Monday, 3 October 2016
The Hollies "What Goes Around..." (1983)
Casualty/Take My Love and Run/Say You'll Be Mine/Something Ain't Right/If The Lights Go Out//Stop! In The Name Of Love/I Got What I Want/Just One Look/Someone Else's Eyes/Having A Good Time
'I can't guarantee a happy ending while the story is always unwinding, but in the here and now it doesn't matter, 'cause I'm having a good time!'
Graham Nash once called The Hollies his musical 'school' before he went out into the big wide world with CSN. Well, 'What Goes Around...' is his school reunion, with all sides doing what people always do at school reunions: pretend to be something they're not. The Hollies haven't really been a 'pop' band in years (their last hit single was 'The Air That I Breathe' in 1974 and a song with such depth and poignancy is hardly typical teenybopper material), since around when Graham left the band in fact. For his part Graham has spent the past fifteen years being teased by his new bandmates in Crosby, Stills and Nash for his popstar leanings and trying to pretend that The Hollies were an aberration and he was always a writer of deep political songs. As it happens there's very little divide between who The Hollies and the ex-Hollie were in 1983; but by the same token there's a huge gulf between who both halves were at the time with who they'd been when they started. And yet turning the clock back to where things started is the whole point of this unusual reunion album, which doesn't so much pick up where the band last left off together as pretend that none of the intervening years since 1983 have taken place at all. 'What goes around' comes around as they say - and you can tell, just by hearing this album, that's it's a meeting between old friends on holiday, rather than a determined effort to extend The Hollies' career with Nash as a full member. The saga will end the way that most school reunions do, at least in trashy romance novels: Nash gets frustrated, mouths off to everyone that the experience 'reminded him why I stopped being a Hollie in the first place' and he ends up running with the band's new 'partner', young writer Paul Bliss who is the real hero of this album (and who Nash pinches from under his exes' nose with promises of running away together in America, though in the end Graham's next solo album 'Innocent Eyes' isn't exactly the fame and glory he promised and their union doesn't last much longer before Paul Bliss joins The Moody Blues instead, wasting his writing talents as second keyboard player). What do you mean this didn't happen at your school reunion?!
To be fair, most of this move backwards is deliberate. By 1983 The Hollies have had a rough few years commercially and have been quietly persuaded by EMI not to release any more record for the moment (Nash helped get this album released as part of a one-off album deal with WEA). But then so has Graham: while The Hollies have been slogging away making an album most years since the parting of the ways in 1968 (thirteen studio albums in fourteen years), his next band CSN have split up no less than four times and counting with Crosby so poorly from his drug addiction that Nash was, at the time, adamant that the trio would never ever play together again (Crosby is, indeed, merely months away from a prison sentence). Neither side are big news in music terms - but nostalgia is. It's been twenty years since 'She Loves You yeah yeah yeah', the world is gearing up for a blitz of nostalgia involving every Beatles single being re-released on vinyl on the actual anniversary date and suddenly people are talking about the 1960s as a commodity to be reminded of rather than as the root of current music trends. The Hollies were still, rightly or wrongly, seen by the public as a pop singles act who covered trendy music by current fashionable writers. That's exactly what the record company wanted and - after three years without a record and nine without a hit - The Hollies were willing to give it a try. 'What Goes Around' is therefore the inevitable result - a pop album from a band who were always best at meaningful rock, made up entirely of covers despite the fact that the band featured three of the greatest writers to have ever graced the planet and with a production that's as earnestly 1980s as The Hollies had always been gloriously 1960s. It's frankly a waste of their time and yours, with almost nothing of what had made The Hollies stand out in popular music: the harmonies, the guitarwork (there are actually more Tony Hicks solos than I remember now I've heard this album again, but all of them are short and a lot of them are dull), even the bouncy optimism and energy of their younger days. Instead The Hollies sound like every other 1980s pop band, albeit one that could still actually sing and knew a great tune when they heard it, with their usual strong ears for cover material. In many ways it's a huge improvement on what the band were doing last time around, which was covering Buddy Holly songs on, erm, 'Buddy Holly' and the band's brief work with Mike Batt (which resulted in the classic half-hit single 'Soldier's Song', their 1980s masterpiece, but also a whole pile of generic pop songs The Hollies should never have gone anywhere near). But it also falls far short of what it could have been, had the Clarke-Hicks-Nash songwriting team gone back to writing songs together from their new shared older, maturer perspective or had they been determined to completely grab hold of the 1960s nostalgia and sound the way they always did, without any sop to period trappings.
Or, indeed, had they actually all started work at the same time for the history of how this album came about is quite a complex and convoluted one. Back in 1980, when The Hollies still had a regular record contract and were still hoping for sales in their own right, Graham Nash was the last person you'd have pout money on to join the band; indeed you'd have probably got better odds over David Bowie becoming a Bowhollie or Holly Johnson leaving Frannkie Goes To Hollywood to be a Hollie (both bands recorded songs titled 'Relax' after all). But in 1981 The Hollies have split, painfully. The Mike Batt sessions were hard going, The Hollies feeling as if they were being patronised by a man several years their junior (and whose biggest hits till now had been via the rabbits of 'Watership Down' or men dressed up as Wombles. Hopefully in some alternate universe somewhere the band took off his biggest hit and replied in earnest 'Remember we're The Hollies' every time the producer threatened to replace them). Mike Batt particularly didn't like Bernie Calvert's bass playing and rubbished him at every opportunity, replacing him with session players (despite the fact that he remains one of the best bass players to come out of the 1960s). Bernie was distraught and Terry Sylvester spoke up on his behalf, arguing that the material was 'stupid' and a band with a following like The Hollies (with more top twenty hits than The Beatles don'tchaknow) deserved to at least have a say in the music they made. But The Hollies needed this last gasp chance too badly to agree, splitting down the middle with Bernie retiring to Runcorn and Terry splitting to form James Griffin-Terry Sylvester to earn his 'bread' and butter. The Hollies are almost split in half and though the band quickly find a harmony singer/rhythm guitarist replacement in Alan Coates (the star of many a late 1980s live show) and though they have recording sessions lined up for 1981-1982 (paid for out of their own money, with the hope they could get a record deal at the end of it all), they're happy to take any olive branch offered them, including Graham. From his point of view Graham's career is in freefall too and with CSN gone forever (or so it seems) a Hollies record actually seems like a good career move.
The first meeting comes most unexpectedly when some bright spark at EMI noticed how well the recent 'Stars On 45' tribute To The Beatles has gone down and figures 'we could do another one of those!', stringing together two medleys of Hollie hits remixed and re-edited to a new backing track of ugly 1980s drums. 'Holliedaze' and it's B-side 'Holliepops' do surprisingly well in the chart despite the fact that The Hollies aren't actively promoting them and the single becomes the band's biggest seller since 'Breathe'. The Hollies get an invite to appear on Top Of The Pops, the music show about to celebrate its own 20th anniversary soon after the band's own and - as per the usual rules - the people who actually appeared on the record got the invitation. People were most surprised when Graham said 'yes' from his beach-house in Hawaii to return to rainy Manchester but the timing just happened to be fortunate with the singer between projects; original bass player Eric Haydock turned up too, but sadly didn't hang around for any longer (the others were still involved in a court case where he presented his own band as variations on 'The Hollies'). Graham asked the band what they were up to, they told him they had a bunch of songs ready to go and even had a few backing tracks down despite losing their contract with EMI. Somebody (probably Tony) invited Graham to hang out and add a few harmony vocals; a few weeks later he'd sung on the whole album (and nicked the band's keyboardist/chief writer in the process!) In the end Graham gets a grand total of two lines to himself across the whole record (the not exactly taxing 'Oh baby what you do to me!' on 'Say You'll Be Mine' plus the one he always sang on 'Just One Look') and stays in the background throughout, unusual and uncharacteristic as that may be (after all, remember Nash wrote 10/12ths of his last album as a Hollie, 'Butterfly'). But then also in the background are Tony Hicks (whose own harmony vocals, once such a vital part of the Hollie sound, are heard even less often than that) and Bobby Elliott (with perhaps the single greatest rock drummer of the 1960s largely replaced by a drum machine), while even lead singer Allan Clarke isn't exactly pushed to his limits. There's not one Hollie original at all on this record remember not one!
So who does do anything on this curious record? Well, in many ways it's a Paul Bliss solo album that just happens to feature some guest mates, despite the fact that nobody outside the band has ever heard of him (Paul's band had made two records in the late 1970s, but good luck finding those - even Allan's and Terry's solo albums are easier to track down!) His keyboard is the lynchpin of this record in a way that the guitars, bass and drums just aren't and practically every song on this album is either keyboard or piano based. Given that we're talking the mid-1980s here, that's a shame, despite his occasionally excellent playing (such as 'Someone Else's Eyes'): 'What Goes Around...' is as much a product of its era as 'Bus Stop' and 'On A Carousel' were, only of course the era is far far worse to modern ears. Bliss also writes half of the album's songs, which is a bit like The Rolling Stones getting back together again and 'sacking' Jagger/Richards in favour of some new kid they met in the canteen (or, better yet, someone with limited success such as Bill Wyman). However, Paul is undoubtedly the album's hero too: not all his songs are great but they are the highlights, with the throbbing pop of 'Casualty', the spooky harmonies of 'Say You'll Be Mine', the Motown stomp of 'I Got What I Want', the sarcastic forced smile of 'Having A Good Time' and especially the dreamy romance of 'Someone Else's Eyes' by far the album's most Holliesy moments. You can imagine the 1960s Hollies recording all of these songs, just not in this way with digital drums and squeaky keyboards largely covering up those golden harmonies. Bliss is a talented writer, it's a shame to see him relegated to pretty colours behind Justin Hayward and John Lodge these days (although he did leave a few years back to become a TV theme writer I'm pleased to say). No Clarke-Hicks-Nash admittedly, so it's a bit silly having anyone else when those three are still in the band, but a good writer all the same.
There's an intriguing theme running through Bliss' songs and a handful of the other cover song choices here too which makes even more sense of the 1980s-is-just-like-the-1960s vibe: the threat of nuclear annihilation. Now CSN in general and Nash in particular had always been outspoken about nuclear arms in public (Graham had even organised the 'No Nukes!' concerts in 1979) but till now his feelings on the matter had resulted in just one song, 'Barrel Of Pain' from his third solo record 'Earth and Sky'. It seems unlikely to be a subject of conversation between band members who'd never really shared their old partner's liberal views before (though there's a nice bunch of anti-war songs from the 1969-1971 period just after Nash had left the band and The Hollies were as influenced by CSN as everyone else was). And yet here it is: 'Casualty' has the narrator a victim of 'circumstance' - love as it happens, but suffering from some unseen disaster all the same with several lines that could be taken both ways ('I never saw the warning signs until it was too late!') 'Take My Love and Run' is about hiding and escaping from some off-screen destruction. 'Something Ain't Right' may reply with the very Hollies rejoinder '...But that ain't gonna let me stop without a fight', but still something here feels 'wrong' with the world as it is. 'If The Lights Go Out' was written by Mike Batt during the union disputes of the late 1970s which led to copious power cuts and yet it's about something wider than that: if the lights go out in the whole world it won't matter because we die in each other's arms. 'Stop! In The Name Of Love', the Supremes cover, is clearly about love and only love - at least until Nash finally got involved in something (the music video) and turned it into an anti-nuclear crusade (goodness only knows what messers Clarke, Hicks and Elliott made of that!) Finally, after a bit of a gap for love songs (including an updated version of Hollie breakthrough hit 'Just One Look', which is as pure 1983 as the original was pure 1963) we end with 'Having A Good Time' which opens with the line 'They say the world must end somehow...' This is kind of the album theme though: rather than weep about the imminent destruction of the Earth by two superpowers, or protest the fact that two idiots we should never have trusted ended up with that power as CSN would have done in days of old, The Hollies get ready to party. Because if we're going to go then at least we should all go happy, embracing life as it used to be. That bit of 'What Goes Around...' is very Hollies (particularly the early Nash era Hollies, something that had been left behind as the band got sadder in the 1970s) and the part of this album that works best; but alas the material isn't always as strong as the concept and much of side two doesn't fit that concept anyway.
So is 'What Goes Around...' any good? Well bits so it are. 'Casualty' has a killer pop chorus and a likeable, hapless narrator who probably stood outside A&R chatting up girls at a bus stop with his umbrella. The doom-laden stuttering cover of 'Take My Love and Run' (first tried out Nash-less as a flop single at the Batt sessions and actually slightly ruined here by being cut down in length, but they don't change it enough here to ruin it so no matter) is powerful in a way the rest of the album isn't but most of the past Hollies catalogue is; brave and ominous underneath it's catchiness. 'Stop! In The Name Of Love' takes a song everyone knows backwards and gives it a kick up the backside - admittedly a 1980s kick, so it's not what it could have been, but this new arrangement combined with a Clarkey vocal makes for a better idea on record than it could ever have seemed on paper. The re-make of 'Just One Look' is an interesting before and after shot that shows up how good the original song was. And 'Someone Else's Eyes' is pure bliss (in both meanings of the word), soaring away on lyrics of guilt and worry combined with music of regret and longing and gorgeous Hollies harmonies that, here at least, sound every bit as great as they ever did in 1968. For those reasons alone 'What Goes Around...' should come around to your Hollie collection one day, assuming you can find it (thankfully that's easier than it used to be thanks to this set's first ever CD release which came as late as 2006 with B-side 'Musical Pictures' as a pretty B-side, though even this disc isn't exactly common). However there's no avoiding the Sandy-coloured, lace-shirt wearing, long cool elephant in a black dress sitting in the corner: this really doesn't sound much like The Hollies, good or bad. It really doesn't sound anywhere near as strong or as meaningful as a reunion album with Graham Nash should sound like. 'What Goes Around...' picked the wrong era to come round to, turning back the clock to 1963 when The Hollies were a cute covers pop band instead of 1968 when they were as great and original a writing act as anybody else around in their era. 'What Goes Around...' isn't bad by any means and is a big improvement on the pointless task of 'Buddy Hully' covers and a majority of the Mike Batt recordings (though I'd sit through anything to get my hands on 'Soldier's Song', admittedly). But if you're not missing it - and it sold so poorly, then and now, that you almost certainly are - then you're not missing out on all that much, really. Sometimes school reunions just promise too much and teach you that you really can't turn back the clock.
It's a brave band that begins their new make-or-break album, released three albums after the last, with lines like 'a victim of my own circumstance, a helpless case that never stood a chance...' Though actually 'Casualty' is one of the better attempts here at updating the old Hollie sound with an impressive array of keyboards and sound effects that almost makes you nostalgic for the 1980s (believe me, this isn't a feeling that happens often). The Hollies enter the picture little by little, with Clarke taking the first half of the first verse, Nash joining in alongside for the second half and Hicks for the chorus, which is actually a new technique for The Hollies (where they either all sing or go solo). It's quite an effective one too, although like much of the album to come it's a shame that The Hollies are in the background of their own album, with keyboards, a synth-bass and a so-not-Bobby-Elliott-it-hurts drum part taking centre stage. In terms of songwriting 'Casualty' isn't anything of the sort and is one of Paul Bliss' better and more Holliesy efforts that returns to the many songs about cheating and suspicion that fills up their 1970s work. The narrator was driving home when he thinks he saw his wife with another man, causing him to crash the car. The fact that he wakes up in traction at the local hospital says much about the condition of his marriage too with some clever lines that fit both strands of the story ('I must have lost direction, a simple hit and run', 'Out of control on one-way street'). Though most of this song is pure pop and very much in the breathless-enthusiasm style of the very early period Hollies the middle eight adds some much needed emotion as we switch to a minor key and Clarkey wakes up and realises that he's been taken for a 'ride' and that he has a broken heart to nurse along with his broken bones. A strong, solid opener that might have been a masterpiece had it had more Hollies involvement in it; believe it or not this is about as much Clarke-Nash interaction as you're going to hear for the full record and even that is rather thin on the ground here. Shouldabeen the single.
'What Goes Around...' is one of those middle-aged-reunion albums that sag a little in the middle, putting the best at the beginning and at the end. 'Take My Love and Run' was first released as a single in 1981 which was one of the band's poorest sellers despote being one of their better 1981 releases (it didn't chart anywhere - and remember even the shameful 'Wiggle That Wotsit' was a top twenty hit in New Zealand). Rather than re-record it, the band simply edit out a few of the things they felt didn't work (the false ending, the sad 'take my take my' that follows and the final verse of wo-a-woa-a-o-ahs), which was a shame because actually they did. Nash also added a subtle harmony part alongside new-boy Alan Coates' part on the record too (Coates' only part on the record, sadly). So what makes this single stand out? Well, it's still recognisably Hollies (with more harmonies than most of this record) but it's Hollies as we've never heard them before - vaguely threatening and creepy until everything suddenly gets turned on its head during a typically bright and breezy chorus. Like many a 1970s Hollies fan it's about break-up and divorce, the narrator finally giving up on a relationship that's lasted way too long. Vowing 'you won't do this to me again!', the narrator is still in love to tell his lover to take his love and remember him but to get out before they both get hurt beyond repair. This is how 1980s pop songs should always have sounded, using the old 'Human League' trick of taking the most raw emotional warm feelings in the music and treating them to ice-cold alienation with the performance on the bank of unfeeling, uncaring synths. There's something slightly 'off' about the keyboards that works well in the confines in the track too (has the original backing track been slowed down to give it a more fragile, bitter feeling?) which I used to assume was because of my scratchy 45 single (the instrumental B-side 'Driver' suffered from the same problem) but sounds just as bad if not worse on CD. Though it's a shame there's so little for anyone else to do on this track, Clarkey is brilliant excelling as he does with kitchen sink dramas he can get his teeth into. Listen out too for the final repeat of the line 'get out before the morning sun' when all three singing Hollies reach up instead of down, an old Hollie trick they hadn't made with Nash in fifteen years.
Alas this is where the record starts going downhill slightly. 'Say You'll Be Mine' should, on paper, be vintage paper. There are harmonies nearly all the way through, it's an energetic pop song based on real emotion and feeling (love basically) and this is the one track on the album with Tony Hicks guitar and Bobby Elliott drums. The problem is it's unmemorable in a way few Hollies tracks have ever been before, with only the unexpected minor key change before the choruses ('Why don't you say the words I want to hear?') catching the ear. Paul Bliss' second song on the album isn't as original as his others, with a dragging chorus that's too slow and dreary that's repeated way too many times. Lyrically, too, this song of devotion sounds like so many others, with the narrator trying to open his heart and longing for his lover to match him with every compliment he makes. There are, though some nice lines that makes this song sound as if it was 'real' at some stage: 'You don't have to tell the truth' admits Clarke's love-struck narrator, 'But I want you to!' At least Tony and Bobby are clearly on here too, with very characteristic flourishes from both men and there are full harmonies too, but typically for this album both are lower in the mix than the bank of keyboards and the busy synth-bass which is about as far removed from Eric's soul and Bernie's melodicism as it's possible to get. For a new 1980s band this would still sound pretty good - but this is The Hollies, why settle for a recording that sounds like everybody else?
'Something Ain't Right' - you could say that again. The Hollies are way in the distance on track four, with Clarkey sounding as if he's singing lead from down the end of a wind tunnel while the others are out in the car park (maybe they were re-shooting the promo for 'Dear Eloise' somewhere in Europe and avoiding all the parked cars?) There's a nice song here, this time from the pen of songwriting team Allen and Byrne, but it's been lost in translation somewhere and never really connects with the listener. Lyrically it's another one of those songs about a relationship turning sour, with a tale of 'unequal love' that Nash will write the definitive song about for CSN in 1994. The narrator has put everything into his relationship but it's not been matched and it keeps playing on his mind - should he go all out and declare his love or back off and accept that it's over? The last verse seems to find redemption (she makes the first move and rings him up!) but it's all so non-committal and leaves him 'holding on to nothing at all'. The Hollies are good at melancholy and this song is definitely melancholy, but the arrangement given here makes it sound more like one of those up-tempo happy pop numbers like 'Bus Stop' et al. You half expect the band to have a party at the end as the driving riffs keep playing (this is about the only song on the album based around guitar not keyboards, though it's more a weak-kneed Eagles riff than a knock-out 'Long Cool Woman' style hook), but in the end the narrator has done nothing about his situation and feels as disconnected at the end as he did at the beginning. Another worryingly unmemorable performance from a group who are usually the most memorable of bands.
