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Principal Edwards Magic Theatre

Prog Folk

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Principal Edwards Magic Theatre Soundtrack album cover
3.39 | 10 ratings | 3 reviews | 10% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1969

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Enigmatic Insomniac Machine (5:00)
2. Sacrifice (7:18)
3. Death of Don Quixote (13:33)
4. Third Sonnet to Sundry Notes of Music (7:34)
5. To a Broken Guitar (2:41)
6. Pinky: A Mystery Cycle (9:53)

Total time: 44:59

7. Ballad (Of the Big Girl Now and the Mere Boy) [bonus track] (2:41)
8. Lament for the Earth [bonus track] (4:49)

Line-up / Musicians

- Root Cartwright / guitar, mandolin, recorder
- Belinda Bourquin / fiddle, piano, recorder, vocals
- David Jones / percussion
- Lyn Edwards / percussion
- Terry Budd / drums, lights, props, effects
- Roger Swallow / drums
- Jeremy Ensor / bass guitar
- Joe Read / bass guitar
- Martin Stellman / vocals
- Vivienne McAuliffe / vocals

Releases information

LP Dandelion CBS 63752
CD Cherry Red CDMRED 306

Co-produced by DJ John Peel

Third album released on Peel's Dandelion Records

Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the addition
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PRINCIPAL EDWARDS MAGIC THEATRE Soundtrack ratings distribution

(10 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(10%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(60%)
Good, but non-essential (20%)
Collectors/fans only (10%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by ClemofNazareth
3 stars Basically, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre were a group of somewhat talented and highly ambitious college students at the end of the sixties who decided that putting out a cultural newsletter in their Exeter University setting was a noble and worthy undertaking. Then they all got stoned, played some tunes, and quickly decided that making music was more interesting than going to school altogether. So they dropped out and formed a band (of sorts), moved into a communal farmhouse, and went on the road with a multi-disciplined stage show that consisted of poetry reading, light shows, interpretive dance, skit acting wearing gaudy and colorful costumes, and of course – music. Early on the group met with some good fortune in attracting the ear of John Peel, who proceeded to provide moral and some financial support, as well as produced their first album and appears to have been largely responsible for the band getting billing alongside a very impressive group of acts during their few years of touring, including T. Rex, John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Caravan, Yes, King Crimson, John Mayall, Fleetwod Mac, Led Zeppelin, the Who, David Bowie, Manfred Mann, Supertramp and many others. A later version of the group would tour for a couple of years under management of Miles Copeland, who later performed the same role for the Police. A genuine fairy tale story.

The music on their first album has the unmistakable feel of a stage show as opposed to the more traditional sound of a modern rock band. Elaborate percussion and sound effects, spoken word passages, and sweeping woodwind passages, and the grandiloquent lyrical tales that seemed to abound in art music of this period are present throughout ‘Soundtrack’ (which is not really a soundtrack, but that’s a minor point here). The group is much bigger than it appears on the album cover – if you flip the gatefold open another eight players appear on the backside.

The band also had the distinction of debuting a young Vivienne McAuliffe on vocals. Ms. McAuliffe’s singing has been compared to a hip Julie Andrews, and I can certainly hear where this would be a valid comparison. McAuliffe would go on to a lengthy career, appearing with the art rock bands Affinty and Aviator, as well as on a couple of Patrick Moraz solo albums and on Gerry Rafferty’s seminal seventies synth-rock massive hit album ‘City to City’, along with her work as a solo jazz vocalist before passing away in 1998.

The tracks here are typical latter sixties stuff lyrically, with a combination of folk-tale and theatrical themes, unabashed pretentiousness, and a real hodge-podge of musical styles wound together without a whole lot of attention to disciplined arrangement or aural flow. And I mean that in a good way, since that sort of unrestrained creativity is sadly in short supply in today’s music business.

The highlight of the album is the thirteen-minute “Death of Don Quixote”, a decidedly folk mini-epic performed as a play of sorts, telling a bastardized version of the long Cervantes tale with a few ‘modern’ twists along with gentle piano, mandolin and recorder accompaniment.

In true sixties fashion there’s also a short ode “To a Broken Guitar”, appropriately presented in the form of a vocal/guitar arrangement where the guitar appears to be a bit out-of-tune; and the quirky “Sacrifice” which starts off with a Black Sabbath- like guitar intro but quickly morphs into a heavy psych number. The closing “Pinky - A Mistery Cycle” is another play-cum-song, but on this one there appears some of the best guitar work to be found on any of the band’s albums. This is another psych-folk number and is predominately instrumental.

The history of this band is probably more interesting in their music, which in fact is pretty dated (not surprising since this was recorded nearly forty years ago). They could be compared to bands like Beggars Opera or maybe Fairport Convention circa ‘Liege & Lief’, although Vivienne McAuliffe’s vocals do stand out as the most distinctive talent in the lineup. I can’t say this is a masterpiece or anything, but it is a very good recording for the period, and one that would likely appeal to many folk fans. So three stars are warranted, and a recommendation mostly for prog folk fans and those who like to hear lightly psych-tinged music from the late sixties.


Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Dandelion a-Peel

As the band name implies, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre (PEMT) were as much a live event as they were a recording outfit. The band name was taken from that of a Welsh Evangelist distantly related to one of the members. Made up of a gang of no less than 14 students, they were the very epitome of the love and peace movement of the late 1960's. Their stage shows were as much about what you saw as what you heard, something which is inevitably lost when it comes to their two audio albums released in 1969 and 1971. The line up listed here shows only about 10 band members, the remainder not being involved in the audio aspects of the band.

