Originally they were known as the Principal Edwards Magic Theatre that formed back at the University of Exeter in 1968 as a 14-piece band that were championed by the late great John Peel who signed them to his label Dandelion Records in 1969. They released two albums from 1969 to 1971 including one produced by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd with The Asmoto Running Band. After the release of their second album, the band split up in that same year in ’71.
The group re-formed as Principal Edwards with original members including Belinda Bourquin on Keyboards, Violin, Recorders, and Vocals, Root Carwtright on Guitars and Mandolin, and David Jones on Percussion. And new members including Nick Pallett on Lead Vocals, Richard Jones (Climax Blues Band) on Bass Guitar and Vocals, and Geoff Nicholls on Drums and Percussion. The band moved into a straight forward rock sound with influences of David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Edvard Grieg, and Maurice Ravel.
Recorded at De Lane Lea Studios in Wembley and Nick Mason returning as a producer. The album, Round One was originally released in 1974 on the DERAM label and now reissued by Esoteric Recordings this year. According to the liner notes, Nick gave the band creative freedom. He was patient and try to give Principal Edwards advice on what to do. His input on their only release of the album was to make it enjoyable and an experience and would at times drive them back home after the sessions was over in his Porsche.
When it was released, it failed to make a commercial impact. It was ahead of its time, and still holds a special part in the history of the Progressive Rock-era in the 1970s. For me, it is imaginative, spacey, folk-rock, art, lyrical, and at times innovative. For example on Triplets, there is a stop-and-go moment at the beginning of the composition with a classical melody and rhythm section that the guitars go into heavier territories. You can hear the twists between Apollo 100 and Premiata Forneria Marconi in there.
The Whizzmore Kid starts with an acoustic-electric rhythm in the style of The Who’s Pete Townshend and delving into the style of ‘70s Glam Rock from Steve Harley’s Cockney Rebel, Be Bop Deluxe, and the Hunky Dory-era of David Bowie thrown in there. There is a story-telling composition throughout the song before the militant drum work and guitars going into a classical style of Ravel closes it out the song with a climatic crescendo.
Opener, Average Chap starts with the line “A day in the life of the Average Chap/Is going to work and back.” It has a haunting melody and very much Folky-Futuristic in the rhythm section thanks to the guitars, piano, bass, and drums. But still as I’ve mentioned about their fourth composition, carries both Glam and Folk with an interesting sound. I wish this could have been a single with a little bit of airplay to get some recognition, it still as I always say, packs a punch.
The 10-minute five-part suite of The Rise of the Glass-White Gangster starts off with an acid-folk intro (Moody as a Shark on Heat) and then into the eerie time change with vocals through a leslie speaker with an alarm spookiness (Lady of Danger) whilst before going into the styles of Frank Zappa’s The Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet (Sirens), it becomes a Film-Noir improvising score with an intense section of the gangster to delve into show his evilness (Glass-White Gangster). And then, it ends with a bluesy vaudeville for a finale (Mechanical Madness) with the crescendo twist.
The three bonus tracks are the singles they released between 1973 from June and July of that year. There’s the sea shanty sing-along in a mid-fast tempo that should be perfect for the seas to be a pirate with Captain Lifeboy, the recorders can come in handy on being whoever you are and not the one to worry with Nothing, and more of the Glam-Rock meets Psych Rock sounds come punching the door down…with cowbells!
The single as an A-side, Weekdaze reminded me at times of the rhythm and melody sections of Aphrodite’s Child’s Let Me Love, Let Me Live and Galliard’s In Your Mind’s Eye. It has a punching groove with more of the heavy guitars and bass coming in front and the vocals in the midsection blends well. This here, is an amazing reissue that really got me to enjoy the sounds of Principal Edwards.
I have to admit, I’m very new to the sound of the band’s music and their previous beginnings with Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, but Esoteric have never disappointed me. The 20-page booklet contains promos, photos of the band performing, interviews with the band including Nick Mason himself with sleeve notes done by Malcolm Dome, shows that how much that this band could have been successful, but due to lack of support from their management, you could tell that someone had turned the light off for them and almost forgot about the band.
When you listen to Round One, it’s not nearly Prog, but more in the styles of Folk, Acid Folk, Power Pop, Psychedelic, and Glam Rock blending in. Worth exploring into and recommended for the hidden treasures of obscure gems from the 1970s to deep into.