PENDRAGON principal discography

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Jewel
KowTow
The World
The Window Of Life
The Masquerade Overture
As Good As Gold
Not Of This World
Acoustically Challenged
Also: DVD
   
 

PENDRAGON –
Acoustically Challenged
Metal Mind 2002
There’s a special bond between British combo and Poland, one of those rare lands where progressive scene thrive. Polish always had a soft spot for PENDRAGON, a fact documented on the band’s first concert video recorded in 1996 in Krakow, so the foursome had to come up with something equally soft. An acoustic performance. A challenge – because the genre masters rely more on electric side. Not PENDRAGON, whose music has always had this nerve which makes “Fallen Dreams And Angels” very transparent now, and “And We’ll Go Hunting Deer” almost sublime. They used to play an “unplugged” thing occasionally – there were acoustic takes of “Paintbox” and “King Of The Castle” added to “Not Of This World” yet to do an entire show takes a certain stamina. Strangely, only three musicians entered Radio 3 Warsaw studio in 2001, left out was Fudge Smith, although his drums, the only genuinely natural instrument, could hardly ruin the magic atmosphere.“The Window Of Life” material absence compensated with rare “Dark Summer’s Day” and “Unspoken Words” from bassist Peter Gee’s “Heart Of David” album, each of the band’s records is presented here, the most amazing change having struck the earliest and the latest cuts. “Alaska”, floating on Clive Nolan‘s jazzy piano and given an exquisite guitar solo from Nick Barrett, sounds like completely new piece to perfectly match fresh epic “A Man Of Nomadic Traits”. “The Pursuit Of Excellence” seems a link, a short one, to display how, unlike others, PENDRAGON go from cool to the worried, from “2 AM” fatigue to “The Lost Children” anxiety. Imagining what will it take from the band to follow this and where the road will take them doesn’t come easy. Still, no challenge feels impossible now.

*****
 

PENDRAGON –
Not Of This World
Toff Records 2001
There was “The World”, an album fantastique, so a title “Not Of This World” sets one’s mind wondering, what’s in behind the cover with a theater of life scene. Now, we’re definitely back to this world, our world, not a fantasy one. “If I Were The Wind (And You Were The Rain” intro paints an abandoned landscape, which got enlivened by Barrett love song, not ballad yet continuation of this spacious guitar. Nick’s approach very mature, more soulful than ever up to almost gospel part. Clive Nolan with Peter Gee’s support arranges a sonic storm that calms down into unsophisticated piano – welcome in!”Dance Of The Seven Veils” first part, “Faithless”, appears sprinkled with Chinese motifs until it gains flesh and shows a chorus, familiar as its shadow lurked in the PENDRAGON’s songs before. A new life out of dream? Too cruel, it seems – especially if the second part says “All Over Now” and builds another tune on guitar strumming the same chorus line. There’s even an anger the reality brings, melody slows down to bitter-sweet and then cuts again. “Not Of This World” is sharp, too, starting Jarre-styled but laden with guitar over synth layer and bearing the statement, “I’m flesh and blood, I’m a human being”. The music comes down-to-earth, Nick sings rough, drawing on desperation – check this “Ridi Pagliacci” off Leoncavallo’s opera, a sihn of faith gone, on the verge of the next part, “Give It To Me”, a slow dance of consumerism. The third piece, “Green-Eyed Angel” brings back the blue-eyed melancholy, resolving in heartbreaking guitar moves while keyboards add a deja-vu feel.

It lingers on with acoustic wave of “A Man Of Nomadic Traits”. Escapism is tragic, a man feels he doesn’t belong to “this crazy world”, and a keyboard and guitar solos gently carry him away. To the “World’s End”. The suite beginning, “The Lost Children”, is as far from “The World” optimism as can be. Yet the question, “Where are the lost children?” hides a hope, the same that in FLOYD’s “Bring The Boys Back Home”. Hope lies bare in “And Finally…”, looking back to “Not Of This World” and rousing an anthem of regret. No love now, no faith – PENDRAGON wave goodbye to this world, which has unicorns gone for another green pastures.

