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Principal Edwards

Principal Edwards Magic Theater - Works 1971: Albums Demos BBC Sessions & Live

Review by Gary Hill
First things first, this is actually credited as "Principle Edwards Magic Theater," but I've got in as just Principal Edwards. That's because it's basically a different name for the same act, and I already have them in under the other name. I guess the second thing to address is that this isn't perhaps actually progressive rock. It is proto-prog, though, running along the line between psychedelia, folk, folk prog and some legit prog rock.
 
This box set features three CDs. The first and second are studio albums. The third has a number of different live recordings and three demos. There is some exceptional material here. While some of this sounds dated, and a lot of it is quite weird, everything works reasonably well. This is a great introduction to a perhaps forgotten treasure of the psychedelic era.
Track by Track Review
Disc One: Soundtrack

                      
Enigmatic Insomniac Machine

An alarm clock starts this. Then a ticking clock creates the rhythm. Other percussion instruments join in that same beat. Acoustic guitar and folk elements join. The female vocals come in, bringing this very much into a folk prog style. I like this song a lot. It feels a bit dated, but it's also quite cool.

Sacrifice

This comes in hard rocking, but drops to mellower stuff for the vocals. This time the voice is male. It's a bit weird. In fact, the whole song is rather strange. This is more trippy psychedelia than prog, but it's still proggy enough to qualify. The cut shifts later as the female vocals return. At first it's closer to the folk prog stuff of the opening number. Then it works out to some scorching hot psychedelic rock turned progressive. This is an unusual and quite effective piece of music. We're brought back into the earlier modes (complete with the male vocals) further down the musical road.

The Death of Don Quixote

Although there are some hints of psychedelia and theatrical elements, I'd consider this, more than anything, to be a folk song. It's a minstrel kind of piece. There is some theatrical dialog in this piece. I dig the busy percussion later in the track. As it gets more powered up later (this song is over 13 minutes long), it does wander toward prog territory.

Third Sonnet to Sundry Notes of Music

Olde worlde folk music starts this with female vocals. As the male vocals take the second sung segment, the cut works to more Celtic sounds. It shifts toward weird psychedelia as the female vocals return. Then a smoking hot 1960s blues rock jam works forward from there. Beyond that, it returns to the first section of the cut. From there, it works through the same series of changes as we heard before. This time, though, after the blues rock jam it works to more of a psychedelic version of that kind of sound. The guitar solos like crazy as the bass lays down some exceptional sounds for the bottom end. After that it drops back down to a reprise of the beginning again, and we work forward from there in a familiar pattern. The harder edged section closes the cut.

To a Broken Guitar

Based on male vocals, this is much more of a pure folk tune at the start. This is pretty strange in a lot of ways. It never wanders far from its beginnings. At a little over two and a half minutes long, it's the shortest cut on this first disc.

Pinky: A Mystery Cycle

Dramatic percussion opens. The cut grows out from there. This is among the most purely prog rock stuff here. It's powerful and unique. It has faster paced, almost world music based stuff, mellower folky elements and dreamy kinds of prog stuff. In a lot of ways this makes me think of Renaissance quite a bit. I love the stereo effects on this piece. There are some incredible things going on with this track. There is a later section of the track that is built around a prog meets psychedelia instrumental jam that's quite cool. The vocals return at the end of this to take us back down the earlier roads. This is definitely one of the strongest pieces of the whole three CD set.

Ballad (Of the Big Girl Now and the Mere Boy)

One second longer than "To a Broken Guitar," this piece is another that's more of a pure folk tune. The vocals are of the female variety. There is some nice flute here.

Lament for the Earth

Psychedelia merges with folk music as this begins. The cut marches forward with that kind of balance. I really love the cool psychedelic rock jam that takes it around the two and a half minute mark. It turns pretty heavy as that works forward, landing near early heavy metal. From there it goes out to more typical psychedelia.

Disc Two: The Asmoto Running Band

           

McAlpine's Dream

Folk merged with psychedelia opens the cut and holds it for the female vocals. As the male vocals enter the music is ramped up in speed and intensity, working toward the prog rock end of the spectrum. This is a powerhouse cut. It has a bit of a theatrical aspect to parts of it. There are bits with both male and female vocals, too. There is a jam with a bit of an auction as a soundbite. The tune is a bit odd, but also quite cool. It's dynamic and effective.

McAlpine Versus the Asmoto

Fast paced, this shifts through various sections. It is built in full on prog mode. It has rocking stuff and more world music folk based sounds. I really like this instrumental a lot. I swear that the bit that serves as the background for the guitar soloing is built on "Bolero." There are some vocals at the end of that, but there are more like an instrument, sort of soaring above in what sounds like non-lyrical mode.

The Asmoto Running Band (Hou' Amih)

Coming straight out of the previous song, this makes good use of both male and female vocals. It's a faster paced number with a lot of world music built into it. There is a definite psychedelic rock edge here, too.

Asmoto Celebration

Again, this is more in full progressive rock mode. Sure, there is still some world music and psychedelia built into it. It's an instrumental that's pretty cool.

