quarta-feira, 11 de abril de 2018
Principal Edwards Magic Theatre - The Devon Tapes 1974 (2008) UK, Prog Folk
Principal Edwards seemed to be a bit more talented and ambitious than most of their peers however, and while they never achieved the fame or recognition they probably deserved they did manage to leave behind a small body of work that looking back on today seems surprisingly groundbreaking. These guys are classified as progressive folk, but there’s more than a little glam as well as what was known in the seventies as ‘art rock’ in their music. When considering them in light of other acts like Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Move, the connection between psych folk of the sixties and glam rock of the seventies becomes quite clear. Principal Edwards were among the pioneers of glam even if neither they nor their fans realized it at the time.
‘The Devon Tapes’ come from the band’s last days in 1974, when they interrupted their summer tour to hole up in a Devon cottage at the direction of then-manager Miles Copeland in hopes of putting together material that could garner some commercial attention. The group (which varied at times in size from eight to more than fifteen members) had been picked up by Copeland after the band’s label Dandelion folded in 1972 and core members Root Cartwright, Belinda Bourquin and David Jones dropped the ‘Magic Theatre’ portion of their name and hit the road with a more rock-oriented focus, a smaller lineup of six members and new material, in search of a full-time music career. One album was released (‘Round One’) to virtually no acclaim, but the band remained a colorful live act with multimedia presentations, dance, theatrical displays and often grandiose costumes depicting a fanciful lineup of characters known by such names as the Whizzmore Kid, Stoneage Sam and the Beast. Copeland had picked them up in early 1974 in hopes of transforming the group into a commercially viable act, but while mostly college audiences responded to their live shows a major label contract eluded them. Hence, the Devon Tapes.
These original songs were recorded in that cottage as demos for Copeland, with the band expecting to eventually record them properly in a studio setting. This was not to be though, as Copeland rejected the final product with the band dissolving shortly after. Bassist Richard Jones would move on to another Copeland act, the Climax Blues Band, and keyboardist Peter White joined Al Stewart’s touring group before eventually establishing himself as a notable jazz artist. The rest of the members went on to other ventures, although all of them continue to play or at least teach music in some capacity even today. Copeland of course would achieve commercial success with his IRS Records label and its flagship act the Police whose drummer Stewart also happened to be Miles’ brother.
As for the music on this album, it is surprising looking back a quarter-century later that Copeland couldn’t see its commercial potential. The most striking aspect is the dominating presence of Peter White’s keyboards. Songs like the opening track ‘the Beast’ and “Assassin Senorita” are thick with dumbed-down Wakeman-like arrangements that should have appealed greatly to neophyte proggers, not to mention fans of glam rock like T. Rex, the Tubes and Gary Glitter. Guitarist Cartwright displays a penchant for catchy riffs throughout, and with a few songs (“Yes, She Said Yes”, “The Alamo” and “Helix” especially) he exudes the kind of ‘juke box hero’ power that should have propelled the group well up on the Billboard Top-100 charts. At times the band even seems to have the makings of a new wave band, particularly on the funky “Double Jointed” and closing “Over and Out”.
My personal favorite is the mildly psych-flavored “Shipwreck”, a slower and folk-influenced number that is not unlike a lot of Klaatu’s more memorable music but enhanced, as is most of the album, by Nick Pallett’s slightly tense but rich vocals. “The Alamo” starts off similarly, but ends up wandering off into a jaunty jam session of stilting keyboards, heavy prog bass and the occasional violin flourish (her violin work on “Over and Out” is also top- notch). This song in particular would have benefited greatly from some studio discipline, although the sound quality here is surprisingly good considering it was remastered from a cassette tape, the only surviving copy from those long-ago sessions. Cherry Red Records and Richard Jones did a masterful job of reconstructing this music for the CD release.
The more I delve into seventies music the more I’m amazed at the number of truly fascinating bands and albums there were back then that were simply overlooked, lost and forgotten. This band and this album are among the best in that category. This is a four-star affair in my book, and highly recommended to art rock, glam and even the more adventurous prog folk fans. Kudos to Jones for his great skill in bringing these demos back to life, and shame on Miles Copeland for not having a greater vision in 1974. One can only wonder what might have been had he taken a little more time to work through these delightful songs and apply himself in gilding their rough energy with a little commercial sheen so that a broader audience could have enjoyed them. I can only imagine what the group might have gone on to accomplish had that been the case.
- Root Cartwright / guitar, mandolin
- Nick Pallett / vocals, guitar
- Belinda Bourquin / keyboards, violin, vocals
- Richard Jones / bass guitar, vocals
- Peter White / keyboards, guitar
- Geoff Nicholls / drums
1. The Beast (6:02)
2. Saccharine Lady (4:37)
3. Assassin Senorita (3:23)
4. Shipwreck (4:24)
5. Double Jointed (3:45)
6. Helix (5:12)
7. Yes, She Said Yes (4:00)
8. The Alamo (7:18)
9. Over and Out (4:09)