Pentangle – Or How I Loved To Learn Folk

Pentangle_1We’ve another guest writer today, in the form of the talented Simon Hill. He’s recently fallen head over heels for the sounds of the mighty Pentangle (a band much featured on these pages) and wants to let the world know just how great they are. Sounds good to me. Now, over to Mr Hill… (Mof, PopJunkie Editor)

Like many others I have been guilty of often viewing British folk as
simply sea shanties, knitwear and Reeves & Mortimer’s Mulligan
& O’Hare. Quite simply to most, folk is not cool and even to those
who know better, it isn’t as cool as American folk. Over there, folk is
protest singers fighting causes, a wandering beatnik lifestyle,
reflected in the work of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, early Dylan.
Though somewhat new to Pentangle, I want to redress the balance.

I was originally going to argue the case for Pentangle’s influence,
but I shouldn’t have to. In the same way no one would sensibly question
the musical legacy of Kraftwerk, I’m going to credit those who read
this to either know this already or take my word for it. Consider this
an initiation to those yet to know of Pentangle’s music, as I once was,
or even a reminder for those who have forgotten its simple joys.

While critically lauded, with the exception of Basket Of Light
(1969) from which their only hit and Top Of The Pops appearance ‘Light
Flight’ they found very little commercial acceptance, despite the
psychedelic leanings of their sound. So this already gives you an idea
of their impact on sixties youth. Perhaps as I found to my horror three
years ago, when my dad told me he had never heard of the Velvet
Underground, Pentangle were only meant to be a band for those in the
know, though part of me would like to see a similar renaissance for
them.

In comparison to Fairport Convention, who I was aware of even at a
fairly young age, Pentangle meant nothing to me. This in part has
something to with the subsequent accomplishments of Richard Thompson
and Sandy Denny, along with how that band is considered the first
British act of their kind to play more traditional folk songs. That
might be the case, but Fairport Convention started as a west coast
covers band, in thrall in look and sound to these bands. Though they
may have quickly developed into the band recognised today, from what I
have heard, Pentangle’s sound seems almost fully formed even in their
earliest recordings.

It is possible to hear some of Pentangle’s influences, but as with
the very best bands, they are more than the sum of their parts. While
nominally a folk band, Pentangle have an eclecticism which Fairport
Convention do not seem to have. The original members had come together
through folk, but had experience in varying musical styles; Danny
Thompson and Terry Cox, on the blues and jazz scene with Alexis Korner
and Jacqui McShee had sung jazz with her sister. In John Renborn and
Bert Jansch they also had two hugely accomplished acoustic guitar
players. They even found time to cover Staple Singers ‘Here My Call’.
Pentangle fused all these elements, and by tapping into folk and
psychedelia, seem modern, traditional and timeless.

As someone sick of the state of music, a band like Pentangle are a
welcome discovery. It isn’t the fact there is too much pop music. I’m
sure the late sixties were little better, what I miss is the lack of
personality and musicianship in so many acts. But I digress. Before
this turns into the usual bile driven diatribe about the likes of
X-Factor and Simon Cowell’s high trouser line, let us all just agree
this is the case, though it will not change. It’s easier that way.
Also, this is an examination of what Pentangle mean to me.

Perhaps listening to Pentangle’s music what I am really feeling is
I have missed the time it evokes. Not the folk traditions they seem to
develop into their sound, more the sixties scene I missed out on by
being born in 1981. Thank God this most beautiful of music is still
available; otherwise I would be blaming my parents for their poor
record collection as much as the date of my birth.

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