Monday, 5 September 2016

Pentangle Double Bill: Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2008 and the one Pentangle bootleg 1970

You can now buy 'Watch The Stars - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Pentangle' in e-book form by clicking here!

Pentangle on TV:

Alright, I'll admit it: even my AAA DVD shelf has a few holes in it. Sometimes the things that our bands release are so obscure or had such a limited edition release (for five minutes in the back streets of Guatamala given the problems I've had tracking some of them down) that I fear I will go to my grave having never quite watched everything. Usually, though, an AAA band has released something that you can look at, when your ears get too tired of doing all the work after extended  nights of listening to records over and over and they demand that your eyes get a bit of the strain too (or is that just me?) Sometimes there are enough DVDs and videos to fill up what little remains of my tiny house - very occasionally there are enough official products out to be a house (If I collected all the Beatles visuals out there, for instance, it would be a house that much bigger than mine). Infrequently, sadly, there isn't anything - as is the case with Pentangle (well, we've stretched a point to include a 2007 John Renbourn concert that included Jacqui McShee as a guest in order not to break the habit of a lifetime and enable us to keep our DVD chapter, but it's slim pickings and it's questionable just how 'official' even that DVD is).

Though there's far less material out there for Pentangle than there is for, say, Pink Floyd there is however a nice double-disc DVD's worth if anyone is ever prepared to go through all the hassles of securing licensing rights one day. Though notoriously camera-shy, Pentangle realised the importance of promotion and were keen to take up offers for appearing in programmes they felt would appeal to the 'right' audience. There is, for example, a healthy amount of standalone shows in this list at which Pentangle were the only stars for a full half hour or talks on folk music documentaries. There are very few of the 'usual' appearances that make up this section in all our books though: no Top Of The Pops (which is a relief after writing about all forty of Oasis' performances last time around), absolutely no chat shows (Pentangle weren't the chattiest of bands), only one 'music video' and in the entire history of the band, original and reunion, just two appearances on programmes you might actually have heard of.

Now, this may not be quite a complete list. Pentangle were around in the era when television companies hadn't quite realised the important of what they screened on music shows and I'm quite willing to believe that there are a number of other performances that haven't survived the years intact. Some of the entries in this shortlist are, I admit, guess work: such little footage exists that we've broken the rule of a lifetime and reviewed three programmes that I haven't even seen (though, thank goodness, the soundtracks have appeared officially). Unlike quite a few AAA bands, who've had so much written about them down the years than I can compare sources and cross-check dates and stories, very little has ever been written about Pentangle, and what there is tends to be alongside the 'gosh weren't they good?' rather than the 'they did such and such' variety. As usual in these books, but even more so, the dates in this article and the ordering system is approximate, while its probably a fair guess to say that there's more Pentangling out there somewhere. Especially Europe I would imagine - it seems strange that of the whole list only one entry isn't from Britain when the band did so much touring.

