Iconic Music - Jacqui Mc Shee's Pentangle biography
Jacqui McShee's musical career began as a soloist in British folk clubs in the mid-1960s. After working with guitarist John Renbourn, she co-founded Pentangle with him and Bert Jansch, the rhythm section being bassist Danny Thompson and percussionist Terry Cox both of whom had been working with Alexis Korner. Both Renbourn and Jansch, of course, were already renowned virtuoso guitarists.
McShee's unique talent was obvious early on. In 1969, The Times wrote: "She tackles accompanied and unaccompanied folk songs, spirituals, blues, and a variety of songs in other styles." In fact, Jacqui's beautiful crystal-clear vocals set the standard for female British folk and folk-rock singers.
Pentangle rapidly established itself as one of the earliest exponents of the British folk-rock movement. However, their appeal went far wider than just folk fans. The band's eclecticism and experimentation drew audiences from the rock and pop worlds as well as traditionalists and Pentangle has continued to attract a wide audience to this day. The original band played a mixture of ballads, blues, jazz, pop, and reworkings of rock classics, often blending different forms in the same piece. Over thirty years later, the current line-up still refuses to be limited by genre and still draws on a wide repertoire.
Pentangle's early albums established the band's reputation, the third LP, Basket of Light, reaching number five in the album charts with Light Flight being a hit single. After a period in the 1970s pursuing solo and duo projects, the original line-up reunited for the popular and accomplished Open the Door album in the early 1980s.
Pentangle's innovative musical career continued through the 1980s and 90s. Personnel changes included Mike Piggott on jazzy violin, Nigel Portman Smith on keyboards and bass, and Peter Kirtley on guitars and vocals with, of course, McShee and Jansch from the original line-up. Gerry Conway (who had worked with Fotheringay, Cat Stevens, Richard Thompson and John Martyn, and who currently also works with Fairport Convention) took over on percussion in 1987.
In 1995, McShee formed a trio with Conway on percussion and Spencer Cozens on keyboards. The trio's first album, About Thyme, was released in 1994 and featured guests Ralph McTell, Albert Lee, Mike Mainieri, and John Martyn. The album reached the top of fROOTS magazine's British folk chart.
With the addition of saxophonist Jerry Underwood and bassist/guitarist Alan Thompson, the band was renamed Jacqui McShee's Pentangle. The new line-up received great reviews: "McShee's new group pulls off non-traditional arrangements with grace and style" (Dirty Linen); "McShee used to sound so fragile you feared she'd break - now she has an earthiness in her voice that gives her performance much more passion." (fROOTS).
The new band's first album Passe Avante was released on the Park Records label: reviewer George Graham wrote: "The sound is miles from the acoustic guitar-dominated arrangements of the earlier Pentangle."
The new line-up rapidly became popular on the live circuit. Their concert at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was recorded and released by Park Records under the title At the Little Theatre. The album highlights the improvisational virtuosity of the band and its masterful melding of jazz and folk influences. The set includes such classics as Cruel Sister, The Wife of Usher's Well, Lovely Joan and She Moved Through the Fair.
In 2002, saxophonist Jerry Underwood died after an illness. He was replaced by jazz saxophonist/flautist Gary Foote.
In 2004, the band recorded a new album, Feoffees' Lands, which was released on their own label. The tracks include folk and jazz standards as well as the band's self-penned material. Tom Robinson of BBC 6 Music described it as: "Glorious stuff, deeply atmospheric and immaculately sung and played. The current line-up of Pentangle kicks up an absolute storm and Jacqui's voice is gorgeous."
In February 2007, Jacqui McShee joined the other members of the original line-up for an exclusive live performance at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. It had been 25 years since this line-up of Pentangle last played together. The performance was broadcast on Radio 2 in a special programme hosted by Mike Harding.
Pentangle also received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2007 BBC Folk Awards for the band's contribution to the folk-rock genre.
Today, Jacqui McShee's Pentangle continues to tour arts centres and theatres each year and also plays selected music festivals.