Principal Edwards Magic Theatre
Observer 8th February 1970: Tony Palmer
A GROUP of young people, mostly from Exeter University, are at present touring the country giving what they call mixed-media entertainment under the name of Principal Edwards Magic Theatre. They perform songs, dance, present light shows, intone semi-mystical poetry and enact masques. There are 14 members in all and they have just released an LP of some of their music, called, appropriately, ' Soundtrack * (Dandelion 63752). It's very gentle and rather fine.
The company began just over a year ago, while most of them were still students, as a sort of diversion /from academic work —a secret society with its own private jokes and sudden laughter. The initial idea for a magazine in which to express their ideas was quickly abandoned in favour of a stage act. The university gave them a sabbatical year to explore their possibilities, so off they set with no money, no equipment and no immediate prospects.
Their fairy godmother turned out to be the radio DJ John Peel. who underwrote the purchase of a van for them and bought them a good set of drums and a lead guitar. He had earlier seen them perform at Exeter and thought that, despite their almost stubborn amateurishness, they contained the germ of a new idea, and were therefore worth sponsoring. He brought them to London to appear on his now defunct Night Ride show, and at the same time encouraged them to release a single called ' Ballad (of a Big Girl and a Mere Boy).' He also produced their LP for his own company, Dandelion Records. Now all 14 of them live communally in a tiny house in the Northamptonshire countryside, conveniently next door to the Ml. They say that they are not remotely interested in making money and are quite content, should all else fail, to return to Exeter next autumn. Their LP is exactly what it says —a soundtrack of their theatrical performance, a souvenir for those who have seen the show. It can obviously give no indication of their light show, for example, or the plays which the company perform, including ' The Death of Don Quixote' and a number called ' Plague of Boils * which is a parody about a Biblical rock group. Their instrumentation of recorders, all manner of percussion, organs, pianos as well as electric and acoustic guitars is the nearest hint you get of the elegant, stylised, multi-coloured performance. The meeting with John Peel was indeed fortunate. With Clive Sel wood, Peel formed his own totally non-profit-making recording com pany. So far, in just less than
eight months, they've made only nine LPs, which are released through CBS. The company's aim
is to record some of those who do not necessarily want to make pop their life-time ambition but find that they have something to say and feel instinctively that pop is the most effective medium in which to get it said. Ironically, pop often seems from the outside to be the very opposite of the great liberator of artistic freedoms that it is frequently claimed to be. It's still true that if you don't fit in to any acceptable pattern of what is thought ' commercial ' you are unlikely to get any of the major companies to record you. Thus if it were not for such as John Peel, magical delights such as those offered by Principal Edwards I would pass by unnoticed. Which would be a pity.