Do bear in mind, too, that we've stuck with our usual review of only mentioning a TV clip if it includes at least two members of the band: though I originally toyed with the idea of including every solo performance by Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Jacqui McShee, Danny Thomson and Terry Cox, I quickly realised this would make this article leap from an nine-entry series into a 280-way-one (and one that would be even harder to track down) and that way madness lies beyond the realms even of this site. Instead we've included the best clips (a nervy Bert speaking to Norwegian TV just after Pentangle's split at the end of 1973, the John Renbourn Group getting Medieval during the late 1970s at the height of punk, Jacqui McShee's Pentangle on form in 2000 and Bert's 'surprise' 60th birthday party concert in 2003 where everyone is having fun except the birthday boy who clearly hates all the attention!) at the end of our AAA Pentangle Youtube playlist, which you can watch now if you're either a) reading this on our website  (it's those flickering images at the top of the screen you've scrolled past to get here!) b) type into your browser and search for 'AAA Youtube Playlist #20: Pentangle' or c) wait patiently until Alan's Album Archives has taken over the world and made watching life-affirming videos like these compulsory (it's part of our proposed manifesto, along with moving the 9-5 scheme to 9pm-5am, sending out free copies of AAA albums on the NHS, putting David Cameron in the stocks and banning The Spice Girls). So why not give us a 'follow' and come and say 'hello' while scrolling through our 'Pentangle' playlist? (You can have a look at our six Alan's Album Archives videos while you're there!)
Now, usually in these articles we merrily tell you all where you can find all these great TV clips and how many of your children you'll need to sell into slavery in order to own them. As we've seen, though, the best we can do is point you in the direction of the occasional soundtrack recording, all collected on the fourth 'rarities' disc of the Pentangle box set 'The Time Has Come' (2007). Otherwise, I'm afraid,  the Gordian's knot of licensing rights that is Youtube is your only bet for now. Let's hope that at least the two full-length concerts come out on DVD one day. Or failing that, how about BBC4 stop repeating the only two 'BBC 2 In Concerts' they seem to remember (not that I'm complaining too much, given that they feature AAA brethren Neil Young or David Crosby and Graham Nash) and repeat the Pentangle set in the series for the first time in forty-five years?

Pentangle may not have been the most visual of our AAA bands. They may not have had crazy light shows and dry smoke and TV screens and flying pigs and their interviews, at best, tell you less than you can actually learn about the band from their music. But there's something special about almost all of the entries in our list and the chance to see these five-star wizards actually weaving their magic before your eyes - on the spot more often than not, in some extraordinary improvisation - makes it seem all the more magical somehow. Be warned: this is no 'light flight' but when this band were in their prime there was no touching them. Watch the stars!

1) Folksangre (Bert and John Denmark TV  March (?)1967)

Before there was a Pentangle, there was a friendship. Bert and John had only known each other for a couple of years and had guested on each other's albums before collaborating jointly on 'Bert and John' in 1966, for which this rare appearance is sort of belatedly promoting. Typically, British telly didn't want to know (nobody outside record label Transatlantic ever did quite realise what a hotbed of talent the London folk clubs were back in the mid-60s) and it took a Danish TV crew making a documentary about the London music scene to get our heroes on telly. Though monochrome and low budget, with a Danish announcer babbling away over the beginning, this is a charming piece that features Bert and John in their natural habitat and the pair never looked happier. Both men look strangely  older than their years (both are around 23 here): Bert has a posh voice (perhaps hiding his Glaswegian twang?) and already has his characteristic haunched shoulders, while John is dressed like a neatly bearded college professor rather than a hip young beatnik. Over at the club John plays a lovely rendition of 'I Know You Rider' from his contemporary solo album 'Another Monday' before later both Bert and John are seen in a London flat playing an early instrumental version of what will turn into 'Bells', the jazzy instrumental that will become the second track on Pentangle's debut album a year later. John is enjoying the audaciousness of the double act so much, with the twin guitars mirroring each other even more than normal, that he laughs at the end, shocked at how good the pair are.

Later Bert is asked about how the folk scene got together and is far less comfortable than when he's got a guitar in his hand (a regular side effect of these TV appearances), replying to the question 'how did the folk scene begin?' as 'just an extension of everyday life - people can listen to music from all over the world without any difficulties and there's nothing much more to it!' He's even more puzzled by the question of drugs - he thinks it's a personal choice that helps some people. His voice is noticeably 'posher' than his later accent, as if he's trying to hide his Glaswegian twang. For now Pentangle don't have a name but they are mentioned as Bert's 'new band playing music we like which derives from all sources'. The others aren't seen but that hasn't stopped a few fans wondering if that's Jacqui sitting quietly in the corner doing a crossword puzzle (it isn't, but she has a very similar blonde bob). By the way if you're coming to this clip from seeing the whole video do be warned that not all the performances are by Bert and John, though the pair who open and close the special do look an awful lot like them and even dress the same (it must be the 'in' folk look in London in 1967!)