'If The Lights Go Out' is a Mike Batt song discussed at the 1980 sessions but seemingly not recorded till here (when it was released early as the B-side of 'Stop! In The Name Of Love' with a number of differences - most notably the phased/echoed vocals that didn't quite come off). It's no 'Soldier's Song', but it's better than 'Let Her Go Down' and the other treacly rubbish that should have been left with The Wombles. An ear-catching opening is particularly strong and sums up the yin and yang of Hollies styles: 'They say the world must end somehow...' sighs a mournful Clarke before the band bounce back in on a noisy upbeat chorus that runs '...I think they're wrong! Don't worry your life away!' The idea of a couple spending the last few hours on earth in each other's arms, still totally in love, is one that ended up in a lot of pop songs in this era (Roger Waters wrote a whole film score around the idea for 'Where The Wind Blows' this same year), the love and passion and warmth contrasting with the jealousy and ugliness and destruction of nuclear annihilation, juxtaposing the real feelings between real people everywhere with the callousness and heartlessness of politicians (something tells me Nash picked this song...) Unfortunately having opened the song with the promise of nuclear war, nothing happens for the rest of the track. After that ear-catching opening there's nothing else to say, with as many different ways of saying 'I want to be with you when the world burns' as you can imagine. Even a Hicks guitar solo sounds less 'real' and more window-dressing than it normally would, while - dare we say it - the Clarke-Hicks-Nash vocals sound slightly flat. Still, if the lights had to go out on The Hollies at all, most fans would rather we get a run of half-way decent tracks like this than the 'staying power' of the later line-up...
'Stop! In The Name Of Love' really shouldn't work at all. The Supremes' original was so famous that there have been very few covers of this song and though The Hollies had a go at covering The Four Tops' 'Reach Out I'll Be There' in concert, Motown was never really their style. And yet Hammond-Dozier-Holland's song gets new energy (and a whole new meaning if you've seen the video, with more Nash warnings against nuclear war). Clarke is superb as he pours his heart out in a far more 'real' way than the always-preening Diana Ross and there are some excellent touches scattered across this arrangement. Hicks' double-tracked guitar solo is spot-on, the faster pace really suits the urgency of the lyrics, the sudden cymbal crash to emphasis the word 'stop!' is so obvious you wonder why Berry Gordy didn't think of it fore the original and the moment of silence where the 'stop' should be after the final 'Tear it apart...in the name of love!' is very clever. Does it beat the original? Well, that's the difference between people copying and originating (and forget what you may have read elsewhere, The Hollies were creators once they hit their stride, not copycats). Back in 1965 no one had ever heard anything quite like this song, even in the Supremes' catalogue. This song doesn't play it cool (even though Diana sings it that way), it's desperate, carnal and deeply emotional and just happens to come along with a catchy chorus that keeps things in check. I would say it's the best Supremes song out there but that's kind of obvious - a good half of their singles catalogue are poor re-makes of this song anyway. In 1983 though we've heard lots of songs like that one, though as it happens none for a long time (the 1980s was closer in style to Motown cool than 1960s pop energy and emotion). Much as The Hollies tweak this track, change the theme, bring out the very real grief that's been hiding in the song all these years and replace the original Motown horns with keyboards, they're always going to come off second best simply because they don't have the shock factor anymore. Yes, even with a video where the world blows up (a brave move for the time actually - we're a year before Frankie's 'Two Tribes' here and this is a band who want a hit and a peaceful life; even CSN won't get this explicitly anti-war in video for a few more years yet and in fact haven't made many videos at all just yet).It's still the weakest of the three Hollies singles featuring the word 'Stop!', however.
'I Got What I Want' is kinda forgettable, which is odd because the central riff is also so nagging and insistent it's the first thing that runs through my head whenever I think of this record. In many ways Bliss and his pal Steve Kipner's song is just a re-write of 'I Take What I Want' (as covered by The Hollies on their 1966 'Would You Believe?' album) without anywhere near as much energy, twinned with 'I Can't Let Go' without the rock-solid bass line. Clarke sings double-tracked for the only time on the record and just about gets through the song in one piece (though it's a close call at times), but the lyrics he sings are confusing. Basically it's one long song about how the narrator's never ever going to fall out of love because it took him so long to get the girl of his dreams, inspiring one of the album's better Tony Hicks solos along the way. And that's about it - he wouldn't sell his girl for any amount of money (I should hope not!), nothing's going to change Clarkey's mind, it's all water off a duck's back, etc etc. All this thinking out loud is interrupted every so often, seemingly at random, by a chorus by a flat-sounding chorus that intones over and over 'I got what I want, nobody can take it away!' Admittedly things get better for a middle eight ('Always got what I wanted...'), but even that is over in the blink of an eye. Frustratingly this arguably weakest moment on the record seem to be the template The Hollies returned to most across the 1980s: long after Nash leaves the band (again!) the others will still be recording drippy keyboard-based songs like this that 'beep' ('Bam! Bam!') at key moments in the chorus. Thankfully most of the later Hollies songs (many of them originals) will be strong enough to absorb the inherent silliness of this, but 'I Got What I Want' has too much stuff in it that fans don't want at all.
I'm not quite sure what I think about the new-look 'Just One Look', recorded twenty years after the last time around. Like 'Stop!' it's impressively, courageously different and works well slowed down from the hysterics and longing of teenager-dom to soft sighing reflective middle-age. The replacement of the old very 1963 guitar accompaniment with some very 1983 keyboards is also a sweet touch and the new riff Paul Bliss teases out of his keyboard is perhaps his best playing on the record. Throw in the unexpected coda that falls to a yearning minor key (where the original just faded) and you have yourself a re-recording that's better than most and not quite the travesty fans feared when they first heard that The Hollies were doing this. However, there is a sense here that the band have thrown the baby out with the bath-water. The whole point of the original was that the narrator was so utterly, totally, overwhelmingly in love that he was obsessed (a good hook for the Nash-ear Hollies, from 'I'm Alive' and 'I Can't Let Go' on down) and the band played it that way, This version is more like Doris Troy's original, sung with little passion and a curious kind of nonchalant shrug. That would make more sense if the backing was heading in that direction too, but it isn't - if anything the synth-bass is even more energetic and urgent than Eric Haydock's part on the original and the chirpy keyboard riff is more 'yippee' than 'yawn'. While Clarkey sounds strong, Nash and Hicks both sound a little flimsy and rushed, Nash's solo middle eight ('I thought I was dreaming but I was wrong, yeah yeah yeah!') not a patch on his aggressive first go twenty years earlier. Like 'Stop! In The Name Of Love' the result is a fairly impressive piece of recycling, that still feels slightly null and void and faintly pointless because, even if this re-recording had been note-perfect it could never have improved on the original. The track selection feels a little random too: while 'Just One Look' was the band's biggest hit up to that point in time, that was more because The Hollies got lucky and chose a week that didn't have Beatles and Stones singles out at the same time. Their 'real' breakthrough hit, when most people began to notice them, was 'Stay' - a similarly fast-paced obsessive song which actually would have worked really well slowed down to a more mature older feel (which would have worked well changed from a 'love me!' vibe to a 'stay with me!' one). A re-working of first single 'Ain't That Just Like Me' might have been fun too, though the band were too embarrassed by it even in 1963 to perform it live...
Thankfully the album still has an ace up its sleeve with 'Someone Else's Eyes', a Paul Bliss song that's tailor made for The Hollies. For the only time on the record we get a glimpse of what Nash might have sounded like had he hung around long enough for the band to mature into their natural 1970s state as slow pretty balladeers. The sparing use of harmonies works really well for once on this song about the narrator yearning for unity and Clarke shines once again on a lead vocal he can properly get his teeth into. The lyrics are gorgeous, a mixture of humble pleading for forgiveness and tough assertion that things have got to change, the narrator desperate to keep his lover with him because he knows if she leaves him for another they'll both be hurt - no one else's eyes can ever show her greater love than he has for her already, so why go 'searchin' (that's another old song The Hollies could have updated!) 'There never seemed to be a time for explanation' Clarke sighs, worried that things have moved so fast he's been taking his lover for granted and desperate not to let the one love of his life go. It's also the best place to hear the Clarke-Nash vocals fitting together (though Hicks is barely present the whole song). A typically album-strong middle eight is the icing on the cake as Clarke stops cooing and starts roaring: 'After all this time I thought you knew me better, never believed that I would ever see you go!' Admittedly this song isn't quite as note-perfect as similar Hollies bands of regret and longing ('Love Is The Thing' from 1976's 'Write On' is a good starting place), mainly thanks to the 1980s trappings: the synth solo is awkward and insincere, painfully adrift in the middle of this song (it seems odd that Bliss should misunderstand his own work in this way) and while there are less period trappings here than on the rest of the album there are still far too many once the songs gets up to speed. But that's nit-picking really: as the narrator tries to explain, why bother searching for total perfection when near-perfection is here before you and it feels oh so good? The highlight of the album and a candidate for the best Hollies song of the 1980s (though 'Soldier's Song' 'Purple Rain' 'Sine Silently' and 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken' all come close too).
So are we 'Having A Good Time?' Yes and no - the uneven-ness of this album doesn't quite allow you to wallow into a state of truly enjoying it and true to form the album rocks out on an uncomfortably messy and bland farewell. Bobby Elliott is back on drums again (for only the second time?) but he's overshadowed by noisy prancing keyboards and a Clarke vocal that's intended to be raw but simply shows up how badly he's beginning to lose his voice already without any studio trickery to cover it (Allan leaves the band for this reason in 1999, though thankfully he still has a few highlights to go yet). A tight, driving guitar riff deserves a better song to cling on to than this, with an uncomfortable chorus that see-saws between bland and silly and a chorus that sounds unfinished ('Are you having a good time?' reallt doesn't rhyme with 'the story is always unwinding' however much Bliss and Kipner want us to think that, while the chorus finale gets drawn out to 'Ti-i-i-i-i--i-i-i-i-i-ime' where the extra syllables should go, just to rub the point in). The Hollies struggle to conjure up the party feelings the track is aiming for and it's no surprise really - the chorus comes at the wrong point; it's the only part of this lyric that isn't morbid and dreading the worst. 'I can't see the future' runs the lyrics, 'So I don't know if this will last but, hey, it's worth a try!' Hmm that's not the most romantic thing The Hollies have ever said and the choruses cry that 'here and now it doesn't matter' is instantly undercut by verse after verse about trying to predict the future. It's also, like 'Casualty', a brave bordering on foolish 'farewell' note to leave us on: the world is about to blow up so who cares? The Hollies' history ever so nearly ended with this track (it took a lot of persuasion for EMI to take the band back and only the brilliance of 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken' convinces them, while WEA were so shocked that this album only making #90 in the States (which was still the band's best since the self-titled Clarke reunion album in 1974) and missing the charts completely in the UK that they quietly shredded the band's contract. It would have been a terrible way of saying goodbye.
Thankfully The Hollies will half-rescue their tattered reputation with a strong run of singles across the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s (we'll ignore 'The Woman I Love' if you promise you will too) which, thanks to the fact they never appeared on album and only exist on CD on the end of compilations, will come as a shock to many of you. Sadly, though, they won't make another album until as late as 2006 and 'Staying Power' and 'Then, Now and Always' are about as close to The Hollies sound as The Spice Girls are to The Supremes. Nash leaves the band again pretty much as soon as he could, saying that once again he'd 'outgrown' The Hollies, even though he seemed genuinely enthusiastic before the album came out to lukewarm sales and reviews (though he fits in an American Hollie tour first, proudly showing his 'first band' off to his home audience - it was released on CD as 'Archive Alive!' in the late 1990s but good luck finding that, it's even harder to pin down than this album is). The patient Alan Coates finally gets a full-time gig replacing him and is about as good as any replacement for singers as talented as Nash and Terry Sylvester can be (he also rivals Tony as the band's song picker of choice, with the covers of Nils Lofgren's 'Sine Silently' and Prince's 'Purple Rain' both his ideas). Paul Bliss leaves with Nash and is replaced by Denis Haines, while The Hollies finally get round to adding a permanent bass player after three years without one by adding Steve Stroud in 1984. Clarkey finally leaves in 1999, retiring after a great though brief stint as a radio documentary presenter. And yet still Tony and Bobby soldiered on, adding first Move star Carl Wayne and later musicals singer Peter Howarth in the new millennium. As with 'What Goes Around...' it's all a brave attempt to sound contemporary that kind of half-works. However, much like this 1983 album, it is perhaps a change too far without the immediacy and originality of the days of old. But then few bands are ever lucky enough to last as long as The Hollies, who beat The Stones to the charts by a matter of months and thus can claim to be the second longest continually performing band from the 1960s (and they made way more albums than the first longest, The Searchers, to boot). 'What Goes Around...' isn't the best place to hear why the band have lasted that long and in many ways is the closest to a minor released the band ever made - at least in the 20th century and without the dreaded 'Hollies Sing Dylan' or 'Hollies Sing Holly' moniker on the cover. However, like all Hollies releases, it has its moments and for 'Someone Else's Eyes' 'Take My Love and Run' and - if you're feeling generous - 'Casualty' and 'Stop! In The Name Of Love' alone, it's an album well worth tracking down if you can, as a curio at least.
You can buy 'Watch The Stars - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Pentangle' by clicking here!
"John Renbourn's Ship Of Fools"
Searching For Lambs/Sandwood Down To Kyle/Bogey's Bonnie Belle/Lark In Clean Air/The Martinmass Wind/Cobbler's Jig-Maltese Brawl/I Live Not Where I Love/The Verdant Braes Of Screen/Traveller's Prayer
"I am your captain, sir - I go where no man dare go"
Renbourn went back in time even more than normal for the title of his album and band: Ancient Greece. It was Plato who first coined the metaphor of a 'ship of fools', meaning a group of people adrift without a proper leader, although knowing his love of all things Medieval John probably discovered the phrase through the paintings by Sebastian Brant (from whose work the album cover is taken). At first this wasn't meant to be an album or even a proper band, but John was invited to perform a set for an outdoor festival in Central park and figured he needed some amplification. The friends who took up John's invitation included old hands from his solo and 'Group' days such as Tony Roberts, Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle, who all had their interests in John's favourite era of music. The concerts were well received and led to a tour, which was also well received and led to this album which features the usual mixture of traditional tunes from the Middle Ages along with three new John originals. Though Maggie Boyle is no Jacqui McShee, she is thank goodness a Maggie Boyle - another one of a kind singer with a delightful warm and velvet tone that coats an iron fist, closer in style to Maddy Prior or Linda Thompson than Jacqui's purer style. She's a good fit for these songs as is the rest of the band.
The fuller band sound makes it one of John's more interesting and unusual albums, with a sound quite unlike his usual guitar-based albums and with its more traditional players doesn't sound like the folkier John Renbourn Group either. At times this is to the album's benefit: 'Searching For Lambs' works well with four contrapuntal parts weaving around each other with the vocals on top, while 'I Live Not Where I Love', a very 1960s ballad about loss despite written closer to 1460, is one of John's prettier arrangements. And at other times its the loss: John's playing is hard to hear under so many extras and at times he really takes a back seat to everything else going on, which just makes this another exercise in re-creating old music without the usual Renbourn magic ('Lark In The Clear' for instance is mainly a flute solo without the song). What pushes this album over the edge into being one of the better albums of Renbourn's career is the emphasis on actual songs for a change rather than just instrumentals.
The title track, for instance, is a poetic take on the old story about a rudderless craft, more interested in description than allegory ('Rainbow colours that befell from stem to stern entrances me so'). John's regular 'Traveller's Prayer' also makes the first of several appearances, here as a pure Madrigal sung by four voices which is a hymn to the moon that's very atmospheric, praying for salvation and help for those suffering a lonely night in distress (it's an insomniac classic!) 'The Martinmass Wind' (celebrating a pagan day dedicated to the coming of winter, held on November 11th) is a much overlooked song too, a gorgeous song about loneliness and wishing you were home, the narrator fearing their love is broken by the geographical distance between when a tree snaps from under them. Though the more traditional songs aren't quite up to this high standard, the three new songs alone make this one of Renbourn's most interesting albums, perhaps his best of the post-Pentangle records. Far from being a ship of fools, Renbourn has rarely been surrounded by players this good and this is perhaps his greatest band following Pentangle. A shame there wasn't a sequel.
"So Early In The Spring"
(Green Linnet, '1989')
Eminstra/So Early In The Spring/The Blacksmith/Reynardine/Lucky Black Cat//Bramble Briar/Lassie Gathering Nuts/Gaea/The Baron O'Brackley
"There's grief in the kitchen - but there's mirth in the hall"
'So Early In The Spring' is easily the best of the Pentangle reunion records. Admittedly it's still nowhere close to even the weakest of the 'original' six and there isn't exactly much competition from the other four latter-day albums, but 'Spring' is the one that comes closest to doing what the reformed Pentangle set out to do - sound like their old selves using more modern technology. It's not that this record does anything special the others don't do - it's very much a folk album with a pop setting, with six of the nine songs old folk standards rather than originals, and lacks even the blues and jazz influences of its predecessors, but the songs are stronger, the performances are brighter and more enthusiastic while - for the most part - the 1980s production values don't get in the way too much. That's all the stranger given that this album features less Pentangling than the other two albums - John left before 'Open The Door', Danny soon after and now Terry has jumped ship following the sessions for 'In The Round'. Thankfully Bert was able to coerce his new mate Rod Clements (the bassist in Lindisfarne) to fill the vacant guitar seat for one album only and their instant rapport with each other (already heard on their shared 'Leather Laundrette' album from a year before) is one of the things that makes this album so special. Jacqui too is having a great album: the title track, already recorded a capella for 'Sweet Child', is one of her best performances and Scottish folk song 'Lassie Gathering Nuts' isn't far behind. The closer 'The Baron O'Brackley' is also the single most ambitious thing Pentangle have done since the 'Reflection' LP, clocking in at eight action-packed minutes. Only a slight sense of being rooted in time - this sounds very much like a late 1980s album, full of booming drums and echoey synths - rather than the timelessness of old prevents this one matching old triumphs; the album cover too, of an origami sailor's hat adrift on an ocean is puzzling too, even for a band who were never that hot on album covers. Even so, it's arguably the best thing released under the Pentangle name since 'Solomon's Seal' twenty years earlier. 'Springtime promise' finally fulfilled!
'Eminstra' is, though, not the best place to start - an instrumental credited to all the band, it floats around without really going anywhere and sounds more like period Clannad than anything by Pentangle, with its irritating synth-panpipes and some incredibly distracting drumming from Gerry Conway (who seems to be playing a different song entirely for most of the four minutes).
The single best song of the reunion years is the re-make of 'So Early In The Spring', turned from cute a capella lament into a classy pop song that features Jacqui in the male role, a sailor who runs from the sea back home to spy on his family to find the girl he loves has betrayed him. Great as the a capella rendition was, this full band version is better yet, with some fantastic double duty flute and bass playing by Portman Smith and some Conway drums that prevents this gorgeously slow song from becoming too sleepy. This is exactly what all the Pentangle reunion albums should have been like and the ghostly effects on Jacqui's voice turn her into a 'ghost'. Highly effective.
'The Blacksmith' is another oft-covered folk song, one which was first incorporated by Vaughan Williams in 1909 (though it's likely much older - he learnt it from a Hertfordshire housewife who'd had the song passed down in her family through generations but had never written it down). Pentangle's take on the ignoble man in the noble trade of yesteryear is rather noisy but still nicely handled.
