12 essential UK instrumental guitar folk albums

British instrumental folk artists
(Image credit: David Redfern/Redferns; Jinn Woo; Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

While it’s not unusual for the bulk of instrumental acoustic guitar albums to be slotted into various American primitive sub-genres, there is also a wealth of British talent – new and established – that deserves as much attention. 

Here is our selection of just some of the finest sounds from the UK’s acoustic instrumental canon, including many albums from decades ago that continue to influence today.

1. Nick Jonah Davis – When The Sun Came (Thread Recordings, 2020)

Nick’s fourth solo guitar album distils all he has previously recorded into a set of compelling and endearing tunes, played with precision and care. The first half of the LP is Weissenborn-focused and showcases Nick’s skill with the slide, but there’s still plenty of variety across the 10 tracks and it’s all ace. 

Try: Goodfellow Of The Riverside

2. John Renbourn – The Lady And The Unicorn (Transatlantic Records, 1970)

Renbourn’s 1970 album mined 13th- and 14th-century English, Italian and French songs in parts and set them to arrangements centring around guitar and sitar music, while bringing in strings, glockenspiel and flutes. This set is considered to be the one that kickstarted the ‘Early Music’ genre in the UK. 

Try: The Lady And The Unicorn

3. dbh – Mass (Thread Recordings, 2017)

It’s tricky to decide which dbh album – Mass, 2015’s Mood or 2013’s Time Flies – is best, so it’s only right to give them all a listen. Mass contains more far-out effects-driven abstract music, but the acoustic tunes clearly come from a player gifted with the ability to write some of the simplest and most effective pieces of music. 

Try: Funny

4. Gwenifer Raymond – Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain (Tompkins Square Records, 2020)

Moving on from Gwen’s 2018 debut, You Were Never Really Much Of A Dancer, which often felt like a demonstration of her musical influences, Strange Lights… sees her creating some truly original music. The frenetic punky picking is still there in places, but there is a new maturity heard throughout.  

Try: Marseilles Bunkhouse, 3am

5. Dave Evans – Sad Pig Dance (Kicking Mule Records, 1974)

Even though there’s serious talent at play here, guitarist Dave Evans never really hit the recognised heights of players such as John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. A fan of alternative tunings and technical flourishes, Evans is still a niche name, but his music has influenced players from folk genres to improvisation and noise music. 

Try: Sun And Moon

6. Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay – The Hawksworth Grove Sessions (Cambrian Records, 2018)

Jim and Toby are both accomplished solo artists, so this album of duets, recorded in two days with no overdubs, was bound to be a success. The two Taylor guitars – Jim’s six- and Toby’s 12-string – merge seamlessly throughout 10 tracks of intricate picking for tracks inspired by the Welsh and Derbyshire landscapes.  

Try: The Marcher Lords

7. Derek Bailey – This Guitar (Rectangle, 2011)

Derek Bailey’s free improvised approach is important work. This Guitar features a 1951 Epiphone Emperor across six tracks in six different keys – it’s disparate, fragmented and spiky, but also mesmerising and integral to any guitar player working with improvised playing and free jazz structures. 

Try: G

8. Richard Thompson – Strict Tempo! (Elixir Records, 1981)

Thompson’s second studio album was often overlooked in favour of the follow-up Hand Of Kindness, but this reflective set of dance band jigs, airs, reels and waltzes is a love letter to Thompson’s musical influences and has since become something of a classic in his catalogue.  

Try: The Random Jig/The Grinder

9. Michael Chapman – Trainsong (Tompkins Square, 2011)

This fantastic compilation contains 25 tracks of recordings of tunes composed between 1967 and 2010. Five decades’ worth of material creates a fascinating insight into one of our most cherished players, and the information on each piece – including tunings – makes this record indispensable. 

Try: Slowcoach

10. C Joynes – God Feeds The Ravens (Leith Hill Recordings, 2006 / Bo’Weavil Recordings [reissue], 2008) 

So rich in material and musicianship are C’s solo records – not to mention beautifully packaged and informative – that any of his albums could make this list. The ghost of Fahey permeates this set, particularly in C’s double-thumbed picking style and Christmas Medley, but the styles and influences reach far.  

Try: And When The Sun Begins To Shine

11. Bert Jansch – Avocet (Charisma Records, 1979)

This album from the Pentangle co-founder and Scotsman offers six pieces. Avocet saw the return of a more ‘English’ sound, after the US-produced L.A. Turnaround and Santa Barbara Honeymoon. The title track is a side-long epic, while Bittern contains hints of psychedelia and Kingfisher is beautifully realised.  

Try: Kingfisher

12. Davy Graham – The Guitar Player (Pye Records, 1963) 

DADGAD legend Davy Graham’s first full-length record saw him bringing in blues, jazz and folk influences to create an enduring set of instrumentals. Although lacking some of the diversity and creative depth of his later recordings (the reissue of this tellingly includes his hit song Anji), this is still a great introduction. 

Try: Exodus

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Glenn Kimpton

Glenn Kimpton is a freelance writer based in the west of England. His interest in English folk music came through players like Chris Wood and Martin Carthy, who also steered him towards alternate guitar tunings. From there, the solo acoustic instrumental genre, sometimes called American Primitive, became more important, with guitarists like Jack Rose, Glenn Jones and Robbie Basho eventually giving way to more contemporary players like William Tyler and Nick Jonah Davis. Most recently, Glenn has focused on a more improvised and experimental side to solo acoustic playing, both through his writing and his own music, with players like Bill Orcutt and Tashi Dorji being particularly significant.