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Original members include Terry Cox (drums), Bert Jansch (born November 3, 1943; from Glasgow, Scotland; guitar and vocals), Jacqui McShee (vocals), John Renbourn (guitar), and Danny Thompson (born April, 1939; double bass). Later members include Gerry Conway (born 1947; from King's Lynn, Norfolk; drums; joined band c. 1985), Peter Kirtley (guitar; joined band c. 1985), and Nigel Portman-Smith (from Sheffield, England; bass; joined band c. 1985). Addresses: Record company--Green Linnet, 43 Beaver Brook Road, Danbury, CT 06810.
The five members of Pentangle were established solo performers when they came together as a group in 1967 at the club Les Cousins in Soho, London. Guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were highly esteemed folk musicians, double-bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox were session players who had been members of Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, and singer Jacqui McShee, according to disc jockey John Peel's liner notes on the band's first album, had "survived a prolonged baptism of fire in clubs, concert halls, and pubs." As Pentangle, these individuals fused traditional British folk music styles with the jazz leanings of its rhythm section.
The group didn't consciously set out to create such unique music. According to Renbourn, "Unlike the more archly traditionalist clubs, the Cousins had no musical policy to speak of. The place stayed open all night, which meant a cheap kip for the punters, but a long haul for the musicians. We played anything we knew and much that we didn't to spin it out until morning. Everybody came up with ideas. When the repertoire eventually stabilized, it was a fairly mixed bag." For a brief time Jansch and Renbourn experimented with electric guitars but returned to acoustic instruments when Danny Thompson refused to switch from double bass to electric bass guitar. As Karl Dallas noted in Melody Maker, "The rich, fat tone [Danny] can get out of it, and the sensitive slurs and dynamics of his playing, compared with the rather synthetic tone of most bass guitars, shows that he has a point."
Pentangle earned rave reviews from their first major concert at London'sRoyal Festival Hall. Reviewer Tony Wilson enthused in Melody Maker, "With five individually talented people, the Pentangle has flexibility not only in types and styles of music but in the combinations of group members who play them. Thus with the interplay of performers and music types the evening never lagged and gave a true picture of what the Pentangle can actually do." In a Melody Maker interview, Jansch acknowledged the group's chemistry: "It's really fantastic, the way we all think together. Anything we do is a really co-operative effort." Having won over the music press, Pentangle's first single "Traveling Song" received significant airplay, propelling the self-titled debut album to number 21 on the British album charts.
Pentangle's 1970 album Basket of Light became its biggest seller. The band continued to tour the world to great acclaim; a 1971 Melody Maker review likened Pentangle's performance to an imaginary kingdom, "a quiet, reflective place...where the enthusiasm of the populace putting their hands together at the conclusion of each more delicate construction comes as a rude interruption."
Some critics complained of Pentangle's music becoming consistent and dull. Rolling Stone's review of the group's album Solomon's Seal opined, "No surprises here, either plus or minus, just the same light, airy ensemble sound. You get the feeling they'll go on for decades like this, making pretty, well-played, unstartling albums, enjoying themselves in their own mild way, and not causing any commotion." However, Melody Maker's perennial Pentangle supporter Karl Dallas commented, "It has always surprised me that those who have failed to look beyond the surface of their music have failed to be aware of the incredible powerhouse that purrs away, like a tiger with claws sheathed in velvet, at the very heart of Pentangle. What is now beginning to happen, I think, is that the tiger is going to be allowed more length to its chain." Guitarist Jansch addressed the criticisms of the band's consistency, "I'd like to see the band not so tight, even if we created other bands. Not that we'd fold Pentangle, but there's no reason why Danny shouldn't also have a jazz band of his own, or a group of some description. From this, musically we'd also begin to get a lot looser because of it."
Jansch's predictions were partially seen through in March of 1973 when bassist Danny Thompson left the band due to stress following an arduous British tour. Thompson told Rolling Stone, "...my head was very mixed up; I was exhausted from the tour, and eventually a mixture of depression and anxiety--because I just couldn't take any more--caused this heart flutter." The remaining members folded Pentangle because, as Jansch told Rolling Stone, "Danny is an essential part of Pentangle. Take him away and replace him with something else, and you might have something, but you wouldn't have Pentangle."
The split confirmed rumors and denials that had been passed around over the last two years of the band's existence. Melody Makeras Karl Dallas summed up the group's influence thusly, "Where would [the British electric-folk scene] have got without the trailblazing of Pentangle and Bert Jansch in particular, whose superb 'Jack Orion' solo album itself anticipated so much that was to come later?"
Pentangle's breakup would not be a permanent one. Over a decade later, in 1986, a new edition of Pentangle formed with original members McShee, Jansch, and Cox joined by guitarist Mike Piggott and bassist Nigel Smith. When Washington Post writer Mike Joyce asked why the group reunited, Jansch replied, "Some bloke just asked us if we could get together again for a show, and we did." The new Pentangle featured electric guitars and bass which Jansch said gave the music "a lot of new colors now." Jacqui McShee and Bert Jansch are currently anchored by guitarist Peter Kirtley, bassist Nigel Portman, and drummer Gerry Conway, a veteran of Jethro Tull, The Incredible String Band, and Steeleye Span. Reviewing the band's 1992 album Think of Tomorrow, Folk Roots said, "[It] certainly isn't going to set the roots music scene alight, but the warm and tasteful sounds created by a bunch of class musicians at ease go down very nicely at the end of a long day."
Although Pentangle has had difficulty recently living up to its own reputation, the band continues to delight audiences with its mix of traditional and original material. Pentangle's innovations continue to influence today's folk musicians.
by James Powers
Band formed in 1967, in London; recorded first album, The Pentangle, 1968, on Reprise; disbanded in 1973; reformed in 1985.
- Selective Works
- The Pentangle, Reprise, 1968.
- Sweet Child, Reprise, 1968.
- Basket of Light, Reprise, 1969.
- Cruel Sister, Reprise, 1970.
- Reflections, Reprise, 1971.
- Solomon's Seal, Reprise, 1972.
- Open The Door, Varrick, 1985.
- In The Round, Varrick, 1986.
- So Early In The Spring, Green Linnet, 1990.
- Think of Tomorrow, Green Linnet, 1991.
- Early Classics (recorded 1968-73), Shanachie, 1992.
- A Maid That's Deep In Love, Shanachie.
- (By Bert Jansch) Best of Bert Jansch, Shanachie, 1992.
- "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" on Troubadours of British Folk, vol. 1, Unearthing The Tradition, Rhino, 1995.
- Joynson, Vernon, Tapestry of Delights: The Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R & B, Psychedelic, and Progressive Eras, Borderline Productions, 1995.
- Periodicals Audio, December, 1990.
- Billboard, February 22, 1969.
- Folk Roots, July, 1992.
- Guitar Extra, Fall, 1990.
- Jazz & Pop, July 1970; September 1970.
- Melody Maker, May 18, 1968; July 6, 1968; August 23, 1969; January 16, 1971; October 30, 1971; September 30, 1972; March 31, 1973.
- Rolling Stone, January 18, 1973; March 1, 1973.
- Washington Post, July 22, 1986; October 19, 1990; November 5, 1990.
- Additional information was obtained from the liner notes to Troubadours of British Folk, vol. 1, Unearthing the Tradition and Folklore Productions, Inc., press materials.
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