'Reynardine' was one of Bert's favourite folk songs, first recorded by him on 1971's 'Rosemary Lane' album. It always sounded like a song that would have been good in Pentangle's hand and so it proves, with Bert and Jacqui swapping verses over another very poppy backing. Bert's original, full ofg mystery rather than commercialism, still beats it in every way, but this isn't bad by any means.
'Lucky Black Cat' is credited to the whole band but sounds suspiciously like a solo Bert song, a typically Pentangle tale of all sorts of bad omens conspiring against the narrator, most memorable for Rod's sly blues solo.
'Bramble Briar' is the original version of 'Bruton Town' before Pentangle modified it and cut it down to size. Alas what made the original so memorable (the rhythm section absolutely nailing the tricky stop-start time structure and the elongated guitar runs) have been replaced by a very wordy piece that doesn't pause for breath for a second. The anonymous production also feature synth lines darting in and out, as if trying to cover the fact that the band aren't quite as on top of this song as they were a quarter century earlier. Perhaps the album's weakest track.
The charming 'Lassie Gathering Nuts' is prime Pentangle though: that guitar, that bass, those vocals on a sweet Scottish tale that uses the metaphor of a maiden preparing for a cruel dark winter for a girl making the most of a short time of happiness before the barren years kick in. This album is particularly strong on melodies and 'Lassie' along with the title track shows that off like never before - Jacqui was born to sing these lovely slow meandering folk tunes.
'Gaea' is the third and final Pentangle original on the album, a curious slow shuffle sea shanty based around the idea of 'utopia' ('Gaea' is the Earth in ancient Greek myths - as in many folk songs using variations on the name the twists is that Earth turns out to be the paradise all along). It's nice to hear a bit of jazz back in the Pentangle sound, but this one isn't quite memorable enough to compete with the best songs on the album.
'The Baron Of Brackley' is a folk song from Norfolk, though set in the borderland between England and Scotland. It's the tale of two clans who spent so long fighting against themselves they let their common enemy of the English get away with murder - quite literally - with their squabble still not solved after their own deaths. Pentangle cope well on an epic song that keeps chopping and changing and while a little too sloppy to match their previous high standards it's great to hear the modern Pentangle at least have a go at telling a long-form story rather than a ditty. As usual with Pentangle, the solos are the best with Bert and Rod egging each other on nicely, while Jacqui tries to keep control of proceedings.
Overall, then, hope springs eternal that Pentangle had finally got things 'right' with 'So Early In The Spring' and that - though far from perfect - there was enough skill shown here to bode well for any future Pentangle album. After two 'nearly' albums playing around with the band's sound, it seemed as if the reunion Pentangle had finally worked out how to update their sound whilst still sounding like themselves. Alas, though, the drive and hunger heard on the best parts of this album won't last, while the lesser moments - the 1980s production values and the slightly slow tempos that keep cropping up across this record - will become the template for future albums. Any Pentangle album that has so little space for Bert Jansch can never be a five-star classic, but luckily Jacqui is on top form and if you're willing to accept that the truly great days are over and buried, then there's enough here to make you grateful that Pentangle at least tried to have another go.
John Renbourn's "A Medieval Almanack"
(Demon Records, '1989')
The Earle Of Salisbury/Trotto-Saltarello/Veri Floris-Triple Ballade/Bransle Gay-Bransle De Bourgogne/Alman-Melancholy Galliard/Westeron Wynde/Lamento De Tristan-La Rotta/Sarabande/Shaeffertanz/Lady Nothing's Toye Puffe/Lady Goes To Church/The Lady and The Unicorn/The Princess and the Puddings/Pavanna/A Toye/Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home
"Forsooth! This is verily a bolde concept - an authentic step back into the past without even a hey nonny nonny!"
Fan who think Renbourn sounds best when he's holding a lute and dressed as a Medieval knight will appreciate this compilation the most, which does a pretty good job at selecting the most authentically Medieval moments from his back catalogue. The album is impressively long - long enough to fit in a quick banquet anyway - and will make for an excellent soundtrack the next time your nephews and nieces are round and want to make-believe at re-creating Camelot. Renbourn's passion for his subject matter shines throughout and anyone who equates Madrigals with magical should go here straight away. For the rest of us, though, this is rather a heavy going record which feels a little like being given a lecture without all those fun asides in the present day or having fun with different genres to brighten up the mood. The fifteenth century may in fact seem to play out in real time if you're not careful, so do be warned. It's all up to your taste really, but all you'll know for sure is that you're an awful long way from the genre-bending fun of the Pentangle days.
Danny Thompson "Whatever Next"
Dargai/Hopdance/Invitation To The Dance-The Dance/Beanpole/Wild Finger/A Full English Basket/Fanfare-Basket Of Eggs/Sandansko Oro/Take It Off The Top/Major Escape
"Whatever happened to yesterday? Though all my friends say don't look back..."
What next for the Pentangle double-bassist? More of the same, with an intriguing mix of the traditional and space age across this album (Danny is seen on the cover in a smart tuxedo and an old fashioned instrument being teleported into space! Either that or there are an awful lot of coffee rings on my copy, because that's what the teleport looks like!) The songs are a Pentangle-like mixture of new forward thinking originals and backwards glancing traditional folk tunes, with an emphasis on the jazz side of Pentangle's multi-layered sound. That sound is summed up in a very different way to Pentangle, though, with a combination of saxophones, uillean pipes, guitar and double bass - for once there are no drums, the rhythm coming from Danny's bass whoops and swoops. The most effective of these songs are three new pieces that all pay tribute to a different friend or colleague, each undergoing difficulties in the late 80s. Though we don't know who the 'Sylvie' is that Danny wrote 'Beanpole' for, 'Wildfinger' is the kind of pastoral-folk-with-a-sting that dedicatee John Martyn would have been proud to write and 'Take It Off The Top' was written for Jo Lustig, the man who more than anyone else had helped Pentangle in their early career and suggested the distinctive sleeve for their first LP. The album doesn't quite work as well as the first, with the 'Whatever' band a bit more settled and cosy in their roles and there are perhaps a few too many traditional folk tunes with an emphasis on dancing - not as interesting or as relevant to the modern day as folk tunes about characters and situations that still go on somehow. Still, this is a well played album with several excellent moments - Danny's new material especially - and it's a shame this album too became so hard to track down when the French record label went bust at the start of the new decade. The old folk song 'Basket Of Eggs' (first set to music by Vaughan Williams) is arguably the highlight though and especially the sort of folk-song-with-a-twist Pentangle do so well (a pair of robbers think they've been clever taking a basket of eggs for a girl who can't carry them - they're shocked to find they've been duped into carrying off her unwanted baby, to whom one of them is the father!)
Danny Thompson and Whatever Next "Elemental"
Beirut/Searchin'/Fair Isle Friends/Women In War//Musing Mingus/Freedom/Dance/ Thanksgiving
"Whatever gets you through the night..."
Danny's third solo record is more of the same, with a touch more brass this time around, this time written for a film soundtrack although that doesn't make much difference to the overall sound. The 'Whatever Next' band now includes Paul Dunmall on saxophone and guitarist John Etheridge which puts this album even further down the road to modern jazz, although it has to be said that of all of Danny's albums this is also the closest to Renbourn's natural style - authentic Medieval pieces played more or less as they would have been at the time, just with a saxophone solo and lots of jazz guitar! There's yet another tribute to Charlie Mingus here too, while the second side isn't quite up to the first with the rather generic titles 'Freedom' and 'Dance' pointing to how low some of the original instrumentals are heading. The first side, however, is still very much full of life with 'Beirut' in particular one of the better hybrids of cool jazz and even cooler sixteenth century folk. I must confess I've never seen the film and can' even find reference to what it's about, but judging by the soundtrack record it includes a lot of dancing and friends begging forgiveness. My guess is the band got halfway through the record when they got the commission and finished off the record in a bit of a hurry to fit to the soundtrack - the two halves don't seem as they fit to my ears. Get it if you liked the other two - but I'd start there first if you have the choice.
"Think Of Tomorrow"
(Hypertension, October 1991)
O'er The Lonely Mountain/Baby Now It's Over/Share A Dream/Storyteller (Paddy's Song)/Meat On The Bone/Ever Yes Ever No/Straight Ahead/Toss Of Golden Hair/Lark In The Clear Air/Bonny Boy/Colour My Paintbook
"It's so hard to bear when a hungry mouth cries for more"
So far our discussion of the Pentangle reunion albums have revolved around the idea that they've been largely the same, but lacking something and usually with some other new ingredient added to the mixture that doesn't quite fit. None of them are that bad - it's just that compared to the glory days none of them are that good either. 'Think Of Tomorrow' is the one reunion album that you can easily imagine the 'old' Pentangle making: it's almost all traditional folk songs with a bit of a twist and there's lots of Bert and Jacqui (which is just as well, given as they're the only original members left by now) who really spark off each across each other across this album, with her purity against her gruffness on several shared tracks exactly what Pentangle should have been doing years hence (everyone else is the same, apart from Peter Kirtley replacing Mike Piggott as the 'second guitarist'). Given that the original Pentangle never quite decided on what their original sound was anyway, changing it from album to album, there's a case to be made that 'Think Of Tomorrow' is Pentangle' most Pentangly album, the one that closest resembles what fans will expect from the review of their 'updated folk sound' always given in reviews (including our ones). In many ways it's the album fans had been pleading with Pentangle to make for a quarter century or so, full of traditional sounding traditional folk tunes and some glorious new Bert Jansch compositions.
So why does it all fall slightly flat, with even less memorable moments than the previous inconsistent reunion CDs? Well, there's a case to be made that the 'other' Pentangle sound always involved pushing back the envelope and trying to things that had never been done before, even if what that was changed from album to album. Even the reunion albums have tried to do something off-kilter every few tracks, as if searching for a new sound that never quite came. Ironically given the title, 'Think Of Tomorrow' is the first Pentangle album to always be looking over its shoulder and that never tries to challenge your idea of what a Pentangle album should be. Now that approach isn't necessarily bad. Pentangle may have been slightly ramshackle in their early days, but by now they're a streamlined unit good at conveying emotion in a contemporary setting and there's nothing here that's weak for once. However, by the same token, there's no magic track that makes you wonder 'where did that come from?' as the band suddenly add jazz/blues/psychedelia/pop or start using banjos, sitars and fifteenth century baroque instruments. There's nothing here you can't get from any other leading folk-rock band of the era, which is a tragedy - but Pentangle also do this sort of thing better than most anyone still, which is a triumph.
No reviewers seem to agree about whether 'Think Of Tomorrow' is the only Pentangle reunion album that works or the only one that doesn't. To be honest, it's somewhere around the middle, lacking the charm of 'Open The Door' or the sophistication of 'So Early In The Spring, but it makes less mistakes than 'In The Round' or 'One More Road'. Is it an essential purchase? Not really. Is it an abomination unworthy of the Pentangle name? No, it's not really that either. Even the cover seems to split fans with it's plain computer-generated image of the Earth overlaid with a distinctive new five-star logo for the modern age: like the record it's very like everything else around at the time, though done slightly better than most, without having the distinctiveness of earlier Pentangle covers and logos. In short, 'Thinks Of Tomorrow' may well be the only album (with 'Basket Of Light' the honourable exception) where you won't secretly consider using the 'skip' button on first hearing - but also the only one you won't remember at all after the record stops playing. The album was recorded in Hamburg, by the way, but you wouldn't know that from the contents which are all originals or English and Irish folk songs as usual (particularly Irish - this is the most Irish album Pentangle ever made together, though it was probably inspired by Bert's own period discovery of Celtic music).
The album highlight by far is the opening folk song 'O'er The Lonely Mountains' which starts as the purest Jacqui ballad imaginable (complete with pan pipes and flutes) before taking a left turn and turning into a shadowy Bert Jansch style number full of howling guitar parts and a pretty good attempt at recapturing the aggression of Danny Thompson's bass. The two parts fit far better than they should and new boy Peter Kirtley's electric guitar is already stealing the show.
Bert's 'Baby Now It's Over' finds him at last coming to terms with his second marriage, which has been haunting him rather across the Pentangle reunion years. Now that the fighting is a distant memory, he can remember the good times as well, promising to 'think of tomorrow and pick up the pieces' and Bert even promises to visit again once his broken heart is finally fixed by time. Of course, this being a Bert song it doesn't sound like a happy go lucky song of forgiveness but a dour song of doom and gloom.
'Share A Dream' sounds like one of those Eurovision torch ballads that everybody likes but not enough to actually vote for. Jacqui's warm voice makes Maddy Prior sound like an amateur, but the lyrics are second-rate (the wind and sea comfort each other in their loneliness by playing a tune) and the production is so 1980s it practically comes with shoulder pads. And when a band who usually come dressed in baroque finery or Camelot armour start wearing musical shoulder pads, you know something's gone badly wrong.
'The Storyteller' sounds as if it dates back a thousand years at least, a sweet tale of an Irish folk singer passing through towns singing towns and spreading stories, although it's another period Pentangle original credited to the whole group. Though it sounds as anonymous as all the other songs on here on first hearing, repeated listenings reveal this as the quiet highlight of the album, with a gorgeous rustic melody beautifully sung by Jacqui again and a clever Irish tin whistle riff that merrily dances around the song without a care in the world. Recorded at the peak of Ireland being the coolest place on Earth (thanks to multiple wins at Eurovision), had this been released as a single it would surely have been a hit - alas record label Hypertension went with 'Colour My Paintbook' instead.
Peter Kirtley's blues song 'Meat On The Bone' is certainly the oddest song on the record and the only that's really trying to do something out the usual. Except that Pentangle did better blues songs than this in years gone by and Peter's deep growl is too like Bert's (though not quite as good) to stand out. This is another track that gets better the more you hear it, though, and any song that rhymes 'sin' with 'gin' is surely Pentanglish however odd the song ended up becoming.
The pretty 'Ever Yes, Ever No' is Jacqui as another of her maidens keeping her options pen, stuck at a crossroad and unsure which path to take. Unfortunately there's no resolution in this song which just sits there repeating it's nursery rhyme melody over and over - all apart from a glorious and all too brief middle eight that features Jacqui growling more like Bert and more Pentangle bird references (sparrows this time).
'Straight Ahead' is a funky guitar jam that would have sounded pretty good had it been recorded a few years before, but somehow the tacky wordless treated vocals and the very early 1990s drum sound ruin what might have been an interesting instrumental.
Traditional song 'Toss Of Golden Hair' is so Pentangle it hurts, with a charming synth part (see, they can be a blessing not a burden when used the right way) with Jacqui a maiden who meets a man with a dying wife who offers to, err, take his mind off things, 'the truest love I have ever found'.
'The Lark In The Clear Air' is another breathy folk song but one that's a little more anonymous with Pentangle getting a bit too classical for their own good here. Sir Samuel Ferguson wrote the song around 1850 and it 'should' be sung by a man being bewitched by a female skylark, although that's not what Jacqui vocal hints at here.
Another traditional song is 'Bonny Boy', although it's English despite the similarities to 'Danny Boy' in title and tune. Vaughan Williams recorded the most famous version as part of his very Pentanglish 'Folk Song Suite' though its more in keeping with Pentangle's style and recalls 'The Trees They Do Grow High' with Jacqui as the older wife waiting for her betrothed to grow up.
The album ends with the pop nonsense of 'Colour My Paintbook', a song curiously listed out of order in the lyric booklet (did the order get changed at the last moment?) Jacqui wants a bedtime story, a splash of colour and a rainbow in her life - she must be very difficult to buy Christmas presents for. Though the most famous moment on the album thanks to being released as a rare single from this period of Pentangle, it's one of the weakest things here and sadly points the way to the noisier emptier songs of the later Pentangle records.
Overall, though 'Think Of Tomorrow' isn't too bad - it's just not that great either. Of all the albums the original Pentangle did this one most recalls 'Reflection' - a little bit of everything but not enough, with a similar packaging involving the band at work, rest and play. The difference is back then Pentangle could afford to have the odd lacklustre album because they were still so inventive - this album runs out of ideas early one and seems to be going through the motions just to get an LP out without any of the old drive or hunger. That said, this band are too talented to get it all wrong and there are some very lovely moments across this record. When you think of Pentangle albums to play almost no one thinks of 'Think Of Tomorrow', but it's an album that deserves it's three Pentangle stars at least.
Let No Man Steal Your Thyme/Mirage/Train Song/In Time/The Trees They Do Grow High/Lyke Wake Dirge/A Woman Like You/Once I Had A Sweetheart/Springtime Promises/Hunting Song/Pentangling/Bruton Town/No More My Lord/House Carpenter
"The springtime promises all came true!"
The cover proudly boasts that this is a 'double album at a single album price', the specially colour tinted sleeve makes Pentangle look like the Addams Family (honestly: Terry in shades is a vampire, Jacqui's a banshee, Danny has the look of a zombie and Bert with his sprouting hair - so like my own before you think I'm being rude - is clearly halfway into becoming a werewolf, while all four have their arms on a worried John's shoulders, looking every bit the victim) and the track listing is blindingly obvious, but as one stop Pentangle shops go this is about the best 'single CD/double vinyl' group compilations around. The songs are all chosen from the better received first three albums, which might be why this set is called 'Early Classics' - or it might just be so that contemporary fans didn't think they were buying an album by the current 'reunion' band. One oddity though: this must surely be the only Pentangle compilation not to include their biggest song (their only real hit song) 'Light Flight'. What happened?!
Play The Game/Reynardine/Dragonfly/Share A Dream/So Early In The Spring/Can't Find Love (Jansch)/Mother Earth/Colour My Paint Book (Jansch)/Ever Yes and Ever No (Jansch)/Bonny Portmore (Jansch)/The Trees They Grow So High (McShee/Renbourn)/Willie O'Winsbury (McShee/Renbourn)/Sally Free and Easy/Tell Me What Is True Love/I've Got A Feeling/Come Sing Me A Happy Song/She Moved Through The Fair/Straight Ahead/I Won't Ask You Anymore
"They should listen to her singing sweet songs from all sides"
An interesting retrospective released for the band's twenty-fifth birthday, which is a useful way for fans of the 'classic' Pentangle tears to sample the reunion era on a single disc without having to track down all the many single records. The track choice is sensible, containing gorgeous tracks like the re-makes of 'So Early In The Spring' and 'Reynardine' plus the new cover of 'Mother Earth' that were perhaps the three most successful recordings from the four Pentangle reunion records. There's also an intriguing seven song live reunion concert celebrating the life of American folksinger Derroll Adams, who was enjoying semi-retirement at the time (four songs of which had been made available on the full various artists tribute concert) which features Jacqui, Bert, John and Danny, with Peter Kirtley filling in for Terry Cox (the first time so many members of Pentangle had been in one place since their 1973 split!) Oddly the best songs are the ones cut from the final version: A bluesy 'I've Got A Feeling' and a breezy 'Sally Free And Easy'. The set further entices collectors with two previously unheard studio recordings - an alternate version of 'Colour My Paint Book' and 'Come Sing Me A Happy Song', a surprisingly cheerful number for Pentangle! You could argue that the presence of solo songs from Bert and especially from Peter are superfluous and that there could be a lot more here from the reunion albums ('Market Song' and 'Share A Dream', for instance, are as good as anything on this compilation). You could most certainly make the case that nothing on this album matches anything but the worst releases by the original band, who were far more daring and adventurous than this line-up, who are a little stuck in their ways. However this is still a strong compilation, kindly rounding up many extra highlights collectors might have missed and making the reunion years sound an awful lot more interesting than they actually were.
