The Pentangle and other folk icons

Britain’s The Pentangle is a delightful combination of folk & jazz propelled by the amazing guitar work of John Renbourn & Burt Jansch & the equally amazing voice of Jacqui McShee. I have, over 2 mp3 cd compilations: The Pentangle (1968), Sweet Child (double lp) (1968), Basket of Light (1969), Cruel Sister (1970), Reflection (1971), Solomon’s Seal (1972) their last before breakup of original members.

It’s hard to classify The Pentangle with their mix of Celtic, traditional folk & jazz. Prog-folk as opposed to prog-rock. The music is consistently good as they slip seamlessly from folk, to jazz, to prog & even into renaissance mandrigals. I am most familiar with Sweet Child & Basket of Light. I had the lp of both & when I upgrade to mp3 I added the others. The Sweet Child was expanded with nearly another hour of live & studio material. If you are unfamiliar start with Basket of Light.

The sixties were a hotbed of folk, so also on the cds are: Judy Collins: In My Life (1966), Wildflowers (1967) (Sisters of Mercy, Both Sides Now), Who Knows Where The Time Goes (1968). Judy has a clear strong voice, her choice of material is exemplary. She was one of the first to record songs by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen & The Incredible String Band.  Her music become less folk though with strings, orchestra, even country backing. Sometime a bit too tasteful for me.

In Canada to folk music wave included Ian & Sylvia: Early Morning Rain (1965), Four Strong Winds (1964). Local folkies in Cape Breton were quick to add some those title songs to their repertoire. Earnest guitar players mixing traditional with these modern, then, song. I recall one autoharp gal doing an endless & morning Early Morning Rain flooded by Lightfoot’s Wreck.

Nina Simone is sort of unclassifiable – female vocalist with a powerful voice, clear political point of view with a mainly jazz approach. Here I have her ‘Nuff Said! (1968) (Backlash Blues), It Is Finished (1974) (The Pusher). She is an iconic iconoclast for her unshakeable stance & her refusal to be ‘softened’ by the recording industry. Her songs are often deeply personal, African, & resonant.

I added John Martyn’s The Tumbler (1968) – his sound is a more rock version of Pentangle. A fine guitarist, vocalist & song writer. I’ve read glowing praise of him over the years & decided it was time add something by him got my collection. Finally is Alan Stivell’s Renaissance of the Celtic Harp (1972) This album revolutionized the connection between traditional folk music, modern rock music and world music. In my Cape Breton crowd this was very popular thanks to its Celtic leanings. One track Ys is a soothing piece includes the sound of waves & seagulls creating one of the first new age templates. A must for any collection.

The Blessing of Presents 

The other event on the week-end that I had the great pleasure in attending was the Blessing of Presents at St. Sufferer’s Cathedral. That Blessing combined with the Lighting of the Trees is a sure sign that the festive season has broken lose upon us full force.

The most reverend Vicar Father Frank started the sacrament with a sermon on the Exulting Power of Wrap – he explained how the wrap of the gift is often more important than the gift it self, and that no matter how lowly a gift may be, it can be elevated by the wrapping.

There’s a lesson I wish I could bring into my own life – on those days when I, yes even I, your willing reporter, feels like the proverbial bed of broken pigs, she finds it hard to even raise her head from the pillow let alone wrap herself in a joyful raiment that would disguise the inner emotionlessness and despair she feels.

The Vicar went on to say that we shouldn’t allow the wrap to keep us from the gift, and that he finds many are so enamoured of that wrap they never get to the true treasure inside. He sort of lost me there, but that didn’t diminish my pleasure at the vast array of beautiful gifts that were brought up, one at a time to receive the sacramental dash of pine needles and moose ashes.

Like the gifts brought on that first Noel, we were brought into the constant and endless circle of presents that was started on that wondrous night.

The ribbon of history reached out and twined its tinselled ends around the hearts & necks of each us, as the children’s stuttering choir of St. Sufferer’s sang several holiday favourites. “Oh Burning Tree,” “The Ribbon and the Manger,”  “The Tinsel and the Camel” – to name just a few.

After the ceremony I was privileged to take a ride through the snowy wood with Hank Grebly in the parade of midnight runners. Skiers, families in sleds and even some on elephants were seen tracking through the wooded glens around our small town. Lanterns aloft and bearing gifts for neighbours. The true savour of the season was felt.

