Friday, July 11, 2008

Live Review - The Pentangle

The Pentangle
Royal Festival Hall, London
29 June 2008

Words: Andrew Cleary

In the current climate of band reunions, anything is possible. Right now, for instance, Paul McCartney is in an underground lair in Switzerland, trying to reanimate the corpse of John Lennon for a reunion tour – though of course he isn’t really, for legal reasons. But just as few people would have predicted the likes of Led Zeppelin and Shed Seven reforming, it is doubtful that many would have anticipated the original line-up of Pentangle getting back together, some 25 years after they last toured. But here, 40 years after they walked onto the Royal Festival Hall stage for the recording of the "Sweet Child" live album, Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox are back. And they mean business! Gentle business, maybe, but business nonetheless!

They kick off with a slightly nervous-sounding "The Time Has Come" but soon they are in full flow, the guitars of Jansch and Renbourn weaving magically with each other in "Light Flight". Danny Thompson and Terry Cox were always an incredible rhythm section, and they've still got it – Thompson in particular is in stunning form, immaculately turned out, swooping and bending every note from his double bass to perfection. And then to Jacqui McShee – while time may have lowered the pitch of her voice, she still sounds incredible, and has still got the sass.

And so to the rest of the set – it was a diverse, career spanning selection with numerous highlights. When they all gelled on songs such as "House Carpenter", "Hunting Song" (the 4-part harmonies at the end of which were spine-tingling), "Bruton Town" and "I’ve Got a Feeling", they rocked, swung and shimmered in a way that would convince anyone that they truly were one of the greatest bands of their era.

The ultimate set highlight would have to be "Cruel Sister" - Jansch's guitar was good enough to have been a solo song of its very own, and with Renbourn on sitar and McShee’s majestic vocals, by the time Thompson’s bass line kicked in the audience were rapt, to the extent that one of my companions witnessed four occupiers of the gents' urinals humming the refrain shortly afterwards. Another terrific moment was the interplay between Jansch and Renbourn on their version of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". It was a true exhibition of masterful playing, and I for one wouldn’t have minded had they stretched out the song for 20 minutes.

I did, however, have one reservation about the set – no matter how well executed the songs were, and how fantastic it was to hear them, the fact that the expression well executed seems apposite says it all. Songs which, on record, have a flowing or rocking intro or outro of numerous bars (such as "A Maid That’s Deep In Love" or "House Carpenter") were cut to the main body of the song, with a couple of bars tacked on to either end. It was a little underwhelming, and I found myself wishing that they would let go a bit more. Still, in the context of the whole gig it was a minor gripe, and by the time the closing "Pentangling" had finished, the band received a deserved ovation and left the stage beaming, with their arms around each other.

Regardless of whether the Pentangle reunion extends beyond the current tour and next month's Green Man Festival appearance, it was a great privilege to hear classic after classic performed by a group that clearly still have real pride over their body of work, and one hopes that history will rightly hold them in as high regard as the Festival Hall audience did here tonight.

1 comment:

christian said...

nice writing, about a classic band, i'll be checking back here.