Bert Jansch "The Gardener"
The Gardener/Alice's Wonderland/Running From Home/Tinker's Blues/It Don't Bother Me/The Waggoner's Lad/The First Time Ever/Go Your Way My Love/My Lover/Woe Is Love My Dear/Backwaterslide/Rabbit Run/A Woman Like You (Studio and Live)/Market Song/Wishing Well/Rosemary Lane/Peregrinations/Poison/Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell/Reynardine/ Bird Song/When I Get Home/I Am Lonely
"Drawing water from the well, water spilling on the grass"
I'm not sure I'd exactly call Bert a 'gardener' (he spent most of his life living in flats without one) but there sure were a lot of glorious flowers growing in his imagination. Here are a generous 26 of the best of them on a compilation that's more expensive but slightly more interesting than the later 'Angie' collection that's more or less replaced it in the catalogues. The tracks are all taken from the Transatlantic years and only cover the first five solo albums plus 'Bert and John' plus a (very) small handful of Pentangle recordings. Even so, there are so many good recordings across those early recordings that this set has quality just as much as quantity and as a bonus includes the comparatively rare 'Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell' once included on as Pentangle compilation too. One minus point though: while pretty much everything else you'd expect is here there' no 'Needle Of Death', which is the equivalent of including a Simon and Garfunkel compilation without including 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' or a Stones set without 'Satisfaction'. That might be because the mood of this compilation is comparatively upbeat and without the blues songs and trippier instrumentals sounds more like a straight folk-pop album full of happy songs. That's a little bit unfair - Bert's imagination wielded as many weeping willows as it did sunflowers - but as a beginner's introduction to Bert's solo music it's hard to beat, with all of the weeds removed for easier listening (not that there were ever that many!)
"One More Road"
(SPV Records, May 1993)
Travelling City/Oxford City/Endless Sky/The Lily Of The West/One More Road/High Germany/Hey Hey Soldier/Willy Of Winsbury/Somali/Manuel/Are You Going To Scarborough Fair?
"Remember me to one who was there"
One last road more like it, with 'Pentangle' as a name bowing out with this record, the last collaboration between Jacqui and Bert. It is, at least a good place to say goodbye with the 'new' Pentangle now technically more experienced than the old had been, lasting eight years compared to six and releasing four records to the original Pentangle's six. They sound as if they've finally worked out how to update the Pentangle sound to the then-present day of 80s/early 90s synthesisers without the production getting in the way of good story-telling and the band have gone back to choosing superior folk songs that are less obvious than those picked by other bands, but still with much to say for our modern age. Though still nowhere near as good as even the last 'proper' Pentangle album 'Solomon's Seal', there's a sense here that things are turning for the better which makes it the single most enjoyable Pentangle record since 'Open The Door' eight years earlier.
If nothing else, this record is a bit more 'bonkers' than the band have been of late, adding a bit of the playfulness back that's been missing for so long. The album cover, for instance, features lots of 'flying pullovers' , disrupted by a giant lightning bolt that flies out of the 'A' in the band's vibrant new logo - a reference perhaps to critics and and fans who've been asking the band to take a 'flying jump' into the unknown. The music has become slightly less respectful too, with Peter Kirtley taking more of a lead with an electric guitar howl that's quite different to Renbourn's old style, even if most of the songs are still built up from the usual templates of Bert's trusty acoustic and Jacqui's trusty voice. Across the album Pentangle have turned even further down the road to rock, but never at the expense of the folk at the band's core. Bert's songs, for instance, still sound as gloriously unhinged and unpredictable as ever, without any trace of modern noise on them and only Kirtley's contributions sound a little too mainstream (though Jacqui's vocals help soften the blow). In other circumstances you could call this album a 'stepping stone' back to greatness and it's certainly an improvement on 'Think Of Tomorrow', with more memorable moments even if there are a few more mistakes here too (as usual, AAA albums get more respect from us if they at least try something daring that doesn't come off, rather than playing things safe all the way through). Only, of course, this is a farewell which slightly colours how you feel about this album. Pentangle deserved a bigger 'farewell' than this - the closing standard 'Scarborough Fair' is, for example, the most obvious folk song cover in Pentangle's history and this dreary slow cover is somewhere in the bottom half of the hundreds of thousands of cover versions out there to hear. As just another reunion album, though, this has more going for it than most and suggests that the Pentangle road may yet have been worth following had the band continued just that little bit longer.
Opener 'Travelling Solo' is particularly strong, built around a nicely upright Bert Jansch guitar riff and with lyrics that fittingly recall Bert's earlier 'farewell' song 'People On The Highway'. There's a great instrumental that sounds like Dire Straits, with the keyboards trying to drag the guitarists down as they battle over and over as if trying to rise over a bump in the road. Jacqui, meanwhile, sounds terrific caught somewhere between fear of the unknown and delight of possible new beginnings.
'Oxford City' is one of the 'newer' folk songs Pentangle covered, possibly dating back only to 1908. It sounds very in keeping with their usual choices however, about a sailor who falls in love with a girl but finds her dancing with another man. Poisoning her, he then drinks the foul potion too so they can die in each other's arms, imagining them both falling into an open grave. Which only goes to show: there are more murders per square mile of Pentangle record than in an episode of 'Midsummer Murders', you have been warned!
Though credited to the band as a whole, Kirtley is very much the lead on 'Endless Sky', a track that's a little too middle of the 'One for the Road' for taste. Slow and quiet, with some lovely interaction between the two guitars, it's simply not as memorable as most and Kirtley's 'Rocky' style vocals make Bert Jansch sound like Elvis.
Bert sings on 'Lily Of The West', a rare example of Pentangle borrowing from the Irish folk songbook on a song made most famous by a Bob Dylan cover (it's on his forgotten 'Dylan' album of 1973, his best of the post-1960s). The Irish tin whistles and fiddles are a bit distracting to be honest, though the song is another fitting song it's a surprise Pentangle hadn't borrowed earlier. Another tale of deceit and murder, this time the man stabs a love rival and finds himself in prison, shocked to find his former beloved testifying to his innocence and helping him to be freed.
The band original 'One More Road' is one of the better tracks on the album, a six minute epic that's performed with more urgency than normal. Jacqui clearly enjoys getting her teeth into a song with more emotion to perform than normal as she plays the part of a lover in a long distance relationship, counting down the days till her partner can meet up again that never seem to go down. Her restless energy is well mirrored by the band and even the period booming drumming seems to 'fit' this song, acting like a ticking clock.
'High Germany' starts side two on rather strong form too, with a new version of the folk song first tried out on 'Solomon's Seal'. The 1973 version was more 'traditional' than this version, which has been given a new and trickier guitar riff played with skill by Bert and Peter while Jacqui dances a merry jig over the top of it all. The 80s trappings and more tin whistles mean it lacks the charm of the original, but a Portmant-Smith fiddle solo is a delight and the band haven't sound this 'tested' by a song in a long time.
'Hey Hey Soldier' is a most unusual Jansch song that's a rare slab of social protest as the narrator picks up the picture of a young kid with a gun and sighs 'wondering where it all began'. Jansch states that he realises the argument of self-defence, but knows that the gun carriers never 'walk away' after the battle is over but are always looking over their shoulder for another enemy. Some lovely guitar interplay makes this another late period Pentangle classic and it's great to hear Jacqui and Bert singing in tandem for the first time in what seems like ages.
The album's most talked about moment was another re-make, this time of the traditional folk song 'Willie O'Winsbury'. Though a little too 'Candle In The Wind' compared to the original (also on 'Solomon's Seal'), performed by Jacqui to flowing piano notes for the most part, this is another nice version with the piece slowed down to the point where it sounds even more aching and longing. Jacqui always sounded good on this one and her expressive vocals on this remake is perhaps her best work of the reunion years.
The new original 'Somali' is another fascinating experiment too, even if the experiment isn't always successful. Jamaica seems a long way from the usual predominantly English folk ballads and reggae is a world away from folk, but Pentangle don't trip over as much on this song as you'd think they might (certainly compared to over AAA songs based around reggae and ska, this is paradise itself). The track loses its way after a while, though, and it's something of a disappointment when you realise the band are going to stick to the rigid opening groove all the way through when there are so many other interesting places they could have taken this song.
The other album highlight is the haunting 'Manuel', another original very much in the Pentangle tradition and which sounds like it could have been written centuries before. The atmospheric opening makes Jacqui sound as if she's delivering some great secret as she realises anew how wonderful life is and that a dream she once treasured may now be possible again. Bert captures the mood with a wonderful solo full of pinged jazzy chords and a sense of mystery, while the rest of the band have really nailed updating Pentangle's old sound to the modern age. If only the other reunion albums sounded more like this track!
Alas the closing song is an oddly ugly Jansch-led cover of 'Scarborough Fair' that pushed his voice well past its comfort range and whose unusual phrasings play havoc with the song's distinctive melody. Pentangle sound as if they barely know the song, with only a fiery Kirtley electric solo catching the era. A sadly lacklustre way to bow out.
Overall, though, 'One More Road' has more going for it than some other avenues Pentangle have been down recently. Though the formula hasn't really changed all that much, with the same mix of old folk songs made fresh (a little too fresh in some cases) and new originals that sound more traditional than the traditional songs, this album just feels a little more focussed somehow, as if the band really know what they're doing. The tracks 'Travelling Solo' 'Manuel' 'One For The Road' and 'Hey Hey Soldier' are all worthy new additions to the jewels in Pentangle's crown, while the re-makes of 'Willie O'Winsbury' and 'High Germany' prove that Pentangle were still thinking in this period, still coming up with new and valid ways of doing what they'd always done. This isn't a perfect album by any means with the usual half-hearted cover songs and new tracks that fall a bit flat, but even they have a bit more life than we've heard recently, with 'Somali' especially the biggest surprise since at least 'Open The Door' and possibly even 'Cruel Sister'. This is a band who clearly had much more to give, but alas it wasn't to be - dwindling sales figures and smaller audiences on tour meant that Pentangle just wasn't sustainable in its current form. Bert, who never liked to stay in one place for too long, drifted back to the solo career he'd been keeping on the side, while Jacqui rebuilt the band around her with many of her new friends from this last band a few even newer ones along for the ride. In terms of the members of Pentangle bouncing ideas off each other, though, this will sadly be it until a timely reunion of the original band just before Bert's death another fifteen years away, one last road away.
Danny Thompson and Richard Thompson "Live In Crawley"
(Flypaper, Recorded 1993 Released 1995)
Easy There Steady Now/Mingus Eyes/Two Left Feet/Ghosts In The Wind/I Feel So Good/ Taking My Business Elsewhere/Valerie/Al Bowly's In Heaven/MGB-GT/I Misunderstood/Don't Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes At Me
"I traded my helmet and my parachute for a pair of crutches and a de-mob suit"
This is the first appearance on our list of the occasional pairing between namesakes Danny and Richard Thompson. Folk pioneers both, via stints in Pentangle and Fairport Convention as well as their solo careers, they offered what the other didn't really have at the time: songs and jazz double bass playing. Danny often appeared as part of Richard's backing bands and the pair even made a studio album from scratch together in 1997, but this is the first release to be jointly credited to the pair. It wasn't even meant to be an album initially and was delayed two years until Richard got a bee in his bonnet about bootlegs and decided to create his own 'official' series of his favourite gigs in the hopes that fans would stick to just playing these instead (you wonder what Danny thought about seeing a two years old concert released, given that Pentangle were much 'freer' over their music and were never a band much troubled by bootlegs). This set had after all already been a bootleg briefly, after the set recorded at the Crawley Jazz Festival in 1993 was broadcast on Radio One and thus an open goal for bootleggers with a tape recorder. For both men it was their first live recording in many years and is most interesting for the jazz twist Danny gives several earlier Richard songs. Sadly none of the true gems in Richard's catalogue are here (the string of landmark albums he cut with his Linda across the 1970s and early 1980s), which are clearly still too raw by this time to sing. However there are still some great tracks on the later albums, which all benefit from Danny's distinctive double bass playing: 'Two Left Feet' from one of Richard's most under-rated albums 'Hand Of Kindness' for one and the post-national service protest song 'Al Bowly's In heaven' which must have struck a nerve with Danny who went through the exact same system, as well as the live set's sole exclusive song, the acerbic and wonderfully named 'Don't Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes At Me'. You have to be a Richard Thompson fan first to like this album, as Danny doesn't get to do that much and it's a shame there isn't just one Pentangly/Whatever style moment for Danny to really strut his stuff. No matter though - this is a good album and arguably slightly superior to the 'official' album the pair made together four years later.
John Renbourn and Robin Williamson "Wheel Of Fortune"
South Wind-Blarney Pilgrim/The Curragh Of Kildare-Milliner's Daughter/Bunyan's Hymn-I Saw Three Ships-English Dance/The Lights Of Sweet St Annes/The Snows/Finn and the Old Man's House/Matt Highland/Little Niles/The Rocks Of Brawn/Lindsay/Port Patrick/Wheel Of Fortune
"Round and round the wheel of fortune - where it stops it wearies me"
This was the first solo Pentangle album I ever came across after finding it tossed aside in a charity shop on a battered cassette for 50p.It was a bit of a shock - uncompromisingly traditional, massively Medieval and so true to the spirit of the Middle Ages you can practically smell the dirty streets and desperation. Getting to know some of the other Renbourn records in between has made this trip to history a little easier, but it's still one of the most full-on heavy going records in John's canon. The key new player on this live album is Robin Williamson, once in The Incredible String Band (after Pentangle the folk-rock band who never get enough credit - John wanted to name the duo 'The Incredible String Tangle' based on their joint bands, but sadly wasn't 'allowed'!) and an old friend of John's (they'd even been potato picking in the same field in their early pre-musician days!) and it's interesting to hear the new take Renbourn's latest partner takes to these old songs - many of which have become firmly entrenched in the setlist by now. It's a shame though that the pair never made a studio album as this live recording feels like it's on the verge of going somewhere interesting it never quite reaches, with the pair not quite sharing the same instant telepathy of Bert and John or Stefan and John.
Williamson's voice, too, is even more of a you'll-love-it-or-you'll-loathe-it kind of a voice than John's and will test your patience across the full hour (although his guitar playing is first class throughout, as is his harp and whistle playing). Some of the performances here a bit of a trial to sit through to be honest, while the St Louis crowd sound downright confused over this performance of almost entirely traditionally English and Irish music. There are, as usual, good bits too though: oddly enough it's the narrated poem (with guitar) based around the Irish folk hero Finn McCool that works best as Renbourn picks out some fascinating glimpses of other songs as he improvises for a full eight minutes behind Williamson's reading. Old concert favourite 'Lindsey' sparkles particularly brightly tonight too. Nominated for a folk Grammy award, this album lost out only to Bob Dylan's album 'Good As I Been To You', so somebody clearly liked it. I'd leave this record till near the end of the pack, though, even so.
Bramble Briar/Sally Free and Easy/Kingfisher/Come Back Baby/When I Was In My Prime/Meat On The Bone/Travelling Solo/Bonny Boy/Chasing Love/Cruel Sister/Yarrow/Reynardine
"I woke up this mornin' and baby you'd gone - is this a crime?"
Pentangle officially wave goodbye with only their second live release - and the only one available as a 'separate' disc (following on from the half-live, half-studio 'Sweet Child' way back in 1968), recorded in Germany during ehat turned out to be Pentangle's last tour. To put this in context, by 1994 The Rolling Stones were preparing to release their sixth! It's worth pointing out though, before you get too excited, that this isn't really Pentangle despite this being the last album to officially use that name until the box set. Only Bert and Jacqui survive from the original line-up and by now even the early reunion members have moved on (leaving Peter Kirtley, Nigel Portman-Smith and Gerry Conway as the rest of the band). And this album is far from an overview of the entire Pentangle output; the only songs to pre-date the reunion years are 'Sally Free and Easy' 'Cruel Sister' and 'When I Was In My Prime' - fans who come to this album expecting to hear 'Light Flight' or 'Once I Had A Sweetheart' will likely be disappointed. Many of the songs come from Bert's solo career anyway - 'Sally' for instance features Bert on lead - and sadly he's not in particularly good voice for this show, while 'Bramble Briar' is the 'reunion' version of the folk tune 'Bruton Town'. The playing is rather chaotic too - in the studio the reunion Pentangle are a fine if slightly too slick band who know how to get the best out of each other and the material, but here in the breathless rush of getting these songs across they can sound a bit under-rehearsed and noisy (to be fair they probably were a bit under-rehearsed what with Bert's drinking problems reaching a peak around this time). Even Jacqui sounds as close to being average as she ever will, not that she's given many chances to shine across this concert anyway which is roughly split between her and Jansch (the a capella 'When I Was In My Prime' is a brave stab though). This band thing is starting to sound like something of a loose end to be honest and you can tell that no one's heart is quite in it like it once was. There are though still a few moments when things seem to be working themselves right again: 'Traveling Solo' sounds pretty fine and an unplugged sparser reading of 'Cruel Sister', while nowhere close to the original, is worth a listen. Both Bert and John released far better live albums than this, though, as will Jacqui's revived version of Pentangle in a few years' time.
Bert Jansch "When The Circus Comes To Town"
(Cooking Vinyl, August 1995)
Walk Quietly By/Open Road/Back Home/No One Around/Step Back/When The Circus Comes To Town/Summer Heat/Just A Dream/The Lady Doctor From Ashlington/Stealing The Night Away/Honey Don't You Understand?/Born With The Blues/Morning Brings Peace Of Mind/Living In The Shadows
"There's no rhyme or reason, walking the streets of this wild world, can't find anything to rest this troubled mind"
Greeted as something of a comeback at the time, 'Circus' finds Jansch in ever growing artistic voice but ever shrinking physical voice, with the singer sounding unusually hoarse across this LP. The songs are however powerful enough to overcome this problem and Jansch is clearly on something of a creative roll, with only one cover on this latest LP. Most of the songs are performed solo and acoustic, which is often the best way of hearing Bert, with the over-dramatics and love of period technology from the 1980s LPs now long gone (well, part from an ill-advised return on the chorus of 'Back Home' anyway). The highlights include the Janie Romer cover 'No One Around', a song in praise of quiet thinking time where Bert first pouts, then sulks, then gradually accepts that he might have been wrong in an argument that's still bothering him. 'Step Back' is a particularly interesting piece, a rare case of Bert going back to His Scottish roots on a bagpipe-and-fiddles song that works well set against his no-nonsense voice. The closing 'Live In The Shadows' is perhaps the most lasting song here though, Bert sticking his head out from a parapet unusually and commenting on 'the whole damn world' that doesn't seem to be working 'lead by justice fools and hypocrites' and Bert hasn't sounded this cross in a long, long time. On this evidence Bert could have been a great protest singer, but sadly he rarely if ever used this side of his writing again. On the downside 'Summer Heat' really doesn't work, the most overtly jazzy song in Bert's oeuvre, while the rocky 'Stealing The Night Away' is far too one-dimensional for a writer of his talents, a love song to a 'sweet humming bird' who helps him 'dance the night away'. Even so, there's far more here that works than doesn't and the theme of 'escape' (though most characters choose to stick with the safe and familiar and only the title track longs to run away and join the circus) is well handled, enhancing the feeling that all these songs, even the worst of them, somehow 'belong' on this album. Overall, then, an album that's better than most without quite being the career peak that many fans and reviewers took it to be, with a few mistakes alongside the moments of near-perfection. Pentangle Mark II violinist Mark Portmant and Lindisfarne spin-off Radiator's bassist Colin Gibson also guest.
Jacqui McShee/Gerry Conway/Spencer Cozens "About Thyme"
(GJS Records, '1995')
Jabalpur/Lovely Joan/Thyme/Factory Girl/Would You?/Little Voices/Sandwood Down To Kyle/Indiscretion/Don't Turn Off The Light/The Wife Of Usher's Well
"Can you answer yes and no why these voices come and go?"
