Pendragon….from the cradle
The story begins in the quiet, sleepy town of Stroud, Gloucestershire, England in 1978. Four like minded, young musicians got together and decided to form a rock band. Zeus Pendragon consisting of Nick Barrett [guitar/vocals], Julian Baker [guitar/vocals], Nigel Harris [drums] and Stan Cox [bass] was born.
Full of ambition and joie de vive, Zeus Pendragon started out playing cover versions of classic rock tunes by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and Santana and their first gig at the sleazy Marshall Rooms in Stroud was ironically the very same day that Nick Barrett left school forever, burning his maths books and picking up his guitar on the way… the future had been determined.
The Zeus part of their name was dropped when the foresighted Julian decided it was far too long to fit across a t-shirt, and this ridiculous cross pollination of Arthurian and Greek mythology just seemed silly beyond belief.
Pendragon were approached by local promoter and manager Greg Lines, who took them under his wing. Greg had promoted many concerts in the area (including U2, who actually slept on Greg’s lounge floor following their Stroud gig) Julian and Nick spent many days and some all nighters writing the first Pendragon material and dreaming of stardom, but Pendragon’s ambitious schedule soon meant that Stan decided to leave, as it became clear he preferred to listen to music rather than play it. Robert Dalby from the band Cygnus replaced him on bass and whilst, ‘in for a penny in for a pound’, Nick Barrett pilfered John “Barney” Barnfield also from Cygnus, to fulfil his desire to take the band in a more keyboard and progressive rock orientated direction.
Line up hassles plagued the band in the early days and it wasn’t long before the imaginative but fiery Julian decided to quit as keyboard based music became more prominent in Pendragon, which more or less negated the need for a 2nd guitarist. Nick and Barney were soon writing together and the distinctive Barrett/Barnfield sound was forged [eg : Excalibur, Oh Divineo]. A friend of Nick’s brother, guitarist Peter Gee was drafted in originally to fill Julian’s boots… but when Robert Dalby was kindly asked to leave, following his utter aversion to rehearsals, Peter took over bass duties instead. It was musical chairs from Hell!
The line up stayed stable ….for a while with Nick, Barney, Peter and Nigel. The next step was one of the most welcome and life changing for Pendragon.
The rise and rise
In 1982 Greg Lines booked a new band called Marillion who were apparently gaining temendous recognition with their ‘unfashionable’ progressive rock to play in Gloucester, with Pendragon as support. The two bands hit it off right away like two long lost brothers and Mick Pointer [Marillion’s drummer, now with Arena] asked if Pendragon would like to support them at the famous Marquee club in London. This was THE break Pendragon really needed.
Playing the Marquee club was electrifying and Pendragon went on to play with Marillion on many occasions whilst building on their own strong and loyal following.
1983 saw Pendragon play in front of a 30,000 strong audience at the Reading Festival and they recorded a live session for Tommy Vance on the Friday Rock show (BBC Radio 1 UK) Tommy Vance saw something special in Pendragon and was especially impressed with the song “The Black Knight” which of course became an anthem for the band for many years.
Despite the new exposure the band had enjoyed there was still no recording contract on the horizon and difficult decisions had to be made. Barney’s contribution to the band was huge and the Barrett/Barnfield writing team was very strong, however Barney decided to call it quits, it was too big a gamble to give up his day job and so during a break in touring he made the difficult decision to leave. How on earth could Barney be replaced? (Barney now says: “My time with Pendragon was probably the happiest time of my life, it’s great that I still enjoy a close friendship with Nick and I love being able to still get out the guitars and play together, my favourite Pendragon album without a doubt has to be “Not Of This World” ”.
Rik Carter from Southend joined the band on keyboards and soon with some help from John Arnison (Marillion’s manager) Pendragon were in the studio to record a mini album Fly High Fall Far, and later the bands first full length album The Jewel.
There was more touring with Marillion, and Pendragon’s first European gigs at the Muziek Centrum in Holland but still no sign of a ‘big’ record contract, these were frustrating times indeed. Eventually, due to lack of cash in pockets and a grueling tour schedule more line up changes were afoot. Nigel left and was replaced for a short time by a friend of Rik’s, Matt Anderson. He didn’t last long and was then followed by Rik leaving… So Pendragon were at this point just Nick and Peter!
Fudge Smith from the band La Host joined on drums and the ‘disco/soul influenced’ session keyboard player James Colah [Nick – “he had a Mini Moog , we thought he would be good!”] was drafted in to complete the 9.15 Live album tour.
During this time Nick, Peter & Greg were making trips to and from London chasing that elusive record deal. Nick called his old friend Clive Nolan who was now living in Egham, Surrey to see if they could stay with him whilst doing the rounds of the record companies. Clive Nolan and Nick had been friends since the age of 4 when they were at school together. Although Nick was aware that Clive played keyboards he thought he would be too busy with his band The Cast and his classical projects, so hadn’t asked Clive about joining Pendragon. On one of the trips to London they sat up late one night talking and Nick asked Clive if he knew any suitable keyboard players… “I’ll do it!!!” said Clive in an instant and he has remained part of the institution ever since.
A full length album demo was eventually commissioned by David Munns [responsible for signing Joss Stone etc] at EMI Records and things were certainly looking up. However, David suddenly left EMI and the demo did not go down well with his new A+R replacement Nick Gatfield. The frustration of this was to create a “make or break” feeling amongst the band, and it was then that Toff records was formed by Nick Barrett in 1987. The EMI demo plus a couple of extra songs made up Toff’s first release, the Kowtow album.