A sad record it is, but there’s a prize in the end, a glimpse over the shoulder – the acoustic versions of “Paintbox” and “King Of The Castle”. Will the fantasy return?

*****
 

PENDRAGON –
As Good As Gold
Toff Records 1996
Call it a single or a mini-album, “As Good As Gold” is something a little artificially detached from “The Masquerade Overture”. The title track is an edited version of an album track and, taken out of context, sounds maybe more catchy although it comes to a halt very abruptedly. It’s strange that “Bird Of Paradise” didn’t make the album as it has the same mood and even themes, with interlocking instruments playing – feels like the track was withdrawn onto the EP in the last minute but it’s here that Clive Nolan runs his scales the most freely.”Midnight Running” appears as a ghost from the band’s past, wearing GENESIS outfit and an urban feel of “KowTow” with a shade of blue-eyed soul that suits Nick very well. But in “A Million Miles Away” Mick Hucknell shoes were shaken off by underdevelopment of a tune which seems a demo or a part of something bigger rather than an independemt piece of work. Good yet not gold.

****1/2
 

PENDRAGON –
The Masquerade Overture
Toff Records 1996
Once the star status gained, the band set to create music rather than struggle for fame. Hard to say, why this wonderful body of work is titled “The Masquerade Overture” – was there some series planned to be opened by the album? Fortunately, the music bears no sign of possible self-indulgence although a concept album this song cycle is and opens with beautiful “The Masquerade Overture” courtesy of Clive Nolan – while music, as usual, is written by Nick Barrett. Almost orchestrated and adorned with piano piece in the vein of Rachmaninov it unfurls into powerful solemn chorale sung in Italian to break down and pass its melodic theme to “As Good As Gold”, a song very exquisite in its quiet intro and ringing out in the middle section, where Nick’s voice comes underpinned by the baroque organ and additional vocals from Simon Clew. Interesting, guitar work touches more classic rock’n’roll base, not art rock one, and this seemimg contradiction works for a great effect.For gentle “Paintbox” Clive chose a kind of harpsichord arrangement that goes so smooth along sparse guitar lines leaving space for Peter Gee’s bass to fill. Central part sounds not unlike FLOYD’s “Goodbye Blue Sky” yet takes on very different mood, where synthesizer and bass couple for a swaggering dance to release a freefall guitar solo – a shade of KANSAS hiding in the wings. And how refreshing in its simplicity appears an English folk-based ditto “The Pursuit Of Excellence” (“Mull Of Kintyre” an inspiration?) with keys imitating bagpipes. On the contrary, “Guardian Of My Soul” boasts of polyrhythmical – thanks to versatile Fudge Smith – structures akin to TULL’s ‘Living In The Past” and very clever acoustic guitar lace against fluid electric currents. Quite a strange song for PENDRAGON canon yet revealing previously unseen facet of the quartet. Time changes, “Paintbox” and “As Good As Gold” themes return, drums roll, flute decorated scherzo plays – and Barrett weaves his poetry that went now beyond simple lyrics. A treat now!

Classically awashed in piano, begins gentle “The Shadow” including a menuet and a guitar rainbow lying on bass-provided pillars, claustrophobia gone for an open landscape with pace quickened to get the blue skies back. Tracy Hitchings joins Nick for a mighty chorus with a hint of GENESIS’ “Entangled”. After this, “Masters Of Illusion” comes in as a self-parody but catchy chorus and a funky intersection laden with Nolan’s soloing plus a march from Fudge make it a somewhat strange finale, too histrionic to enjoy but with Page-esque guitar flight. The listening is rewarding but, with no impressive ending to match the overture, masks are still on.

