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Pentangle

Were Pentangle a folk group, a folk-rock group, or something that resists classification? They could hardly be called a rock & roll act; they didn't use electric instruments often, and were built around two virtuoso guitarists, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, who were already well-established on the folk circuit before the group formed. Yet their hunger for eclectic experimentation fit into the milieu of late-'60s progressive rock and psychedelia well, and much of their audience came from the rock and pop worlds, rather than the folk crowd. With Jacqui McShee on vocals and a rhythm section of Danny Thompson (bass) and Terry Cox (drums), the group mastered a breathtaking repertoire that encompassed traditional ballads, blues, jazz, pop, and reworkings of rock oldies, often blending different genres in the same piece. Their prodigious individual talents perhaps ensured a brief lifespan, but at their peak they melded their distinct and immense skills to egg each other on to heights they couldn't have achieved on their own, in the manner of great rock combos like the Beatles and Buffalo Springfield.

When Pentangle formed around late 1966 or early 1967 (accounts vary), Jansch and Renbourn had already recorded one album together (Bert and John), and done some solo recordings as well. Jansch was more inclined toward blues and contemporary songwriting than Renbourn, who was stronger in traditional British folk music. Jacqui McShee, whose bell-clear, high singing set the standard (along with Sandy Denny) for female British folk-rock vocals, began rehearsing with the pair. After a false start with a forgotten rhythm section, Thompson and Cox -- who had been working with Alexis Korner -- were brought in to complete the quintet.

Pentangle's first three albums -- The Pentangle (1968), the double-LP Sweet Child (1968), and Basket of Light (1969) -- are not only their best efforts, but arguably their only truly essential ones. With Shel Talmy acting as producer, the band rarely took a misstep in its mastery of diverse styles and material. Thompson and Cox gave even the traditional folk ballads a jazz swing and verve; the guitar interplay of Jansch (who was also a capable singer) and Renbourn was downright thrilling, each complementing and enhancing the other without showing off or getting in each other's way. McShee's beautiful vocals, though not as emotionally resonant as her close counterpart Sandy Denny, were an under-appreciated component to the band's success with the pop audience.

And Pentangle were very popular for a time, at least in England, where Basket of Light made number five, and "Light Flight" was a small hit single. They introduced some electric guitars on their early-'70s albums, which generally suffered from weaker material and a less unified group effort. The original lineup broke up in 1973; Jansch and Renbourn (who had never really abandoned their solo careers) continued to record often as soloists, and remained top attractions on the folk circuit. Thompson joined John Martyn for a while, and has remained active as a session musician, in addition to recording some work of his own for the Hannibal label. The original group reunited for the reasonably accomplished Open the Door album in the early '80s, and other versions of the group recorded and toured throughout the '80s and '90s, usually featuring McShee and Jansch as the sole remaining original members. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: The Lost Broadcasts 1968 - 1972

Disc 1
Disc 2

Comments

I had the great good fortune of seeing/heari n g / m e e t i n g / t a l k i n g with John Renbourn & Jacqui McShee at a small coffee house in Vienna, Virginia (US) a number of years ago. It was breathtaking . Heavenly. Divine.
Saw them at the Fillmore East in 69 I think, I can't remember who they opened for, but the audience was not that receptive waiting for the Main Attraction to appear (which may very well have been Ten Years After). I myself thought they were wonderful and was disappointed that they didn't play longer. It would have made no dif to Ten Years After's set....late concerts at the Fillmore often went on until after sunrise.
happy51trail s
Love this band....ever since I heard them as a HS senior in 69...Lord Franklin, what a haunting song.......p e a c e
timberwolves 7
I saw Jansch & Renbourn at the Great American Music Hall in SF in 1992. From the moment John Renbourn began playing, I was aware I was in the presence of a Master...unb e l i e v a b l e imagination and purity. Jacquie McShee came on stage for one song. She looked long wrecked, but when she began to sing there was absolute silence, as the purest voice I ever heard took everyone's spirits like sunlight in spring. One of the most beautiful and heartfelt nights in my life.
cmyers3402
Worth saying again, just heard Sweet Child. Perfection
chambeob
I think the review low-rates Cruel Sister. I admit that the title cut leaves me a bit cold, but the rest of it is wonderful. The opening cut, A Maid that's deep in Love is hilarious. The electric guitar work on Lord Franklin's Dream is sublime, and the long cut, Jack Orion (sp?) has love, lust, treachery, death, and a great instrumental break.
I sure do miss Jacquie McShea, she has an astouding angelic voice!
lmurphy594
P.S. I agree that McShee's beautiful vocals were under appreciated. What an amazingly beautiful voice!
cmyers3402
One of my all time favorite groups. Love their acoustic sound, the songs and energy are so clear and natural, and fun. Wish I had seen them live
marygrider
I got such a kick out of Solomon's Seal when it first came out...... it seems so organically natural, beautiful and real to me. They came out of such a wonderful, rich tradition.
chambeob
Re Two Sisters: I think the song title they used was Cruel Sister, which was the title cut on one of their albums.