After Bert left the reunion era Pentangle band, Jacqui continued with a stripped down version of the group and added a new singer-songwriter in Spencer Cozens, who got about as close to Bert's role as any mere mortal could. Sensibly sticking to a similar formula of traditional folk standards and new songs that had served Pentangle throughout their career, but less sensibly updating the band sound to include even more sickly synths and strings than the late 1980s/early 1990s records, 'About Thyme' is, ironically enough, a record rather out of thyme as it were. The album sounded horrifically dated for the mid-90s, with most of the excesses of the mid-80s still intact and the productions really do interfere with the beauty of the songs even more than before. However, it's better to have any Jacqui than not and this is a record with plenty of hidden promise if you're patient enough to look for it. 'Little Voices' is a sweet little pop-folk-rocker in the grand Pentangle tradition, a song that could be about inspiration or madness and the thin line between the two. 'Factory Girl' is a pretty ballad about a working class victim that features some nice criss-cross vocals from Jacqui and a guesting Ralph McTell and is very much in keeping with the old Pentangle tradition of breathing new life into centuries old songs that still have a place in the modern age of class and inequality. There are some impressive guests too, with Albert Lee (of Ten Years After) and folk legend John Martyn as well as returning band member Mike Portmant dotted across the record. However this also means that the closest thing yet to a Jacquie McShee solo record actually features comparatively little of Jacqui and her voice is forever being drowned out by the synths, the guest stars or her fellow vocalists. Not bad by any means, but not quite as thymeless as it should be.
Bert Jansch "Live At The Twelve Bar"
(Jansch Records/Cooking Vinyl, Recorded 1995 Released August 1996)
Summer Heat/Curragh Of Kildare/Walk Quietly By/Come Back Baby/Blackwaterside/Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning/Morning Brings Peace Of Mind/The Lily Of The West/Kingfisher/Trouble In Mind/Just A Dream/Blues Run The Game/Let Me Sing/Strolling Down The Highway/A Woman Like You/Bett's Dance
"Let there be music to please, let it be sunlight to brighten her day"
Bert often performs best when he doesn't think anybody is listening to what he has to say. This is one of his smallest gigs and while Bert knew it was being recorded, it was originally intended for release only to the people who actually attended the show - a miniscule but lucky audience who would treasure the record instead of seeing it as some big official statement. Bert however was just too good and there was such an outcry that his current record label Cooking Vinyl asked to release it the following year (you can tell which copy you have from the cover: original releases are a silhouette of Bert in black and blue; later copies are the same silhouette in black and white). The result was only the second live Jansch album in all his years of playing and as such was treasured by fans, not least for including so much material Bert hadn't played in years. The Pentangle era is represented by a noisy 'A Woman Like You' that sounds more like traditional folk than ever, the early pre-fame years with a poignant 'Blackwaterside' and a jazzy 'Strolling Down The Highway', with everything else taken from more recent albums. Opener 'Summer Heat' from 'When The Circus Comes To Town' sounds especially good, with a truly haunting guitar refrain and Bert in great voice, while the instrumental 'Kingfisher' from 'Avocet' is even prettier in concert. Bert is on top humourous form too, joking at the end of 'Kingfisher' when his playing receives rapturous applause 'don't be daft...later maybe?' However the set as a whole isn't quite as strong or as inventive as the one Bert played in the same era and released as 'Fresh As A sweet Sunday Morning/Sweet Sweet Music' just before and just after his death. If you have the one you don't really need the other, although heck it's Bert Jansch - surely you'll want it all?
John Renbourn "The Lost Sessions" (1996)
(Transatlantic, Recorded 1973 Released '1996')
Sleepy John/The Riverboat Song/Green Willow/Seven Sleepers/To Glastonbury/Floating Stone/O Death/The Young Man's Song
"Now the summer tie is done it leaves a memory that fades away, just like a dream"
I'm not entirely sure why John Renbourn was ever entrusted by record companies with 'looking after' the master-tapes of his own records. Just as he had once left the tapes of Pentangle's last album 'Solomon's Seal' propped up under a harmonium (missing for some forty odd years), so too John somehow 'lost' his copy of an album he'd intended to release back in 1973 as the sequel to 'Faro Annie', before the idea for 'The Hermit' had come along and distracted him. To be fair, John was very distracted with the end of Pentangle and probably never expected anyone would ever want to listen to the album, but it's rediscovery and release in the 1990s was a welcome reminder of why no Pentangle record from the 1970s should ever have been 'lost'. No one quite knows what happened to Renbourn's masters, but luckily his friends had taken copies and their friends and then their friends until the underground Pentangle bootleg community (much as they were) came to know this record as well as any of the unreleased ones. Though not quite as original or as pioneering as the record that replaced it, 'The Hermit', it's more than worth a release with a surprisingly light and poppy feel that makes it a good 'accessible' entry into his solo canon. The opening track 'Just Like Me' is sublime, a slow and sleepy song that takes a long nostalgic look back on Renbourn's career up to date and ponders what direction to take in the future now that Pentangle are no more. The song cleverly picks up on Bert's 'farewell' song 'People On The Highway' and has the narrator and his friends moving off down several different branching paths. 'Riverboat Song' sounds like 'Lord Franklin' out of his hammock and urgently doing things in fear of running out of time, with a much faster version of the same chord pattern. The funky 'Green Willow' is the single most 'contemporary' song any of Pentangle recorded in the 1970s and out-stomps any glam rock band (it was also chosen for the 'Time Has Come' band box set featuring as it does a mini Pentangle reunion). 'Floating Stone' is a real nugget, an aching minor key ballad that never quite resolves in either music or lyrics, with Renbourn pondering the sadness inherent in the world. Weirdest of all is 'To Glastonbury', a folk song about druids given a hippie lilt thanks to celtic flute and Indian sitar and drums. Though probably the weakest song here, the spacey interpretation of folk song 'O Death' is also powerful, John pleading with a stalking shadow to 'stay away another year' - this is a tough one to hear now that John has passed over though he sounds more curious here than scared. All members of the future John Renbourn Group guest on this album on one song or another and Jacqui turns up to lend a hand too on closer 'Young Man's Song', although almost everything else is played by John himself in an impressive display of multi-instrumentalist skills.
Danny Thompson/Richard Thompson "Industry"
Chorale/Sweetheart On The Barricade/Children In The Dark/Big Chimney/Kitty-Tommy/Drifting Through The Days/Lottery Land/Pitfalls/Saboteur/New Rhythms/Last Shift
"That's the place I used to work, when I was a wild young turk"
The Thompson twins had a lot more in common than just their names. Both folk-rock pioneers with an eye for jazz and brave enough to bend the rules, there was clearly a lot of mileage in this partnership and it's a shame the pair didn't meet earlier, with only one album to their name (Danny's poignant bass whoops would have made the run of albums Richard made with by now ex-wife Linda in the 70s even more harrowing and melancholy). Steeleye Span's Peter Knight also guests as violinist, making this surely the only album to feature key contributions from three of England's greatest folk-rock bands? (all they need is Lindisfarne's Rod Clements in there too for the set!) Danny's uncles, both coal miners who must surely have approved of the subject matter, appear briefly too playing brass parts. Though Richard was arguably the bigger name by the late 90s this is very much an equal partnership, matching six songs by Richard with Danny's playing up loud and five of Danny's jazz instrumentals with a large part for Richard's guitar. The title 'Industry' raises another key interest for both men: mankind's progress, or not, since the Industrial Revolution - a theme Richard had approached many times in his work and Pentangle also touched on with their updated folk songs. The album cover is a massive cog wheel, but given what the music world was doing in this period this record couldn't be less like just another cog wheel - it's a daring album, bordering on unlistenable at times, full of sudden lengthy solos and baroque chords.
The highlights include the lovely 'Children Of The Dark', a slow jazz waltz credited to Danny and featuring lots of Medieval instruments but with Richard' crystal clear guitar centre forward. It may well be the best melody Danny has written in his career so far, the lovely Richard ballad 'Drifting Through The Days' about workers in repetitive jobs living their lives in a daze and the curious percussion piece 'New Rhythms' which is quite mesmerising across seven action-packed minutes. As per usual, the rest of the album isn't quite as strong and seems to vary repetitively between noisy instrumental by Danny into slow paced ballad from Richard, many of them sounding as if they share the same tune. The result is an album that sticks out like a sore thumb in both men's catalogues and though Richard's guitar sounds good on Danny's work, Danny isn't given the same space to shine on the songs which rather smother his distinctive double bass sound. However it's a collaboration that's far from fruitless and just needed a bit of tweaking on a second album before blooming into flower - a second album which sadly never came. Instead Danny retreated back to 'Whatever' and Richard ended up making a solo album that would have been even more up Danny's street - the Middle Ages mix-up sound of 'Mock Tudor'.
"Light Flight: The Anthology"
Reflection/Light Flight/Moon Dog/Lucky Thirteen/Sally Go Round The Roses/Pentangling/ The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face/When I Get Home/Forty-Eight/Back On The Road/Bells/Wedding Dress/So Clear/The Lady and The Unicorn/A Woman Like You/Cruel Sister/Faro Annie/Lord Franklin/I've Got A Feeling/Shake Shake Mama/Waltz/Helping Hand/The Trees They Do Grow High/Woe Is Love My Dear/Bicycle Tune/Will The Circle Be Unbroken?/Tell Me What Is True Love?/Rain and Snow/Tic-Tocative/Travelling Song/Earl Of Salisbury/Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell/Once I Had A Sweetheart/Springtime Promises/Let No Man Steal Your Thyme/I Know My Babe/The Time Has Come/Watch The Stars/Market Song/No More My Lord
"Many chances were given, some were taken - some were not"
Trust Pentangle to keep collectors on their toes - there are two compilations named 'Light Flight: The Anthology' out there released just five years apart, both of them double CD sets and both of them featuring the same 'silhouette' motif (although the 2002 set also features the 'heads' picture of Pentangle lying on the ground with their heads meeting in the middle as the 'picture' under the silhouette - the easiest way of telling the two apart). This is sheer madness and a source of confusion for many. What's odder still is how different the two compilations are considering that Pentangle barely recorded more than two eighty minute albums anyway in their career. The 1997 set we're dealing with here is perhaps the inferior of the two with a very different criteria: it's effectively a best of all the members of Pentangle on Transatlantic, which means that we get tracks by the band together and apart. There's lots from the 'Bert and John' album, for instance, although most of the other solo tracks tend to date from during and after Pentangle rather than before (which is what most of Bert and John's solo best-ofs decide to do). There are more rarities here than on the later set, including only the second ever appearance of the live Bert Jansch instrumental 'Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell' and some songs you don't often see but should, such as Bert's 'Tell Me What Is True Love?' and John's 'Faro Annie'. Had these been included on a 'bonus' disc I might well have greeted this set as a classic - but having two such different styles jumbled on between Pentangle's already very different styles is just odd. I'd wait and get the 'other' compilation if I were you - or the 'Pentangling' set which takes the same approach but sensibly gives a disc each to the band, Bert and John.
Bert Jansch "Toy Balloon"
(Cooking Vinyl, March 1998)
Carnival/She Moved Through The Fair/All I Got/Bett's Dance/Toy Balloon/Waitin' and Wonderin'/Hey Doc/Sweet Talking Lady/Paper Houses/Born and Bred In Old Ireland/How It All Came Down/Just A Simple Soul
"I'm a toy balloon on a windy day, let go the string babe I might blow away"
So here we are on Bert solo album number twenty, the follow-up to the widely love album 'Circus'. 'Balloon' is clearly trying to reap from the same mine, from the childrensy title down to the largely acoustic performances, and it's another strong album though perhaps not quite as refreshingly daring as its predecessor. Perhaps the biggest change is with the guest stars: Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers, pedal steel player B J Cole and Van Morrison saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis all appear, though no other members of Pentangle do sadly. Bert wrote every song on the album except a superior re-make of the folk song 'She Moved Through The Fair' first recorded by the reunion Pentangle on 'In The Round' twelve years earlier and Jackson C Frank's 'Carnival', which sounds good in Bert's hands. As usual, though, it's the originals that appeal the most: Bert is in a positive frame of mind, the darkness and worries of the past disappearing into the distance as he sings not of alcoholism and guilt but about family life and love. 'Sweet Talking Lady' was the biggest surprise of the album - a jazzy rock song that's almost sexy and basically one long chat up line, a million miles away from Bert's usual style. The more 'normal' songs are better yet: 'Waitin' and Wonderin' could easily have appeared on the show-off acoustic guitar performances of the first two albums with its delightful shuffle rhythms and 'Born and Bred In Old Ireland' imagines a whole new heritage for Bert he didn't actually have (although the Scots and Irish do share more than a few similarities across their heritage - this is a rare record recorded back 'home' - or nearly anyway - in the Isle of Arran). The real highlight though is the breathtakingly beautiful song at the end, 'Just A Simple Soul', which is as close as Bert has come to ever summing up his character in song. Typically it's a lot more complex than it sounds! ('I have no religion but I can tell between right and wrong!') The rest isn't quite the best, which rather pulls this album down to somewhere near an 'average' rating by Bert solo standards, but - hey! - that's by his standards so it's still pretty darn high.
'But I had lots of help, don't blame it all on me!' was John's typical response when he heard what Transatlantic were interested in putting together a career anthology. Renbourn is, however, the star of a fascinating and generous 37 track collection that mixes three Pentangle recordings with an awful lot of highlights from the Renbourn collection. A clever mix of originals and traditional folk covers, ranging from the guitarist's beloved baroque up to his most contemporary sounding records, this is an excellent collection that does exactly what a good collection should - it gets under the skin of a performer to show off their many sides in turn and goes some way to understanding what makes them tick. You could, of course, challenge some of the track selection choices, especially from the Pentangle years (what, no 'Lord Franklin'? no 'Lady Nothynge's Toy Puffe'?) and the strange running order starts roughly chronologically and then goes a bit weird in the second half. There is, as well, plenty for the long term collector here with eight unreleased recordings and seven unreleased songs including a delightful live rendition of 'The Trees They Do Grow High' by the John Renbourn Group with a guesting Jacqui McShee (though taken perhaps a lick too fast), a serious studio take of Robert Schumann's 'Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai' translated onto guitar and a nicely flowing instrumental take of Merle Haggard's 'Cannonball Stomp' that really show off Renbourn's guitar skills. How lucky for us that Renbourn has spent so long being loyal to one record company, so there are none of the usual problems of anthologies getting round 'missing' years (this one really does span forty years!) However sadly that loyalty also came at a cost when Transatlantic went bankrupt shortly after this compilation had been released, meaning that it dies a death and went out of print far quicker than it deserved to. Though comparatively rare now it's well worth tracking down as a reminder of Renbourn's work, so often overshadowed by his partner Bert's. The cover is fun, with 'dad' Renbourn playing on top of a junkyard while in the foreground his son Joel - brought along to the photo sessions - stares out the camera looking wet, cold and bored, as properly un-star-like as a Pentangle picture should be!
John Renbourn "The Definitive Transatlantic Collection"
One For William/Waltz/After The Dance/Lady Nothynge's Toye Puffe/The Trees They Do Grow High/Lady Goes To Church/Trottop-Saltalerro/Sweet Sweet Potato/Shake Shake Mama/The Hermit/Three Pieces By O'Carolan/Lord Franklin/So Clear/The Moon Shines Bright/The Pelican/Circle Dance/New Nothynge/Variations On My Lady Carey's Dompe
"I dreamed a dream and I thought it true"
It's a measure on how many fans love different things in Renbourn's discography that the very same year as the two-disc 'Anthology' comes another single disc set which repeats only five of the same pieces. This time around the emphasis is slightly different - though the label doesn't say so this is really a selection from John's instrumental albums, which means lots from LPs like 'Sir John A Lot' 'Another Monday' and 'The Hermit' at the expense of the often better known vocal pieces from Renbourn's discography. Pentangle is, however, again represented by two vocal tracks - 'Lord Franklin' and 'So Clear'. Though Renbourn looks a little too much like a mad geography teacher on the front cover, the album is tastefully made and carefully selected and makes for another fine career overview covering around two decades' worth of continual music making. The 'Anthology' is, though, a slightly better bet being both longer and more varied in style.
Danny Thompson "Whatever's Best"
(**, November 1998)
Sandanska Oro/Searchin'/Freedom/Hopdance/Women In War/Fair Isle Friends/Beanpole/Musing Mingus/Dargai
"Whatever happened to Saturday night?"
It looks like a best-of. It feels like a best-of. If I liked the flavour of vinyl enough to give it a go, I'm sure it would taste like a best-of. But sadly 'Whatever's Best' isn't the cleverly tasted sampler of Danny Thompson's solo career you might be expecting. It is instead a re-issue of two of his lesser known and to be honest less interesting albums stuck together as if they're a new set with a handful of songs removed from each. Second album 'Whatever's Next' hadn't sold as many copies as the first album and the film score 'Elemental' hadn't even sold that well. The good news is that largely the right songs have been kept and the right ones removed, making this album sound even more disciplined and interesting than 'Whatever' had been, although to be honest a full best-of including most of the tracks from the first album alongside the best from the others would have been a far more useful purchase. Ah well, whatever, it still kinda works.
Jacqui McShee's Pentangle "Passe Avant"
(Park Records, March 1999)
House Carpenter/The Nightingale/Gypsy Countess/That's The Way It Is (Matt's Song)/Jaroin D'amour/We'll Be Together Again/Edsong/Lagan Love/Midnight Dance (Ageing Salomi)/Just For You (Song For Cath)
Pentangle come full circle - well sort of! 'Passe Abant' is the jazziest album released under the band's name since the debut - but this is a peculiarly 90s version of jazz, high on ballads and long extended instrumentals without any of the dramatic tension of old. There's a case to be made that this is exactly the sort of thing Jacqui's new-look version of the band should be doing - this lineup doesn't have the virtuoso guitarists or the liveliest rhythm section in folk but it does have Jacqui's velvet voice and she's always sounded good on the ballads. Whereas 'About Thyme' was just another Pentangle album but not quite as good, there's a really distinctive flavour about this album which at least has a sense that everything heard on this album 'belongs' to it, rather than left behind on the cutting room floor from earlier greater LPs. Had Jacqui released this as a 'proper' solo album I have a sneaking suspicion that it might have done a lot better than it did - especially as this sort of sprinkled-with-saxophones backdrop was kind of 'in' back then in a way Pentangle sound hadn't been for a while.
However the banjo-wielding folk-singing elephant in the room this time is that 'Passe Avant' is the first completely pointless Pentangle CD. There's nothing here that wasn't been doing better by other bands and Jacqui's gorgeous vocals aside nothing that sounds remotely like Pentangle. The band were many things, usually good but occasionally bad, but they had never ever been boring. 'Passe Avant', however, is at times very boring indeed. Every song is slow, to the point where the ones that have any pace to them at all suddenly start sounding fast - until you actually play the album back to back with something that is fast ('Train Song' or 'Traveling Song' for instance) - at its slowest time feels like it's running backwards. While Pentangle had always been versatile with the way they handled their arrangements and were often at their best when adding period sound to traditional songs, smothering pieces that have survived centuries intact with a rather 1980s production sheen that already sounded horrifically dated by 1999 is the antithesis of what Pentangle always stood for. The performances are notably under-par even compared to the reunion LPs and you know something has gone wrong when the most memorable moment of the whole record is a posing saxophone solo.
Thank goodness, then, for that voice, with Jacqui's gorgeous tones still getting the band out of trouble just like yesteryear. Thank goodness too for the song selection, which include many a traditional folk number you wish the 'proper' Pentangle had done back in their heyday. 'The Nightingale' is the most uptempo song on the album and works really well, adding another feathered species to the Pentangle lists of Cuckoos and Sparrows. 'Jaroin D'amour' adds a touch of French passion to the band's repertoire and Jacqui over a slow piano part is truly gorgeous. The slow jazz of 'We'll Be Together Again' is quite sweet, even if it skirts dangerously close to some anonymous modern jazz band. Joseph Campbell's early 20th century Irish folk song 'My Lagan Love' (referring to a stretch of land between Donegal and Derry) is another highlight, like many of the band's Irish folk tunes recently, a love song from afar that's very affecting. The obvious point of comparison between Pentangle past and present is what Jacqui's band does to the opening track 'House Carpenter', once a busy folk arrangement full of sitars and banjos and sung with urgency now turned into a slow piano-synth ballad that works a lot better than it should. Only the horrid modern-beats of 'That's The Way It Is' and 'Modern Dance' are completely unlistenable and try too hard, rather than just uninspired and tired like a lot of the songs. Far from essential then, but there are some good ideas here and Jacqui can still match any other folk/jazz singer around.
