Monday 11 June 2018

Small Faces Essay: Not All Or Nothing But Everything

You can now buy 'All Our Yesterdays - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Small Faces' in e-book form by clicking here

Small Faces Viewpoint #1 (The Band Themselves). We are cool. Not just Brian Jones haircut cool. Not even Beatles cool. Definitely not Spice Girls cool. But COOL! We just combine everything that’s hit in the 1960s – everything! The guitarist sounds like he was born into the wrong skin colour with a voice that can strip paint. The bassist writes and thinks like Bob Dylan on acid. The drummer makes Keith Moon sound like he’s relaxing. The keyboardist was hip and talented but started clashing with our ideas so we got another one whose just as hip and talented but prettier! We are all the youngest pop stars of the 1960s bar Lulu and have only just hit twenty-one as the band splits up. We dress in the sharpest mod clothes around, bought from all the best stores so that we can look like the ace Faces we claim to be. We are – after a false dawn at Decca – on the hippest record label money can’t buy, run by the ex manager of the Stones who was too mad for them but perfect for us. But most of all we mean what we play. If there’s a word for The Small Faces’ music, its ‘intensity’. Nobody means it more than we do: the screaming voice, the pulsating beat, the thrashing drums, the thickest bass lines in music. You name it we’ve got it and all those blues and r and b standards were made to be performed by us, a band who sound as if they’ve been dosed in the blues up to our snappy shirts. We sound heavy, in every definition of the word and listening to our records sounds like drowning in a sea of cymbals and mayhem, though it’s all cleaned up neat and tidy because we can really play too dudes. In short, we’re mods!!!!!! We are the mods, we are the mods, we are we are we are the mods!!!
Small Faces Viewpoint #2 (The Record Label): What’s a mod? I hope it’s not something too radical. We’d better be careful and license this through our marketing department just to be on the safe side. I mean, it might be something rude. And I’m a bit worried about this new band we’ve just signed. It’s all very well being trendy and all that but *gasp* I’ve heard a rumour that their latest song might contain some drug references. Far better if we stamp out on that thing altogether and bring in Kenny Lynch to write in some songs for them. I see this band call themselves ‘The Small Faces’. Don’t know what it means but they are small and kinda cute – I wanna see smiles and teeth flashing on every picture we put out from now on. Gee, they’re kind of loud aren’t they? Better hide that stuff on the long-players and hope we don’t get too many criticisms. The singles sound pretty cute though, I bet that will get the teenage girls swooning long enough before the next craze hits. On second thoughts we’d better cash in on the craze now before it disappears completely – I want all the demos the band have been working on and all the outtakes and an album cover. No it doesn’t matter if its not cohesive, I mean it’s not exactly art is it we’re pedalling here? Just pop!
Small Faces Viewpoint #3 (The Fans): What’s a mod? I mean, I think we read something in a newspaper once that involved some riots, but that was what our parents did wasn’t it? We’re too cool to fight and music’s only a disposable Western commodity isn’t it? We just want a cute pop band to pin up on our bedroom wall. And this one’s the cutest! I’m sure Steve winked at me from the television last night and I nearly died! They’re about our age as well, I mean if we do what we usually do and lie to get into a club by adding on a couple of extra years. What’s that cute song they sing? [14] Sha-la-la-la-lee? Other people can keep their deep music, I’ve got a band that speak to my teenage heart!
There is, dear reader, a gulf between what many of the AAA bands thought of themselves and where their reputation ended up. Most acts are unlucky enough to be handled badly by middle-aged managers who don’t understand the music trying to make money out of them, marketed to entirely the wrong audience who don’t understand the real ‘them’. It’s a recipe born to disaster that’s been born out across a few of our books now (particularly The Hollies and Beach Boys volumes): the act resents being made to stay in one place when they feel they can offer so much more – and part of their audience will resent them for ever having ambitions to move on from there. However its perhaps a career development that’s strongest in The Small Faces, the band who musically were so respected by their peers the likes of The Who and The Rolling Stones and later Paul Weller placed them on a pedestal of perfectness in music – and yet who, in their own brief lifetime, were talked about as the cutest teenybopper band of them all.
There are a few reasons why. One is that The Small Faces didn’t look like ‘heavy’ authentic groups were meant to sound. The Stones did so well out of their (largely made up) Andrew Loog Oldham marketing campaign because they really did look like the sort of surly thugs you wouldn’t want to meet up a dark alley and the ‘orrible ‘Oo’ weren’t just named that because they turned their amps up loud. The Small Faces, though, looked cute. They were perfect pin-up material: they were all handsome, in their own individual ways. They were also the most fashionable of all the AAA bands (it’s no coincidence that they are our only ‘true mod’ band, with The Who a couple of years behind the party) who spent most of their wages in Carnaby Street and who never had a stitch out of place as they walked about in their snazzy suits. And they were short: as a very big generalisation, girls looking for a cute crush to pin up on their wall are more likely to go for a band barely bigger than they are compared to a hulking great brute (that’s why I think Ringo did surprisingly well during Beatlemania compared to the way his role in the band is viewed now).
