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Reviews

Principal EdwardsPrincipal Edwards
Album: Round One
Label: Esoteric
Tracks: 11
Website: http://www.esotericrecordings.com

The band Principal Edwards dates back to 1968, when it was formed by art and music students at Exeter University as an ambitious (if, being a 14-piece, somewhat unwieldy!) self-styled, freeform "loosely based musical and theatrical co-operative" then going under the all-embracing name of Principal Edwards Magic Theatre. In that incarnation they were one of the most memorable and era-defining touring bands for the next couple of years, being championed by John Peel and releasing two albums on his Dandelion label - after which their unique artistic confluence and archetypal hippie commune dream turned uneconomic and thus unsustainable, and they were left with no choice but to disband.

Out of the ashes, however, rose the purely musical side of the earlier band - Root Cartwright, David Jones and Belinda Bourquin - who were joined by Richard Jones, Nick Pallet and Geoff Nicholls to form a more streamlined, more rock-oriented outfit which was (appropriately) renamed plain Principal Edwards. In the manner of the contemporary zeitgeist, though, theatre was inevitably still in much in the frame, and Bowie and Zappa in particular were admittedly more than subliminal influences on the band's music. Their touring show featured a multi-media concept piece The Adventures Of Stone Age Sam, and the stage act used wild costumes much in the manner of early Genesis (as in fact listening with hindsight reveals echoes of that band's music too, albeit without an equivalent metrical complexity). In the summer of 1973, Principal Edwards released a couple of taster-style singles (both happily included on this first-official-UK-release CD - Captain Lifeboy is a particularly appealing mix of early Bowie and folky Tull), followed the next year by the fully-fledged Round One album (on Decca's Deram subsidiary). In spite of its often intriguing musical vision, its oddly flat recorded sound and decidedly disappointing sleeve design didn't endear it to audiences, and it's good to hear what a great job the current remastering has done in opening up the sound and restoring at least a healthy measure of the spark of the band's live presence. This is intelligent and imaginative prog-rock, creative but without the pretentiousness that marred much of the era's music. But its thoughtful stylishness may have been a barrier to acceptance in those times of instant glam gratification, even though its immediacy and able Nick Mason production should have scored more highly with potential purchasers than it did.

The album's title indicated the start of a series of records, but that was not to be (even in spite of some promising demos the following year, subsequently released as The Devon Tapes) as members drifted apart and away. So let's rejoice at the chance to hear and reassess the output of Principal Edwards over an especially creative couple of years in the mid-70s, which was nothing less than a difficult time for music appreciation. This long-awaited Esoteric reissue is splendid, sounds fabulous, and contains within its 20-page booklet all the lyrics as well as a biographical essay which gives due perspective while informed by timely reminiscences from the three original band members, along with a clutch of previously unseen photos.

David Kidman