Boasting two acoustic guitar masters, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, a virtuoso rhythm section (comprising drummer Terry Cox and bassist Danny Thompson) and the pure, unsullied voice of Jacqui McShee, The Pentangle had plenty going for them.
In keeping with the spirit of the times, they were experimental, too, throwing jazz and blues elements into the mix and venturing way beyond folk music’s traditional boundaries.
The year the Pentangle released their eponymous debut album, they played eleven Radio 1 sessions – proof that their defining brand of jazz-folk was popular as well as pioneering. The LP showcased the classic Let No Man Steal Your Thyme and the baffling, unclassifiable Pentangling.
It was followed only months later by their second album, Sweet Child, partly recorded at the Festival Hall (where, alongside more stylistic hi-jinks, Mingus’s Pork Pie Hat precedes a 16th Century pavane) and partly in the studio, where Jacqui McShee’s superb reading of Trees They Do Grow High stands out.
Basket Of Light (1969) was their most important album, both in terms of quality and commercial success. Light Flight may not be the favourite track of Pentangle fans, but in the UK, the BBC used it as the theme tune to their TV series Take Three Girls, and the track soared up the charts to #5.
Elsewhere on the album are songs that rank among the best that Pentangle ever recorded: Once I Had A Sweetheart with sitar by John Renbourn; Train Song; Hunting Song with Terry Cox on glockenspiel; House Carpenter; and Sally Go Round The Roses, a cover of the song written in 1963 by American producer Abner Spector (unrelated to the more famous Phil) for The Jaynetts.
Lavishly attired in a gatefold sleeve featuring a picture of the band playing live at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Basket Of Light made the Top 5 in the UK album charts, stayed in the Top 10 for a month, and became one of the best-selling records in the history of the legendary Transatlantic Records label.
Pentangle broke up in 1973, and in 1974 an album compiled of old material (So Clear) was released. The band re-formed (without guitarist John Renbourn) in the 80s and released two albums – Open The Door (1983) and Play The Game (1985).
Jacqui McShee sang as well as ever, and new bass player Nigel Portman Smith (who replaced Danny Thompson on Play The Game) added a new dimension.
The original Pentangle lineup reunited in 2007 for the BBC Folk Awards, where they received a Lifetime Achievement honour. They undertook a highly successful tour of the UK the following year and played their final concerts in 2011.
John Renbourn passed away in 2015.
Nigel Portman Smith