2) Degrees Of Folk ('Traveling Song' 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' UK TV October (?) 1968)

By now Pentangle have their first album and a prestigious Albert Hall gig under their belt and the audience very much knows who they are even though we're barely a year on from the last clip. Pentangle sound great at this show, disciplined but dangerous, and with the hunger of youth still (especially Terry's rock and roll drumming and Danny's jazzy double bass slides). It's fascinating to see how well the band interact with each other on these songs despite the fact that they barely look at each other throughout. Jacqui looks the most uncomfortable, perched on a high stool with her hands clamped on her mini-skirt as if afraid of how much the cameras can see, but her voice is still exquisite. John turns in a solo on opener 'Traveling Song' that outstrips even the studio version, running a fraction longer too though the band are right on the beat when everyone piles back into the song. Bert accidentally sings the second verse again instead of the last one and corrects himself quickly, looking shocked for a split second before grinning his head off that he's 'got away' with it. 'Thyme' sounds especially strong here with Jacqui's pureness fighting Danny's evil sounding double bass head on, the pair caught in a dance that both seem to be winning at different times. A very special little performance greeted with a yell that's bordering on madness for a folk audience.

3) BBC In Concert ('Train Song' 'Hunting Song' 'Light Flight' 'Blues In Time' 'House Carpenter' 'I Got A Feeling' 'Bells' (Credits Fadeout) UK TV June 1970)

Though Pentangle were choosy about their TV appearances, the thought of a full on half hour concert special was too good to pass up, with the special recorded in between sessions for fourth album 'Cruel Sister'. Interestingly, nothing from that new album is played here: instead we get one song each from the band's first two albums and four from 'Basket Of Light' including the earliest surviving live performance of the band's biggest hit 'Light Flight'. Sadly the band aren't quite as sharp here as before, with a wild-haired Bert looking like he's either been up all night or has just woken up and the peculiar 'spacing' of Pentangle across a wider stage (Jacqui centre, the guitarists front left and right, the rhythm section up the stairs at the back left and right) loses some of the intimacy of the 1968 gig. Still, there are a good selections of songs and the band come alive at key moments across the set: the 'ba doo das' in 'Train Song' when Jacqui suddenly goes from Judith Durham to Janis Joplin in a single line; Danny throwing his double bass around like it's Pete Townshend and a guitar on 'Hunting Song'; Terry grooving away behind Jacqui on 'Light Flight' while simultaneously playing some outrageous jazz drum fills; John smoking - in both meanings of the word - during the daring interplay on 'In Time' with a big fat grin on his face; Bert getting out the banjo for 'House Carpenter' and Jacqui unleashing her inner extrovert as she goes from shyly hiding from the camera to winking at it during a particularly slow and bluesy 'I've Got A Feeling' - 'which I've got a feeling we stole from somewhere but I'm not telling you where!' quips Bert). Bert has by now become the de facto leader, delivering all the song introductions, but he clearly isn't relishing the role: most of his comments consist of him saying the song title and adding '...but that's about all I can tell you!' The rest of the band look about as un-star-like as you can get too, Jacqui tapping her feet while the band jam and the credits roll as if she's listening to the band back home in her slippers. The music doesn't need an introduction, though, with Pentangle taking a long time to warm up but getting decidedly warmer as the set roars on.

4) 'The Two Brewers' ('Pentangling' 'Sally Go Round The Roses' 'Rain And Snow' 'House Carpenter' 'Sally Free And Easy' 'Sarabande' 'Blue Monk' 'Light Flight' 'Hunting Song' UK TV May 1970)

