Friday, 14 April 2017

"The Works 1969-1971: Albums, Demos, BBC Sessions and Live Recordings" by PRINCIPAL EDWARDS MAGIC THEATRE (April 2017 Cherry Red Records 3CD Mini Box Set) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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Features BBC 'Top Gear' Sessions from 1970

You have to love John Peel. Named after a batty relative of the percussionist Lyn Edwards (Lyn is pictured furthest to the right on the back cover of the "Soundtrack" LP) - Principle Edwards Magic Theatre were the first act signed in early 1969 to the witty DJ's new record label - Dandelion Records. And you have to wonder was Peely (and all 14 of the ensemble for that matter) on mushrooms not necessarily destined for tins of Heinz Soup. Re-listening to this music in April 2017 and it's bleeding obvious that this group stood no chance of chart success. Or maybe that was the point…

Part theatre, part Prog, part Folk Rock – PEMT incorporated all that was counter-culture in those halcyon years - hippy-lore, eastern mysticism, tie-dye shirts and dollops of ancient literature. Their sound was a hybrid of The Incredible String Band and Curved Air – a sort of Prog variant of Folk-Rock with a woman out front singing ponderous lyrics about rhododendrons in your midst while rainbow bridges lead to giants and interlunar caves (don't you just hate that). Musically it's like Traffic, The Amazing Blondel and Quintessence engaged in a summer solstice threesome at the foot of Stonehenge and nine months later (on a full moon of course) – a lovechild is brought forth that none of them know what to do with (yikes).

For sure PEMT will not be for everyone (critics of the time called them naïve at best and pretentious at worst) - but those who do love their mishmash sound married to theatrical visuals will have to get their grubby mitts on this wicked new release from those champions of all things eclectic and awkward - Cherry Red Records. They've done this most British of bands a proper solid and of course for Pink Floyd fans - there's the tie-in of Nick Mason on album No. 2. Here are the enigmatic insomniac machines (and that's just Side 1 of the first album)...

UK released Friday, 14 April 2017 (21 April 2017 in the USA) - "The Works 1969-1971: Albums, Demos, BBC Sessions and Live Recordings" by PRINCIPAL EDWARDS MAGIC THEATRE on Cherry Red Records CDTRED 704 (Barcode 5013929170438) is a Remastered 3CD set housed in a card slipcase (three card sleeves and a booklet) that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 - "Soundtrack" - 53:32 minutes:
1. Enigmatic Insomniac Machine [Side 1]
2. Sacrifice
3. The Death Of Don Quixote
4. Third Sonnet To Sundry Notes Of Music [Side 2]
5. To A Broken Guitar
6. Pinky: A Mystery Cycle
Tracks 1 to 6 are their debut album "Soundtrack" - released August 1969 in the UK on Dandelion Records S 63752 and Elektra Records D9-103 in the USA. The US album featured a 'face' as its artwork - that shot is used as Page 1 of the booklet.

7. Ballad (Of The Big Girl Now And The Mere Boy)
8. Lament For The Earth
Tracks 7 and 8 are both non-album tracks - their debut UK 7" single on Dandelion Records 4406 released July 1969

Disc 2 - "The Asmoto Running Band" - 40:24 minutes:
Side Three/The Asmoto Side
1. McAlpine's Dream [Side 1]
2. McAlpine Versus The Asmoto
3. The Asmoto Running Band (Hou'Amih)
4. Asmoto Celebration
5. Further Asmoto Celebration (After The Ball)
Side Four/The Gambini Side
6. Total Glycerol Esther [Side 2]
7. Freef ('R) All
8. Autumn Lady Dancing Song
9. The Kettering Song
10. Weirdsong Of Breaking Through At Last
Tracks 1 to 10 are their 2nd studio album "The Asmoto Running Band" - released January 1971 in the UK on Dandelion Records DAN 8002 (no USA issue). The album was produced by NICK MASON of PINK FLOYD.

