‘Tinker’s Blues’ – Bert Jansch
Thinking about the way a guitar break can work within a song led me to wonder about the job of a title. Midway-through the first side of Jansch’s second album, It Don’t Bother Me (1965), comes Tinker’s Blues. Instrumental, only a minute long, just a single guitar, it’s barely a song at all, more the whisper of an idea. Or perhaps an exercise: it’s trickier to play than it sounds, shifting between two positions, the key notes of the melody falling in between the alternating bass, those high harmonics.
Throw in the title, however, and it becomes something else entirely. Certainly the tune does just enough to be called a blues, but what about Tinker? Tinker, it turns out, is a cat. Bert, freshly arrived in London, was staying at his friend Les Bridger’s flat in Swiss Cottage, and Tinker lived with the pair of them. Bert’s liner notes add a bit of detail: ‘Tinker is a pussy cat, who strides through our flat and amuses himself by being rescued by firemen from the topmost chimney of the house.’
Suddenly the riff, initially so hard to pin down, takes on a new sense. The piece shifts into focus: not an exercise, but a sketch. The lightness, the offbeat complexity: how quintessentially catty! So carefree, nimble, almost not there at all. Tinker! Good name for him. What a scamp! Wonder what happened to him?
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