Bert Jansch "Crimson Moon"
(Castle, August 2000)
Caledonia/Goin' Home/Crimson Moon/Down Under/October Song/Looking For Love/Fool's Mate/The River Bank/Omie Wise/My Donald/Neptune's Daughter/Singing The Blues
"Come out to play in a grey day in Autumn"
Solo album number twenty and Bert has now become a superstar - well, in his own low key way. The 1990s had seen a whole host of big name come out in support of Jansch's records and a couple of them appear on this record: The Smith's Johnny Marr and Suede's Bernard Butler, who both play the electric 'John Renbourn' role to Bert's usual acoustic parts. More unusual yet, Bert - famously protective of his family - invites two of his off-spring to play, with son Adam playing bass across the album and daughter Loren the fine cameo lead on 'My Donald'. There's also a return to the days of old in the songs department too, with Bert becoming an interpreter as well three outside songs, including a bit of 'incest' by pinching John's old collaborator Robin Williamson for album highlight 'October Song', a composition much closer in style to what Bert was writing for his early string of solo albums than anything he's writing now. Bert also returns to Pentangle favourite 'Omie Wise', as heard on the 1971 'Reflection' album, which sounds very different with Bert's dark and energetic vocals, the 'shadow' of Jacqui's purity and calm. The new originals are a more varied bunch than normal, including such oddities as the 'trucker' anthem 'Goin' Home' , the bluesy pop of the title track and Bert also returns to the instrumental 'Downunder', a concert regular which will become the name of his next live album. The best songs, though, are the ones that do what Bert has always done: the blues-folk hybrid 'Looking For Love' and the atmospheric seven minute chess game epic 'Fool's Mate'. Overall the mood is upbeat and optimistic, with Bert back to finding positive signs about the way his life loves and career are heading in nature and following on from the good work done across the last two solo LPs - especially the mysterious alluring title track about the hold our nearest celestial neighbour has on the tides of the human race. Just to remind us this is a Jansch album though, the record is still bookended by two of the gloomier songs in the Jansch canon - the yearning 'Caledonia' about Bert's childhood memories ('Caledonia' being the old Latin name for Scotland) and the most mournful cover yet of Melvin Endlesly's 'Singin' The Blues'. It's hard to say whether it's better or worse than 'Circus' or 'Balloon', but 'Moon' shines roughly as bright as both and is another strong addition to Jansch's more recent catalogue.
Bert Jansch "Dazzling Stranger: The Anthology"
(Castle, September 2000)
Strolling Down The Highway/Angie/Running From Home/Needle Of Death/It Don't Bother Me/Lucky Thirteen/Blackwaterside/The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face/Soho/Rabbit Run/Woe Is Love My Dear/Bells/Wishing Well/Poison/I Am Lonely/Train Song/Nobody's Bar/January Man/Reynardine/Rosemary Lane/When I Get Home/Oh My Father//Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning/Lost and Gone/The Blacksmith/Chambertin/You Are My Sunshine/Blues Run The Game/One To A Hundred/Sweet Mother Earth/Where Did My Life Go?/Blackbird In The Morning/Playing The Game/Is It Real?/Lady Fair/The Old Routine/Three Dreamers/The Ornament Tree/Summer Heat/Morning Brings Peace Of Mind/Carnival/Toy Balloon/Looking For Love/October Song
"The rainbow man was traveling this world to bring sunshine to your day, watch out for the rainbow man - he carries a heavy load"
At last, a comprehensive Bert Jansch set covering just about everything in terms of his solo career, from the early pure folk records on Transatlantic to the poppier stuff on Charisma and the more versatile records on Cooking Vinyl. Well, just about anyway - sadly there' no room for some of the curiouser yet compelling oddities like the instrumental bird-watching album 'Avocet', the overlooked 'Leather Laundrette' or - because of copyright reasons at the time - 1982's under-rated 'Heartbreak'. Even so, there are eighteen albums covered by this two-disc retrospective with more or less all of Bert's brightest moments here, from the triple shock of tracks from the debut album which still remain Jansch's greatest solo moments (the finger-picking great 'Anji/Angie' - one day we'll get a spelling everyone agrees on - the chilling 'Needle Of Death' and extraordinary 'Blackwaterside') to some of the best songs from the late period albums including 'Carnival' and 'Toy Balloon' (actually, there's arguably a few too many of the later years and not enough from the earlier ones, but you can't blame record label Castle who effectively owned the last few Bert albums outright and effectively got them 'for free').
Interestingly Pentangle appear on three of the generous 44 track selection ('Train Song' 'When I Get Home' and, bizarrely, group jam 'Bells' - what happened to 'A Woman Like You', the compilations' usual Pentangle song of choice?) - enough to show that somebody somewhere at least thought about making this a true career collection, without being enough to make this a real selling point of the set. An excellent entry point for new collectors or those who only know the full band albums, this set is also valuable for collectors too containing as it does two rare collaborations with Bert's occasional collaborator and future wife Loren Auerbach from her 1985 album 'Playing The Game', which were limited to 1000 copies at the time of release. The title track of that album, a Richard Newman song that mixes folk and sci-fi (and sounds very Pentangle) is intriguing, while the track 'Is It Real?' (re-recorded for 'Heartbreak', so at least that album's represented here somewhere) is fascinating, a quite different take on one of Bert's deepest and most thoughtful songs. Though you could pick a few holes in the track listing (no 'Rosemary Lane' 'The Waggoner's Lad' 'A Dream A Dream A Dream' 'Change The Song') this is as close to getting the best of Bert in one place as any group of fans is ever going to agree to and should be your first stop if you've ever wondered whether Bert sounds as good away from the band as with them. Even the packaging seems quite 'Bert' somehow - rather than glowing liner notes full of praise these are short and simple, while the front cover features Bert scowling rather than smiling, looking as gloriously scruffy and unkempt and above all 'real' as ever, even when dressed up for a best-of. Just how fans remember him!
John Renbourn "Will The Circle Be Unbroken? - The Collection"
Judy/I Know My Babe/One For William/Lucky Thirteen/Kokomo Blues/Tic-Tocative/Sally Go Round The Roses/Forty-Eight/Lord Franklin/The Hermit/Goat Island/So Clear/The Lady and The Unicorn/Will The Circle Be Unbroken?/Faro Annie/Transfusion/Willie O' Winsbury/Lady Nothynge's Toy Puffe/Bicycle Tune/Back On The Road Again/No Exit/Buffalo Skinners
"Leaving in the afternoon, all on your own again"
Though the cover looks cheap and tacky (mermaids? Who the heck listened to John's output and decided to use a picture of mermaids?!) this is an excellent way of getting lots of great music as cheaply as possible and a worthy introduction to what the Pentangle guitarist got up to during his years before and after the band. There's lots of John's eccentric humour here and his passion for obscure Medieval texts and acoustic instrumentals as well as the more expected songs closer in style to Pentangle's own. Oddly enough Pentangle's 'Lord Franklin' 'So Clear' and 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken?' are here again as the lone un-credited tracks taken from the Pentangle albums and are again the highlights alongside the charming solo version of 'Willy O Winsbury' (recorded by Jacqui for the final Pentangle album 'Solomon's Seal' and the set's most rock and roll moment 'Back On The Road Again'. Though Renbourn never won quite the same level of applause for his music as Bert did, the best of it - most of it gathered here - is more than a match for his old comrade. Though less comprehensive than the earlier two disc best-ofs from 1998, this much cheaper set is still a welcome way of getting the staple diet of Renbourn with 20 of the 'Transatlantic's 34 songs and an extra couple in 'Lady and the Unicorn' and 'Transfusion' at a much cheaper price (even if you're missing some excellent puddings) and with added mermaids too!
"The Pentangle Family"
Lucky Thirteen/My Lover/Blue Bones/Noah and Rabbit/The Waggoner's Lad/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/No Exit/The Time Has Come/Lost Lover Blues/Can't Keep From Crying/Nobody's Fault But Mine/Traveling Song/Hear My Call/Pentngling/Let No Man Steal Your Thyme/Bruton Town/The Earle Of Salisbury/The Trees They Do Grow High/Forty-Eight
CD Two: Market Song/Sweet Child/Hole In The Coal/A Woman Like You/Promised Land/I saw An Angel/Once I Had A Sweetheart/Springtime Promises/The Cuckoo/When I Was In My Prime/Lord Franklin/Sylvie/Tell Me What Is True Love?/Wedding Dress/Helping Hand/Shake Shake Mama/Light Flight
Back in the late 1990s Transatlantic finally released the first five Pentangle albums made for the label on CD with liner notes, bonus tracks and a pretty decent re-mastered sound. Fans wondered what they might do next - sadly it took a while before we got Bert's and John's solo albums for the label re-released with the same love and attention (both arrived ten years or so later) but as a stopgap we got yet another Pentangle compilation. 'The Pentangle Family' is a little different to usual, though, ignoring a lot of the usual the band material in favour of the solo albums, with a particular emphasis on collaborations between the band members (so you get lots from the 'Bert and John' album, for instance, and McShee guesting on many a Renbourn LP). The set is particularly interesting for the songs Bert and John went back to with Pentangle ('Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' 'The Time Has Come' 'No Exit'). It's a shame, actually, that Transatlantic didn't go the whole hog and just include a mixture of the solo albums which would have made this set even more collectible for fans who already owned the band recordings several times over. For instance, the set seems to end when Pentangle do - with Bert and John's last albums featured here being the ones they recorded around the 'Reflection' era, which is a bit of a lost opportunity given that the two guitarists stayed with the label for another decade in Bert's case and two in John's. 'Light Flight' also seems tacked on the end and out of place too, whilst the absence of 'Once I Had A Sweetheart' automatically loses this set half a mark. The end result is somewhere around the middle then - a good introduction to Pentangle if you already own (and like) the basic single-disc sets of hits and want something more, without being interested enough to five head first into a Jamjar of Jansch and a receptacle of Renbourn: especially on first release when this set was, comparatively, dirt cheap (sadly it's gone up in value since!)
Bert Jansch "Downunder - Live In Australia"
(Castle, January 2001)
Blues Run The Game/Come Back Baby/The Lily Of The West/Paper Houses/Toy Balloon/My Donald/Born and Bred In Ireland/She Moved Through The Fair/Carnival/Little Max/Strolling Down The Highway/Angie/Curragh Of Kildare/Downunder/How It All Come Down
"Catch a boat to England baby, maybe to Oz, wherever I've been and gone he's another live album - just because"
After steering clear of them for most of his career, Bert seemed to really take to live albums near the end of his life. Thankfully most of his concert albums tend to be different to each other, unlike some people's out there (*cough* Rolling Stones *cough*) and this track selection is one of the best with a mixture of songs from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Bert's in good voice and sounds at home in this small Australian club with the only accompaniment coming from Peter Howell's very Danny-style double bass playing accompaniment. 'Lily Of The West' sounds all the better for the extra lived-in feel of Bert's voice compared to his younger self, while he can still play 'Anji/Angie' (why does she keep changing how she spells her name?!) as fast as ever. There are also three songs exclusive to this live set: the Norfolk folk song 'My Donald' where Bert plays the wife of a sailor stuck at home and wondering if her man is safe, the cute original 'Little Max' about a happy little boy that Bert had had knocking around for years but only ever made this album and title track 'Downunder', a moody five minute instrumental that sounds very like one of the later Pentangle reunion pieces, drenched in echo. You don't really need either of these two songs - or indeed the whole album - but both are nice to have, with Bert clearly enjoying himself and the crowd clearly enjoying Bert. 'Live At The 12 Bar' may still have the edge, though, in terms of track listing and performance.
Bert Jansch "Edge Of A Dream"
On The Edge Of A Dream/All This Remains/What Is On Your Mind?/Sweet Death/I Cannot Keep From Crying/La Luna/Gypsy Dave/Walking This Road/The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood/Black Cat Blues/Bright Sunny Morning
"Every second that you're living will never ever be forgot"
Bert surely saw most of his dreams true a long time ago, but it's a testament to his creative urge that here he is, so many albums in, still on the edge of another 'dream' of doing something 'different'. The 'different' mainly comes in the form of a pairing up between Bert and his longstanding friend and rival, Fairport Convention's Dave Swarbrick whose fiddle is this album's main collaborator to bounce ideas off. It's a new sound, much folkier than usual, but even on the originals and covers it feels like Bert is trying to do something a little bit different, with a lot more extremes than the usual Jansch trick of combining lots of styles at once. Take the gorgeous slow burning jazz of 'All This Remains' which features one of the all time great Pentangle guest spots in singer Hope Sandoval. Or the heavy rocking 'What Is On Your Mind?', which reads like one of Bert's early acoustic folk songs but sounds like a hard-hitting Credence Clearwater Revival track. The extra rock kick given to 'Walk This Road', with Bernard Butler making even more noise on a return appearance. The gospel tinges of Richard Farina's charming modern folk song 'The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood'. Or Bert's most full on blues yet as he tackles Lightnin' Hopkins' mournful 'Black Cat Blues'. Talking of ill omens, there are two incredibly moving songs here in Bert's usual style which are again the overall album highlights. The first is album closer 'Bright Sunny Morning', a gorgeous folk song about the events of 9/11 and the fall of the 'twin sister towers', played out on a gorgeous sunny morning when everyone thinks at first that the hi-jacked aeroplanes are putting on an aerial display. Even sadder is Bert singing of his own 'Sweet Death', almost ten years to the week before it happened for real, and urging fans not to be sad - it's a mystery Bert has been waiting to unlock all his life long. However that's not the case with most of this album at all - even more than normal Bert sounds like he has a lot still left to say and do and a lot still to prove if only to himself. Given that we're on album twenty one now, released some thirty-seven years after the first, with eleven Pentangle albums and a Bert and John set in between, it's impressive just how Hungry Bert is to take his muse somewhere new. Even amongst a collection of top-notch solo albums, this is one of the better ones with less filler and more Bert, despite the range of guest stars.
"Light Flight: The Anthology"
CD One: Let No Man Steal Your Thyme/Waltz/I've Got A Feeling/Three-Part Thing/Bruton Town/Lord Franklin/Once I Had A Sweetheart/Will The Circle Be Unbroken?/Train Song/House Carpenter/Sovay/Sally Go Round The Roses/I Loved A Lass/The Cuckoo/The Trees They Do Grow High/Rain and Snow
CD Two: Omie Wise/Light Flight/A Maid That's Deep In Love/Cold Mountain/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Wedding Dress/No More My Lord/Pentangling/Way Behind The Sun/Traveling Song/When I Get Home/Sweet Child/Watch The Stars/So Clear/Cruel Sister
"If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon every nighte and alle, sit thee down and put this on and Christ'll recive thy soul"
Note: this is the 2002 release under the 'Light Flight Anthology' name and very different to the first released in 1997! I realise only too well, dear reader, that a lot of the albums I rave on about are either hard to find or deeply expensive if you try to buy them all. There's an awful lot of music in these books and even if you take the awful in the awful lot out there's still more than most people will ever be able to find in a lifetime (as I know to my cost many a time). So occasionally we put forward a compilation so good that it contains pretty much all you need to own anyway in one handy budget-saving package. 'Light Flight' puts the case forward for Pentangle: while the future box set 'The Time Has Come' has double the length and ten times the rarities, this double disc contains pretty much all the recordings you need from Pentangle. It's not perfect: the track selection is often a little bit curious (who in their right mind would take 'Three Part Thing' over, say 'Moon Dog') and having the tracks in the right chronological order would have been nice (it starts so well with two songs from the first album followed by two from the second - and then whizzes all over the place, with the full collection ending in the middle in 1970). And it's most certainly not complete - by rights this should also be called 'The Transatlantic Years' or something similar as there are no songs from last album 'Solomon's Seal' (released on Warner Brothers - at the time of this set the master tapes were still 'missing') or the reunion albums; it's a shame, too, given that we're only about ten tracks away from having a complete Transatlantic collection that the label didn't just go the whole hog and have done with it (though it is mainly the live tracks from 'Sweet Child' missing and the twenty minute 'Jack Orion' missing, mind, which is fairly sensible I suppose - flop single 'Traveling Song' is here and one B side 'Cold Mountain' interestingly, but no 'I saw An Angel' or already-released outtakes). 'Light Flight' is anything but light though: it is instead a rather tasty career overview for those who want to see what all the fuss is all about, with a nicely varies track selection from each of the first five albums and a more or less equal slicing of the pie between the five members' turns in the spotlight. It's certainly the best Pentangle set out there if you can't afford the full pricey box, together with the single most striking image in the Pentangle canon (the 'silhouette' picture recycled from the first LP) and a feeling of time and care being spent on the set at long last, unlike the cheaper budget sets of the 1970s and 1980s.
Jacqui McShee/Ulrich Maske "The Cat and The Fiddle" / "The Frog and The Mouse" (Book and CD)
(Jumbo, August 2003/'Late' 2003)
The Cat and The Fiddle Suite:
(Hokey Pokey/Hickory Dickory Dock/The Cat and the Fiddle/Five On A Bike/Six Little Ducks/Lucy Lockett/Ain't It Great To Be Crazy?/If All The World Was Paper/Ring-A-Ring-A-Roses/Lavender's Blue/Did You Ever?/Mud Glorious Mud/If I Had A Donkey/Jack and Jill/Baa Baa Black Sheep/Three Little Kittens/Alice The Camel/Mary Had A Little Lamb/Out In The Woods)
The Frog and The Mouse Suite:
(Morning Has Broken/London Bridge Is Falling Down/Pop Goes The Weasel/This Old Man/Simple Simon/Scarborough Fair)
We've been receiving complaints recently, dear readers, that your childcare costs have been ginormous while you sit and devour each AAA book every month in peace and quiet so we've hatched a plan: your very own crèche! Yes that's right, a review for the bairns to keep you amused while you go about your real business of the day - tracking down these obscure Pentangle solo albums you didn't even know existed! Are you sitting comfortably? Well then, children, which of you can count up to five? Come on, don't be slow - you must know the 'Pentangle' method by now! That's a five-pointed star see? That's one point for each member of the band one for Jacqui, two for Bert, three for John, four for Danny and five for Terry. That's pronounced 'Pen-tang-gul', it's a pen that's full of tang, with a gull sitting on the top. That's right. Now who wants to spell our next sentence 'Sir John Allotte Of Merrie Englande's Musik Thynge and Ye Green Knightye'? Or how about 'Come Sing Me A Song To Prove We Can All Get Along The Lumpy Bumpy Long and Dusty Road'? Hmm on second thoughts this Pentangle crèche isn't really working - and put that thyme back now! No stealing!
What I really need right now is some obscure Pentangle-related children's release everyone's forgotten about? How about two? Jacqui McShee was contacted by children's writer and illustrator Ulrich Maske to collaborate on a book and CD for pre-schoolers named 'The Cat and the Fiddle', which was successful enough for a second volume 'The Frog and The Mouse' to follow a few months later. Despite what you may have read, they're not actually designed to teach English children how to read their native tongue, but to help youngsters in Germany learn the English language (I'd love to see a cult member of a German band like Kraftwerk repaying the complement sometime - 'Der Squirrel Und De Autobahn' perhaps?) Very few toddlers in German would have known who Jacqui was, but the books and especially the music proved to be highly popular and I have high hopes yet that a whole new generation of German youth (currently poised on the cusp of teenagers) may yet grow up into Pentangle fans en masse after being exposed to Jacqui's voice.