It seems, dear readers, as if the visuals for this curiously named show no longer exist which is a shame but not that much a of a surprise (as AAA bands go, Pentangle survived the cull of videotapes in the 1960s and 1970s better than most). However thankfully one enterprising fan recorded the entire six song set on a tape machine so at least we have the audios, however poor the sound. The gig is a slightly breathless and rushed one, with Jacqui struggling to keep up as the guitarists set the pace perhaps a little too fast, although this suits some of the rockier songs like 'Sally Go Round The Roses'. The band also play a rare cover version of Thelonius Monk's signature tune 'Blue Monk', exclusive to this recording as far as I know, which sounds rather good Pentanglified (and Danny, on a rare lead vocal, clearly isn't taking seriously). Sadly this wasn't amongst the three tracks from the set chosen for inclusion in the 'Time Has Come' box set, perhaps because of its length (although it's actually more interesting than the two Sallys and Sarabande that made the set). Pentangle sound right at home in the Two Brewers pub in Salford for this curious folk variety show that ran for eight episodes across May 1970 of which is the third (and the only one to feature a single band across the full half hour - usually the show was hosted by 'resident' folkies The Ian Campbell Folk Group).

5) Journey Into Love ('Wondrous Love' 'Sweet Child' UK TV April 1971)

Not much is known about this curious TV programme, which hadn't really been mentioned at all in any Pentangle fan circles that I know of until the 'Time Has Come' box set appeared. I'm willing to bet, though, that it was something grand and Medieval given the soundtrack, which features a collaboration between Pentangle and the David Munroe Ensemble trading verses in their respective styles (Munroe was a specialist in early court music and appeared in several documentary shows about instruments of the middle ages; their paths probably crossed while fighting over some 14th century sheet music somewhere). 'Wondrous Love' was one of the highlights of the box set, a gorgeous pompous Christian song about God granting the narrator gifts and insight just as he was at his lowest point and which that actually dates back only to 1701 (a Spring chicken compared to the age of most songs both Pentangle and Munroe performed). 'Sweet Child', meanwhile, had already appeared as the title track of the band's second album three years earlier and appears here in abbreviated and slightly underwhelming form. I'm surprised that not even a still or a press cutting of this TV show seems to have survived the ages (and even more surprised if there really is either after all my years of on and off searching for them): it sounds like it would have been a fairly major TV event at the time, big budget and colourful judging solely by the soundtrack.

6) Will The Circle Be Unbroken? (Music Video 1971)

Pentangle had high hopes for their Christian Hymn when they released it as a single - the long delayed follow-up to 'Light Flight' and 'Once I had A Sweetheart' (their only charting songs). So much so that they even did the unthinkable - filmed a clearly nervy band miming to their song in the studio to be shown on television (although the video only seems to have been screened a couple of times). Luckily the studio the band were using for their 'Reflection' album ('Command', in London's Piccadilly district) was a disused BBC TV studio so had just about enough room for their cameras, with this promo giving us a useful glimpse into Pentangle's way of working. The band look so afraid of the lens, though, that seen forty-five odd years on it kind of feels as if we're invading the band's privacy. Note that no one mimes the harmonica part, which is rather a shame as it plays such a long and good solo which rather dominated the song!

7) 'Set Of Six' ('Will The Circle Be Unbroken?' 'People On The Highway' 'Lady Of Carlisle' 'Sally Free And Easy' 'Willie O'Winsbury' 'Rain And Snow' 'No Love Is Sorrow' 'Jump Baby Jump' UK TV June 1972)

A second whole show dedicated to Pentangle, for Granada over on ITV this time, and proof that even this late on in their careers Pentangle were still quite a draw. Pentangle were one of the few bands to take part in this short-lived music TV series which only ran to a handful of episodes and their performance takes up the full half hour or so. The opener, 'Circle', is actually just incidental music played as the TV studio set all the lights and equipment up until the last verse - which is interesting, but not worth the five minutes of precious air time! (and a little odd - did something go wrong with the footage of the first half of the song or is this just another case of a music director being 'arty'?) Bert has by now grown a beard and looks more like John in some shots, while Jacqui seems to have come dressed in a Christmas jumper (even though the recording was made in June!) Though the energy of the early TV performances has long gone by now, there are still some nice if languid performances including a smashing 'People On The Highway' with Bert and Jacqui looking each other in the eye (more or less) as they sing about ending the band, complete with Bert's customary 'oops, wrong verse!' moment in the middle, a groovy 'Cold Rain and Sbow' complete with Renbourn fuzz guitar and a particularly beautiful windswept 'Willie O'Winsbury' Only 'No Love Is Sorrow' lets the side down, the band not quite ready as they begin to play, falling into the song one by one. Though not a classic performance by any means, it's a fascinating insight into how the band sounded towards the end with the only known live performances of several songs from the band's last two LPs 'Reflection' and 'Solomon's Seal'. The soundtracks of 'Willie' 'Rain' and 'Sorrow' all appeared on the fourth 'rarities' disc of the 'Time Has Come' box set (2007).