Nick felt however that the band did not have a distinctive enough image or any real visual impact until by chance he saw a classical CD in a motorway service station with some very impressive artwork by a Welshman called Simon Williams.
1991. All the planets align…
Toff Records was up and running, the line up was stable and with some unique and individual artwork from Simon Williams the Pendragon we know today had arrived. Many fans thought that Pendragon started with The World album and were unaware there was a history prior to this record. It was in fact their third full length studio album but definitely the beginning of a new era for the band.
Pendragon reach Nirvana
The World was to be the least commercial sounding album so far, yet was the biggest seller at that point. The album was met by much critical acclaim bringing a tidal wave of new fans, even the press were beginning to realise that Pendragon were a force to be reckoned with.
Followed by The Window Of Life, the now tight knit band with their incredible sound were on a roll, and the early years of line up changes and disillusionment melted away.
Toff records was still a small, home run business and the avalanche of success with the next album, The Masquerade Overture, saw the lounge of Nick’s small cottage piled high with 35,000 cds ready to be exported all over the world. The family were all drafted in to help whilst Nick was immersed in interviews and promo work, it was a beautiful chaos. The Masquerade Overture sold 60,000 copies, an incredible feat. The partnership of Pendragon and Simon Williams along with the “5th member of the band” Karl Groom engineering the superb classic Pendragon sound was to make the band one of the highest selling prog-rock bands not signed to a major label.
However a maelstrom of events were to come both personally for Nick and Pendragon. Nick says: “It was strange because when I was writing “The Shadow”, (Masquerade Overture) there was a line that started ‘there’s a man who’s followed me just about all of my life, being to you what I couldn’t be, I call him my insecurity’, I very clearly remember writing this and there was a slightly strange atmosphere in the studio that day, little did I know how prophetic those lyrics would become.”
A spiritual journey..man’s search for “meaning”
There was to be a five year gap between Masquerade and the next studio album Not Of This World. During this time Nick went through a painful and messy divorce. Not Of This World was a cathartic body of work, perhaps the most personal and emotionally charged by the band, considered by many to be the finest work produced by Pendragon.
Financially crippled following the divorce, the next studio album had been a long time coming but as always Pendragon picked themselves up and headed back into the public eye once more.
Just like in 1991 when The World was unleashed, there was a wind of change and a feeling of anticipation in the air. 2005 saw the release of Believe, the 7th studio album by Pendragon which reflected a renewed youthful exuberance and fresh approach both musically and visually for the band. Pendragon undertook the biggest tour they had ever done of Europe and followed it with a release of the brilliant And Now Everybody ToThe Stage dvd.
2007 saw the 21st Anniversary of The Jewel dvd release called Past And Presence which included most of the musicians from those early days and goes to show how this tenacious band can still thrill, evolve and capitalise on its strengths over a 30 year period where so many others have failed.
If Believe was to herald a new beginning, then the new album Pure was about to completely blow away any preconceived ideas about Pendragon’s sound, attitude and presence in the music biz.
Pure ..a new epoch, Spring again
Pure sounds like an album made with the unbridled enthusiasm and energy of 20 year old musicians. It is powerful, melodic, fresh and gutsy , but still retains all the positive aspects that Pendragon have carefully built and woven into their music over the past 30 years.
With Pure, Pendragon introduced their new drummer Scott Higham, a young powerhouse player who has brought a tremendous new energy both in the studio and in the live arena.
2009 Started with Nick and Scott accepting the Classic Rock Society’s Album of the Year award for Pure and in March the album came top of the Dutch Progressive Rock Page’s annual poll. It was seated at the top of the IO Pages chart for nearly a year and also topped many other polls and charts and received brilliant reviews from all over the globe.
The Concerto Maximo dvd was also released to high acclaim featuring a 3 hour show from the Slaski Theater In Poland from the Pure tour. The year was topped off by key shows and festivals, including the famous Loreley Festival, the Fish Convention in the UK and supporting Dream Theater in Lisbon to 5,000 crazed fans plus 2 Sold Out Christmas shows in Holland and at home in the UK December 2009
2010 and beyond
2010 kicked off with Nick receiving the Classic Rock Society’s award for Best Guitarist, Scott receiving the award for Best Drummer, Clive scooping best Keyboard player and the band winning Best Gig, it was a great way to start the year.
In 2010 Pendragon reached out to new audiences from across the globe, with fantastic reactions in USA at RoSFest, London’s incredible new High Voltage festival and Sweden Rock Festival.
Spring 2011 saw Pendragon reach further heights with the release of Passion – an album that covers barrier pushing elements, but never moving too far away from their trademark melodies and emotive lyrics. The album reached 29 in the official UK Indie chart and received astonishing reviews in the press, even from some of the most hardened Pendragon-haters!
The album was voted 4th best album of the year in Prog Magazine [only beaten by big household name bands like Yes and Rush.] At the Classic Rock Society Awards Pendragon scooped Best Album, Best Song, Best Live show, Best Keyboard player and Best drummer.
A new DVD from the Passion tour was released in 2012 along with the band’s first Blu Ray, Out of Order Comes Chaos completes much of the band’s DVD/Video repertoire with much material from Pure and Passion.
The question now is – where on earth will Pendragon go next? Musically they have become unpredictable and welcome the world of change, it’s an anything can happen day out there!