*****
 

PENDRAGON –
The Window Of Life
Toff Records 1993
It wasn’t an easy task, getting over the mighty previous album, and “The WIndow” appears built in massive blocks, whith all the songs bar one stretching on to epic scales. “The Walls Of Babylon” flows in on soaring guitar lines across the organ airy space of “Crazy Diamond” kind where cymbals and bass feel a stormy intervention. Strangely, vocal melody doesn’t live up to instrumental environment, majestic to the end, which happens very prematurely, when the theme seems to be developing further on. Acoustic guitar-with-piano ornament of “Ghosts” comes in touching and shows a bit of soul Barrett always had in his singing and now lets loose in a fast section. At this point a listener eventually recognizes where he is – in “The World” world! That’s where the ghosts hail from.But it had changed, “Breaking The Spell” is very moody in its Oldfildish guitar beaming to nowhere and then turning to blues, bass-led dance, speeding up and swooping down quite satisfactory to stop before “The Last Man On Earth”, the largest piece of the album. Now a classic, it’s really amazing, the band’s elements meld into a panoramic musical view through the window of life – hence the title. The music goes faster, shapes enigmatically into plastic forms abandoned after “KowTow”, then the “Stargazing” theme is introduced for the first time to dissolve in murky harmonica and keyboards-driven English tune for a while and get back gloriusly for “Nostradamus”. In the CAMEL-esque beginning no signs of how the song will turn out, that’s why its soul-cum-prog grips and bites and heals on the rousing chorus. “Am I Really Losing You?” proves a real shooting star in the night, or twilight on the edge of dawn, fresh and uplifting, acoustically ringing out. The feeling comes hard to catch on the first spin, but later on – you’re in, clear, straight and wondering what the morning will bring.

****
 

PENDRAGON –
The World
Toff Records 1991
It’s from this album that the word “essential” can be applied to the PENDRAGON output. The quest for style resolved in the brilliant music that keeps a listener on his toes until the very end. “Back In The Spotlight” seems a very apt title for a song which signals the band’s return to the progressive base – even from the lyrical point of view. Keyboard and guitar lace on the intro sets a fairy tale landscape before Nick Barrett starts his philosophical musings. GENESIS comparisons here are hard to avoid but it’s not the classic combo idiom explored anymore, now the sound comes very modern. Barrett dominates here both as a singer and a guitarist of a high league, sneaking with the harmony solos between the vocal lines. But who could expect raga put into the PENDRAGON context? Think of the album title and don’t be surprised with the world music use in “The Voyager”, a spacious composition that bears the YES sign with a Howe-esque fluid guitar and multitracked voice – and suddenly a blues harmonica cuts in this hot and humid night atmosphere akin to the one Steve Hackett created on "Guitar Noir". Sometimes Clive Nolan comes very close to an orchestral effects, switching from synthesizers to piano, yet, fortunately, doesn’t cross the border, thus, making an impression more intense.An anxious buzz precedes the nerve-bare ballad “Shane”. What could be left out is echo which makes the FLOYD influence very obvious – too parallel to “Hey You”, especially when guitar goes funky. That by no means diminishes the heartbreak feeling. “Prayer” starts quite flat with Nick singing on the piano background until Fudge Smith drums turn the pace to march, past it the melody dives again, although, such a pause serves good for getting a listener ready to the long, three-part suite “Queen Of Hearts”.

Part One is “Queen Of Hearts” itself, a gentle song sweeping away the world’s hatred to make way for love. It’s a patchy tapestry: piano-driven drift, full blown intermission and then – acoustic serenade, the heart strings being pulled. “…A Man Could Die Out Here” sees the band on the pure funky ground boasting with sparse instrumental interplay that somehow gets focused by Peter Gee’s grooving bass and weaves a thick new wave canvas embroidered with Nolan’s short but eloquent solo. And then Clive returns to piano and in guitar’s company declares “The Last Waltz”, which is neither waltz nor anything in THE BAND mould yet rounds off the suite in anthem-like optimistic culmination rendered poignant by melancholy harmonica. And there’s “And We’ll Go Hunting”, for the contrast, a quite folk-tinged song, romantic and clear in its acoustic glory and hope that this world must regain.