The two similar albums are, depending on your age, agoogooobahgahgah (baby talk for 'interesting in an existential sense regarding the semiotic links between the primary and secondary animals' interactions and the anthropomorphic responses thereof'), the weirdest collection filler you'll ever own in your desperation to have a complete set of Pentangle albums, evidence that you can never start your folk collection too young, evidence that Pentangle members are now officially past it or a chance to hear one of the world's greatest vocalists do the farmyard impressions you know they were all secretly dying to do. For the record, Jacqui sings a killer version of 'Hickory Dickory Dock' and 'Lavender's Blue' is such an old folk song standards it's a wonder none of Pentangle had ever sung it before. 'Ring A Ring O Roses', a devastating song about the cruel deaths of the innocent during the black death outbreak in the Middle Ages is practically a long lost Pentangle songs anyway. However there's too much modern 'filler' material your average musically-literate toddler will sniff his noise and pull faces at, such as 'Five On A Bike' and 'Lucy Locket'. I'm frankly concerned by the psychological effects of listening to 'Ain't It Great To Be Crazy?!' on repeat (although it might be a sneaky way to inspire a whole new bunch of folk guitarists while they're young - clever thinking!) I was looking forward to a few updates that never come either ('This old man, played guitar, he's playing to a crowd of people in a bar, it's Bert don't get hurt, give that man a comb, this band were once as famous as the Rolling Stones!') None of them last too long either, being sung as part of a manic medley which makes two of the shortest Pentangle-related records seem a lot longer than they really are. For the record 'The Cat and the Fiddle' is the better of the two - 'The Frog and the Mouse', like many a sequel, sounds like all the songs Jacqui refused to sing the first time round and is noticeably shorter than the first album (unlike Pentangle's first two albums, which were the other way around in terms of length!) Right that's all for another week - class dismissed. Oh and did you remember your homework from the Brian Wilson album 'Songs In The Key Of Disney'? ('Why oh why oh why?') No? Heck nobody actually reads what kids hand in anyway...
Jacqui McShee's Pentangle "At The Little Theatre- Live"
(Park Records, December 2008)
She Moved Through The Fair/Jabalpur/Once I Had A Sweetheart/The Nightingale/That's The Way It Is/House Carpenter/I've Got A Feeling/The Bonny Greenwood Side/Cruel Sister/The Wife Of Usher's Well/Lovely Joan/We'll Be Together Again
"She left him to rage in the meadows green"
After a decade's pause, Jacqui revived the Pentangle name having received the blessing of her fellow band members as long as she didn't actually advertise the shows or album as being by 'Pentangle'. So Jacqui McShee's Pentangle it was, with the singer backed by musicians 'borrowed' from friend and fellow folk mentor John Martyn. More traditional than most Pentangle records, with a sparser feel than the reunion albums and less adventure than the originals, it's the closest we've yet come to hearing Jacqui make a solo album. Like Renbourn Jacqui's take on the Pentangle sound is to be as traditionalist and authentic as possible, although she doesn't go back quite so far or go to as many lengths as her sparring partner in getting the antique settings right. Instead this is the prettier ballad side of Pentangle's canon performed by a singer who still sounds remarkably close to her younger self backed by a band who care enough about the songs to make it work.
Sensibly choosing to tape this record in a small intimate setting, closer in feel to a folk club than a stadium, Jacqui set about picking out her favourite songs from the past and those her audience would expect to hear alongside some of her favourite traditional songs. There's a brave stab at 'Once I Had A Sweetheart' with a trumpet filling in for John's sitar and a harp for Bert's guitar, a slower and sadder 'Cruel Sister' with synthesisers and Medieval instruments together and a percussion heavy 'House Carpenter' complete with drum track. Reunion cover song 'She Moved Through The Fair' might well eclipse them all despite being lesser known. Though nothing comes close to eclipsing the originals, only a horrible modern jazz version of 'I've Got A Feeling' misses the spot completely. As for the material exclusive to this set, it's a mixed bag: new song 'Jabulpar' is a terrific song in the Pentangle tradition combining rock, folk and jazz, 'The Bonny Greenwood Side' is another great Pentangly song about a maid who falls in love with her father's clerk at work and hides the engagement until her lover betrays her and eight minute epic 'The Wife Of Usher's Well' (best known from a Steeleye Span cover) gets marks for ambition despite a hideous 1980s style saxophone solo (no offence to the player - I hate most saxophone solos). 'Lovely Joan' is anything but lovely, though, with a modern production sound that suggests if this really was 'live' then one heck of a lot of extras have been added on top and 'The Nightingale' is the closest Jacqui ever comes to being off-key across fifty odd years of recording.
The end result is a draw. It's nice to have Jacqui back still sounding - almost - as good as ever and the band she's picked do their jobs. Some of the new arrangements are pretty good - even if some are pretty poor. You can tell, though, that only one original member of Pentangle is here and there's very little truly to link this to the band's old sound except for their occasional vocalist. As with many live albums made up mainly of live recordings from years past, you have to ask who actually wants this stuff when you can just play the originals at the touch of a button (and a lot of thrashing around in your CD collection if yours is like mine - I'm sure it was in the right order last time I left it!) However half-good Pentangle is still better than no Pentangle at all - bung it on the 'maybe' pile. The front cover is nicer than all of the 'reunion' sleeves by the way, with a 'Pentangle' logo spotlit on stage in front of a Medieval looking crowd (it looks, in fact, not unlike Jethro Tull's 'Minstrel In The Gallery').
"The Lost Broadcasts 1968-1972"
(**, June 2004)
CD One: Hear My Call/Turn Your Money Green/Traveling Song/Let No Man Steal Your Thyme/Soho/No More My Lord/Every Night When The Sun Goes In/I Am Lonely/Forty-Eight/Orlando/Three Dances/The Time Has Come/I've Got A Feeling/Sweet Child/In Your Mind/I Loved A Lass/Sovay/Sally Go Round The Roses/Bruton Town/Cold Mountain/I Am Lonely/The Cuckoo/Light Flight
CD Two: Hunting Song/Moon Dog/House Carpenter/Name Of The Game/Train Song/Springtime Promises/Country Blues/The Trees They Do Grow High/Lyke Wake Dirge/Reynardine/Light Flight/A Maid That's Deep In Love/Will The Circle Be Unbroken?/Lord Franklin/Lady Of Carlisle/People On The Highway/No Love Is Sorrow/Jump Baby Jump/Cherry Tree Carol
"I am a fan whose deep in love, but yet I still complain, this set is full of so many true loved, but the poor quality is insane, because they did not clean the sound up I mourn so constantly, but sometimes there through the murk Pentangle shine brilliantly"
An interesting collection of recovered songs (were they propping up John Renbourn's harmonium as well as the 'Solomon's Seal' master-tapes?) this glorified bootleg is sonically awful but historically fascinating. All 41 recordings are taken from various BBC appearances and like many similar sets suffer from repetition and a sense of being rushed, although sometimes the rawness of re-creating recordings you spent months crafting in an hour does lead to some truly great moments: a deliciously intense 'Traveling Song', a percussion heavy 'No More My Lord', a fast and messy-but-who-cares? 'Sweet Child', an eerily slow 'The Trees They Do Grow High', two wonderfully loose and floppy 'Light Flight's where Jacqui's vocal is even better than the finished version and an impressively tight go at the a capella 'Lyke Wake Dirge' (here helped along by some basic drumming). The BBC sessions also lead to some rarities: a rare reprisal of Bert and John's 'Soho' (sadly without the rest of the band); a unique song credited to John and Jacqui in 'Every Night When The Sun Goes In' (a bluesy song of loneliness and despair), John's solo 'Country Blues' and multiple readings of Bert's solo song 'I Am Lonely', which sounds like something of an anthem by the time you reach the end of the set. Most curious is an odd song credited to the whole band, 'Name Of The Game', which seems oddly like the later Abba song of the same name, a hybrid of disco and blues. Of course as with most BBC sets, up against this are a bunch of early recordings that sound as if they recorded in thick fog, lots of songs that lack the discipline and perfection of the records and the most wretched version of great songs (such as 'People On The Highway') as you'll ever dare to hear. Pentangle weren't a band necessarily suited to the live setting and the lo-fi quality means that this collection is unlikely to appeal to anyone except the hardened collector. However, for us it's a treasure trove of arrangements that all sound as if they've been slightly tweaked and the sort of set you can play 'spot the difference' with for hours. Oddly the set only starts sounding good right at the very end during the sessions plugging 'Solomon's Seal' in 1972, just when the band are falling apart and sounding at their worst. Two better quality recordings from the earliest sessions later appeared on the box set. Not the best BBC set around, but hardly the worst either.
"The Guitar Of John Renbourn"
(Transatlantic, Recorded 1976, Released '2004')
"Hey guys, for this next clip I need the sound of an introspective bird reflecting on his life at Glastonbury in the Summer while travelling down the deserted street of freedom road. Know any good albums I could use?!"
Back in the 1970s TV libraries weren't quite as large as they are now. Film-makers after a specific sound, mood or feeling had to either use sound effects or commission their own score - something that wasn't always cheap or achievable. Sensing a gap in the market, some record labels began offering their own cheap 'mood music' records, which all emphasised certain feelings or emotions and could be accessed by anyone. Renbourn, the sort of musician who always wore his feelings loud and proud, was a perfect candidate and in 1976 agreed to record a full album of 'mood' pieces, focusing on the English countryside and with the mood distinctly 'mellow'. Sadly records don't list what programmes would have used these songs, but they sound like the sort of thing that would have cropped up in wildlife documentaries or tales around the campfire at the village pond, quaint but lovely pieces featuring lots of that characteristic rolling guitar sound and an un-credited flute player (whose rather good!) John brought Jacqui in to embellish a couple of songs too, making this only the second** Pentangle album since the split to feature a mini-reunion (she sings scat improvisations and la-las on album highlights, the 'Scarborough Fair' style 'Portrait Of A Village' and the delightfully sunny pop track 'Summer Song' which is a typically Pentanglian mix of traditional English folk and Indian instruments! The album's peak though must surely be the opening 'Swallow Flight', the one track here that was occasionally performed in concert, and which sports one of Renbourn's loveliest dreamiest melodies as the poignant melancholia of the flute pulls against the safety harness of his sturdy guitar. All of the record is pretty good though, less detailed than some other Renbourn albums (and without anything coming close to a lyric) but far too good to waste on forgotten documentaries for decades. Released as a limited edition disc in 2004 (mainly in Japan, it seems, though available in Europe on import), it deserved to be far better known, with a mood to suit every occasion and a gorgeous production that makes every note ring like a bell. Recommended, if you can get hold of it (a re-issue, please, soon?)
"Pentangling: The Collection"
CD One (Pentangle): Travelling Song/Waltz/Pentangling/Hear My Call/Sweet Child/I Loved A Lass/In Your Mind/Moon Dog/Light Flight/Once I Had A Sweetheart/Sally Go Round The Roses/Cold Mountain/Lord Franklin/Cruel Sister/Reflection/So Clear/People On The Highway
CD Two (John Renbourn): Judy/Song/Down On The Barge/I Know My Babe/Another Monday/Ladye Nothinge's Toy Puffe/Can't Keep From Crying/One For William/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/No Exit/The Earle Of Salisburye/Transfusion/Forty-Eight/Sweet Potato/Sarabande/The Lady and The Unicorn/Medley: My Johnny Was A Shoemaker-Westron Wynde-Scarborough Fair/White House Blues/Shake Shake Mama/Faro Annie/Back On The Road Again/The Hermit
CD Three (Bert Jansch): Strolling Down The Highway/Angie/Running From Home/Needle Of Death/It Don't Bother Me/Lucky Thirteen/Blackwaterside/The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face/Tic-Tocative/Orlando/Go Your Way My Love/Woe Is Love My Dear/Nicola/Life Depends On Love/Rabbit Run/Wishing Well/Poison/I Am Lonely/Bird Song/Tell Me What Is True Love?/Rosemary Lane/Yarrow
"I could be riding high, like the floating cloud"
Before we start, this isn't the beloved compilation from 1973 with the same name but a new release for the CD age. A landmark in Pentangle compilations, this is the first one that feels like a thorough method of telling the history rather than a quick cash cow. In fact the story is so thorough, with a disc dedicated to the band's heyday, John's career and Bert's career, that the only people who wouldn't find anything new here are the sort of mad passionate fans who'd want to own this album for the new packaging anyway. The first disc is one of the better single disc attempts to nail the tricky multi-layered Pentangle sound containing more or less what you'd expect (although 'Train Song' 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' and 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken?' seem like odd omissions) and is at long last equally spaced so that each Pentangle record gets fairly equal space (though as ever the runt of the litter 'Solomon's Seal' is reduced to one song, perhaps because of the costs of licensing tracks from Warner Brothers - thankfully it's 'People On The Highway', the best possible choice to close the collection). John's disc is by far the most traditional and folk orientated of the three and will come as something of a surprise to fans who've never delved into his solo work before. Predominantly instrumental and more often than not written in or based on pieces written in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it's a lot harder going than the band material but several tracks are rewarding, with a good selection of songs from albums made before, after and during Pentangle. 'Another Monday' 'Forty-Eight' and 'The Hermit' are particularly strong. Bert's disc is somewhere in the middle, with the tradition of Renbourn and the experiment of Pentangle all mixed in together. Though Bert's disc is perhaps the most puzzling chosen of the three (you had a dozen albums to choose from and you still picked the wretched cover of 'The First Time Ever I saw Your Face'?!) there are several highlights once again including 'Needle Of Death' 'Blackwaterside' and 'Nicola'. It would have been great if the set could have had a fourth disc containing the best of the reunion years and Jacqui McShee's Pentangle but that would perhaps have been too cost-prohibitive. This set should really be called 'Pentangling on Transatlantic' (with a single song from Warner Brothers) but even so it's a highly valuable way of getting to grips with three very different yet linked sounds together and really goes a long way to teaching you about the ins and outs of the Pentangle family. If you don't want to find all the original albums after this compilation anyway then my ears feel sorry for you.
Jacqui McShee's Pentangle "Feoffee's Lands"
(GJS, August 2005)
Banks Of The Nile/Nothing Really Changes/Acrobat (It's Just A Circus)/Now's The Time/Hot Air - Hot Night/No Sweet Sorrow/Sovay/Two Magicians/You've Changed/Broomfield Hill
"Parting from you is like parting from me life"
By 2005 Jacqui was the only original member of Pentangle left, but she decided to revive the band's name, after making an understanding with the rest of the band that her name would be printed alongside the band's own. In truth the sound has changed very little from the band's 'reunion' records in the 1990s with much the same band: drummer Gerry Conway, keyboard player Spencer Cozens and a new bass player in Alan Thompson. Bravely, Jacqui doesn't replace Bert with one person, instead bringing on a string of 'special guest guitarists' who all add their distinctive characters into the mix. Gerry's old Jethro Tull partner Martin Barre is perhaps the most successful, enjoying a similarly understated feel (useful when playing behind Ian Andersen's one-legged flute-playing camera-grabbing lead) and session musician regular John Giblin is good too, bouncing between the guitar and Danny's old double bass spot. The album even includes a guest appearance by Jacqui's daughter Leah. The result is about as good a Pentangle record can be without the Jansch-Renbourn interplay, the original songs or the jazziest rhythm section in folk and roll. Nothing here is bad, much of it is pleasant and despite the increasing years Jacqui still has one of the greatest voices in the business. Occasionally, as with the nicely jazzy pop song original 'No Sweet Sorrow' (exactly the sort of maiden-deep-in-love warning song Pentangle have always done so well) and the eccentric prog rock arrangement of folk song 'Two Musicians' (which sounds makes Pentangle sound more like Jethro Tull than ever) are as good as anything on any of the other Pentangle reunion albums. There are two very fitting folk songs that you can imagine the 'old' Pentangle doing too: the cross-dressing tale of adventure for a young girl 'The Banks Of The Nile' and 'Broomfield HIlls', a notorious hangout for ruffians where a maiden is warned not to go - and gets pregnant.
There is however the big-elephant-in-the-room-with-a-guitar that prevents this album from matching past heights: without Bert, or anyone like Bert, in the band there just isn't the same sense of creativity and drive Pentangle once had. Jacqui remains a formidable force and her songwriting (in partnership with Gerry and Spencer, who have by now become quite a close-knit writing team) is coming along nicely, but there's nothing surprising or dangerous here and the lack of a second distinctive voice (with an earthiness Jacqui can't provide) makes everything here sound a bit chocolate-boxey. Take, for instance, the remake of Pentangle classic 'Sovay', which sounds lifeless and curiously 80s for a 21st century recording, full of booming drums and synth strings which to be honest is really boring - a million miles away from the fascinating ever-changing shades of the version on 'Sweet Child' back in 1968. I certainly don't hate this record and it's about as good a record as it can be in the circumstances, with several moments I'm quite happy to add to my Pentangle collection. But this is the pretty side of Pentangle, not the live-by-the-edge-of-your-seat what-are-they-going-to-do-next? side of Pentangle and even compared to the reunion records that thrill of the unknown is long gone, even if what's left behind is still perfectly respectable folk music.
Bert Jansch "The Black Swan"
(Drag City, September 2006)
The Black Swan/High Days/When The Sun Comes Up/Katie Cruel/My Pocket's Empty/Watch The Stars/A Woman Like You/The Old Triangle/Bring Your Religion/Texas Cowboy Blues/Magdalina's Dance/Hey Pretty Girl
"You play your guitar, but you never ever finish your song"
It's hard to believe that after 22 solo studio albums, six live albums, eleven Pentangle albums and one album with John Renbourn that 'The Black Swan' really is it. I still keep expecting to see another Bert Jansch album suddenly pop up out of nowhere on the 'new release' listings or to see that familiar crumpled coat, tousled hair and big grin staring out at me from a music blog where yet another person has fallen in love with Bert's latest and has just been catapulted into a whole new exciting world of Jansch. But alas, that cannot be and instead we're left with 'The Black Swan', which hilariously ended up becoming Bert's 'Swansong' (he'd have laughed at that!) Bert's death is a double tragedy, not because this is his greatest album like a few fans say but because it shows Bert again changing his style and still trying to puzzle out new pieces of himself on the eve of his 64th birthday. Far from being a solo album, this is Bert's busiest sonically since the Pentangle days and he ropes in a whole load of guests, all of whom work better here than on past records using the same trick and all of whom are much younger: Noah Georgeson, Beth Orton, Devendra Barnhart, Helena Espvall, David Roback, Otto Hauser, Adam Jansch...No I don't have a clue who any of them are either (except for the latter, who is Bert's increasingly impressive guitarist son) but having looked them up on the net it's clear that Jansch has touched a real nerve with the 21st century folk community and 'Black Swan' brought Bert a whole new audience like never before. Bert was always a 'giver' when it came to music, generous with his support and time - it's nice to hear the folk world giving something back and these are clearly people who genuinely love his work and don't want to get in the way, rather than wannabes trying to hang onto his coat tails.
Thanks partly to Georgeson's impressively-modern-but-not-oppressively-so production, the sound of this record feels like a good fit for both the Bert albums of old and the modern folk sound. There's a lot of playing cat-and-mouse on this album, as Bert's songs open up layer by layer instead of being built up round ear-catching riffs or repeated refrains. Bert's in a nostalgic mood, remembering both songs past (there are sweet re-makes of a much slower 'A Woman Like You' and 'Watch The Stars' in a duet with Beth Orton, neither close to the originals but sung with more care than the 'Sketches' album) and people, with this record a real mix of all the themes of past Jansch LPs: 'When The Sun Comes Up' is full of the yee-hah playful spirit of 'Nicola', 'Bring Your Religion' recalls the bluesier sound of the first three solo albums with a fascinating sonic landscape that's as 'modern' and yet simultaneously traditional as Bert ever got and album highlight 'High Days' is Bert's best song of guilt, seemingly still playing over the premature end of his second marriage out in his mind. 'I'm sorry that I failed you - let me take the blame' Bert sighs, 'I should have tried much harder to reach out when I could'. One of the best songs on the album, 'Texas Cowboy Blues' unites them all: a happy-reflective-melancholy song in the blues-folk-rock style that's utterly Bert and a believable cowboy song despite the fact the guitarist had likely never been near Texas in his life. The true classic though is the six minute title track, an epic in the 'Jack Orion' mould that's full of random images from his earliest years and in which the black swan appears to be death, taking Bert's friends away one by one.