Further Asmoto Celebration (After the Ball)
A bouncy little folk music thing, this is like some kind of old fashioned party, seeming like it was recorded on a mic in the corner and some festival. It's a bit weird and gets echoey and psychedelic at the end.
Total Glycerol Esther
A percussive bit opens this. Then it shifts toward a folk prog thing with non-lyrical female vocals. In some ways I'm reminded of Renaissance on that section. Around the minute and a half mark it shifts gear and a theatrical male voice is heard speaking as a circus ring master. The cut is more rocking in a lot of ways, but has a flute bouncing around in the arrangement.
Freef ('R) All
Fast paced acoustic guitar drives this number. It's another that makes great use of both male and female vocals. Clearly, there is a lot of folk built into this. It's rather exploratory at the same time, though. I love the percussion work. The guitar soloing is great, too. The wall of voices approach adds to the magic.
Autumn Lady Dancing Song
This really does kind of feel like the kind of thing a woman would dance to at some ancient campfire. It's folk and old world based. It's bouncy and energetic. This clearly fits under the "folk prog" banner. It shifts to a more serious kind of folk music later, with the driving, dancing beat dropping back.
The Kettering Song
Psychedelic music and folk prog are merged on this pretty cut. Again, there is a good balance of male and female vocals. It has a nice balance between melodic mainstream music and weird breaks and bits. Backwards tracked things add some of that strangeness. There are other oddities, though, like things leaning toward the theatrical. This is a dynamic and interesting cut that shifts quite a bit, though. Mid-track it works out to a fast paced, more rocking, jam. There are some almost operatic vocals that bring strangeness to this. As it carries forward from there it's tied to the types of sounds one associates with Rock In Opposition.
Weirdsong of Breaking Through at Last
Here we have a unique and dynamic cut that's also set well within that folk prog turned psychedelic territory. It's another strong tune on a disc full of strong music.
Disc Three: Hidden Treasure: Sessions, Live and Demos
                 

The Ballad (Of the Big Girl Now and the Mere Boy) (Top Gear, 1969)

As the title and second parenthetical indicate, this is a live version of the earlier cut. The sound quality on this isn't great. The folk music arrangement seems a bit more stripped down than on the studio version.

Third Sonnet to Sundry Notes of Music (Top Gear, 1969)

This comes from the same show. This is similarly a bit more rudimentary of an arrangement than on the studio disc. Also, the recording quality is a bit on the questionable side, but seems a bit better than on the previous tune.

Pinky: A Mystery Cycle (Top Gear, 1969)

I wish the recording quality on this was better. This has a more rock based approach versus the folkier arrangement of the studio take. It works better in this style. There are definitely things here that make me think of early King Crimson, but other things that are along the lines of what would later be called space rock. As much as I liked the studio version, I think this (ignoring the recording issues) is stronger than that rendition.

King of The (Top Gear, 1970)

The sound quality is better here. This is a folky kind of number with odd elements bringing more of a psychedelic and prog texture at the start. The violin really brings a lot to this. The more rocking sections are more along the lines of the electrified folk styles. The vocals don't work all that well on this number, but it's still a cool tune despite that. The more theatrical vocal section over rocking psychedelic prog is great. Those vocals work better. I love the guitar solo, too.

The Fortieth Day of Winter (Top Gear, 1970)

Folk and psychedelic rock merge with proto prog on this cool number.

Vollabast (Live at Hampstead Theatre)

Percussion starts this. They work out from there into a jam that is ever evolving. It has some psychedelic rock in the mix for sure, but it's probably best described as "proto prog." These guys definitely know how to rock and how to jam. There are some hints of jazz built into this at times, while at other points it makes it way into more full on psychedelic territory. All in all, this instrumental is very strong.

Two Women (Live at Hampstead Theatre)

Definitely a folk prog tune, this lands well on the folk end of that equation. It's a solid tune and a good live performance.

Weasel (In the Wardrobe) (Live at Hampstead Theatre)

This comes in with very similar music territory as the last cut. It works out to something seriously changed. It's more rocking. It has a lot of Celtic music built into it. There is a lot of folk and a good chunk of prog here. It's also theatrical and has some psychedelia in the mix. The song is complex and yet never feels disjointed. It's a killer tune that works really well. We're taken into more pure prog rock territory as this grows, landing in the vicinity of things like Rock In Opposition. This is over 13 minutes long, so they use that room to really explore a lot of ideas.

Scarlet Halfman (Live at Hampstead Theatre)

Here we get another intriguing musical exploration. The progressive rock and psychedelia here is joined some fusion and other elements. This is dynamic cut that covers a lot of musical ground. I really love some of the expansive jamming on this thing. It's a highlight of the set as far as I'm concerned.

The Egg and the Antrobus (Live at Hampstead Theatre)

There is a healthy dosage of Celtic music built into this. That's essentially the folk heart of this. Then add some psychedelia and musical theater and you'll have a good idea of that this tune is all about. The later sections that rock out more get rather weird, taking it closer to something like Rock In Opposition.

Rainy Day Anne (Demo)

I like this. It's trippy psychedelic folk music. It has a lot of world music in the progressions.

Dear John & Mary (A State of Affairs) (Demo)

This rocker is a cool psychedelic meets prog jam with some down-home elements. It's fun stuff.

Ministry of Madness (Demo)

Here we have another classy psychedelic rocker. This is solid, but perhaps not as strong as some of the others. Then again, it's a demo.

 
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