Principal Edwards Magic Theatre
Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1969-71) as Principal Edwards Magic Band
- Lesley Adey (RIP) -- lights
- Belinda "Bindy" Bourdoin -- violin, recorder, keyboards
- Root Cartwright -- guitar, mandolin
- Eva Darlow -- dancer
- Lynn Edwards -- drums, percussion
- Jeremy Ensor -- bass
- Gilliam Hadley -- writer, choreography
- John McMahon Hill (RIP) -- dancer
- Harry Houseman -- sound
- David Jones -- vocals, percussion
- Vivian McAulliffe (RIP 1998) -- vocals
- Monica Nettles -- vocals, dancer
- Christopher Runchiman -- lights
- Martin Stellman -- vocals
line up 2 (1971-74) as Principal Edward
- Belinda "Bindy" Bourdoin -- violin, recorder, keyboards
- Root Cartwright -- guitar
- David Jones -- percussion
NEW - Richard Jones -- bass (replaced Jeremy Ensor)
NEW - Nick Pallet -- guitar, vocals
NEW - Geoff Nicholls -- drums, percussion (replaced Lynn Edwards)
- Affinity (Vivian McAulliffe)
- Aviator (Vivian McAulliffe)
- Bandylegs (Geoff Nicholls)
- Black Sabbath (Geoff Nicholls)
- Climax Blues Band (Richard Jones)
- Vivian McAulliffe (solo efforts)
- Johnny Neal and the Starliners (Geoff Nicholls)
- Meridian (Richard Jones)
- Principal Edwards
- Quartz (Geoff Nicholls)
- World of Oz (Geoff Nicholls)
Rating: 3 stars ***
Country/State: Exter, UK
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: promo stamp on cover
Catalog ID: --
Featuring students attending Exeter University, the nucleus of what was to become Principal Edwards Magic Band came together in early 1968. The group originally started out with plans to publish an art-focused cultural magazine. The plan changed in favor of a performance-based enterprise with the group finding an early supporter in the form of BBC DJ John Peel. With support from Peel they generated some attention with an appearance at the Peel hosted 1968's "Dance of Words" festival. When most of the members graduated, or simply dropped out of Exeter, Peel offered financial support allowing them to rent a local farmhouse and buy a small van. Peel also signed the group to his Dandelion label, which saw them debut with a 1969 single:
- 1969's 'Ballad (of the Big Now and a Mere Boy)' b/w 'Lament for the Earth' (Dandelion catalog number 4405)
Built on a nice Root Cartwright guitar riff with Belinda "Bindy" Bourdoin's recorder adding color, the folky-tinged ballad showcased Vivian McAulliffe's voice at it's sweetest and the band at their most commercial. The flip side 'Lament for the Earth' featured Martin Stellman on vocals and complete with a Root Cartwright guitar solo, trotted out a more conventional, rock sound.
As an artistic co-operative (I can see you smiling), I think part of the problem with Principal Edwards Magic Theatre reflects the fact their act encompassed more than music. Reading the credits and liner notes on 1969's "Soundtrack", their live shows featured poetry, costumed skits, Lesley Adey and Christopher Runchiman's extensive lighting, and Gilliam Hadley's elaborate choreography featuring dancers Eva Darlow, John Hill and Monica Nettles. There may have even been puppet shows ... For better, or worse, those multi-dimensional aspects of their show were largely missing when they were presented as recording artists. Poor analogy, but perhaps it's like a colorblind person attending an art show ... For what it's worth, YouTube has a short French television clip of the band which captures some of their chaotic live set: Principal Edwards Magic Theatre - French TV 1969 - YouTube
Co-produced by Peel and the band, these folks were clearly talented, but as reflected on the debut album's six tracks, "Soundtrack" left some doubts as to what the late-'60s standards for talent were. Guitarist Root Cartwight was the creative leader, credited with co-writing all six tracks. The late William Shakespeare received a co-writing credit on 'Third Sonnet To Sundry Notes of Music.' Lead singer Vivian McAulliffe was clearly the collective's musical focus and most talented of the member. Occasionally recalling a less fragile Judy Collins, or a less powerful Sandy Denny, her voice managed to repeatedly cut through all the clutter, including lyrically dense folk and theatrically based material such as the opener 'Enigmatic Insomniac Machine' and 'The Death of Don Quixote.' As the other lead vocalist, Martin Stellman was also quite good - check out the opener 'Enigmatic Insomniac Machine ' but he lacked the star power of McAuliffe. Musically the collection was diverse, but unfocused; highly pretentious, and a little short on catchy tunes. Echoes of The Incredible Sting Band, early Strawbs, and Fairport Convention bounced through these grooves. At least to my ears the hippy-folk components on this one simply have not aged well, but it's a great introduction to the late-'60s communal hippy sound and lifestyle.