Of course they didn’t always sound cute – as early as their debut album there weren’t many heavier songs around in the 1960s than group originals [4] ‘Come On Children’ and [13] ‘E Too D’ in which the singer seemed to be spitting feathers and the drummer seemed to be having a panic attack while swatting a fly (a [62] ‘hungry intruder’?) in a cymbal shoproom window. But that wasn’t how The Small Faces were marketed and back in the competitive 1960s there was a gulf of a divide between a band’s singles (which casual fans collected) and albums (which only true blue fans could afford). Until ‘Ogdens’ in 1968 most Small Faces fans bought the singles, not the albums. The Small Faces spent as little time on these as they could, sure that their fans would hear the ‘real’ them and fall in love with them – unfortunately it was first impressions with the public that seemed to count. Decca even picked out their early songs for them, insisting on substituting Kenny Lynch covers when their own work wasn’t breaking into the top ten and these are poppy to say the least. Cleverly debut single ‘[8] ‘What’cha Gonna Do ‘Bout It?’ sounds like a pretty good approximation of the usual Small Faces roar with a catchy chorus stapled on top, but after second intense not-really-singles-material song [26] ‘I’ve Got Mine’ flopped The Small Faces didn’t really are much about their legacy. ‘Sha-La-La-La-Lee’ is not a bad song by any means, but it’s a bad Small Faces song and especially being released at just the unfashionable side of 1966 when bands couldn’t get away with cute cover songs anymore. Next single [15] ‘Hey Girl’ is the best of all The Small Faces’ pop era but even that sounds a little desperate, a rough and ready R and B song that’s been dosed with some saccharine to make more people buy it.
The Small Faces realised quicker than most bands that it was their album catalogue that would make or break them and where the really serious collectors congregated. But they reckoned without how convincing that first impression had been. The first Decca album has had a rather mixed press down the years – though many fans now love it for its rough edges and manic cover songs, it was hated at the time for just those reasons. There were a lot of fans who bought it on the strength of the pretty singles – they weren’t expecting Marriott to improvise his way through four minutes of madness ending in the weirdest version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ outside The Muppets (see [4] ‘Come On Children’ again), the dull heavy Booker T and the MGs thud of [22] ‘Plum Nellie’ or to hear Ronnie Lane getting moody for the first time on the pained minor key atonal ballad [6] ‘It’s Too Late’. Both songs are, in truth, closer to The Small Faces’ ‘real’ sound than any of their hit singles. But once the public has put you in a box, anything you do outside the box from then on is an aberration – even if everything you do from then on is outside the box. It happens to everybody once you have a hit: the only way out is to bring your audience along with you at just the right speed (The Beatles, barring ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Magical Mystery Tour’), to reinvent yourself utterly and completely (The Who, a band facing a similar gulf between their singles and albums until rescued by ‘Tommy’) or shrug your shoulders and give in to your image, while all the time pushing forward on your long-players (The Hollies, a deeper band than ever realised at the time).
The Small Faces though hated their image so much that they kept throwing everything at it to try and change it. Their move to Immediate after just one LP was an attempt to be rid of this image once and for all. A newer, trendier, ‘older’ (they were twenty-two by now after all!) Small Faces had much more say over their singles and their marketing department and they made the most of it: their first single for the new label was a barely coded drug song full of references to ‘speed’. It remains one of the most drug-laden songs of the 20th century’s most drug-obsessed decade and sounds in many ways like a parody of the bright sunny music they were doing before, ‘artificially’ enhanced. The Small Faces were all ready to become the ‘bad boys’ of rock and take up their natural inheritance. But then a few things happened to scupper their plans. Firstly The BBC, who censored anything even vaguely drug-ridden back then, completely missed the point. They weren’t ‘hip’ enough to work out who ‘The Nice’ were (mod slang for drug dealers) and probably reckoned the strange items giving the band ‘speed’ were about a sugary drink or something. Yet again The Small Faces’ image had worked against them. Then Andrew Loog Oldham got in touch to say, umm, actually boys do you remember this bright new promising label I set up to offer artists true freedom and independence? Well, we’re a bit low on funds – do you think you could keep coughing up the hit singles for us until we catch up again? Please? Suddenly Immediate were just like Decca, not wanting to rock the boat – only they didn’t have the money for marketing that their predecessors had. The Small Faces were trapped after all.