Disc 3 - "Hidden Treasure: Sessions, Live and Demos" - 74:06 minutes:
1. The Ballad (Of The Big Girl Now And The Mere Boy) - Top Gear, 1969
2. Third Sonnet To Sundry Notes Of Music - Top Gear, 1969
3. Pinky: A Mystery Cycle - Top Gear, 1969
Tracks 1 to 3 recorded 24 February 1969 at the BBC for the John Peel 'Top Gear' Show - broadcast 3 March 1969. Taken from an off-air recording made by Eddy Duffy

4. King Of The - Top Gear, 1970
5. The Fortieth Day Of Winter - Top Gear, 1970
Tracks 4 and 5 recorded at the BBC 13 January 1970 for John Peel's 'Top Gear' Show - broadcast 17 Jan 1970 - taken from Original Master Tapes

6. Vollabast
7. Two Women
8. Weasel (In The Wardrobe)
9. Scarlett HalfMan
10. The Egg And The Antrobus
Tracks 6 to 10 recorded live at Hampstead Theatre in the UK, September 1971 - tapes transferred and mixed by Richard Jones

11. Rainy Day Anne
12. Dear John & Mary (A State Of Affairs)
13. Ministry Of Madness
Tracks 11 to 13 are demos recorded at Morgan Studios in London, October 1971 - supervised by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd.
Tracks 4 to 13 are all PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

VIVIENNE McAULIFFE and MARTIN STELLMAN – Lead Vocals and Recorders
ROOT CARTWRIGHT – Guitars, Recorders and Bass Guitar
BELINDA 'BINDY' BOURQUIN – Violin, Recorder, Piano and Organ
DAVID JONES – Percussion (and Lyrics)
LYN EDWARDS - Percussion
ROGER SWALLOW – Drums on "The Asmoto Running Band" only

Dan Leatherbarrow - Lyrics (Tracks 3 and 5 on Disc 2)
Monica Nettles – Dancer and Speaking Voice
John McMahon Hill – Dancer
Eva Darlow – Dancer
Gillian Hadlev – Choreography and Writer
Leslie Adley – Lights
Harry Housman – Stage, Road Manager and Designer
Christopher Runciman – Lights
Chrissie Morris – Lightshows and Effects
Terry Budd – Drums on Track 7, Disc 3
Beth Wood – Vocals and Recorder on Track 6, Disc 3 – Violin on Track 9
Joe Read – Bass Guitar and Recorder on Track 7, Disc 3

You get three single card sleeves slotted inside a card slipcase with a 20-page booklet sat alongside them. The first two card sleeves show the front and rear artwork for "Soundtrack" from 1969 and their second studio platter from early 1971 - "The Asmoto Running Band" – both on Dandelion Records. Fans will know they were originally gatefold sleeves on vinyl and carried lyric inserts so Cherry Red have reproduced the lyrics and the booklet's first page carries the different 'face' artwork of the USA issue for "Soundtrack" on Elektra Records – nice touches and attention to detail. The third CD uses a period black and white photo of their stage show as its artwork – while MIKE BARNES provides the in-depth liner notes that include interviews with keeper of the flame – Root Cartwright. And all three CDs are picture discs. It's all very tastefully done.

The audio is down to ALAN WILSON – and it's very pretty indeed. While some passages feature whig-out guitars – a lot of it is Trippy Acoustic veering into Folk-Rock so benefits from a good transfer and that's what you get. Some of the tracks on Disc 3 are ropey for sure but are here for obvious reasons - rarity value (previously unreleased). Let's get to the music...

