Jackson C Frank at a small club on Ilford High Street in 1969
Jackson C frank was a major singer-songwriter from the sixties though not too many people would know that. He was a regular at Les Cousin, partnered Sandy Denny and persuaded her to give up her job and sing full time, was a close friend of Roy Harper (who wrote the song My Friend for him) and was a great influence on all those songwriters of that era. His first album, recorded in 1965, being groundbreaking. A beautiful, melodic album of well-crafted introspective songs that are haunting.
The Contemporary Folk scene had taken off in a big way in England. Donovan had popularised it and Dylan’s success had made acoustic music a viable commercial exercise but the whole scene had blossomed underground with the likes of Davy Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. It had different roots to that of Greenwich Village in America, although there was a lot of overlap.
I stumbled across this folk phenomenon via a number of sources. When I was fourteen I had been introduced to Woody Guthrie and Big Bill Broonzy by a girlfriend of mine. Then Donovan had started playing on Ready Steady Go. It seemed to fit together. Donovan at the time put the same sign on his guitar that he’d stolen from Woody – ‘This machine kills fascists’. I liked that.
Then Robert Ede and Neil Furby played a part in my education. They were two school-mates. Neil nicked one of my girlfriends but he introduced me to Bert Jansch and John Rebourn, so I suppose that was a fair exchange. Bob had bought the Jackson album the day it came out (he was way ahead of the game) and lent it to me. I loved it. I was hooked right from that first hearing. It was perfect – the voice, guitar, melodies and lyrics all gelled for me. I immediately went out and bought my own copy.
So contemporary Folk Music became a big part of my life.
The final culmination of that time was to discover Roy Harper in Les Cousins with his first album. That blew them all away. But that’s another story.
Back in those halcyon days of the mid-sixties, 1965-66, prior to the advent of Roy, I spent a lot of time in my room with my old dansette record player, playing those first albums by Bert and John. I just loved the passion, integrity and guitar. But the album I played most was Jackson’s. Those songs were absorbed into my being. I knew them inside out.
For over three years I enjoyed that album. When I went to college I met up with Pete and we roomed together for two years. It was a delight to discover that he not only also adored Jackson but could play all his songs. Pete was an outstanding guitarist.
Most of the time in London I never saw Jackson advertised anywhere though he did play the folk scene and was a regular at Les Cousins where I went quite often. I looked out for him without success. But there was so much going on in the Folk and Rock scene that it was not foremost in my mind.
Then in 1969 Pete and I discovered Jackson billed at the Angel in Ilford High Street. The Angel was a pub with a room above it for small music events.
We arrived early. It was set out with a number of round tables with chairs around them. We purloined a table at the front. There were only about thirty people in the Audience. Jackson was quiet and softly spoken, very laid back. He played his songs faultlessly. They were all the songs from that album with nothing new. We clapped each rendition madly. It was brilliant to see him in the flesh. His playing was faultless. His personality shone and those songs were sparkling diamonds.
I would have loved to have heard some other new songs as well though. We were hungry for more of these extraordinary compositions. It was not to be.
After the concert everybody else left but we stayed behind and chatted. Jackson was very friendly and appreciative. He told us that there was no fabled second album or live performance. He said he had not written any other songs but that turned out not to be quite true. The song Golden Mirror, which has just been discovered from a TV programme, is from that period. I do not think he had the confidence in his new material.
Jackson left Pete and I with the sense of a really warm and shy character who was very approachable. We both thought he was a genius.
The next week he was supposed to have turned up for a guest appearance (the only guest – an honoured spot) at Roy Harper’s fabled St Pancras Town Hall gig. He never showed up. I asked the guy he had been with in Ilford, who did turn up to the Roy gig. He informed that Jackson would have come but he was unwell.
I never saw him advertised again. He seemed to evaporate into the night.
I spoke to Roy about it much later and he sadly shook his head and told me he had not seen him again either.
It was only long afterwards when the CD, with those later recordings, came out in the 1990s that I became aware of his tragic fate.
I remember Jackson fondly. He was a sweet, pleasant man, full of emotion and compassion. He wrote songs and music that were so touching and beautiful that they still haunt me.
I think he suffered. He was too kind and vulnerable. Fears robbed him of his potential. The terrible memories of that High School fire in which he was burnt and his girlfriend and fourteen others died, haunted him. It created a mental anguish that he never recovered from. Nobody deserved to suffer the way he did. He was a genius who impacted on the music and songwriting of so many others – including Roy, Sandy, Bert, John and the Fairports. He should have been lauded to the rafters. Instead he is largely forgotten.
I’ll never forget that night in Ilford. That might have been his last gig.