Luckily for them – and for us – they rally across 1967 and part of 1968 and find a way to make the music they want to make, both for the fans who took it at face value and their ‘true’ fans who appreciated that they were mostly joking. [47] ‘Itchycoo Park’ isn’t the attempt to celebrate the summer of love the way everyone thinks it is and the two men who wrote it (Steve and Ronnie) went to their graves refusing to sing it most nights on stage and dismissing it as a ‘silly song’. It was named, for starters, after a part of a park that Ronnie used to hide in when he bunked off school and got stung by nettles for his woes – not an immediate ‘summer of love’ activity it has to be said. The chorus ‘it’s all too beautiful’, though, shone out through the nettles and the lines of bunking off school and only made the band bigger. Seriously worried now about his new image getting too defined Marriott attempted to pull things back with the two most intense moments of his Small Faces career. The jaw-dropping claustrophobia of [49] ‘Tin Soldier’ was meant to knock everybody’s socks off and prove once and for all just how rough and tough and intense The Small Faces could be. There’s nothing arch or unfelt about this single – aside from anomaly [17] ‘All Or Nothing’ it’s the first Small Faces singles not to be sung through a wry grin or with tongue-in-cheek. Marriott is singing about a real person, passionately pouring his conflicted feelings about settling down with the love of his life into song and doing everything he could to make it sound as ‘real’ to us as it did to him. His performance on this song is still one of the most astonishing AAA recordings out there; the other Small Faces, who realises how much this song means to him and might to them, also do him proud. A UK peak of #9, though, seemed poor reward for all that passion and Marriott lost confidence.
It was right at that moment that a bright spark at Immediate thought he’d found his (or her) way around the woes going on at Immediate. The Small Faces had followed up their quirky but daring second ‘proper’ album ‘The Small Faces’ with ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’, an album that finally works out what to do with The Small Faces’ sound and which darts constantly between brutally real and cosmically cute. One of the cutest songs was the ribald knees-up [57] ‘Lazy Sunday’. Marriott’s biggest parody yet of the hippie culture and what everyone expected from the band, it also formed a ‘prelude’ to his alter ego Happiness Stan’s quest on side two of the album. He was rather proud of it as it stood on the album, a self-deprecating joke that lightened the tone and was also kind of catchy. And then, after releasing the album, Immediate decided that it would also make a cute single and went stratospheric. After eighteen months of carefully trying to avoid just this sort of scenario and being made to promote this throwaway constantly on shows so soon after the song he really believed in and thought was going to be his ticket out of this lifetime of singing silly pop songs, Marriott flipped.
From his point of view there was one good thing to come out of this whole debacle: Immediate now had a bit more money and were less willing to compromise The Small Faces’ vision. So Steve decided to give the label a song that they couldn’t possibly mis-promote, turn into a joke or describe as a comedy. [68] ‘The Universal’ sounds so jarring when you hear it in context on one of the many Small Faces compilations it has a home on, be they sets of singles or complete box sets. It’s the sound of a man who is intrinsically unhappy and turns every single Small Faces signature on its head. Rather than smiling, Steve sounds like he’s sobbing for an hour before recording. Instead of the ‘perfect’ sound The Small Faces had been making their own at Immediate it’s recorded in his garden, complete with dogs running past. Kenny Jones’ constant thunder has been reduced to a lonely thumped bass drum. The only accompanying sound for half the record is a bleak trombone. The lyrics even sound like Marriott throwing in the towel over his whole commercial thing: ‘If I’m so bad’ he pleads, ‘why don’t they take me away?’ The hidden message is that if he isn’t good enough doing what he wants to do, then he shouldn’t be doing it at all. Confused as hell by now, the single only sold to loyal Small Faces fans who bought everything the band did and peaked at #16, a disaster for a big name band in 1968. From now on every Small Faces single will be posthumous (starting with the obvious solution [55] ‘Afterglow’, a more commercial version of the intensity and realness of ‘Tin Soldier’). A few months later, after struggling through the first batch of sessions for the curiously named ‘1882’ (released as ‘The Autumn Stone’ by Immediate’s marketing department), promoting a hit record he was losing heart in and wasn’t sure how to top and facing an interminable time on the road performing it, Marriott cracked and quit the group, a mere flop single down on their commercial peak.
Everyone assumed that The Small Faces would get back together again, especially when they carried on with pre-booked gigs for the next three months. After all this was one of those bands that seemed like they had to belong together: Steve needed the foil of a quiet Ronnie to keep him in check and keep his songs interesting rather than loud and thoughtful rather than catchy (Humble Pie are a deeper band than many suppose, but this tends to come more from Greg Ridley and Peter Frampton than Marriott, who just wants to sound big and heavy). Ronnie needed Steve to add power and fireworks to his more thoughtful works. Kenney Jones is one of the world’s greatest drummers when backing these two and driving them on with a unique brand of power and subtlety – throw him in with any other band (including The Faces and The Who, where he’ll go next) and it just sounds too heavy: Roger Daltrey is the wrong vocalist to sway to his beat and Rod Stewart can’t match Steve Marriott for power no matter how hard he tried. As for Mac, his organ swathes of colour won’t sound ‘right’ again in a group setting until he forms his own ‘Bump Band’, with The Faces tripping over themselves with people waiting to play a solo. Both ‘Humble Pie’ and ‘The Faces’, for all their intermittent brilliance, lose the magic wand The Small Faces brought to everything (even their outtakes) and where whatever they tried seemed somehow to work. Well, everything but their marketing.
