Sunday, 13 January 2019


Pentangle were a British folk rock band who had their best period in the late sixties-early seventies....

The Pentangle (1968)
....they were largely folk-based but had influences of blues, jazz and rock in their music too. The differing eclectic nature of their music can be clearly detected across this album. The traditional folk of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is a very Fairport Convention-esque track, with Jacqui McShee providing haunting, medieval-style vocals, whereas Waltz is an instrumental packed full of jazz influences - stand up bass, jazz drum rolls and lively keyboards. It is on tracks like this that Pentangle differed from many other folk groups.

Bells is a catchy, acoustic guitar and drums based instrumental. The stereo sound is truly fantastic, particularly for 1968. There is a drum solo on it too, which was highly unusual for an ostensible folk group (although they were never just that). The haunting voice is McShee is back on the beautiful, ethereal folk of Hear My Call. McShee was the match of Sandy Denny, for sure. Again, the track's eclecticism is highlighted by a killer bit of blues guitar. 

Pentangling is a lengthy, almost "jam" style track, with some airy McShee vocals at the beginning before it proceeds into a virtuoso workout of acoustic guitar, percussion and bass. The vocals do return with a bit of a change of pace. It is all very late sixties but none the less instrumentally impressive. Mirage is a short, laid-back, percussion and vocal-dominated song, while Way Behind The Sun shows the group's love for the blues. It is packed with blues guitar and a lively Joplin-esque vocal from McShee (although far less throaty). Bruton Town is a traditional folky air, with McShee and Bert Jansch duetting most hauntingly. The bit where it goes quiet and the guitar and drums interplay is excellent. The musicianship is of the highest quality.

This is a most impressive debut from a group that, outside of folk cognoscenti, are surprisingly little mentioned. I find their ambience, sound and blend of styles both interesting and beguiling.

Basket Of Light (1969)   
After their adventurous jazz-folk debut album, 1968's The Pentangle, this ground-breaking, remarkably talented and comparatively under-appreciated group returned the following year with this, their second album. It is slightly more folky and less jazzy than the previous album.

Light Flight is possibly their best-known track and is jaunty and jazzy in its instrumentation, but harmoniously folky in its airy, floaty "dah-dah-dah-doo-dah" vocal improvisations. The acoustic guitars in it are seriously impressive, as is the shuffling drum rhythm. It is quite infectious. Once I Had A Sweetheart is again, very Fairport Convention-like in the Sandy Denny-style vocal delivery and overall feel. The bass is sumptuous on it too as is the Eastern-influenced rock guitar at the end. Like something The Doors would do. 

Springtime Promises is more traditionally folk, with a typically folky, warm, rural-sounding wistful male vocal from Bert Jansch. The haunting Lyke Wake Dirge sung beautifully by Jacqui McShee is a highlight of the album. It has also been covered by Steeleye SpanTrain Song has some seriously captivating percussion and bass lines and McShee's vocal is again captivating. There is some virtuouso guitar interplay at the end too. Hunting Song is an enchanting piece of folk music, six minutes of beautifully sung narrative over gentle instrumentation, crystal clear in sound too. Sally Go Round The Roses is a slightly bluesy and jazzy, lively, upbeat infectious song with some great rhythms and vocals. The Cuckoo is a traditional folk song given a sublime vocal treatment from McShee's cut glass voice. This fine folk album ends with the doom-laden tale of The House Carpenter which is a version of the traditional ballad used by Steeleye Span called The Daemon Lover.

Cruel Sister (1970)

This is the most folky of Pentangle's albums - the tracks are all traditional folk. No jazz experiments to be found here. Quite why they never made it to the heights of Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span is a mystery. Some of their stuff is as good as you will hear traditional folk songs interpreted. Jacqui McShee's voice is simply sublime, crystal clear and the instrumentation is rich, warm and textured.
The first song is a favourite of mine A Maid That's Deep In Love  - tells a fascinating story about a girl who goes to see dressed as a man in order to be with her lover. When I Was In My Prime has Jacqui McShee singing totally unaccompanied, a very difficult thing to do. It is an utterly beautiful delivery. Not a note out of place. Her voice is hauntingly seductive.Lord Franklin has John Renbourn on lead vocals on an evocative, moving, tragic seafaring tale. Lord Franklin died trying to navigate the North-West passage in Canada. Jacqui joins in with some infectious backing vocals. Then some delicious guitar parts, also from Renbourn, arrive to add to the atmosphere. Cruel Sister also has some Eastern-sounding guitar and another ghostly vocal. It is a story of two sisters rivalling each other for the love of a knight. It is a Northumbrian tale also known as "Twa Sisters'. One of the sisters murders the other by pushing her in the North Sea.

Although Pentangle use the electric guitar considerably n this album, it never overwhelms the sound. It doesn't turn them into a electric folk group. Their subtle use of electric guitar lies under the main melody, enhancing it but not dominating it. Steeleye Span's early electric interjections, for example, were far more aggressive, such as on tracks such as Cam Ye O'er Frae France.

The old "side two" was entirely taken over by one song - the eighteen-minute Jack Orion. The track has Bert Jansch sharing vocal duties with McShee and the instrumentation is seriously good - acoustic guitar, percussion, electric guitar and an intoxicating bass. Although it is obviously lengthy, it is a perfect creation. I love the way they didn't care about putting such a long track on the album. They wanted to do it and so they did. Good for them. This is one of Pentangle's finest albums and probably their last truly essential one.

Related posts :-
Albion Country Band
Fairport Convention
Steeleye Span

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