(By the way, I disagree with the bio on this. The writer did not think any of the albums with a touch of electricity was essential. Cruel Sister is one of those albums, and it is fascinating. The bits of electric guitar blend very well--most strikingly on the gorgeous Lord Franklin's Dream. And the opening cut, A Maid Who's deep in love, is quietly hilarious. )
bobboden8
I saw Pentangle at the Troubadore in West LA shortly after Sweet Child was released. I had my copy with me and followed the band to their dressing room between sets. Jacqui stopped me at the door and asked me my sign. I said Cancer and she was Capricorn and I was invited in. Everyone signed my album, John drew stilts under his feet on the inside picture. Their road manager invited me to go on tour with them. I gave him my long green coat instead. They were very nice people.
I also was introduced to Pentangle with Sweet Child Album by an elder sibling & have had them on my mind since. Wondering which album it was that the song Two sisters was on? Thought it was on Sweet Child but did not see or hear it when I played the sample list. Can anyone tell me which album it was on as I would like to buy it? Thanks
lmurphy594
This is one of my all time favorite groups. My brother turned me on to Sweet Child when it first came out and I have loved it ever since! For their absolutely unique blend of so many styles they are still one of my top favorites!!!
I believe the poster below is referring to WRAS out of Ga. State Univ. a very excellent college station, but could also be the Ga.Tech. station - I forget their call letters. No Pentangle on either of their playlists, nor was there any Fairport Convention - the "other", perhaps more well known English folk group. Both groups were/are wonderful, but for sheer variety of style in their material, I think Pentangle gets the nod! The jazz is the kicker. PEACE
jcarltone3
these guys did not get any airplay in atlanta ga which is odd because at the time this album was released we enjoyed a well funded university based fm multiplex station that played so much stuff just like this it means it was poorly marketed in the u s as was the case with a lot of musiic they thought all people in georgia were either descendants of slaves or confederate soldiers i have resented that for a long time we missed stuff you idiots
bontruk
I love the rich acoustic sound and their Celtic inspired folk style. But, when the same group also does some great jazz improvisatio n s , I love that too.
buddy6713
Their music seems to have landed from another planet, a much more evolved and
gifted one. The sessions recorded at an English pub (you tube has some vids)
with Bert's unique voice in duet with Jacqui, are gems. Check them out.

If there is any time available before I die, I want to listen to Sandy Denny sing anything, Maddy Pryor sing All Around My Hat and Jacqui McShee
sing the Hunter's song--oh yeah, it's gonna take a long time for me to die because I've got about a hundred other requests...
johnnyohania n
I think, Ms. Snyder, that the members of this group used to work at the Pentagon, thus the name Pentangle. OK OK, you come up with a better theory.
love Angie"
What is behind the name Pentangle? i.e. why did they name their band this? Is it just that there are 5 immensely talented guys in this band? :)
Interesting that Jansch is described as being more inclined toward blues when it was Renbourn who spoke of starting out trying to sound like Big Bill Broonzy.
I wanted to listen to Sweet Child this evening couldn't plug in
yet I was introduced to other Pentangle selections which were enjoyable to listen to instead. Must broaden the horizons Thanks.
Kathleen
Blues an UK folk an unusual combo however together so nice I almost had to cry.

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