Their debut album "Soundtrack" had only six tracks - three to either side - each half of the record dominated by one long track. "Enigmatic Insomniac Machine" starts proceedings with a flute, acoustic guitars and light marching percussion - like Tyrannosaurus Rex about to take a tab of acid and want to rock. You immediately notice Vivienne McAuliffe's voice that is akin to Bridget St. John (another Dandelion folky worth checking out – see separate review) or Sonja Christina of Curved Air. She starts rattling off lyrics about a mascara man who doesn't understand that she can't sleep for worry about the world. Things turn decidedly Heavy Prog Rock with the guitar riffage opening of "Sacrifice" - but it soon settles down into a more Folk-Rock amble with the droning voice of the band's other singer - Martin Stellman - soon joined by McAuliffe. Unfortunately its obvious why Vivienne is given the bulk of the singing chores - Stellman's voice is the kind of deadpan hippy drone that might induce a stoning from a less than sympathetic audience. The song is good though and has interesting stoner parts towards the end. The staggeringly wordy "The Death Of Don Quixote" is a near fourteen-minute Folk-Rock tour de force - violin, voice, acoustic guitar and words - pages of them. You could leave – paint the front room – and when you return – Vivienne will still be singing about a pleased witch in a mill in a tone that you suspect says she approves (Peel even gets a line himself).

Shakespeare provides the lyrics for "Third Sonnet To Sundry Notes Of Music” where its duet vocals and generally hippy nature is saving by a wicked rocking guitar break half way through the monk-like chants and ye olde wordage. "To A Broken Guitar" is a short acoustic ode from Cartwright and Leatherbarrow to their instrument of choice. The guitar work in the 10-minute "Pinky: A Mystery Cycle" is superb and will raise a chill amongst collectors – but it's partially negated by a spoken ending from Vivienne that unintentionally verges on the laugh-out-loud. The two non-album single sides are very hippy Folk of the period (pretty and ponderous) and collectors will appreciate their presence here. To sum up - the debut LP is a typically eclectic start – part loveable, part cack.

The second album "The Asmoto Running Band" brought on board two heavyweights in different departments – Hipgnosis did the cover art while Nick Mason of Pink Floyd fame did the Production. The Drummer Roger Swallow - who did stints with Harsh Reality, Matthews Southern Comfort and would later be with The Albion Country Band – also joined the ranks for album number two - even bringing the excellent "Freef ('R) All" track with him as collateral. The moment you play "McAlpine’s Dream" you hear the upgraded sound – Vivienne and Martin voices clear while the recorders get all fairy-lore on our ears. The largely instrumental "McAlpine Versus The Asmoto" shows amazing maturity in their compositions and playing – part Captain Beefheart, part Flock – all crooked pianos and violins one moment – then beauty the next (and the Audio is fantastic too). Other Prog-leaning winners include "Asmoto Celebration" and the undeniably pretty "The Kettering Man" which is heading towards Mellow Candle in its complex beauty. The second album is an unsung hero in their catalogue and its cool to hear it sound so good here.

The three Top Gear tracks from 1969 are acoustic and live - the audio good rather than being great - a few clicks and pops here and there. "Ballad..." is introduced as the new single and they sound like Sandy Denny doing a Demo. The Shakespeare poem 'Third Sonnet' is given an acoustic going over too with both vocalists. Far better sonically is "King Of The" and "The Fortieth Day Of Winter" from 1970 - taken from real tapes - Martin Stellman (unfortunately) taking lead vocals on both where PEMT sound like a lighter version of "This Was" Jethro Tull. "Vollabast" turns out to be six minutes of Funky keyboards against a very Prog backdrop. But the big prize here is the 13-minute "Weasel (In The Wardrobe)" - Duncan Browne sounding Spanish acoustic guitar carrying Vivienne McAuliffe and more pages of words. Best amongst the demos is "Rainy Day Anne" which shows a more Steeleye Span direction.

Principal Edwards Magic Theatre will not be for everyone by any stretch of the imagination and some of those early hippy incantations might bring some rockers out in a rash that not even real ale will cure. But amidst all of that loopy ensemble Folk Rock and somewhere in those Prog theatrical flourishes lies beauty and daring. And reissue hero Cherry Red is to be praised for putting all that Kettering quackery back out there and in such style too...

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