Monday, 5 September 2016
Pentangle Double Bill: Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2008 and the one Pentangle bootleg 1970
Given how hard it is tracking down even the released Pentangle albums, it won't surprise any of you that tracking down their unreleased material is a bit of a nightmare. There is in fact only one widely known Pentangle bootleg album and thankfully it's a good one, a twelve-song 70 minute set recorded at Berkley Community Theatre on May 29th 1970, roughly halfway between the release of 'Basket Of Light' and 'Cruel Sister'. Pentangle had a mixed relationship with the stage, which showed up both the strengths and weaknesses of their work, with even the released concert (as half of the 'Sweet Child' album) demonstrating both the musicians' virtuosity and their tendency to ramble. It was clearly too early to release a second live album by 1970 - and yet this cracking show from a rare American tour captures the band on impressive, disciplined form. By including a little bit from all of their past repertoires (two songs from the jazzy eponymous debut, three from the eclectic but largely folk-based 'Sweet Child' and a whopping five from the pop-psychedelia of 'Basket Of Light') this feels like more of a 'complete' rendition of Pentangle's true form than anything the band had released on record, lacking only the blues of their early styles.
Many of the band's best songs are chosen and are played with a lightness of touch often lacking from the records (including a carefree 'Light Flight', a rattlingly raw 'Train Song' that's borderline unhinged and a slightly but pleasingly ramshackle 'Bruton Town'), while the band are also brave enough to attempt some of their most complex material (an eight minute version of 'Hunting Song', impressive given the lack of effects and overdubs after a slightly shaky start and an admirably tight version of a capella Medieval chant 'Lyke Wake Dirge'). Not everything is quite so strong - you have to be a real fan to enjoy all nineteen minutes of a freestyle 'Pentangling' and 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' is lifeless and listless- but even these flaws simply highlight just what a difficult range of material Pentangle are trying to pull off in this period; of course there are going to be mistakes - this is a highwire circus act and even these hardened trained professionals delight in taking risks lesser bands would scorn. It's a real tragedy there aren't more live recordings featuring the original band out there because, unlike some other AAA bands I won't mention (*cough* The Rolling Stones *splutter*) it sounds as if every night on a Pentangle tour took the band somewhere different and - assuming that the small handful of shows we know to have survived the mists of times are the average and we weren't just lucky enough to get the best three or four - every night sounded like a good one.
There are also three intriguing moments of history here: the band preview Cyril Tawney's 'Sally Free And Easy' a full three years before the version that appeared on final original album 'Solomon's Seal' and already it's so close to the original that it only needs a few in-studio tracks to sound the same; John also performs his favourite Bach ditty 'Sarabande' (later recorded solo but here performed with Danny and Terry) and it sounds very different to the 'TV Version' on the 'Time Has Come' box set. The third is a Bert Jansch song exclusive to this set named (at least by bootleggers) 'Speak Of The Devil'. A sad reflective acoustic number that's simpler than most of Bert's pieces with only Danny's see-sawing double bass for accompaniment), it finds the guitarist confused by his darker side and is full of memories that may be fictional or autobiographical. Told at fifteen to 'beware of what strangers have to offer', Bert's narrator finds his curiosity piqued by all the 'dangers' of the world. Though Bert imagines fictional 'spiders' dotted around the world about to do him in, his older self realises that it's the barely-below-the-surface violence he feels in the world around him that really scares him, the 'devil' being in seemingly everyone and just a call away. Bert adds that it's not even the 'naughty boys' who have this darker temperament but that the devil can find anyone ('he's not so particular'). Though the audience give the song notably muted applause (is this why Bert abandoned it?) the song is a good one and deserved to make one of his solo albums at least. It's impressive too that even at the peak of their form one member of Pentangle at least was keen to keep adding new material to the band's concert setlists.
Unfortunately, until something else turns up (a lot of the 'Time Has Come' box material caught me by surprise I have to say! Also didn't Pentangle once play as the support act for the Grateful Dead in the early 1970s? They recorded everything - including the support acts usually unless they really objected and I doubt Pentangle would) this remains the only unreleased Pentangle song at the time of writing. Pentangle would do well to release this concert as an archive recording sometime: as only the third live recording from a concert setting known to exist by the original band it's of immense importance and is a well executed gig - far exceeding the rather nervy Albert Hall one from 1968 and the little we know from a performance in Aberdeen the same year - recorded i, curiously enough, better sound than either. It's odd in fact that nothing from this set has ever been released, even on the comprehensive box set with its fourth disc of rarities and TV soundtracks. Do the band not know of its existence? Or does somebody particular own the licensing rights to it and won't let it go?
(Full track listing: Bruton Town/Sally Free And Easy/Sarabande/Hunting Song/In Time/Lyke Wake Dirge/Light Flight/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Speak Of The Devil/Train Song/House Carpenter/Pentangling)
One rather brief studio recording you could also throw in here is the 'original' version of 'Light Flight' which opened the 'Take Three Girls' show back in 1969. Not many fans realise that rather than using the record Pentangle sent in an early version of the song, which is much rougher and features some very different words (well, why would you? It's a hard show to pin down after all and the only reason people remember it is Pentangle's soundtrack). This version's wording runs as follows: 'Come down to London town watch the people there, watch them running round and round with no time to spare, look around for someone trotting round and living if you can, if you're strong, can go wrong!' The second versions is replaced by the ba-da-da-doo-dups and there is no middle eight or solo here.