Rychard Carrington reports on Pentangle – Cambridge Corn Exchange, 3 July 2008

Isn't this where I came in?

This evening I recalled early childhood memories of bands like The Settlers and Design* on The Basil Brush Show, in the slot immediately prior to the climactic reading of Basil The Farmer (‘the knight in shining armour') by Mr Derek. 1971, indeed. Soft-hippy, post-Peter, Paul and Mary dreamy folk-pop.

Such an easy target for cynicism. And therein lies its appeal: the angstful, forlorn yearning for a gentler, more innocent world, prettier, more magical. The doomed crusade of the inner child, the quixotic flight from worldliness. The more vulnerable, the more heroic. Well it appeals to me, anyway. I just wish I could have appreciated it more at the time. As Wordsworth said, ‘bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven'. But not quite as young as I was, though (with respect to Mr. Derek and Basil Brush).

Oh, I could go on ...

Flights of fancy ... elusive mirages of idyllic pasts regained, drifting away in the wind.

That was where Pentangle took me. They may have been marketed on their individual talents and on their innovative mixing of styles, but the sum of all the parts was very definitely redolent of an era. Both Bert Jansch and Jacqui McShee made slightly mocking references to the sixties, but, whether they like it or not, Pentangle remain firmly a band of 1967-1973. Certainly Messrs. Jansch, Renbourn, Thompson and Cox are excellent and distinctive instrumentalists, so much more than just loveable old period pieces, yet Jacqui McShee's enchanting vocals always weave the same spell: even if the lyric is a traditional song of violent death, the feel of the song is always in the vein of a White Horses for adults. Jacqui frequently sang the word ‘la' - an oblique signifier if ever there was one. You can go where you like with that word, but, from Jacqui's mouth at least, you can't help but go softly and lightly.

Every so often Jacqui went off stage, and the instrumentalists could branch out a little more, fulfilling the aspirations of folk-jazz fusion in a pleasing way, particularly in Mingus's Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Danny Thompson's brief double-bass solos were perhaps the highlights of the evening: a big man on a big instrument, he didn't have to talk much to convey a sense of big character. Bert Jansch is possessed of a more introverted intensity, but he also gave the impression of being an individual of strong attitudes that are far from soft, belonging more to the rougher beatnik era rather than to the Age of Aquarius.  John Renbourn is quiet and benign, like Father Christmas in meditation, while Terry Cox graces the ensemble with sensitive but powerful percussion which enhanced acoustic ballads in a way that percussion rarely does.

It was a good reformation (impressively, unlike in most reformations - and in contrast to the band that calls itself Jacqui McShee's Pentangle - it was the full original line-up reconvening). They recaptured their essence sincerely and successfully. The large audience of Pentangle fans exited the Corn Exchange satisfied, if not quite blown over. I exited the Corn Exchange on a cloud of la-la-las, wondering whether it mightn't be possible to delete the last thirty-five years and progress from 1973 in a more enlightened way, on our snowy white horses yes indeed.

Writer: Rychard Carrington

*There was a band called Design, I'm sure. But looking them up on Google is futile.