fRoots at 40, a life of championing folk, roots, world music and blues - and history consigned to oblivion
Diamonds and rust? fRoots halts publication after 40 years

Recovery and rediscovery: Pentangle

Bryan Ledgard's picture of Pentangle at 2007 BBC Folk Awards

Choosing music to make physical exercise more bearable can be a challenge. It has to be good to have any chance of working, but the last thing you want is for the accompanying exertion to put you off it for life.

In days when I’d spend half an hour in the office gym before starting work,  I found the only album that would see me through an activity I loathed was the  eponymous John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers


Following a minor op, I had to choose again, to go with daily sequences designed to acquaint my body with what had happened to it and strengthen the muscles.  

Jacqui McShee - I found a. better photograph offered by Vintage Photos at Amazon but was unsure of copyright  - would understand. We are both of an age when such medical issues crop up.

She may be less able to understand why I have so long neglected Pentangle on the pages of Salut! Live. Rectifying that oversight on the basis that their music is good to work out to will seem scant recompense. 

Yet I loved this band from the moment I became aware of it. I was a confirmed Bert Jansch fan, was becoming familiar with an equally gifted guitarist, John Renbourn, and marvelled at their inclusion with such masters as Danny Thompson, ace double bassist, and Terry Cox on drums. McShee was, to me, an unknown quantity but I was quickly drawn to the purity and exquisite phrasing of her singing. She is up there with Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior and Judy Collins at their best.

Supergroups do not always live up to expectations; I remember being bitterly disappointed by Blind Faith. But Pentangle, their jazzy arrangements of British traditional music and McShee's gripping vocals, felt instantly right. I didn't even mind when they went pop (if superior pop) and earned some money with Light Flight, the theme song to a TV sitcom Take Three Girls.


For my  exercise purposes, I selected the 1972 recording of Willie O Winsbury that you see above. The famous Child ballads, a Victorian collection of British traditional songs and their American equivalents, are numbered and Willie O Winsbury is 100th out of 305.

It tells of "the king's daughter" and may, if one interpretation is accurate, refer to James V's wooing of Madeleine de Valois, French noblewoman he went on to marry. Whatever story, or mix of stories went into the lyrics as sung by Jacqui, it is a tremendous piece of music, as good as Pentangle get, at least according to my taste.

Jansch and Renbourn are no longer with us, leaving a wonderful legacy of music, with Pengtange but also solo, together and with others. Pentangle have continued with lineup change to please later generations of fans. How do we style them? Folk-rock would spring to many lips, but Danny Thompson preferred "folk-jazz".

Renbourn was adamant: "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."

But do categories matter? They are handy but no, they do not. This is simply music at its best. YouTube listeners' comments can be surly, antagonistic or plain imbecilic but there are some uplifting contributions in the discussion that follows the clip I include.

Willie o Winsbury was perfect for the early stage of my physiotherapy, since the version I used is just over five minutes).

When I needed to spend longer on the exercise concerned - rolling a skateboard backwards and forwards - I went for Joan Baez's 11-minute epic, Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

My love of Willie o Winsbury has survived intact. I am in danger of beginning to dislike Baez's version of the Dylan song.


Alan Lowey

Via Twitter


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