Jacquie McShee’s Pentangle – Celtic Connections – St Luke’s – January 23, 2024
Written by celtic music radio on January 26, 2024
I have to confess from the start that I had not been keeping up with the various manifestations of Pentangle since the glory days of the original line-up and attended this concert out of a sense of nostalgic curiosity, anticipating a typical “greatest hits” evening. Well, of course, there were some of those, including Cruel Sister and Wife of Ushers Well, but there were plenty of surprises too.
First of those was how well Jacquie’s voice was holding up. I know it’s rude to mention a lady’s age, but, at 80 years old, although she doesn’t hit the soaring heights of yesteryear, she still demonstrates a fine range and tone, and still skips lightly over the intricate trills and arpeggiated runs that occur in much of her material. Second surprise was the quality of the more recent material (all written by her and the band) and the shifts in arrangement in the older numbers.
Danny Thompson famously denied that Pentangle were a folk-rock ensemble, asserting that folk-jazz was the apposite term. In the old days, I’d say that the balance between folk and jazz influences was around 65/35 in favour of the former. Jacquie’s Pentangle reverses those ratios – this was a very jazzy evening, and all the more interesting for that. The 60s/70s band’s guitars were replaced by keyboards and saxophone/flute, with Danny Thompson’s upright bass replaced by John Martyn veteran Alan Thomson’s loping bass guitar.
The change in instrumentation didn’t affect the musical enjoyment though. The band was tight, professional, and very accomplished – despite two of their normal line-up, drummer Gerry Conway and saxophonist Gary Foote not being present. I regret to say that I didn’t catch the name of the gentleman sitting in on saxophone/clarinet, but I would imagine he’s much in demand at recording sessions as he played with great sensitivity to the songs, quiet and restrained when necessary, confident and powerful elsewhere.
I did manage to note that Pascal Consoli, as befits someone who has been on the same bill as Prince and Michael Jackson, had a very melodic flow to his drumming that perfectly complemented Alan Thomson’s weaving lines. Longtime band member, virtuoso keyboard player Spencer Cozens completed the line-up. Thomson and Cozens also supplied harmony and back-up vocals.
The material original to Jacquie McShee’s Pentangle was impressive. I particularly liked the opening Jabalpur – a kind of jazz raga that was apparently named by sticking a pin in a map of India! Also stand-out was what Jacquie referred to as the band’s “protest song”, Nothing Really Changes. The Acrobat, which finished the first set, was a quirky little number about politicians and their slippery ways, and took some inspiration from the career of GW Bush. As befits its title, it had a circusy lurching rhythm and an “oo-ee”-type hook that brought to mind Alex Harvey’s take on Bar-room Blues.
The audience warmly welcomed more from the vintage Pentangle songbook in the second set. I’ve Got a Feeling is the band’s re-invention of Miles Davis’s classic All Blues and was an ideal vehicle for this line-up to unleash their jazz chops, including a tempo change to a fast walking rhythm that let Alan Thomson unleash an excellent bass solo. The closing number was a swing-tempo Let the Circle Be Unbroken that invited audience participation and got it (with some pretty good harmonising too).
After a standing ovation, the band came back and, to a rapturous reception, launched into Light Flight (aka Theme from Take Three Girls). The evening was rounded-off by a slow ballad Frankie Laine composed when he was still a jazz crooner (hard to picture, I know, but true!): We’ll Be Together Again. I’d gladly be together again with this band.