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10 Jun 2016

Principal Edwards Magic Theatre “The Asmoto Running Band” 1971 UK





 Principal Edwards Magic Theatre “The Asmoto Running Band” 1971 UK Prog Rock

full album

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Principal Edward Magic Theatre (PEMT) may have been born in an uprising of love and peace, but they only actually managed to record two studio albums together. With so many fingers in the communal pie (no less than 140 assuming each band member was fully endowed) it is not perhaps surprising that they decided the project had run its course a mere 2 years after it began.
“The Asmoto Running band” is the second and final album released in the band name. Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason steps in as producer, PEMT having supported the Floyd on numerous occasions. It is even suggested in the sleeve notes for the See for Miles reissue (but not substantiated), that Mason was involved with lead singer Vivienne McAuliffe at the time. The legendary Alexis Korner also appears to be around, taking credit for the overall production and as the publisher of the music. His precise roll beyond that though (if any) is less clear.
Inevitably for a band whose line up reads more like a class register, there are a few line up changes here, but most of those involved on “Soundtrack”, including thankfully the gifted lead vocalist Vivienne McAuliffe, are still at their desks.
The tracks are generally a bit briefer and more focused this time, than on the “Soundtrack” debut, the superior production being immediately apparent. “McAlpine’s dream”, which opens the album, is a sort of blending of Pentangle, The Incredible String Band and Curved Air. As with the songs on the first album, the arrangement is complex and ambitious. From here, we merge straight into “McAlpine versus the Asmoto”, the two tracks combined forming a 12+minute suite. The latter part is a pounding instrumental, at times sounding rather Genesis like, but featuring violin as the lead instrument.
The “Asmoto” theme runs through much of the album, although what that theme is actually about is not something I can shed any light on. It is likely that the accompanying live show (and bearing in mind that several group members do not actually play or sing on the album) brought the story to life, but even then this would probably have been in abstract format. As the album progresses, the tracks get noticeably shorter and more frivolous. The music remains pleasant, but the indications are that the inspiration is drying up rapidly. The final three tracks are somewhat less inspired than anything which has gone before, reaching a low point on “The Kettering song” which appears to be little more than an improvisation around that town’s name.
The version I have of the album is included in a 2 on 1 single CD release by See for Miles Records (1994, SEECD412) which contains both the albums recorded by PEMT. In order to fit the albums onto a single disc, “Autumn dancing lady” is dropped altogether. We are helpfully reassured in the sleeve notes that “we are sure this will not detract from your listening enjoyment”.
In all, another enjoyable album by PEMT. The group’s ambitious may have been over-challenging for their combined talents, but there is a refreshing naivety here which endears us to the music…….
The second and final album from the “Magic Theatre” version of Principal Edwards is much less ambitious and quite a bit shorter than their first release.  Vivienne McAuliffe is still around on vocals, but less pronounced than before.  The band was already in the last throes of their existence, and would break up completely shortly after this release.  The times they were a’changing, and this sort of theatrical, pretentious and self-indulgent dinner theater sort of music was becoming pretty passé by the early seventies.
This is a sort of theme album, telling the disjointed tale of a pseudo-mythical Asmoto Running Band and some dude named McAlpine’s interactions with them – sort of a poor man’s Sgt Pepper, I suppose.  Kind of hard to follow – there’s a booklet with lyrics in the CD version but they aren’t all that illuminating without some sort of herbal inspiration.
The guitar work is more prevalent here, but nothing spectacular for sure, and many of the tracks seem to be nothing more than musical props for the troupe’s live theater sketches, most notably “Asmoto Celebration” (followed immediately by “Further Asmoto Celebration”); the pompously named “Total Glycerol Esther”; and the anti-climactic finale “Weirdsong of Breaking Through at Last”.
A remnant of the group would reform as simply “Principal Edwards” following the breakup and would continue on as a slightly more conventional art rock act for a couple of years before their bass player would marry pianist/violinist Belinda Bourquin and leave for the Climax Blues Band along with band manager Miles Copeland.  The smaller group did manage to record a set of studio tracks known as “The Devon Tapes” that has been discovered and will supposedly be released some time soon, but beyond that there’s not much to report on the band after the mid-seventies.
This is a mildly interesting curio of history, but not a very serious piece of progressive folk music.  I hesitate to give it only two stars because I think it suffers mostly from having not stood the test of time all that well, but it is what it is so two stars is the right call.  Not particularly recommended but might provide a bit of amusement to nostalgic prog folk fans………pease…….