The problem, I think, is that both halves of the band sacrifice the levity The Small Faces gave them for a heavier, more brittle sound. As much as Steve and Ronnie longed to be taken seriously, they had naturally silly sides to them too. Though it was The Who that coined the idea of ‘Quadrophenia’ (a personality being split into four) it was The Small Faces who lived the schizpphrenic life. Nobody but this band would have accompanied the lion’s roar of [49] ‘Tin Soldier’ with the playful kitten B-side [50] ‘I Feel Much Better’, complete with ‘munchkin’ voices chanting ‘choochoodoowaddydwaddy’ over and over. Even less would have made the switch halfway through and turned this into a thumping rocker with perhaps the greatest guitar break in this book running through it. The ‘Happiness Stan’ concept works well between because its meant as both a serious and silly text. At its heart it’s a very moral hippie tale about being nice to everyone you meet on the way up in case you need them on the way down ([62] ‘The Hungry Intruder’) and listening to people you don’t understand because you might learn from them, instead of being afraid or bullying them ([64] ‘Mad John’). You could also argue its about an LSD trip-induced view of the world and seeing it afresh, realising that everything in life waxes and wanes and that the moon, far from disappearing in the sky, will always reappear. Of course it’s also a tale narrated in ‘Unwinese’ that makes no literal sense, involves a talking fly and ends up in a song called [65] ‘Happydaystoytown’! ‘Ogdens’ is as popular as it is because there’s no other album quite like it, an album that intensely means every note it says – even when it’s laughing at you.  
The problem, then, isn’t that the poppy singles weren’t the opposite of what The Small Faces were all about; it’s just that their audience (and especially their marketing department) didn’t understand back in the days of true pop stars and ‘real’ musicians that The Small Faces could both mean this and mean something else. Life to The Small Faces wasn’t just an attempt to make money. But nor could they take themselves completely seriously and ignore the brand of silliness that made them laugh and kept their feet on the ground when life seemed to be running out of control. More than any other band except perhaps The Beatles, they understood that life was everything: happy, sad and all the levels in between and that music had a responsibility to represent every part of their audience’s life experiences. What they missed more than anything – and what in my opinion truly created their split, even though it was there from the beginning – was a father figure who understood that. Too many people were telling the band to concentrate on their lighter, frothier side. Bands like The Who and The Stones and especially The Kinks who were truly committed to their deeper material rightly told their managers to get lost and did it anyway. But The Small Faces kinda believed it too (at least their own material, maybe not so much the Kenny Lynch songs!) They needed someone to stick out their neck for them, to demand the chance to alternate dark and shade, weight and lightness, cute songs with meaningful songs, to ‘get’ what they were doing and monitor just when things were getting too ‘heavy’ and when they were getting too ‘light’. They needed a grand plan of shocking their audiences with how tasty the songs that weren’t to their natural taste still were, rather than clobbering them over the head by leaping from one extreme to the other (it’s a real shame that the tougher sound of [26] ‘I’ve Got Mine’ died a death- if it had sold even vaguely well the band might have got away with following this plan instinctively).
Of course they couldn’t see that for themselves. It truly is a miracle the band got as far as they did: they were all between eighteen and twenty at the time of their first recordings (barring either of the two keyboard players) and when they signed their first contract their parents had to sign it for them as they were ‘under-age’ (you think some grown-up would have noticed the ‘holes’ in the contract too, but never mind). They had met just weeks before playing their first gig, due to a chance meeting between music fan Ronnie and guitar repairman Steve during a slow day at work and an offer to make some music ‘sometime’ (how many great groups did we miss because people never took up that vague offer?) They had only known each other mere months when Decca came calling and things got serious – suddenly they were recording stars with a film appearance booked and a following. It’s no wonder that it went to The Small Faces’ big heads a little and that they couldn’t see the bigger picture, stumbling from single to single instead of coming up with a ‘plan’. Instead of a Brian Epstein figure who tried his best for them and took their side on all things, they got too many people who ripped them off big time and made them financially vulnerable to the point where they would do anything people told them for money (sadly this still didn’t stop Ronnie Lane going bankrupt after contracting multiple sclerosis in his thirties or Steve Marriott getting so poor he turned to poaching a nearby estate for food). That is the real tragedy of The Small Faces’ much-spoken tragedy: this could have been the biggest band in the world (or close enough) as they came in more dimensions and shades than almost anyone. Instead they split after just three actually finished albums and it was left to their biggest fan bar none, Pete Townshend, to pick up on their mantle and turn his band from one of many promising talented wannabes into a band multi-dimensional enough to fill that void. The Small Faces, though, were the band who should have had that role and had they had someone to steer them and diffuse things for them this book would have been ten times bigger than it ended up being. Sadly even by Small Faces standards much of the rest of this book is going to be full of ifs, maybes and what-might-have-beens…