The band have a nice website at: Principal Edwards
"Soundtrack" track listing:
1.) Enigmatic Insomniac Machine (Dave Jones - Root Cartwright) - 4:57 rating: **** stars
For a band known for their out-there experimentation, 'Enigmatic Insomniac Machine' was surprisingly listenable. The opener offered up a pretty, folk-ish tune that would not have sounded out of place on an International String Band release. Sure, the lyrics were timepieces ("A military moth hits the candle, I watch and turns itself into a corpse ..."), and boy were there a lot of lyrics ... Anyhow, credit Vivian McAulliffe's sweet performance for making this one of the standout performances. Cartwright's Spanish-styled acoustic guitar added a nice flavor to the tune.
2.) Sacrifice (Martin Stellman - Root Cartwright) - 7:12 rating: *** stars
Much of the mainstream appeal the opener exhibited vanished with the start of 'Sacrifice.' Stretching over seven minutes, this one came off as a series of song fragments haphazardly stitched together. Martin Stellman's opening segment was a forgettable pseudo-jazzy effort. In contrast, when McAulliffe's took the spotlight the song found a pretty melody that framed her voice nicely. Cartwright's guitar sounded like something lifted from a heavy metal band. And then Edwards' tribal drumming kicked in and ... well who knows what happened over he next four minutes?
3.) The Death of Don Quixote (Leatherbarrow - Root Cartwright) - 13:22 rating: *** stars
'The Death of Don Quixote' seemed to adapt the Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote" to a a distinctly English-folk vibe. Almost pastoral, there was a clear Fairport Convention inflection and the obtuse lyrics would have made Joni Mitchell smile. It was all wrapped in a pretty melody and Vivian McAulliffe's sweet vocals. Soothing (except for a weird spoken word snippet), you again had to wonder how McAuliffe managed to keep the jumble of lyrics straight. Admittedly, stretching out over 13 minutes, it was a lot to take in.
With McAulliffe and Stellman sharing lead vocals, Shakespearian influences literally drenched parts of 'Third Sonnet To Sundry Notes of Music.' What made the song so weird, were the abrupt shifts from Shakespearian liturgic vocals to conventional blue-rock section. The transitions were truly jarring, though bassist Jeremy Ensor and lead guitarists Roots Cartwright were finally given a chance to cut loose and showcase some of their chops.
2.) To a Broken Guitar (Leatherbarrow - Root Cartwright) - 2:38 rating: *** stars
Relatively straightforward and commercial (using those terms in a broad sense), 'To a Broken Guitar' spotlighted Martin Stellman on led vocals, offering up a pretty, if brief acoustic ballad.
3.) Pinky: A Mystery Circle (Dave Jones - Root Cartwright) - 9:44 rating: **** stars
Absolutely no idea what the song is about, but the closer 'Pinky: A Mystery Circle' was also the band's best stab at meshing folk and psych influences. Shedding their fragile folk sound, this one found the band showcasing their rock instrumentation with Edwards providing a steady tom-tom rhythm base, while Cartwright got another opportunity to cut lose. I've seen comparisons to Fairport Convention colliding with early Pink Floyd and it's a comparison I can hear.
In spite of extensive touring, opening for a slew of top-ranked English bands, the debut did little commercially. And as you'd expect anytime 14 people are involved, musical differences and business issues saw the group cleave into different factions. By the time the band got around to releasing a sophomore album (1971's "The Asmoto Running Band", the dancers and performance artist members were long gone.
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