Pendragon - The Masquerade Overture

Year of Release: 1996
Label: Toff Records
Catalog Number: PEND7CD
Format: CD
Total Time: 56:58:00

Many years ago, I was in a record store in Nottingham where I happened upon two demo cassettes from a new prog band called Pendragon. I forget how much they cost me, but I snaffled them up immediately and rushed home to listen to my prizes. A month or so later I was at the Reading Festival where I saw those songs played live. I still remember the hot cider-filled sunny afternoon with those soaring guitars and full keyboard sounds echoing around the festival. That was 1983, this is 1997; and Pendragon are back with an album which has moved on in leaps and bounds but still encapsulates those hazy days of youth.

The Masquerade Overture was actually released last year but it has taken me this long to get round to reviewing it (sorry guys!). In the meantime it has won the Classic Rock Society award for Album of the Year, while Pendragon were acclaimed Band Of the Year 1996.?Pendragon consists of founder members Nick Barrett on guitars and vocals, and Peter Gee on bass guitar together with the multi-tasking Clive Nolan on keyboards and Fudge Smith on drums. This line-up has been constant for pretty much the last decade. On this album they are supported by Tracy Hitchings, Tina Riley, Gwen Ross, Anthony Plowman and Simon Clew on backing vocals.

The album opens with the quasi-operatic "The Masquerade Overture." A little too over-the-top; perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek too; but as an opening it is so different that it works very well.?Clive's keyboard orchestration provides the background for Gwen, Anthony and Simon's operatic overture - in Italian of course. This leads into my favourite track of the album, "As Good As Gold." ?This is everything that is good about Pendragon.?Nick's vocals are underpinned with lashing of choral backing vocal support.? Clive's keyboards are prominent throughout while Nick's guitars add punctuation as and when needed. This was what got to me back in 1983, and it still hold true today.

"Paintbox" is an extended lost-love song with some great lyrics and a superb instrumental section with Clive and Peter trading riffs before Nick launches into a typical Pendragon power-and-glory solo. "The Pursuit Of Excellence" introduces Pendragon, the electric folk band.? The vocals are pure Irish folk both in style and subject with Clive managing to create a pipes-and-violins ambience to fit the track. "Guardian Of My Soul" opens dramatically with Clive's keyboard on pan pipes, a suitable ethnic continuation to the album, but they are soon swallowed up as the high-octane guitars and bass launch into the track.? And just when you are expecting a powerful up-beat song, it switches into quiet ballad-mode. "Guardian..." is a major 12-minute epic which switches from mood to mood throughout.? And some excellent lyrics too: "a cocktail of spiritual alchemy, I take the bait so carelessly".?I rate Nick's lyrics here as good as anything I have seen, up there with the like of Fish, and Clive's work with Shadowland.

"The Shadow" is another classic track. There are hints of early Genesis, perhaps of Anthony Phillips in the pastoral guitar-work - but only hints; the sound is very much Pendragon.? Nick's vocals are very distinctive and when he is joined by Tracy Hitchings for the chorus this only adds more to the quality of the song. "Masters Of Illusion" is yet another epic with some excellent lyrics.?Perhaps it is just the jester-motif on the lyric sheet but I am reminded of early Marillion. I think it is in the aggressive Fish-like presentation of Nick's vocals because the music and lyrics are certainly not at all derivative.?Once again the song switches from mood to mood making it difficult to describe.?Pure Pendragon, I suppose - there are no real comparisons! However, I am not so sure about Nick's Gilmouresque guitar solo at the end of the track - complete with the Floydian backing vocals.?Admittedly it is done as well as anything Pink Floyd have produced - but that isn't really the point.

Pendragon were part of the early 80's UK prog revival along with the likes as Marillion, Pallas and Twelfth Night.?They should have been able to match Marillion's commercial success, but somehow it never happened. After some years in the wilderness, they re-emerged in the early nineties with their own label and things have been on the up ever since. This is a brilliant album, a prog classic which well-deserved the Album Of The Year award it received.?It has had it critics saying that this is nothing new and innovative, but in my opinion this is what so-called "neo-prog" is all about. A top quality opus with excellent musicianship throughout from a musically mature rock band.

This review courtesy Frank Blades of Alternate View, and ezine that has disappeared sadly (as of August 2005) -ed.

The Masquerade Overture (3:03) / As Good As Gold (7:15) / Paintbox (8:38) / The Pursuit Of Excellence (2:36) / Guardian Of My Soul (12:41) / The Shadow (9:55) / Masters Of Illusion (12:50)

Nick Barrett - guitars and vocals
Clive Nolan - keyboards
Fudge Smith - drums
Peter Gee - bass
Tracy Hitchings, Tina Riley, Anthony Plowman, Gwen Ross, and Simon Clew - backing vocals

Fly High Fall Far (ep) (1984) (OOP)
The Jewel (1985)
9:15 Live (1986)
Kowtow (1989)
The R(B)est Of Pendragon (1991) (incl. Fly High... ep)
The World (1991)
The Very, Very Bootleg - Live In Lille, France 1992 (1993)
The Window Of Life (1993)
Fallen Dreams and Angels (ep) (1994)
Utrecht... The Final Frontier (1995)
The Masquerade Overture (1996)
As Good As Gold ep (1996)
Live In Krakow 96 (1997)
The Masquerade Overture (digi-pack w/bonus trk) (1999)
Once Upon A Time In England Vol 1 (1999)
Once Upon A Time In England Vol 2 (1999)
The Round Table (1985-1998) (1999) (Sth Am. mkt)
The History: 1984-2000 (2000) (Polish mkt)
Not Of This World (2001)
Acoustically Challenged (2002)
The Jewel (remastered) (2005)
Believe (2005)
Pure (2008)
Concerto Maximo (2009)
Passion (2011)
Out Of Order Comes Chaos (2013)
Men Who Climb Mountains (2014)
Masquerade 20 (2017)

Live... At Last! (VID) (1997)
Live...At Last And More (DVD) (2002)
And Now Everybody To The Stage (DVD) (2005)
Past And Presence (DVD) (2007)
Concerto Maximo (DVD) (2009)
Out Of Order Comes Chaos (DVD) (2012)
Masquerade 20 (DVD) (2017)

Genre: Neo Prog

Origin UK

Added: July 25th 1999
Reviewer: Frank Blades

Artist website:
Hits: 1277
Language: english


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