'Small Faces' (Decca) (1966)

’78 In the Shade’ (1978)

Ian McLagan Tribute Special

Surviving TV Clips 1965-1977 and Unreleased Recordings

Non-Album Songs 1965-1990

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part One: 1967-1971

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Two: 1971-1975

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Three: 1976-1981

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Four: 1982-2015

Essay: Not All Or Nothing But Everything 

Landmark Concerts and Key Cover Versions:

Pentangle: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important, along with one particularly good one that summed up the band's setlist during their live peak (or one of them, anyway). Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases anyway) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Pentangle, though, are one of those AAA bands who very much studio-bound. In their lifetime (including a smattering of reunion concerts) they only ever played around one hundred gigs in total. The most famous of these – a headlining show at London’s Royal Festival Hall, where only the most serious of musicians were allowed to play at the time (at least until The Who ends up there a year later and suddenly its open house!) – is the only sort of live record in Pentangle’s original history already. This is joined, though, by the return there forty years later which an ailing band know will be their last. Even so, there are some other key gigs that deserve their place way in front of the sun so here we are:

1)  Where: The Horsehoe Pub, London When: February 5th 1967 Why: First Gig Setlist: Unknown but probably included most of the first album

John Renbourn owned the Horseshoe Pub in London’s Tottenham Court Road and he and Bert were kind of the ‘house band’, so it was a logical place for him and Bert to invite all the performers they thought would sound good in Pentangle. They arrived in dribs and drabs, with no set auditions – just the chance to get up and play in front of the patrons who were more interested in their beer anyway. The band weren’t meant to be auditioning on their ‘own time’ or aiming for the big time – they told fellow pub manager Bruce Dunnet that they were trying to find a backing band for Pentangle and crossed their fingers that he wouldn’t know that Pentangle was actually a ‘super group’ made up of the folk world’s elite. The band also hid things from Gerry Bron, who was proudly touting himself as Bert’s ‘exclusive manager’ and was busy grooming him into becoming ‘the next Bob Dylan’. Bert hated the idea – he was a shy retiring type who hated the attention and would rather be surrounded by friends – the rest of Pentangle weren’t so keen on him becoming their manager either. At this stage the ‘band’ only comprised Bert, John and Jacqui, with Danny and Terry added over the course of the next few weeks, but it was the real start of Pentangle and what they could become. Jacqui only knew John – she had never met Bert but knew of his reputation. Jacqui was herself the part-owner of a second folk club, The Red Lion in Surrey, which became a second regular Pentangle haunt. With so few people around (even if the Horseshoe was bigger than any pub I know, with 40 seats, it wasn’t exactly busy that night) nobody seems to remember what was played that night. My guess is that the band played a lot of their first album, which was itself already part of Bert and John’s act, with a few of the folk songs Jacqui had been singing in hers. We don’t know what it sounded like – probably Pentangle minus the bass and drum jams – but it must have been pretty good as this tentative idea that could have so easily gone wrong was strong enough for the trio to stick their necks out and pass on what were three very promising solo careers to work together.

