Plainsong (Live)

19. Can't Keep From Crying (Live)

20. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out (Feat. Davy Graham) (Live)

x

Track List: Palermo Snow

1. Palermo Snow

2. Dery Miss Grsk

3. Bella Terra

4. Cirque D'Hiver

5. Ugly James

6. Sarabande

7. Cello Prelude In G

8. Weebles Wobble (But They Don't Fall Down)

9. Little Niles

10. Blueberry Hill

x

Track List: The Hermit (Bonus Track Edition)

1. The Hermit

2. John's Tune

3. Goat Island

4. Old Mac Bladgitt

5. Faro's Rag

6. Caroline's Tune

7. O'Carolan Medley

8. The Princess And The Puddings

9. The Bicycle Tune

10. Pavana (Anna Banana)

11. A Toye / Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home

12. Luckett Sunday

13. Luke's Little Summer

14. From The Bridge

x

Track List: Keeper Of The Vine: The Best Of John Renbourn and Stefan Grossman

1. Why A Duck

2. The Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive A*s Slippers

3. Looper's Corner

4. All Things Parallel Must Converge

5. Swedish Jig

6. Idaho Potato

7. Under The Volcano: Resurrection Of Blind Joe Death

8. 'Round About Midnight

9. The Three Kingdoms

10. Rites Of Passage

11. Keeper Of The Vine

12. Catwalk

13. Goodbye Porkpie Hat

14. Midnight On The Water

15. Spirit Levels

x

Track List: So Early In The Spring

1. So Early In The Spring

2. Lindsay

3. The Mist Covered Mountains Of Home/The Orphan

4. To Glastonbury

5. The English Dance

6. The Bank Of Sweet Primroses

7. Blues Run The Game

8. Great Dreams From Heaven

9. Peacock Rag

10. If You Haven't Any Hay

11. The Young Man That Wouldn't Hoe Corn

12. Buckets Of Rain

x

Track List: Traveller's Prayer

1. Bunyan's Hymn (Monks Gate)

2. When The Wind Begins To Sing

3. Wexford Lullaby

4. I Saw Three Ships/Newgate Hornpipe

5. Planxty Llanthony/Loftus Jones

6. Fagottanz

7. At The Break Of Day

8. Traveller's Prayer

9. South Wind/Feathered Nest

10. Estampie

x

Track List: The Nine Maidens

1. New Nothynge

2. The Fish In The Well

3. Pavan D' Aragon

4. Variations On My Lady Carey's Dompe

5. Circle Dance

6. The Nine Maidens

x

Track List: Snap A Little Owl

1. Spirit Levels

2. Water Gypsy

3. Snap A Little Owl

4. Bermuda Triangle Exit

5. Looper's Corner

6. Luke's Little Summer

7. Woman From Donori

8. Why A Duck

9. Idaho Potato

10. Luckett Sunday

11. All Things Parallel Must Converge

12. The Way She Walks

13. The Drifter

x

Track List: Ship Of Fools

1. Searching For Lambs

2. Sandwood Down To Kyle

3. Bogey's Bonnie Belle

4. Lark In The Clear Air

5. The Martinmass Wind

6. Cobblers Jig/Maltese Brawl

7. I Live Not Where I Love

8. The Verdant Braes Of Screen

9. Ship Of Fools

10. Travellers' Prayer

x

Track List: The Three Kingdoms

1. The Three Kingdoms

2. 'Round About Midnight

3. Dollar Town

4. Catwalk

5. Cherry

6. Rites Of Passage

7. Medley: Kiera's Dream/Parson's Mud

8. Keeper Of The Vine

9. Minuet In D Minor

10. Farewell To Mr. Mingus

11. Medley: Abide With Me/Old Gloryland

x

Track List: Live... In Concert

1. Looper's Corner

2. The Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive A*s Slippers

3. Twelve Sticks

4. Cocaine Blues

5. Tightrope

6. Medley: Sheebeg An Sheemore; Drunken Wagoner

7. Medley: Cincinnati Flow Rag; New York City Rag

8. Medley: Judy; Angie

9. Medley: Lament For Owen Roe O'Neill; Mist Covered

10. Great Dreams From Heaven

11. Sweet Potato

12. Goodbye Porkpie Hat

13. Midnight On The Water

14. Spirit Levels

15. Mississippi Blues No.2

x

Track List: Under the Volcano

1. Idaho Potato

2. Medley: Sheebeg An Sheemore / Drunken Wagoner

3. Under the Volcano: Resurrection of Blind Joe Death / Four for the Roses / Montagu's Pact / Rights of Man

4. Medley: Bonaparte's Retreat / Billy in the Lowgrounds

5. Swedish Jig

6. Water Gypsy

7. All Things Parallel Must Converge

8. The Blarney Pilgrim

9. Mississippi Blues No. 3

x

Track List: The Black Balloon

1. The Moon Shines Bright

2. The English Dance

3. Bourree I And II

4. Medley: The Mist Covered Mountains Of Home; The Orphan; Tarboulton

5. The Pelican

6. The Black Balloon

x

Track List: The Guitar of John Renbourn

1. Swallow Flight

2. Light Traveller

3. Reflections 1

4. Reflections 2

5. Freedom Road

6. Introspection

7. Passing Time

8. Portrait of a Village

9. Summer Song

10. Glastonbury

11. Little Hands

12. Deserted Streets

x

Track List: The Hermit

3. The Princess And The Puddings

4. Faro's Rag

5. The Hermit