PEMT’s second album was released some two years after their debut album, but the 14- human project was in its final death throes and wouldn’t survive the Asmoto release by long, therefore the album sank without a trace. But let’s not anticipate and look at this weirdly-titled second opus, produced by Floyd’s Nick Mason (apparently interested in the beautiful Vivienne McAuliffe), and Alexis Korner. Indeed, ARB suffers from a much better production, but apparently Floyd and PEMT also shared their light show on tour. Another Floyd link would be the Hypgnosis artwork, featuring a strange light bulb picture.
The album starts outstandingly enough on a couple of fairly-lengthy McAlpine tracks (both making together roughly 12 minutes), which tends to show the band’s enhanced musical capacities, but the effort is cut after Asmoto wins over McAlpine. Indeed the songs get much shorter, but also sometimes much weirder (the cringe-inducing Kettering Song or the Further Celebrations), and the strange Asmato feud with McAlpine is quite incomprehensible, unless being initiated by the Edwardian gods................

While Bourquin’s multi-instrumentalist virtues (Kb, flute, violin) were already a strength on the previous Soundtrack release, his violin playing is much more prominent on Asmato (sometimes taking on unwanted fiddle sonorities, like in Glycerol Esther), also reminiscent of Curved Air’s Daryl Way. Another difference is the replacement of Edwards’ percussions with swallow’s drumming, giving the band a generally heavier sound. McAuliffe’s vocal presence is also reduced and often embedded in the production. Of the second half of the album, only the gentle Freefall is bringing you back to the band’s earlier folk, and thankfully, it’s the longer track (by a margin) of the flipside - well I haven’t heard the missing Autumn Lady Dancing Song, which ios absent on the 2on1 reissue from the See For Miles label.
The group would then implode soon afterwards (their University sabbatical was over), although three members would go on for a couple years and a third album (on the Deram label) under the reduced Principal Edwards moniker. Only the superb Vivienne McAuliffe would pursue with a long studio session career, even singing with Patrick Moraz. ARB is a fairly different album than the debut, and dare I say it, much less successful, despite an even greater musical madness…..............

Principal Edward Magic Theatre (PEMT) may have been born in an uprising of love and peace, but they only actually managed to record two studio albums together. With so many fingers in the communal pie (no less than 140 assuming each band member was fully endowed) it is not perhaps surprising that they decided the project had run its course a mere 2 years after it began.

"The Asmoto Running band" is the second and final album released in the band name. Pink Floyd's Nick Mason steps in as producer, PEMT having supported the Floyd on numerous occasions. It is even suggested in the sleeve notes for the See for Miles reissue (but not substantiated), that Mason was involved with lead singer Vivienne McAuliffe at the time. The legendary Alexis Korner also appears to be around, taking credit for the overall production and as the publisher of the music. His precise roll beyond that though (if any) is less clear.

Inevitably for a band whose line up reads more like a class register, there are a few line up changes here, but most of those involved on "Soundtrack", including thankfully the gifted lead vocalist Vivienne McAuliffe, are still at their desks.

The tracks are generally a bit briefer and more focused this time, than on the "Soundtrack" debut, the superior production being immediately apparent. "McAlpine's dream", which opens the album, is a sort of blending of Pentangle, The Incredible String Band and Curved Air. As with the songs on the first album, the arrangement is complex and ambitious. From here, we merge straight into "McAlpine versus the Asmoto", the two tracks combined forming a 12+minute suite. The latter part is a pounding instrumental, at times sounding rather Genesis like, but featuring violin as the lead instrument.

The "Asmoto" theme runs through much of the album, although what that theme is actually about is not something I can shed any light on. It is likely that the accompanying live show (and bearing in mind that several group members do not actually play or sing on the album) brought the story to life, but even then this would probably have been in abstract format. As the album progresses, the tracks get noticeably shorter and more frivolous. The music remains pleasant, but the indications are that the inspiration is drying up rapidly. The final three tracks are somewhat less inspired than anything which has gone before, reaching a low point on "The Kettering song" which appears to be little more than an improvisation around that town's name.