2)  Where: The Royal Festival Hall, London When: June 29th 1968 Why: Biggest Gig? Setlist: 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 La Rotta-The Earl Of Salisbury Market Song Bruton Town A Woman Like You No Exit Haitian Fighting Song Goodbye Pork Pie Hat Bells John Donne Song Watch The Stars Turn Your Money Green Travelling Song

The first Pentangle gig not played in a pub (even a 400 seater one) was…at The Royal Festival Hall! Now that’s a career move! The folk world had been eagerly anticipating Pentangle after hearing that so many ‘big’ names were going to be in it. However Pentangle were more interested in working together in a studio setting and practicing their improvisational telepathy before getting a chance to work together in front of people and had already recorded their first album, released at the beginning of June. To promote it their new manager Jo Lustig wanted to think big and when the band were reluctant to play too many shows looked around for the most prestigious venue he could possibly find. With a band unsure about what to do next, but with a huge repertoire to pull from together and solo, it made sense to pay for the gig with a live album, which was released the following year as half of second album ‘Sweet Child’. Pentangle were audibly nervous (particularly if you listen to the bonus tracks added to the end of the ‘Sweet Child’ CD decades later) and it’s no surprise: they were used to playing in front of a few hundred people at some word-of-mouth gigs but suddenly ended up playing in front of a few thousand. They were, though, naturals. The audience at the Royal Festival Hall, were more used to the stuffy classical world who weren’t anywhere near as engaging or as self-deprecating as Pentangle, accidentally announcing the wrong songs from their hand-written set lists or making awkward conversation on stage. The folk fans, too, had never got together in such a big way before and were cheering the band on for the most part, thrilled to be a ‘big’ thing in music circles at last. Pentangle didn’t take the easy way out either, playing relatively few tracks from their recently released album and already looking ahead to the next one with a combination of folk, jazz and blues originals. The joy was in hearing songs that one of the five had been playing solo or with their own bands now performed with the other four’s distinctive additions – in this era Pentangle really was a ‘band’, even if they did break off for multiple solo or duo performances still. The event, full of such nerves, went down very well and in many ways its Pentangle’s peak: they will never again blow their audience away or play to quite so many people (with the exception of the next gig on our list…) Alas the band won’t be back for another forty years!

3)  Where: The Isle Of Wight Festival, UK When: August 30th 1970 Why: Other Biggest Gig? Setlist: Light Flight Rain and Snow

We’ve covered the Isle of Wight Festival on our pages a few times now. The British equivalent of Woodstock in the planning stages, it ended up more like Altamont when a great percentage of the audience baulked at the high prices and broke the fences and burnt the burger vans in anger at the intense capitalism of music. Pentangle didn’t get the headlines the likes of headliners The Who, Jethro Tull or The Moody Blues and by the tikme of their slot on the final night (Sunday) most of the drama had died down and a lot of the fans had gone home ready for work on the Monday morning. However most sets played were interrupted by something extra-curricular happening and so it proved with Pentangle, whose performance were interrupted by a German woman who proceeded to lecture the crowd about her home politics and how Britain should watch out. A bemused Pentangle just let her talk, unlike The Who (where Pete Townshend kicked Abbie Hoffman physically off the stage) or the Moodies (who made puzzled remarks from the stage). As for the setlist, it seems odd to me given the many thousands of people who went that nobody seems to remember what music Pentangle played that night. We know for a fact that they did ‘Light Flight’ – their biggest hit – thanks to a very grotty audio copy that was taped by a fan (and which has since been uploaded to Soundcloud; it reveals a nervy Pentangle who are all slightly out of sync with one another, only really getting back together in time for the ending). We also think they did ‘Cold Rain and Snow’ thanks to a fan’s notes of what they played. But we don’t know anything else – Pentangle were passed over for the ‘Message To Love’ film of the event despite being one of the biggest acts that year and there never was a various artists audio CD of the event the way there was for Monterey and Woodstock. It seems likely, though, that Pentangle would be playing their usual set around 1970: big on songs from ‘Basket Of Light’ with a few from ‘The Pentangle’ and ‘Sweet Child’ thrown in, plus a few previews from ‘reflections’ (I would be very surprised if they didn’t play ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken?’, for instance, which ends up becoming their most performed song after the two listed here). Pentangle didn’t quite make the splash they were expecting to, but you sense they were fine with that: this wasn’t a band built for the open air in front of millions of baying fans looking for rock and roll and Pentangle only played two festivals again (they were an unlikely choice to play Glastonbury in 2011 and The Cambridge Folk Festival in 1982, their first reunion with memories of the Royal Albert Hall, except for poor Terry whose leg was in plaster after a fall!) That show was the last all the original Pentangle played until 2008…

