CD The Devon Tapes * (CD 1266120),
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The Devon Tapes *
Principal Edwards Magic Theatre
1. Beast, The
2. Saccharine Lady
3. Assassin Senorita
5. Double Jointed
7. Yes, She Said Yes
8. Alamo, The
9. Over and Out
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): CDMRED 360
Personnel: Nick Pallett (vocals, guitar); Belinda Bourquin (vocals, violin, keyboards); Richard Jones (vocals, bass guitar); Roots Cartwright (guitar, mandolin); Peter White (guitar, keyboards); Geoff Nicholls (drums).
Liner Note Author: Michael Heatley.
Recording information: Devon (1974).
Photographer: Jill Furmanovsky.
Although progressive rockers Principal Edwards Magic Theatre had heavy friends -- their first album Soundtrack was produced by U.K. radio legend John Peel, who later made the band the first signing to his own Dandelion label, and that album's follow-up Asmoto Running Band was produced by Pink Floyd's Nick Mason -- they never had anything approaching a commercial breakthrough. That frustration coupled with artistic tensions within the band (one subset of which wanted to move into more of a performance art direction rather than being just another rock band) caused the band to split in late 1971. Quickly, however, the band's musical center, led by guitarist Roots Cartwright, fiddler Belinda Bourquin, and percussionist David Jones, regrouped with a new singer, Richard Jones, and rhythm section. Shortening their name and joining the stable of artists managed by a young and driven man named Miles Copeland (who also managed the exceedingly similar prog-classical-folk fusion act Renaissance), Principal Edwards signed to Deram and released 1974's more pop-oriented Round One, which was about as commercially unsuccessful as their previous releases. The Devon Tapes is what happened next, the result of a period of woodshedding at a cottage in Devon, writing and rehearsing new songs that eventually would be abandoned when Richard Jones was asked to play keyboards for another Copeland client, the Climax Blues Band. All of which is to say that The Devon Tapes sounds pretty much like one would expect a bunch of demos from the waning days of an unsuccessful British prog rock band to sound: uneasily balanced between artistic pretension and a perhaps unspoken desire to move into a more pop direction ( la 10cc or Electric Light Orchestra), these nine songs have potential, but it's hampered by several factors. First, there's the schism between more conventionally proggy material like the classical rock organ mashup "Helix" and the epic allegory "The Alamo" and more overtly chart-looking material like the slinky, bass-driven "Double Jointed" and "Yes, She Said Yes." Then there's the fact that the band's lyrics typically verged on the comic in their earnest faux-poetic naffness. But crucially, the lo-fi D.I.Y. sound of The Devon Tapes simply does this brand of prog, which requires proper mid-'70s studio slickness, no favors at all. Fans diehard enough to remember Principal Edwards from their brief heyday will be the most intrigued by this archival release, but to everyone else, it's a curio at best. ~ Stewart Mason
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