The version I have of the album is included in a 2 on 1 single CD release by See for Miles Records (1994, SEECD412) which contains both the albums recorded by PEMT. In order to fit the albums onto a single disc, "Autumn dancing lady" is dropped altogether. We are helpfully reassured in the sleeve notes that "we are sure this will not detract from your listening enjoyment".

In all, another enjoyable album by PEMT. The group's ambitious may have been over-challenging for their combined talents, but there is a refreshing naivety here which endears us to the music.........by Easy Livin ......................

PEMT's second album was released some two years after their debut album, but the 14- human project was in its final death throes and wouldn't survive the Asmoto release by long, therefore the album sank without a trace. But let's not anticipate and look at this weirdly-titled second opus, produced by Floyd's Nick Mason (apparently interested in the beautiful Vivienne McAuliffe), and Alexis Korner. Indeed, ARB suffers from a much better production, but apparently Floyd and PEMT also shared their light show on tour. Another Floyd link would be the Hypgnosis artwork, featuring a strange light bulb picture.
The album starts outstandingly enough on a couple of fairly-lengthy McAlpine tracks (both making together roughly 12 minutes), which tends to show the band's enhanced musical capacities, but the effort is cut after Asmoto wins over McAlpine. Indeed the songs get much shorter, but also sometimes much weirder (the cringe-inducing Kettering Song or the Further Celebrations), and the strange Asmato feud with McAlpine is quite incomprehensible, unless being initiated by the Edwardian gods.

While Bourquin's multi-instrumentalist virtues (Kb, flute, violin) were already a strength on the previous Soundtrack release, his violin playing is much more prominent on Asmato (sometimes taking on unwanted fiddle sonorities, like in Glycerol Esther), also reminiscent of Curved Air's Daryl Way. Another difference is the replacement of Edwards' percussions with swallow's drumming, giving the band a generally heavier sound. McAuliffe's vocal presence is also reduced and often embedded in the production. Of the second half of the album, only the gentle Freefall is bringing you back to the band's earlier folk, and thankfully, it's the longer track (by a margin) of the flipside - well I haven't heard the missing Autumn Lady Dancing Song, which ios absent on the 2on1 reissue from the See For Miles label.

The group would then implode soon afterwards (their University sabbatical was over), although three members would go on for a couple years and a third album (on the Deram label) under the reduced Principal Edwards moniker. Only the superb Vivienne McAuliffe would pursue with a long studio session career, even singing with Patrick Moraz. ARB is a fairly different album than the debut, and dare I say it, much less successful, despite an even greater musical madness...........by Sean Trane .........................

There's a certain pastoral melancholy, gentle & somehow filled with humor & wistful joy, that marks a certain branch of English music at the beginning of the 1970s. Its roots are in folk, but it's tinged by fading psychedelia, and is a kind of acoustic progressive rock. Principal Edwards Magic Theatre is a wonderful exemplar of that music; and in this second album, the somewhat looser threads & shambolic edges of their first album (quite enjoyable on its own terms) are brought into sharper focus.

What was once the first side of the album is a complete suite of songs, the band's response to the development of their green valley by way of a new factory. Its theme is environmental, but it's not in the least bit preachy or strident. Their sense of humor is evident and so is their acid-folk tone, including wry but also strangely otherworldly lyrics. The result sounds like a field recording of some lost clan forever dwelling in the twilight, hidden in shaded leaves, observing the "progress" of mortal fools.

The second side is more a collection of songs, though continuing with the otherworldly tone. "Freef('r-)All" & "Autumn Lady Dancing Song" especially are especially strong. State of mind was important then, though the world was soon to start becoming more "realistic" -- i.e., more rigidly rational, quantified & digitized. These songs are message from that other world as it pulls farther away from our modern world, reminding us of what we were about to (and have) lost.

Quite a few contemporary reviews of Principal Edwards Magic Theatre dismiss the band as a relic, a curio, unlistenable in these times. I disagree. The worldview expressed here requires a certain open naïveté, a certain vulnerability, that most people don't dare attempt today. More's the pity! In a global village that's become a war zone, we need to be aware of other, more positive possibilities of life -- other, deeper ways of looking at the world & at ourselves.

Highly recommended!.......By Tim Lukeman.........................