*****
 

PENDRAGON – KowTow
Toff Records 1988
With Clive Nolan and Fudge Smith having settled into the fold, PENDRAGON embark on their second outing. And it’s different from the off, “Saved By You” is difficult to call “progressive” as it’s a top-notch synth-pop that reigned in mid-Eighties. Posh keyboards with just a little tickling from guitar and rhythm section simply doing the job. Why didn’t it dent the charts then sounding dated now? “The Mask” has Nick taking funk off his instrument while melody’s no special though somewhat catchy – maybe due to the repetitive hook and heavy pulsation. Is “Time For A Change” a rock’n’roll – judging on drums intro? No, think A-HA here. Well, PENDRAGON was a strange name for a pop combo! But it was all well-thought and production perfectly complements the songs. “I Walk The Rope”, adorned by sax wail, appears a strong ballad – and there’s a Phil Collins’ ghost somewhere in the curtains. A good sign.Sax soars on the “2 AM” intro, a song melancholy yet not banal in its development – Barrett’s voice sounds so sincere here, and no matter what genre it is as it’s good. And so naturally out of this springs “Total Recall”, another anxious piano-driven ballad in the beginning but a pop-prog gem, indeed, with exquisite semi-acoustic guitar solo. The drift now seems schemed with no occasional song placing. “The Haunting” pushes the band to their GENESIS roots yet this “welcome home” step feels strange with too serious approach which sees a melody out – wasn’t “Lamb” a lesson? The solo, though, is one of the greatest. Right, when intensity builds the piece fits the overall picture and sports clever lyrics that progress. “Solid Heart” comes given to Fudge to show off, otherwise this bouncing song is none more than a filler, singalong bit notwithstanding. “KowTow” incorporating Oriental jangle belongs where it’s at, drawing a bottom line to the album and finally giving a proper spot for bass to shake. In this powerful song there’s a perfect combination of pop and prog tendencies with latter taking over. Fortunately.

***1/2
 

PENDRAGON –
The Jewel
Toff Records 1985
That’s where one of the best post-Seventies progressive bands had their start. Not the proper first release, there was mini-album “Fly High Fall Far” released a year before, but the first full-length album. As PENDRAGON were no newcomers at the time of recording, it’s a little surprise that they came up with such a confident debut.To compare them with MARILLION hardly makes sense but, anyway, both groups picked on where classic GENESIS style broke down and that’s been on display since “Jewel” onwards. “Higher Circles” flows in jaunty with Rick Carter providing a silver keyboards strain before Nick Barrett enthuses and handles both vocals and guitar with a bravado underpinned by drumrolls from Nigel Harris and there are Peter Gee’s run-ups when guitar swirls. A very Eighties tune where synthesizers splash in a “plastic” way and let guitars cut in. Melodically though, the opener loses to “The Pleasure Of Hope”, more imaginative in the instruments parts that swell on the intro to punctuate rhythmically the double-tracked voice later on. The piece comes spacious with guitar taking the lead in Page-like way but behind the wall of bass and drums – and what a coda tagged to this one!

“Leviathan” continues the “Higher Circles” set but once a pace is gained it’s hard to stop, especially in jazzy territory – what about solo shining brigh followed by march? Witness a resemblance with UK in the time changes. And if to confirm your surmise, there’s “Alaska”, a very theatrical ballad given a too long though underdeveloped overture. The song’s divided in two parts: “At Home With The Earth” lays on flat organ bedrock while “Snowfall” puts a blizzard dance close to that of Jobson’s tune. After that, “Circus” might seem bleak yet at this point the overall feel is caught and a listener slips away on the flute-like synth bits and funky guitar which is capable to step back where needed to allow Gee jive at full throttle. Towards the end Nick’s voice goes dramatic and “Kashmir”-like fragments seem very apt.

Gilmour-ish solo welcomes into “Oh Divineo” that isn’t instrumental as it may seem but a plaintive song unfurling something massive in the vein of THE WHO’s “See Me, Feel Me” yet it’s just a preface to “The Black Night” deliberately held onto the very end for a greater impact that’s done with its baroque feel in guitar plucking and development all too impressive. Instruments interlock, then loosen up and cumulate energy again. Here PENDRAGON identity gets proved brilliantly.

There are two bonus tracks provided for comparisons – off the aforementioned “Fly High Fall Far” EP – the title one and “Victims Of Life”, the latter a nod to FLOYD’s “Dark Side” and former enshrouded in too thick synth cloth. Once it was pulled out, the jewel began to shine.

****1/3
See also Peter Gee’s "A Vision Of Angels"
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