Pendragon - The First 40 Years,
There are some reviews which are more pointless than others, and here we have a case in point. To put it bluntly, if you are already a Pendragon fan then you will have either purchased this album already or have it on your “wants” list, and if you are not a diehard fan you will not be investing in a 5-CD set which comes in a hardback 32-page book. I had noted the release and was contemplating when to get it when Covid 19 hit, causing the band to cut short their European tour. Knowing just how hard the guys worked to get that together, along with the associated costs, I knew this was a major financial setback for a band who have always been a cottage industry, so I told my family exactly what I wanted for my birthday.
The book is packed full of photos from throughout the band’s career, and I had to smile when I recognised the Astoria stating Pendragon, Galahad and Mentaur, as I was there that night nearly 30 years ago. There are notes from the current line-up, plus lyrics to ‘The World’ and ‘Men Who Climb Mountains” which have had new drums recorded by Jan-Vincent Velazco as well as additional instrumentation by the other guys as well as being remixed. I must confess I find it is a little strange that they decided to choose those two albums, as ‘The World’ (which I love dearly) was their third release from 1991, while ‘Men Who Climb Mountains’ was their most recent studio album at this time, coming out in 2014.
The first three CDs are taken from the 40th Anniversary Tour, recorded at The Venue on November 9th, 2018 (the band point out this is the first official live recording from London since 1986’s ‘9:15 Live’). The quartet of Nick Barrett (guitar, vocals), Clive Nolan (keyboards, backing vocals), Peter Gee (bass guitar, bass pedals, backing vocals, keyboards) and Jan-Vincent Velazco (drums) are joined by backing singers Zoe Devenish and Verity White, while saxophonist Julian Baker guests on a few numbers and original drummer Nigel Harris came back for a few songs. Of course, the real problem when pulling together a setlist for a tour like this is that you simply cannot please everybody, and I for one am disappointed not to see “The Black Knight” or “Leviathan”, while I have also always had a soft spot for “Red Shoes”, but they would have had to have played for four or five hours every night to be able to do it all. Velazco may have only been with the band for 3 years on this tour, but Nick and Peter had been there for the whole 40 while “new boy” Clive had been involved since 1986 and had actually known Nick from a very young age when they first met at school. Together they have played for countless hours in studios and on stages throughout the world, and it shows. There is an easy relaxing into the material, knowing they are among friends, with their earliest numbers such as “Fly High, Fall Far” and “Excalibur” sounding fresh and exciting, even though they were originally released as long ago as 1984.
One of the things one notices when looking through the photos, which will be familiar to anyone who has seen the guys play, is that there are a great many smiles among the band as even after all this time together they are still having fun and genuinely enjoy being together. There is a photo of Nick and Clive together where they are both genuinely laughing about something while Nick is playing, neither of them actually looking at each other or the camera, just enjoying each other’s company, which just has to be in front of a crowd full of fans. I particularly like the older photos, from the Eighties, and just love leafing through the book while the music is playing. It is a wonderful set, and I am certainly pleased to own what I believe is the most Southern copy in the world (latitude 172.1985° E – anyone else got a copy closer to the Antarctic?). A classic set of incredible songs played by musicians who really are at ease with each other and the material, along with new versions of two of their albums, what is there here not to love?
If you are one of the many people who have only come to Pendragon since the release of the excellent ‘Love Over Fear’ then this is a fantastic addition to the collection. No Pendragon fan can really do without this glorious set.