Reviving Their Own Folk

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Much has been written about the British folk revival of the late 1960s, and most of this writing mentions two bands as being most influential in its development.  One band is Fairport Convention, the other is Pentangle.  Whereas Fairport Convention set traditional folk songs to the rhythm of rock music, Pentangle created its own sound with the fusion of folk and jazz.  Two of the founding members of Pentangle, John Renbourn and Jacqui McShee, are currently on tour together and will be stopping off at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz this Friday.

John Renbourn, whose guitar style has influenced countless players including Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, began playing guitar when he was 14 years old.  “My whole generation, when we were about 14, listened to skiffle music, the pop music of the time, and decided we had to have a guitar and play in a skiffle group in school.”  He attended art school briefly, where a friend introduced him to Jacqui McShee.  They soon met guitarist Bert Jansch , and the beginning of Pentangle was formed.  “There was a pub in Soho, Les Cousins, a basement club where musicians played,” recalls Renbourn.  “I played there with Bert and Jacqui, and Pentangle formed as a jamming band to keep the all-nighters open, since people used to sleep there.”  With the addition of bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox, Pentangle went on to release some of the most notable music of the folk revival period, including their 1969 album “Basket of Light.”  

When the original Pentangle disbanded in 1973, Renbourn and McShee went on to form the John Renbourn Band, which played from 1974 – 1981. During this period Pentangle also reformed with varying lineups which always included McShee and Bert Jansch.  The band’s recorded work, while continuing to explore new musical avenues, never received the acclaim of the first three albums, and this incarnation of Pentangle broke up in 1995.  John Renbourn has since continued to record and tour as a solo artist.

With the breakup of Pentangle, Jacqui McShee, who to date had not had the luxury of being in total charge of her own band, drew together a group of musicians to record her album “About Thyme.”  With McShee’s distinctive vocals backed by a more overtly jazzy sound featuring saxophone, keyboards and ethnic instrumentation, the album was a big success, and topped the UK’s Folk Roots magazine chart in 1995.  The band from “About Thyme” continues to tour as “Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle” and recently released a live album featuring new compositions as well as old favorites.

This Friday’s show, however, sees two of Pentangle’s originals back together again and represents a chance to see two of folk music’s true icons in performance.  Whether you are a long-standing Pentangle fan or a curious newcomer, the show should be a real treat.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, May 29, 2003

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