I have always felt that the five members of Pentangle were pulled together by a mysterious force. It must have been some kind of benign sorcery to be capable of making such a sublime creation. Perhaps somewhere in a small town in England a macabre ritual took place.
Welcome, sisters, to the White Witch (Tewkesbury) Temple of Apollo.
Light the scented candles.
Put on the ram’s horn masks.
Remove the cloak of Widdecombe and stand naked within the holy circle.
Bring in the virgin goat.
Hail, Apollo, God of Truth and Music.
We five call on you to smite those artists, managers and record companies that put commercial gain before artistic endeavour and bring forth a new era of wondrous sounds, both live and recorded.
For this we offer you this sacrifice …
Or am I letting my imagination run away with me? Did the God of Music forge folk and jazz into a whole new genre at the behest of a witches coven or was it just a happy coincidence that three musicians from the folk circuit and two from jazz circles came together in London in 1967?
Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were both well-known folk guitarists having made several solo albums each and one as a duo. When Jansch moved from Edinburgh to London he and Renbourn shared a house there. They met singer, Jacqui McShee, when they performed at her folk club outside the capital city and all three performed at Les Cousins, a folk and blues club in the Soho district of London. As a trio they performed modern folk influenced by early music and the blues.
Bass player Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox came from a rather different background. Both had been members of Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, a blues and R&B band, and both had leanings towards jazz. Wikipedia notes that Thompson gigged at Les Cousins and worked with John Renbourn on a project for television, although it leaves further details unspecified.
So it seems that Jansch, Renbourn, McShee, Thompson and Cox were a folk band woven together by a secondary interest in the blues and its more flamboyant offshoot, jazz. Was this a prosaic serendipity or the mystical power of a five-pointed star? No mortal man can ever be sure. But Pentangle’s compilation album, Light Flight – Anthology, is an excellent place to start if you want to engage in a personal search for the truth.
Light Flight is a double album containing 31 tracks from the period 1968 – 1971 when Pentangle were at their scintillating best. It is the top-rated Pentangle compilation album on AllMusic and, appropriately perhaps, the only one with a full five-star rating. On the first disc the emphasis is on mainstream folk songs with characteristically intricate arrangements; disc 2 has rather more of a jazzy feel. Both discs also have two or three instrumentals.
There are traditional folk songs arranged by Pentangle (Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, The Trees They Do Grow High², Cruel Sister), more modern folk songs (Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Sally Go Round The Roses), original songs in the folk tradition (Light Flight, Way Behind The Sun, Sweet Child), instrumentals (Waltz, Three Part Thing, Pentangling) and a cover of a jazz standard (Goodbye Pork Pie Hat). This is an album of folk songs shot through with veins of sparkling jazzy licks, musical nuggets that no other band has ever been able to match.
My Mum told me long, long ago that folk music has lovely melodies and jazz requires a high standard of musicianship. I believed her then and on Light Flight you will find proof of mother’s wise words. It has some of the most beautiful songs played by some of the most accomplished musicians of their time, all making full use of their talents. It is a five-star album if ever there was one.
- The text for the witches’ ritual was inspired by a radio advertisement for the Toyota Avensis that aired in the UK a few years ago. In the original a woman with a Brummy accent half whispers, “Welcome, sisters, to the Dudley Devil Worshippers …”. Now, Dudley is a nondescript town in the West Midlands region of England with a castle, a zoo and nothing else of note. The idea that it could be the headquarters of an occultist coven is laughable enough but the reference to the “cloak of Widdecombe” is a stroke of comic genius. It may refer to Widdecombe Fair but radio listeners would immediately think of Anne Widdecombe, a former politician and an unlikely media personality. Anne’s most endearing characteristic is her ability to laugh at herself and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me saying that her appearance could, with some justification, be described as ‘scary’. In the advertisement the divination ceremony is interrupted by the sound of a door slamming and a cheerful male voice calling out, “Hi, honey. I’m home”. The stunned voice of the high priestess replies, “Brian! I thought you was in Norwich!!”. And the smooth voice of a Toyota salesman warns us to be careful because, with the Avensis’ electronic traffic avoidance system, you might get there too early.
- The Trees They Do Grow High was a Track of the Week in January 2015.