Each one was idiosyncratic in their own way, both in terms of character and performance. They were each completely grounded, generous with their time and sharing their knowledge with others, happy to pass on whatever it was they’d learned. Each of them was a pioneer among the first wave of revivalists and an inspiration and profound influence and inspiration on those who followed. None of them had the remotest interest in any form of celebrity or fame.
It was just about the music for them. Always just the music.
Each was tinged with an air of eccentricity and wonder. And lovely people too, each of them still active, still performing magnificently right up to the last months of their lives. None of them made it past three score years and ten, all victims of cancer. Each one brilliant in their own highly individual way.
Jansch, of course, was a colossus so in love with the acoustic guitar that he never even considered the more obvious route to fame and wealth offered by the electric guitar. Davy Graham’s innovative experiments may have opened the door to a new mindset in terms of accompaniment, but Bert took it somewhere else and was the coolest, most influential and most naturally gifted among the surge of guitar heroes who drove the folk boom of the 1960s.
That his genius touched and inspired musicians as diverse as Neil Young when he was starting out on his own thorny journey back in Winnipeg in the middle of Canada, Johnny Marr when he was setting up The Smiths with Morrissey a generation later in Manchester and, more recently, half the names that get bandied around whenever the words nu and folk are stuck together says it all about the durability of his groundbreaking playing.
Ray Fisher was a wonderful ballad singer with an incorrigible sense of humour who’d take a singaround in the back room of a pub over a formal concert any day of the week. She regarded her role as a song carrier passing on songs she’d learned first hand from the likes of Jeannie Robertson and thank glory for it.
Whooping Mike Waterson, meanwhile, should have been a national treasure. His contributions to the folk revival as a singer, songwriter, barbed lyricist, humanitarian and any conversation requiring a surreal anecdote were incalculable.
The passing within three months of one another of such mighty characters leaves a large void and a heavy cloud over anyone who cherishes those who championed folk song in those hazy, crazy early days of the revival.
We still have their records, of course, and their YouTube clips and their considerable legacies can be seen in so many of the new generation currently marching on with the music.
But Ray, Mike and Bert were a breed apart, born in a different, more innocent age when vinyl was king, careers blossomed through accident not a university course and dreams weren’t easily shattered. They will all be greatly missed.
And so will be everything they stood for…
Irwin was an assistant editor of Melody Maker in the 1970s and 1980s, before leaving in the summer of 1987 as the magazine moved in a different direction, and editor of Number One magazine in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
His book In Search of the Craic details a comic journey around Ireland seeking out pub music sessions and became a best-seller in Ireland. Subsequent books were In Search Of Albion, a similarly light-hearted journey around English traditions and rituals and Sing When You're Winning, about the history and culture of terrace songs at football matches.
He's also reviewed music for The Guardian, Mojo, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and fRoots and has been a Mercury Music Prize judge.