After a break from touring for over two years and a short European tour, Pendragon finally came back to the UK to grace our shores for two nights. The first was at Tavistock Wharf. The second and last was at Trading Boundaries, the latter being a sold-out show.
Trading Boundaries, Fletching, East Sussex – 4 November 2023
Words And Photography: Adrian Stonley
Trading Boundaries is an interesting and quirky venue. Deep in the heart of the Sussex countryside, it has a very intimate atmosphere. With a tendency to book bands with a prog bias, they have developed a reputation as a niche venue in which to play. This wasn’t Pendragon’s first visit here, and, on tonight’s performance, is not likely to be the last.
The set lasted for over two and a half hours, split into two individual halves and was more than worth the entrance fee as we saw the band in fine form. Having dusted off the cobwebs of the last few years, they were back to make a serious point. With a mini-album under their belt, Pendragon are clearly not resting on their laurels.
The usual humour and banter from Nick was ongoing, and there was a constant between-song diatribe between the band and an enthusiastic audience, which added to the feel good vibe that the evening engendered.
Though the first set leaned heavily on more recent material, the second set was very much the greatest hits.
The first set opened with If I Were The Wind (And You Were The Rain) from the Not Of This World album before rolling into the first of five back-to-back tracks from their last full album, Love Over Fear.
Despite this being the second of two individual standalone shows and not part of a full-fledged tour, the band still pulled out all of the stops. With Love Over Fear now being part of the band’s backlog as opposed to the latest new album, the songs were treated in the same way as old favourites. Certainly, numbers like Starfish And The Moon, Truth And Lies and Eternal Light were all well received with the audience singing loudly with the band. Water was introduced with a semi-humorous anecdote about surfing in Cornwall and the danger of riptides.
The first set was closed off with a trio of songs sung in an acoustic form with the band, including Roy Patterson guesting, pulling chairs together in a semi-circle, and making what is already an intimate setting even more so. Starting with fan favourite King Of The Castle from the Not Of This World album, this is a song that took on a new life as it was stripped back to basics.
Two pieces from the latest mini-album, North Star. Phoenician Skies and Fall Away in this form were played as well received beautifully atmospheric and touching pieces.
The second set seemed to be about to follow a similar vein to the first, with another song from Love Over Fear, 360 Degrees, opening proceedings. With Nick reaching for a mandolin and Johanna Stroud taking on duties on the fiddle, Nick declared the song their “Pogues song”. This clearly is a piece that now holds its own with the other greatest hits and was received as such.
The second set also showed off some of the longer pieces that the band had recorded and enabled them to open up musically. It was clear that they were seriously enjoying themselves. This Green And Pleasant Land and Paintbox rolled back the years and certainly ensured that the audience was more than prepared to join in vocally with the band.
The wonderful thing about Pendragon is that despite being superb consummate musicians who write some beautiful, emotional and technical pieces, on stage, it is clear that they are there to have as much of a good time as the paying punters and certainly this exuberance flowed over during this show.
However, to ensure that everyone more than got their money’s worth, they closed out the set with their masterpiece from the Pure album, Indigo. A 15-minute onslaught of pure prog perfection, the band whipped the crowd into a frenzy, or as near to that as an ageing prog audience will get.
The interplay between the band members was intense, particularly between Clive Nolan on keys and Nick Barratt on guitar. Yet we cannot ignore the lush backing vocals of Sally Minnear and Johanna Stroud either, which leant an additional layer of musical texture to the piece. Unsurprisingly, with this crowd favourite, they could do no wrong and left the stage to deafening applause.
They returned for one encore, old school fave Breaking The Spell from the Window Of Life album. Somehow, over two and a half hours of music had absolutely flown by.
It’s at times and in circumstances such as these that it becomes clear what a wonderful time has been had by all. Quite simply, if Pendragon can provide this sort of a quality show when only having played a handful of dates during the course of the year, then the next time a full-fledged tour is announced, it can only bode well for the band and those lucky enough to get tickets.
One thing is clear, though, and that is that Pendragon are not a band sitting on their laurels and revelling in their past. They are more relevant now, and their future certainly lies in their ability to continue to write high-quality albums and produce first-class shows.