8) RTBF ('Wedding Dress' 'Reflection' 'People On The Highway' Belgian TV January 1973)

Oddly enough the 'Time Has Come' set contradicts itself with the dating: the sleevenotes list it as 'January 1973' while the back cover simply reads '1972' - we've gone with that first guess, although it would make it incredibly late in the life of the band and quite possibly the last show they ever performed together (Bert quitting by phone on New Year's Day that year and agreeing to see out the very last handful of previously arranged gigs). A downright funky 'Wedding Dress' is the highlight, with Bert picking a mean banjo and Terry drumming, playing tambourine and singing great harmonies all at the same time! By contrast 'Highway' is a pale shadow of the 'Set Of Six' version and 'Reflection' is marred by Pentangle hitting the main highway early on without branching down the more interesting sideroads, cutting the song down to a mere (!) five minutes, while the director gets trippy with some distracting distortion effects. Screened once in Belgium and then forgotten about, it's a slightly underwhelming farewell, in contrast to the 'bang' with which the band arrives in both 1967 and 1968. The soundtrack of all three songs appeared on the 'Time Has Come' box set.

9) Later...With Jools Holland ('Light Flight' 'I Got A Feeling' UK TV 2008)

Pentangle only reunited once, for a select few gigs to promote the release of their box set in 2007/2008 and a rare appearance on the curiously odd Jool's Holland's curiously popular music show was the only TV the band did. As the presenter puts it 'it seems unbelievable that they're here!' More believable is the fact that Pentangle rather mess up their big moment back in the spotlight, with the roughest performance yet of their big hit 'Light Flight' which sounds like a car crash set to music. Equally believably though Pentangle get things right again on the second track (at least till Jacqui's mid-song wobble), with a delightful bluesy 'I've Got A Feeling' that's got better and huskier with age. Let's face it, it's just nice to have the band back together again for one last hurrah however they sound, with Bert's untimely death just three years later and John's another four after that putting a premature end to one of the greatest folk/jazz/rock/blues/psychedelia bands the world was ever privileged enough to know. It really is a tragedy there aren't more entries on this list.

Usually that would be it for now, but seeing this article is so short we've decided to put two together and - for no extra fee - given you a short article about the best (well, only) unreleased Pentangle recordings!

Unreleased Pentangle: 

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. 

A Now Complete List Of Pentangle Related Articles At Alan’s Album Archives:

Surviving TV Appearances 1968-2000 and The Best Unreleased Recordings


  1. my memory has clearly failed me as i thought i remembered pentangle having their own tv sreies,clearly,from your notes what i must be remebering is the in concert performance mixed with the take three girls weekly intro.there certainly seems to be a fair whack of pentangle on youtube right now,mostly now on my tablet and im sure i appreciate them more than i did back then....there 's certainly far more than sandy denny,after a long period of hardly any ian matthews vids a few have turned up there[yt]lately.he's awfully unsettled with his pretty accomplished band in togwt clps.

    1. Hi Billy! If Pentangle did have a TV series it rather passed me by I'm afraid and I've not come across a reference to it. Of course it may just have been wiped the way a lot of music TV programmes were back then. Yes poor Sandy Denny, not much exists of her at all, but I guess she was around for a shorter time than Pentangle? 8>)