4)  Where: Sydney Town Hall, Australia When: August 12th 1972 Why: Farewell Gig Setlist: Blue Monk  

So it ends, not with a bang but a whimper. By 1972 and a mere five gigs after the Isle of Wight performance an unhappy Pentangle are already thinking about splitting (something that won’t actually happen until the following year). This one-off Australian appearance had been booked long before and was the first gig the band had played in six months. They were rusty and below par if fan memories are to be believed, with the sense of lethargy that had set in while making final album ‘Solomon’s Seal’ and their UK tour had ended in disarray when Danny Thompson had become poorly, leaving them in debt due to cancelled gigs and already facing a lack of funds after being messed around by record label Transatlantic. They could have done what so many other bands have done and make music cheaply and quickly with constant touring – but that wasn’t really Pentangle’s style, leaving this very muted and low-key final gig their last. Again we don’t know what the band played that night, probably a mixture of the same material from their past as they didn’t really perform the ‘Solomon’s’ material on stage. The exception is ‘Blue Monk’, the last song introduced to the Pentangle setlist and probably by the band’s rhythm section as it’s a challenging Theolonious Monk instrumental full of daring bass and drum improvisation sections. Pentangle never did put it on album and it finds them turning full circle, unbroken or otherwise,. Back to the jazz of their first LP. After the band split Bert and John picked their solo careers back up, Jacqui briefly retired to have a family then reformed a new version of the band in 1980, Danny went into session work and converted to Islam whilst Terry switched gears completely to run a restaurant in Menorca.

5)  Where: The Royal Festival Hall, London When: August 11th 2011 Why: Very Final Gig Setlist: Let No Man Steal Your Thyme Light Flight Mirage Hunting Song Once I Had A Sweetheart In Time People On The Highway ‘The Daemon Lover’ Cruel Sister ‘Soho’ ‘Kokomo Blues’ Bruton Town I’ve Got A Feeling Goodbye Pork Pie Hat No More My Lord Sally Free and Easy Wedding Dress Pentangling Cold Rain and Snow

Pentangle first reunited for a German tour in 2008, highlighted by their first return to the Royal Festival Hall on the fortieth anniversary of their original concert. However we’ve plumped for their very final show from a one-off reunion three years later that ended up being the final gig they ever played, not least because it was Bert’s final public appearance of any kind too, just two months before his death. The change in years is not lost on the band, ‘we’re being sponsored by Saga’ (an old folk’s insurance and pension scheme in Britain) being Danny’s opening joke to the audience. ‘Just in from the Dorking Delta’ is Bert’s wry quip as he walks on to the stage. It’s a worthy show to bow out on, full of all the old favourites any fan could ask for and a sense of camaraderie that had been missing from the band’s early 1970s shows. There was one final song added to the Pentangle discography too: ‘The Daemon Lover’, the original which had been adapted and shaped into another Pentangle favourite [  ] ‘The House Carpenter’ heard in its original setting at last, though still with the Renbourn sitar part from the ‘Backet Of Light’ arrangement. The band also played Bert’s solo song ‘Soho’ for the one and only time – it sounds mighty good too with Pentangle harmonies. The final song Pentangle ever played in concert turned out to be ‘Cold Rain and Snow’, an unlikely song for August but a fitting one given that this tale of rejection brought the Pentangle catalogue of maidens, witches and sailors bang up to date with a tale of marital strife. Alas Bert’s death put an end to talks about a proper bona fide reunion album, but the band went out more or less where they’d begun – playing to a huge crowd, on a high, in a prestigious setting, with fans waiting on their every word. Unfortunately only five minutes worth of the show (playing ‘Pentangling’) seems to have survived, but this was shot miles away from the stage by a fan. It reveals a very cautious, stately Pentangle judging by this one extract, though with some typically great guitar interplay. You might be interested, though, in the two other 2011 reunions gigs, played at the Cambridge Folk Festival and Glastonbury, for which a lot of footage exists on Youtube and reveal a band who very much still had ‘it’.