Principal Edwards Magic Theatre were discovered by John Peel while they were a student group at the University of Exeter, and for a time in 1968-69 he rated them very highly. Peel mentioned them on his shows and wrote about them in his columns in International Times and Disc and Music Echo. Describing a live gig by them in issue 53 of International Times (25 March 1969) he wrote:

What they do to the inner Peel is the same as The Misunderstood, Captain Beefheart and Tyrannosaurus Rex have done on other occasions. There is the feeling of a strange warmth that touches all parts of me, feels like cool, soft hair drawn infinitely slowly across the back.......They have equipment problems sometimes but the important thing is that Principal Edwards Magic Theatre IS and that they will, sooner or later, bring some colour into your life. Believe me - and I say that objectively even though I love them all very much - and am still a little afraid of them, too.
He signed them to his Dandelion label, for whom they recorded two albums: Soundtrack, in 1969, and The Asmoto Running Band, in 1971. At a time when Peel was at the height of his popularity and influence, all this might have been expected to lead to success, and they contributed a centre-page feature to issue 40 of International Times ("Thank you, John Peel, for everything") - yet Principal Edwards never gained much acclaim, either critically or commercially. This was in part due to their anti-commercial ethos - they lived communally in typical hippie style - but also because, minus the trappings which enhanced their live performances, their music was an uneasy mixture of Elizabethan-influenced folk and mediocre psychedelic rock, with few memorable songs. Peel found it hard to convince others of their quality. His Top Gear producer John Walters was unimpressed, as he told John Tobler in Zigzag 24 (1972):

"We even used Principal Edwards twice, although I would never use them again as things stand. I used them the first time because I could see why John had taken an interest, in that they were unusual; it was a mixed media group, and at that time it seemed a good idea to explore it as an avenue that might happen...a big group, incorporating all kinds of arty-farty nonsense. I was pretty disappointed by the session - I didn't feel it really had anything, so it was a good eighteen months or more before I booked them again, on the grounds that they had supposedly got themselves together. I found that the instrumental side had improved, but the pretentious side had become, if anything, worse, to my mind - although it's obviously a personal thing"
In Margrave Of The Marshes (pp.195-96), Sheila Ravenscroft mentioned that she and Peel had had Principal Edwards stay with them at their London Peel Acres, but had been annoyed at the large group's taking advantage of their hospitality and offering little in return ("They were rarefied rock stars. They were above such things as laundry"). Later he regarded his involvement with the group as an error of judgement and never returned to their records, which - unlike much of the material of the Top Gear era - have not worn well, and only seem to be valued by a few collectors.......................

Line-up / Musicians

- Belinda Bourquin / voices, keyboards, piano, group member, vocals, violin, fiddle, recorders, strings
- Roots Cartwright / Spanish guitar, bass guitar, recorder, guitar, group member, electric guitar, acoustic guitar
- Jeremy Ensor / bass, bass guitar, group member
- David Jones / percussion
- Vivienne McAuliffe / voices, vocals, group member recorder
- Monica Nettles / prop design, dancer, costume design, stage lighting, choreographer
- Martin Stellman / auctioneer, vocals, group member
- Roger Swallow / bells, group member, tabla, finger cymbals, acoustic guitar, snare drums, xylophone, African drums, drums, talking drum, timpani, tambourine, hands, conga, wood block
- Robin Sylvester / engineer
- Gillian Hadley / costume design, stage lighting, effects, prop design, choreographer
- Michael Heatley / liner notes
- David A. Jones / gong, conga, hands, tambourine, bass drums, group member, conductor, finger cymbals, maracas, cymbals, African drums, bongos, wood block
- John McMahon / dancer, costume design, stage lighting, choreographer, prop design
- Lance Dunlop / lighting
- Harry Houseman / lighting
- Tony Barnes / project coordinator
- R.C. Pocock / bass drums

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. McAlpine’s Dream (6:12)
2. McAlpine Versus the Asmoto (6:14)
3. The Asmoto Running Band (Hou'amih) (3:09)
4. Asmoto Celebration (1:51)
5. Further Asmoto Celebration (After the Ball) (1:17)
6. Total Glycerol Esther (2:43)
7. Freef (‘R) All (5:06)
8. Autumn Lady Dancing Song (6:50)
9. The Kettering Song (3:56)
10. Weirdsong of Breaking Through at Last (3:02)


johnkatsmc5, welcome music..