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In the late Sixties Pentangle were to the folk-jazz community what Fairport Convention were to the newly emerging folk-rock movement. They were formed around the twin guitars of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, augmented by the shoe-shuffle plonk of bassist Danny Thompson, drummer Terry Cox and the folk singer Jacqui McShee. Thompson and Cox were graduates of Alexis Korner’s jazz and blues coterie, McShee was already a veteran of the folk scene and Jansch and Renbourn were each seasoned performers around the folk clubs. Their music drew from jazz and blues as much as it did British folk traditions and on the release of their debut self-titled album in 1968 Pentangle were quickly championed by John Peel.
Covering the period 1968 to 1972, this 2-CD treasure trove from the heyday of folk-blues-jazz draws from the many recordings Pentangle made for the BBC. When searches were made for Pentangle session tapes at the Beeb in the early Nineties, the cupboard was mostly bare. What was found was released at the time. Since then, someone’s got their hands dirty, the dust has been brushed once more and a further twelve tracks have been retrieved from deep in the archives. More searches were made beyond the walls of Broadcasting House and another two dozen tracks turned up in a private collection.
So here, after more than thirty years, is a representative history of Pentangle at the BBC. It features many new versions of numbers from their six albums. The most well-known track is ”Light Flight”, the tune which gave the band some prominence in the early Seventies when it was used as the theme to Take Three Girls, a TV drama starring a young Joanna Lumley. There are two versions of ”Light Flight” on this release, one of which is the TV version.
The clarity of recordings, especially on the first disk, is patchy, but these songs are a delight to hear McShee’s crystal voice cutting like a diamond through Jansch and Renbourne’s baroque playing, especially on tracks such as the gospel-tinged ”Every Night When the Sun Goes in” and ”A Maid That’s Deep in Love”. Other highlights are ”Forty-Eight” the delicate ”Orlando” and the song written in honor of the British blues-folk capital in the early Sixties, ”Soho”. There is one previously unreleased song from the band, ”Name of the Game”, which is, again, a little muffled, but a gem nonetheless.
The second disk, covering the early Seventies, is the stronger, with more adventurous versions and bold playing from all involved. Renditions of well-loved numbers such as ”Hunting Song”, ”The Trees they Do Grow High” and ”Reynardine” beguile with their hypnotic beauty. There are tales of figures such as ”Lord Franklin” and the ”Lady of Carlisle”, stories of love and loss and an exquisite Christmas song, ”Cherry Tree Carol”. –Rob Webb