6. Goat Island

7. Old Mac Bladgitt

9. Bicycle Tune

10. John's Tune

11. Caroline's Tune

x

Track List: Faro Annie

1. White House Blues

2. Buffalo Skinners

3. Kokomo Blues

4. Little Sadie

5. Shake Shake Mama

6. Willy O'Winsbury

7. The Cuckoo

8. Come On In My Kitchen

9. Country Blues

10. Faro Annie

11. Back On The Road Again

x

Track List: Sir John Alot Of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knygte

1. The Earle Of Salisbury

2. The Trees They Do Grow High

3. Lady Goes To Church

4. Morgana

5. Transfusion

6. Forty-Eight

7. My Dear Boy

8. White Fishes

9. Sweet Potato

10. Seven Up

x

Track List: Sir John Alot...

1. The Earle Of Salisbury

2. The Trees They Do Grow High

3. Lady Goes To Church

4. Morgana

5. Transfusion

6. Forty-Eight

7. My Dear Boy

8. White Fishes

9. Sweet Potato

10. Seven Up

x

Track List: Another Monday

1. Another Monday

2. Ladye Nothinge's Toye Puffe

3. I Know My Babe

4. Waltz

5. Lost Lover Blues

6. One For William

7. Buffalo

8. Sugar Babe

9. Debbie Anne

10. Can't Keep From Crying

11. Day At The Seaside

12. Nobody's Fault But Mine

x

Track List: John Renbourn

1. Judy

2. Beth's Blues

3. Song

4. Down On The Barge

5. John Henry

6. Plainsong

7. Louisiana Blues

8. Blue Bones

9. Train Tune

10. Candy Man

11. The Wildest Pig In Captivity

12. National Seven

13. Motherless Children

14. Winter Is Gone

15. Noah And Rabbit

16. The Wildest Pig In Captivity (Instrumental Version)

17. Can't Keep From Crying

18. Blues Run The Game

Comments

Report as inappropriate
Singular talent. Bert has joined him in the hereafter. Rest in Peace.
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Washington
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b.g.kelly
rest in peace John Renbourn
Report as inappropriate
Simply the best. Listening to 'My Johnny Was A Shoemaker / Westron Wynde / Scarborough Fair'--a great arrangement, and perfect for a rainy (or snowy) night. My favorite British folk guitarist, edging Bert (Jansch) and Richard (Thompson); sad about his death, but...and this is ghastly...ma y b e it will result in the release of some archival material.
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Nine Maidens--abs o l u t e l y extraordinar y .
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So beautiful, hauntingly sad.
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pixiegrrrl
rest in peace John Renbourn, and thank you for so much beautiful music over so many years.
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Wonderful music
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I've seen Renbourn play several times in the U.S., with Pentangle and with Bert Jansch and Stefan Grossman. He is truly one of the masters of finger-style technique. I also own every one of his more than a dozen albums, and he has never made a bad, or even mediocre, one.
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Nice..thanks , Pandora
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nunnayobiz42 0
;)
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Beautiful and intriguing.. .
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blubeatle
I've been fortunate to see John Renbourn a few times in Austin, TX. He's amazing! Jacque McShee sang with him at once concert. I thought I was in heaven with angels & guitars playing blissfully. Guess that's where Bert is these days, entertaining the angels. We'll miss you!
Report as inappropriate
John, coming back to Philadelphia sometime in the future? I'd be glad to open again, if so. Or, just sit and listen, too. Miss ya', man!
Report as inappropriate
I saw John Rebourne five times at the Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. three times by himself, once with Robin Willims and once with Pentangle. I can't get enough of this wonderful man's music. Thanks for playing John's music on Pandora...
Report as inappropriate
I've been listening to this music for nearly 30 years and it never gets old for me1
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calvin000
I especially like his version of "Angie."
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I agree "Tourdion" is a great tune. I want to hear more.
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this guy is wicked good
Report as inappropriate
faro annie is my favorite renbourn which I managed to find on cd a couple
of years ago

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