The praises of Bert Jansch have been sung numerous times on these pages in the past, but never has there been a post dedicated solely to Pentangle, the quintessential sixties English folk group made up of Jansch, Jacqui McShee, John Renbourn, Terry Cox and Danny Thompson.
Pentangle’s jazz inflected English folk is as unique, and different, as the folk-based music their American counterparts were creating 5,000 miles away on the west coast of California. While their American cousins too cues from country and bluegrass, Pentangle drew from pastoral folk traditions and the improvisation heavy, free-wheeling jazz that had permeated the creative community over the past decade.
While glancing at the group’s wiki, I found this description of the Pentangle sound to be quite on the nose: “Pentangle are usually characterised as a folk-rock band: however, this designation is misleading. Danny Thompson preferred to describe the group as a “folk-jazz band.”John Renbourn refuted the “folk-rock” categorisation, saying “one of the worst things you can do to a folk song is inflict a rock beat on it…Most of the old songs that I have heard have their own internal rhythm. When we worked on those in the group, Terry Cox worked out his percussion patterns to match the patterns in the songs exactly. In that respect he was the opposite of a folk-rock drummer.”
With the rise in interest in all things folk-related the past few years — ranging from the ‘freak-folk’ movement, Sufjan, Iron & Wine and the 2006 Bert Jansch release via the Drag City label — a retrospective Pentangle box set makes perfect sense.
The four disc 40th anniversary set is dutifully packaged with photos, illustrations, detailed notes, live tracks, radio spots, and unreleased studio material fleshing out the choice material from the studio releases.
Video: Pentangle :: Train Song (recorded Live at the BBC, 1970)