Yes the guests often get in the way of the main attraction, as always there's quite a large quantity of filler songs (though less instrumentals than ever this time around) and Bert is clearly losing his voice as the lung cancer already in his system makes it audibly painful for him to sing at times. But there are far more reasons to love than loathe 'The Black Swan', which manages to both sum up where Bert has been and explore somewhere slightly new. That's something Bert's been trying to work out how to do at least since the original Pentangle split up and it's great news that he found the formula at last, although a tragedy he never got the chance to use it again. The black swan of the Jansch catalogue, this isn't popular solely because of the sad events that followed it but because it really is as good as anything else Bert made over the past thirty years and can hold its wings up high against the work being made forty years earlier. If Bert had to go before his time than at least it was in a fitting way: like the swan, there's always been the sense with Bert that he's gliding serenely on the surface and fighting hard to stay on top of the treacherous currents underneath. 'The Black Swan' would have taken some beating for a follow-up; sadly we never got the chance to hear one. You sense the 21-year-old who made that first eponymous solo album back in 1965 would have been pretty pleased overall with that progress and unlike some songwriters and musicians who shift so much across forty-one years would have recognised a lot of his early sound in this album.
John Renbourn "Live In Italy"
Lord Franklin/South Wind-Blarney Pilgrim/Sandwood Down To Kyle/Little Niles/Great Dream From Heaven/The Mist Covered Mountains Of Home/Lindsay/Sweet Potato
"I hear the sound within the wind that plays around your walls"
Unlike Bert, who loved his live albums as a record where his head was at during any one time, John had only enough never mind a solo live record. He'd made some with the Renbourn Group and with Stefan Grossman before, but had never recorded a truly solo live album before, featuring just him and his guitar. For the recording John chose Italy, a country he'd always felt most at home in during his round-the-world tours and he'd quickly met likeminded Italian folkies at Rome's 'Folkstudio', the equivalent of Pentangle's own London Horseshoe Hotel. Legend has it Renbourn didn't even know this album was being recorded - the club boss Giancarlo Cesaroni was so pleased at having John visit he recorded it without his knowing - which might be why for a modern album that isn't a bootleg the sound is quite appalling. The performance, however, is anything but. A journey through almost an entire career, this live set features John teasing out more or less a song each from every album of his (with 'Lord Franklin' the sole Pentangle track) and while he was never the sharpest vocalist in Pentangle his older, wiser self in this sparse and intimate settings suits his growling vocals well enough. Though there are relatively few actual songs played, almost all of them are long, reaching out for lengthy solos where there previously wasn't any or taking the long and scenic route around songs fans know and love already. Not everything works by any means 'Lord Franklin's seen better days for instance - but a delightful instrumental version of 'The Mist Covered Mountains Of Home' and a very pretty cover of Archie Fisher's 'Lindsay' are both strong additions to the Renbourn catalogue. All in all, molto bene.
Bert Jansch "Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning" aka "Sweet Sweet Music"
(Secret Records, Recorded April 2006 Released May 2009/February 2012)
Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning: It Don't Bother Me/Strolling Down The Highway/Rosemary Lane/Come Back Baby/Blackwaterside/The Lily Of The West/My Pocket's Empty Baby/Morning Brings Peace Of Mind/Oh My Father/Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning/My Donal/Blues Run The Game/Katie Cruel/Carnival/Trouble In Mind/She Moved Through The Fair/High Days/Courting The Blues/Down Under/Reynardine/Poison/October Song/Hey Pretty Girl
Sweet Sweet Music: It Don't Bother Me/Strolling Down The Highway/Blackwaterside/My Pocket's Empty Baby/Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning/Rosemary Lane/Blues Run The Game/Courting The Blues/Reynardine/Poison/October Song/Hey Pretty Girl
"In the still of the evening birds fly out behind the sun and with them I'll be leaving"
Released as the last official Jansch recording in 2009 and again in tribute to Bert the year after his death, this recording made on the 'Black Swan' tour was full of 'sweet sweet music' indeed. In all likelihood the last solo Bert concert professionally recorded (though a few of the Pentangle reunion shows were taped too for possible release one day), it's a fine way to bow out. Heavy on the old favourites like 'Blackwaterside' and 'It Don't Bother Me', it also contains some songs from yesteryear Bert hadn't played in ages that pleased fans no end, tracks like 'Poison' and 'Blues Run The Game'. All four of these sound excellent, but the best songs may well be those taken from 'The Black Swan' - 'My Pocket's Empty' and 'Hey Pretty Girl' especially, with a power even one of Bert's better studio albums lacked. What's remarkable is how little has changed since this list began, with Bert back playing at a humble folk club in Sheffield armed with nothing more than a guitar and a set of great songs - the way he first appeared back on his first recordings on 'Young Man Blues' a full forty-four years earlier. The fame, the breadth of styles, the years of Pentangling have all fallen away and left us back to the basics, when Bert didn't need anything except himself and a battered acoustic to make great music. Though never intended when recorded to be a tribute LP - Bert was in fine health when he played this gig - 'Sweet Sweet Music' is as perfect a way to bow out as could be wished for, the way the fans all remember him as a simple, humble storyteller with big ideas.
If only the review could end there. Unfortunately the release of these two albums has in truth been a bit of a mess. Both sets are taken from the same gig - sadly but inevitably the 2009 release under the name 'Fresh As A sweet Sunday Morning' never got much attention, whereas after Bert's death record when the set was re-issued as 'Sweet Sweet Music' reviewers were queuing up to give superlatives over it. Given the lack of packaging and information fans have naturally assumed that these are two different gigs: actually 'Music' is just a shortened (around half) version of 'Morning' with a new title and cover and a tweaked running order. Many of the more interesting songs from the late 1970s and 1980s albums have been cut out for no apparent reason except to make more money (the sets seemed to retail for around the same price from what I remember). Bert would have been horrified to see his catalogue used and abused in this way - a simple line o the back sleeve of 'Music' explaining that it was a 'highlights' CD of a previously released show would have been all that was needed to keep fans like me happy. What a shame that a career spent escaping the worst excesses of record company narcissism and capitalism came to this!
"The Time Has Come (Box Set)"
CD One (Studio 1967-1968): Mirage/Waltz/Poison/Travelling Song/Forty-Eight/Koan/In Your Mind/Sovay/In Time/Sweet Child/The Trees They Do Grow High (Alternate Take)/Moon Dog/Light Flight/Once I Had A Sweetheart/I Saw An Angel/Springtime Promises/Cold Mountain/Train Song/Hunting Song
CD Two (Studio 1970-1973): Lord Franklin/Jack Orion (Excerpt)/Cruel Sister/Helping Hand/Faro Annie/Reflection (Alternate Take)/So Clear (Alternate Take)/The Snows/Jump Baby Jump/Yarrow/Tam Lin/The Best Part Of You/Green Willow
CD Three (Live At The Royal Festival Hall 1968 (Waltz/Way Behind The Sun/The Time Has Come/Let No Man Steal Your Thyme/So Early In The Spring/Hear My Call/No More My Lord/Three
Dances/Market Song/Bruton Town/A Woman Like You/No Exit/Haitian Fight Song/Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Bells/John Donne Song/Watch The Stars/Turn Your Money Green/Travelling Song
CD Four (Live, TV and Film 1970-1973): Pentangling/Sally Go Round The Roses/Sarabande/ Sally Free And Easy/Wondrous Love/Sweet Child/Willy O'Winsbury/Rain and Snow/No Love Is Sorrow/Wedding Dress/Furniture Store/Christian The Lion/Reflection/People On The Highway
"Take me to the end of a rainbow dream falling into your arms"
There were many ways that Pentangle could have made their one and only box set (to date): with only six band albums and not that many extra-curricular songs to choose from (or many unreleased rarities) this could easily have been a very short affair, or a more vanilla 'complete recordings' affair. They could, perhaps, have turned the box set into something more like 'The Pentangle Family' set that added a disc or three of what the band did before or went on to do next (that's my recommendation, by the way, if the band ever decide to do something like this again - thankfully most of the band's key solo moments are also on the label 'Transatlantic' so getting the rights isn't the mess it might be for some other bands; two songs - one each by Bert and John - are here, though both are odd choices that don't add greatly to the set). However, rather splendidly, Sanctuary have gone for an idea that's in keeping with the danger and adventurous un-comformist nature of the band, reducing the band's album tracks to the first two discs and following them up with a complete disc of Pentangle live (a full length version of the concert released as half of 'Sweet Child' back in 1968, controversially edited compared to the 'deluxe' edition of that album, with most of the band chatter and tuning removed; that's a shame given how much Pentangly character came through the rehearsals and false starts, although it does make for an easier listen) and a fourth disc full of TV and film soundtracks and radio broadcasts that for Pentangle collectors starved of product for so long is manna from heaven (well, music from Pentangle I suppose but that equates to more or less the same thing).
The result is a cleverly arranged set that serves both newbies and longterms fans well both - a tricky thing that so many box sets fail to get right. In typical Pentangle style it doesn't look much: a near plain black sleeve with a typically unglamorous shot of the band caught mid-song in silhouette (it looks like they're playing a 'fast' song from the body language) that will no doubt have put many curious newcomers off. But those who dare to try this set out of curiosity will find it a 'pandora's box', which once opened and heard may well be life-changing. The original six Pentangle albums all tried to do something a little different from each other, appealing to a slightly different audience in turn whether it was the jazz of the debut, the folk of 'Sweet Child', the poppier tones of 'Basket Of Light' or the more grown up sulky style of 'Cruel Sister'. Though you could stake a claim for the 'Light Flight' Anthology, no other set before this one has tried to capture the band in all its multi-faceted glory and it's that aspect that works so well on 'The Time Has Come', showcasing each of their many influences in turn.
The best thing to say about this box set is that it easily captures the essence of the band, which wasn't found in any particular sound but in all of them and at long last one of our AAA sets actually includes everything (on discs one and two at least) in strict chronological order, which makes the leaps from one sound to another sound natural rather than disjointed. The set is quite brave in many of the choices it takes too: only half (well, five of the nine songs) from the band's best-selling 'Basket Of Light', while the first two albums are much better represented (especially with the live disc taken into account), although personally I'd have appreciated more from the hard to find second half of the trilogy: there are just three, four and two songs respectively from 'Cruel Sister' 'Reflection' and 'Solomon's Seal', albums that deserve much more attention than that. I could also quibble with small details in the track listing - are the B-sides 'Cold Mountain' and 'I saw An Angel' (readily available on other discs) really more deserving of inclusion as career highs 'I've Got A Feeling' 'Lyke Wake Dirge' or 'So Early In The Spring' for instance? I'd also wager that the vast majority of Pentangle fans would prefer the studio recordings over the live ones where possible, especially the jazzy jams from the debut LP which are turned from epics into bite-size pieces when recorded at the same Royal Albert Hall gig as half of 'Sweet Child'. The controversial decision to cut the twenty-minute 'Jack Orion' down to a five minute edit of the instrumental section (plus a 'full' end) with no vocals also seems like unnecessary butchery (why not just include something else? Or add a fifth disc with more selections from the band's later career?) There's also nothing here from the reunion albums, which weren't as good by any means but the highlights of which would have made a nice five or six-track coda to the last studio disc. A 'perfect' Pentangle set may well have felt equally 'wrong' however, as they were never a 'perfect' band and never wanted to be. Pentangle never claimed to have superhero musician skills (though goodness knows Bert and John came close) and never quite made the perfect LP in six goes (though again 'Basket Of Light' comes close enough).
In many ways Pentangle are at their worst on the previously unreleased material, scattered across obscure film soundtracks, TV concerts and the occasional outtake left in the vaults. You can see why almost all of it was left behind the first time round: the band will be either a little slow, will head down a jam that never really quite takes off or will wear their 'Medieval historian' badges on their sleeve with a little too much pride for those more interested in their folk/rock/blues/jazz/ pscyhedelia roots. Out of the impressive selection of twenty new recordings (including eight entirely unknown songs - unless you were lucky enough to be one of the about, ooh, one hundred people to catch the low-budget poorly publicised film 'Christian The Lion' on first release) nothing here matches the best of the set. Normally at this point in a review of an AAA box set I'd be banding around words like scraping barrels and pension plans, but that's not the case here: Pentangle were around for such a short but explosive time that everything they did is of interest to fans and every small nugget of their sound, however small, adds to our understanding of a band who loved to experiment. There's also nothing unlistenable here either: Bert's sad folk arrangement of Bert's solo piece 'Yarrow' sounds a little too much like everything else, but the good parts of everything else; the seven minute TV soundtrack 'Tam Lin' is another of those folk song epics with Jacqui on particularly mesmerising form; three minute TV performance 'The Best Part Of You' is the single poppiest thing the band ever did - an obvious sequel to 'Light Flight' that another band would have made the mass marketed single, not hidden away on a single TV appearance; the surprisingly funky 'Green Willow' by Renbourn solo proves that the band were staying up to date with trends even in their dying days; the faithful two minute rendition of Bach's harpsichord piece 'Sarbande' on twin guitars is the other side of Pentangle's inheritance, exquisitely performed; the minute long instrumental fragment 'The Furniture Store' features more Bert and sitar which is always a good thing however short and unfinished; finally the song that got most fans talking was 'Christian The Lion', another middle ages epic originally spread out across half the film but here compacted into a six minute medley that's very Pentangle and keeps switching gears and refusing to fade. Perhaps the best of all the new songs is the near a capella 'Wondrous Love' which mixes Madrigal vocals with a very modern feel of oppression and claustrophobia from an obscure TV soundtrack. As for the other TV versions and outtakes, only even longer versions of 'Reflection' and 'So Clear' and a full-on rock swagger to a live 'Rain and Snow' add much we didn't already know from the originals. But after scratching around trying to hear most of these on glimpsed grainy and greatly rare bootlegs for decades it's a wonderful feeling to have most of them together (sad there's nothing here from Bert and John's first filmed collaboration on 'Folksangre' though or more from the Old Grey Whistle Test and Granada TV shows: there could easily have been another rarities disc out of this, although I suspect licensing rights may have been a sticking point here).
Still, if there's little here you need to have (assuming that you already own all the original Pentangle recordings) there's still much here that's nice to have. Handsomely packaged, with excellent liner notes that are long and detailed (just how we like them!) and notes about all the songs included, it's the first overall Pentangle package in years worthy of the band name (talking of packagaing, though, do be warned - Early copies released in 2007 come with an over-fat booklet that came unstapled from the box the minute you opened it - thankfully Sanctuary solved that problem for a second printing in 2008 onwards). Released just after Pentangle's long awaited reunion, the time had indeed come for a band who'd deserved so much longer in the spotlight, however much all five shied away from it. Released a year before Bert's death and five before John's, this is an excellent bookend to their association with the band (all five members having chosen the tracks between them) and I'm glad that both guitarists got to see the outpouring of gushing praise from both the critics who'd once loved the band and forgotten all about them and those who never even knew of the band's existence until the release of this set before they died. Powerful, eclectic, traditional sounding yet strangely modern in places even fifty or forty years on, it's a set that gives all the band in turn chances to showcase their talents and may well be the single best place to start your Pentangle collection (though you'll still need to buy up all the original LPs to fill in what you're missing!) Let no man steal your 'Time Has Come' box, a retrospective that keeps on giving the more you play it and the more you realise just how much good stuff is here.
John Renbourn "Palermo Snow"
Derry Miss Grsk/Bella Terra/Cirque D'hiver/Ugly James/Sarabande/Cello Prelude In G/Weebles Wobble (But They Won't Fall Down/Little Niles/Blueberry Hill
"The wind in the willow played love's sweet melody"
Sadly 'Palermo Snow' turned out to be the last new album of Renbourn material in the guitarist's lifetime. Happily, it's a good way to go out and even won John some much deserved praise from a music world that seemed to have forgotten all about him. There are a lot more Renbourn compositions here than normal and this is very much a record of guitar instrumentals again rather than a faithful recreation of the Middle Ages. The actual sound of this record is gorgeous: at long last Renbourn has ground a studio and an engineer who know how to record every last echoing ring of his distinctive playing. Though this isn't quite a solo album - clarinet player Dick Lee features heavily - it sounds a lot more like John's earliest albums for Transatlantic than anything he'd made in years and is the first place to go to for fans who are here to listen to the pure sound of Renbourn's guitar more than anything else.
There are many who hailed this record then and now as Renbourn's best ever - I'm not sure I quite agree (this is an instrumental album after all and I miss John's voice with or without Jacqui along too) but it is a good one that manages to channel each of John's passions in turn: pure folk, pure blues ('Weeble Wobble'), pure jazz ('Ugly James' is the closest in feel to the first Pentangle album for a very long time) and a hint of the Middle Ages with the adaptations of a 'different' 'Sarabande' (this one's by Erik Satie and more ponderous even than the Bach one) and a different Bach piece ('Cello Prelude in G' now transposed to guitar, which is livelier). There is perhaps less of a link between the songs than usual, thematically or stylistically, but as a 'sampler' of Renbourn's talents it's a welcome insight. IThe album has a slightly different approach to it than normal too - in Renbourn's own words, 'The emerging mood turned out to be more romantic than celtic – harmony rather than drones – something I felt the seemingly disparate pieces had in common'. Renbourn sounds more than ever like several players rolled into one, but sadly here there's less of a sense of what made him truly unique - the ability to juggle all of those styles at once. Even so, there's nothing weak here and if you're one of those fans who think the acoustic guitar is the most gorgeous sounding instrument ever invented then this album will make up a major part of your argument. Nicely intimate (you can even hear John's breathing in rhythm on 'Little Nies'), but made with care, 'Palermo Snow' belies its wintry title and cover to be surprisingly warm and affectionate. A fond farewell.
Bert Jansch "Angie - The Collection"
Angie/Blackwaterside/Needle Of Death/Harvest Your Thoughts Of Love/A Little Sweet Sunshine/Nottamun Time/Train Song/Tree Song/Stepping Stones/Soho/Rosemary Lane/No Love Is Sorrow/The Waggoner's Lad/Come Sing Me A Happy Song To Prove We Can All Get Along The Lumpy Bumpy Road/Do You Hear Me Now?/Love Is Woe My Dear/Reyanrdine/A Woman Like You/As The Day Grows Longer Now/Sylvie/Poison/Courting Blues/Life Depends On Love/East Wind
"Step inside where men before have drunk to fill to senseless"
Released in tribute to Bert after he died, 'Angie' is a low budget reminder of the man's humble genius that brought in a whole rush of new followers after he died, intrigued by the long lines of celebrities queuing up to mourn a legend they'd never even heard of. 'Angie' is clearly not as wide or as eclectic as other Jansch compilations released down the years - so that old-timers like 'us' (you're surely old-timers too if you've taken a chance on a book by an author you've never heard of!) can scoff at all the things this set gets 'wrong' - its named after a cover song, for starters, while the track selection spends longer than it should on the poppier 80s side of Bert's canon, which is a little like having the entire Neil Young collection to play around with and deciding to only choose tracks from the last few years. 'Blackwaterside' offers a much better selection of songs, while 'The Gardener' gives much more of an insight into what made Bert so different (and, by and large, better) than everyone else. The minimal packaging doesn't give much away either. However, it's important to remember that the main audience for this set wasn't 'us' at all, but people who spotted this set at the till at their local HMV (sadly 2011 was about the last year any of us had a local HMV), remembered the man's name from their favourite stars talking about him in obits and went 'blimey £3.99, I'm having that!' On that score alone 'Angie' is a success, with a nice collection of Pentangle favourites (and not the obvious ones either: 'Train Song' 'My Love Is Sorrow' and 'A Woman Like You') and early classics that are clearly the class of the field and that every fan should own ('Blackwaterside' 'Needle Of Death' 'Rosemary Lane' 'Reynardine'). Given that half the set gets things so right, it seems almost churlish to complain about the songs here that didn't make the grade and don't fit with the other tracks: the poppy 'A Little Sweet Sunshine', the pompous orchestral track 'Woe Is Love My Dear' or the jazz lounge 'Life Depends On Love'. There are at least a hundred songs in the Jansch canon more impressive than any of these and they seem to have picked at random. Even so, for the price this is a more than fair retrospective and will hopefully have piqued the interests of more than a few newcomers into checking out just how glorious the rest of the Jansch canon is.