"Soundtrack", PEMT's first album, was released on legendary British DJ John Peel's Dandelion label. The label was specifically intended as an outlet for bands such as PEMT, who Peel felt warranted exposure, but who were having difficulty in securing a recording contract. As such, the label was not actually profitable, any bands who showed commercial potential being subsequently snapped up by more commercially orientated record companies. The band's main claim to fame is perhaps the fact that they regularly supported artists such as Pink Floyd, in the days when the Floyd were still paying their dues.

The risk with ventures such as this is that the vision is somewhat different to the reality. Regardless of the number of people involved, there still needs to be a concerted effort made by the contributors in terms of both song-writing and performance. The group undoubtedly have a head start with the vocal talents of Vivienne McAuliffe. She has the singing pedigree of the likes of Sonja Kristina, Judy Dyble and Sandy Denny, with a purity of voice which can carry even the most mediocre of songs. I am also reminded of the music of the great Judy Collins, especially from around the time of her fine "Fires of Eden" album.

There are just 6 tracks here, ranging from the brief "To a broken guitar" to the 13 minute "The death of Don Quixote". The opening "Enigmatic Insomniac machine" is one of the most accessible and indeed pleasant numbers here, being a Curved Air like soft folk excursion. This segues straight into the 7 minute "Sacrifice", a song which features a more complex arrangement and mixed male/female lead vocals. There are similarities with the barren landscapes of the Incredible String Band, the lead vocals of Martin Stellman being not unlike those of Robin Williamson.

The 13 minute "The death of Don Quixote" sits at the core of the album. This rambling story jumps about from mood to mood and theme to theme, while always remaining folky and acoustic. It has to be said the song, and indeed the album, is something of an acquired taste. I mentioned Judy Collins album "Fires of Eden" album earlier, and this track is particularly reminiscent of the wonderful "The blizzard" from that release.

"Third Sonnet to sundry notes of music" opens side two of the album in very much the same way as side one closed. While the song as a whole remains light and folky, the sudden burst of lead guitar is as surprising as it is welcome. After the brief "To a broken guitar", the album closes with the 10 minute "Pinky, a mystery cycle". There's an element of the Spinal Taps here in the Stonehenge imagery and rather clumsy sound-scapes. The vocals are however as effective as ever, and the song does benefit from an ambitious arrangement including some decent lead guitar.

To enjoy this album, the listener would really need to be already converted to the music of bands such as the Incredible String band, The Strawbs, and Fairport Convention. There is no doubt that there is prog folk in abundance here, and that the album comes off surprisingly well. It will not however appeal to all tastes by any means.

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars University of Exeter (near-extreme South-West England) hippie students group that built a total musical show, complete with lights and dancers that was popular on the college circuit, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre is one of those all-too forgotten progressive folk bands that couldn't manage a record deal until BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel discovered them and signed them to his Dandelion label and appeared on a few TV shows on the presenter's impulse. This 13-humans band came with dancers, singers, light & sound men, and of course the core quartet of musicians, centred on main songwriter guitarist Root Cartwright and violin, keyboards and flute player Bindy Bourquin, while the lyrics came from three members, including the two lead singers, a typical folk male/female duo. The group's amusing name was rumoured to be about their Exeter University's principal, but more likely the said Edwards was percussionist's ancestor and Welsh preacher's name. The debut album has nothing to do with a film, but it was co-produced by Peel and the group, released in 69 in a gatefold group-photo shot artwork filled with 14 hippies.

The group's soundscapes are indeed very folk, but a demented psych prog folk one, one that can stretch from Incredible String Band to early Floyd (they toured with both and many more) and many other difficult to discern influences in between, but they have their own sound. Indeed the band's singing duet comprises of the astounding Vivienne McAuliffe (who would be around for a long time afterwards) and the more restrained but haunting Martin Stellman, but there is so much more than the singing to this band, including theatrical songwriting that has to do much with their stage act.

The opening Enigmatic Insomnia Machine (with a psych-rock second half) and its follow-up Sacrifice (reminiscent of ISB, despite some demented power chords opening it) are both setting the boundaries and yet blowing apart the rules set inside the psych-folk genre, but things go even madder (while staying very folk) with the epic ISB-esque 13-mins Death Of Don Quixote. One would fear this long track overstays its welcome but, surprisingly, it is relatively quickly over. One of the group's main asset is the multi-instrumentalist Bindy Bourquin, who plays flutes, keyboards and violin, and therefore brings on much colour in the band's soundscapes.

On the flipside, the opening Third Sonnet starts out much like the first part of the opus, but a sudden surge of guitar slides the album, giving it a heavy blues tinge, before returning to semi-medieval liturgics chants and both the blues and the folk will alternate some more. Cool stuff and an epic electric ending. The only short track (by far) To Be A Broken Guitar is rather self-explanatory and sung by Stellman alone. The album closes on the 10-mins Pinky, an excellent psych-folk as if early Floyd had fooled around with Fairport Convention. Definitely the album's highlight, the madness seems to approach Jan Dukes De Grey with some outstanding guitar picking and terminating on a great soliloquy, punctuated by a final guitar bravado.

Maybe not as outstanding as First Utterances, Asylum for The Musically Insane, St Radiguns, Rats &And Mice In The Loft, but Soundtrack s certainly another gem n that genre; but then again it might have been interesting to have witnessed the full dimension of their craft, including the visual aspects, which are absent on the albums. While some will classify PEMT as ISB-esque, I tend to think of this Exeter combo as quite superior, because it doesn't have the weird sonic particularities of the Scot duo/quartet.

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