The musical baton thing works both ways – sometimes younger or contemporary or even older acts hear music that they like and want it in their discography too. That tends to be particularly true of groups who are big or who sum up a place and time for a particular generation so well. Pentangle, though, don’t seem to have inspired the run of star-logo sprogs I was expecting. Where are the modern musicians reaching back to our grand past or using it to re-shape our future? The trouble with tracking down items for this article really isn’t helped by the fact that Pentangle didn’t write much of their original material and many of the songs they covered are lost in the mists of time. If you widen the scope to Pentangle’s solo catalogue, though, there are still some juicy cover versions out there that every fan should hear.

1)  Al Stewart ‘Soho’ (Past Present and Future, 1973)

Three years before the ‘Year Of The Cat’ (actually 1976 was the Year of the Dragon in astrological terms, oddly – 1974 was the year of the cat!) Al Stewart was another hungry wannabe folk-rock songwriter, sharing a flat with Paul Si9mon and hanging round the same clubs as Pentangle. Like many a folkie he was a passionate fan of the Bert and John albums, together and apart, and recorded a lovely version of this favourite from the ‘Bert and John’ album (together, this time). With a softer, higher voice than Bert Al gives this song quite a different feel, while the quicker tempo makes it feel oddly enough like a period glam rock song. The new arrangement adds a whole pile of instruments not on the original (three guitars, organ, bass and drums, plus a flamenco guitar solo and what sounds like a guiro) which makes Soho sound like a noisier and more frenetic place than ever, full of ‘anticipation, disinclination…drinking dregs from the bottom of the kegs’. This arrangement doesn’t bring across the bleary-eyed been-awake-too-long feel of the song but it does capture the manic-ness well, as if this version is taking place in the day and Bert ‘n’ John’s at night.

2)  Penelope Houston [  ] I’ve Got A Feeling (Snapshot, 2003)

This Pentangle very English original, which was one of the jazziest things they ever played, wouldn’t seem a natural fit given Penelope’s usual style – she came to fame in San Francisan punk band ‘The Avengers’ where screams were her speciality. However she does a really good job at rebranding herself on this 2003 album with songs that reveal far more of a subtlety to her work and this song works better than most. Penelope has a very modern 21st century voice despite being a mere twenty years younger than Pentangle and ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ is a lovely timeless floaty kind of a song that can be done in any time, including ours. With less sensual purring than Jacqui but a much bigger lascivious smile, Houston seems much more of an innocent on this song, which gets rid of the jazzy ‘wave rolling’ beat for something much more reliable and constant. This makes her sound as if she’s going to get her man for sure, rather than the ‘dance’ the Pentangle characters lead, but that kind of fits the song too. Excellent modern jazz.

3)  Burton Bradstock [  ] Train Song (Youtube, 2012)

Watch here You won’t find this cover in the shops and even on Youtube it’s not exactly clocking up the views (152 as I write this and I’m still the only person to give it a thumbs up!) This terrific version of the ‘Basket Of Light’ standard is doing much more than making up the numbers, however. Pentangle’s original blends all sorts of styles together, as is their customary sound, but this pure jazz arrangement makes it sound much more like a long lost track from the band’s debut album. Jimmy Cannon’s confident vocal is so different to Bert’s shyly sensitive portrayal and the backing is exquisite, with Jacqui’s ‘vocal’ part switched to Darian Ford’s piano, a rolling bass by Rhiaan Voslo of which Danny Thompson would be proud and a drum part by Tim Giles that would keep even Terry Cox on his toes. Less exotic than the album original, the basic song is used as the launchpad for some extraordinary scat-singing and an improvisational ending that misses the sawing feedbacking guitar but does a really good job of sounding like a train going down the rails. Named for a village in West Dorset, ‘Burton Bradstock’ is, you could say, the gentler country holiday compared to Pentangle’s moody inter-city train service but the song is more than good enough to handle both interpretations.

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

Surviving TV Appearances 1968-2000 and The Best Unreleased Recordings