By the time I returned home I was too exhausted to even remove my boots (thanks Hank) and slept as soundly as I have ever slept. Disjointed dreams of a clown’s childhood danced through my head till I woke in the morning. The windows were covered in reddish swirls of frost and the fresh jar of ashes on my mantle sweetened my dreams.

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Joni and Ancestors

 On an mp3 collection I have by Joni Mitchell: Live at Club 47 – 68, Clouds, Ladies on the Canyon, Blue, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira. as well as: Mimi & Richard Farina: celebrations for a grey day; Malvina Reynolds: Sings The Truth (Little Boxes): Melanie: Candles in the Rain. As Joni stand alones: For The Roses, Court and Spark, hits 1. Plus Herbie Hancock’s jazz homage – The Joni Letters.

I enjoy Joni Mitchell but I am not a huge fan. I certainly respect her as an artist & love her willingness to follow her musical muses regardless of commercial appeal. But if I never hear ‘Both Sides Now’ again I’ll be fine 🙂 As I look over the rack listings for the lps I have my favourite remains ‘Songs To Aging Children Come’ which, as I age, becomes even more pertinent.

I never really followed her career’s ups & downs, or her private life so I hear her songs without that baggage. There are cuts on each of these lps I love, some lps that I can’t name a track from. I find that one of the lps suffer from a mix that buries her voice in such way that it is lost, to my ears. Tracks slip into one another – if there were no silence between them I wouldn’t know when one ended & another began.

Unlike similar female artists, such as Laura Nyro, she survived in the  male-dominated & dictated music industry. She didn’t get buried for forging her own path or for not selling zillions of singles. 

On this mp3 collection I put her into context with other California folkies. Mimi & Richard Farina: celebrations for a grey day – this is sweet, folk-rock with a tinge of jazz, bluegrass. Richard’s early death turned him into a legend. 

Malvina Reynolds: Sings The Truth. Best known for the hit Little Boxes (the precursor in a way to Big Yellow Taxi) this is protest music in a fun 60s way. Almost traditional folk this a lost treasure full of sharp social commentary. The New Restaurant is timeless, as is Little Boxes – some things never change. 

Melanie: Candles in the Rain. Melanie owes a lot to all the above. She managed some top ten hits then sort of faded away.  Lay Down owes much to the Edwin Hawkins Singers for its success. ‘Look What They’ve Done To My Song’ is a classic but in her case it’s also come ‘’Look What They’ve Done To My Career’ when her label dropped her for refusing to produce lps on demand.

The Grinding

Festive readers, I am pleased to bring you a wrap up of the week-end’s events.  The highlight of which has to be the annual Lighting of the Trees. Held in several locations in the hills about Crab Apple Corners the horizon is illuminated by the first official rite of the season.

I choose to attend the ceremony at Hijil’s Farm – they had obtained two of the remaining stand of ancient red wood sycamores and had them flown in for the occasion. Trees so large they needed two helicopters to carry each of them.

The first flame was applied to them by our local Miss Pig Driver, Tanis-Lotus Flatly. The trees did us the great honour of being slow to ignite, but once they had been engulfed in flames the look of joy in the faces of the children was worth the wait.

Once these two trees were in flames, burning torches were taken to the sites where other trees were ready for the ceremony. The Great Maple at McCracken’s of Daw Hill was the next to be torched and quickly one could see similar fires all across the country side. Hijil’s Farm perched atop Green Bluffs gave us a splendid view of the various tributes to the season.

Once the first two trees had been burnt to cinders our parish Vicar Father Frank did The Grinding and was quickly joined by the other men who were of age, to participate in this ritual.

I was thrilled to be offered by my one and only Hank Grebly the fruits of his grinding. A jar filled with these delicate ashes and moose fat can sit proudly on any mantle piece. There will be enough here to guarantee me a year of fertility and good weather. After all, it only takes a pinch a day, tossed into the wind to catch the eye of the spirits for protection.

The carolling at St. Sufferer’s Cathedral was once again a thrill, especially now that the bells have almost been tuned. The climax of each verse is a ringing of these bells that echoes though our happy valley and shimmers through the fragrant smoke produced by the Lighting of the Trees.

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