The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Eighteen): Principal Edwards Magic Theatre

One of the hallmarks of the classic era of progressive rock was the theatrics: Peter Gabriel’s eclectic costumes, Keith Emerson’s knives and flying piano, and Rick Wakeman’s flowing capes are just a few that come to mind. But few prog bands ever included an entire troupe on tour. Enter Principal Edwards Magic Theatre (PEMT), a fourteen member ensemble that included singers, musicians, poets, dancers, and sound and light technicians. This cast of characters, who at the time were students at the University of Essex, initially sought to express their artistic abilities through the medium of print, but it did not take them long to realize that it was more enjoyable to display their talents on stage.

Although they managed to release only two albums (in 1969 and 1971) before splitting up, they rubbed shoulders with some of the luminaries of prog and classic rock, including Pink Floyd (Nick Mason even produced their second album), Elton John, Yes, Fleetwood Mac, and King Crimson. Combining whimsical lyrics with flute, violin, acoustic guitar, a healthy dose of electric guitar, and spoken word vocals, PEMT sounds something like a blend of Fairport Convention and Pink Floyd. Here are a few standouts from their debut album, Soundtrack:

“Enigmatic Insomniac Machine,” besides earning the award for best-titled song on the album, is as bizarre as the title suggests. And if you can’t follow the story the song tells, you can at least enjoy Vivienne McAuliffe’s soothingly beautiful vocals. Fans of Judy Dyble, Sandy Denny, or Sonja Kristina will be impressed.

Root Cartwright’s electric guitar explodes onto the scene in “Sacrifice,” a song concerning, well, a human sacrifice. Cartwright’s guitar calms down for a few minutes before taking centerstage again after the murder of the poor lady about halfway through the song.

The peculiar man of La Mancha who fought windmills is dispatched in a somewhat unorthodox fashion in “The Death of Don Quixote,” a patchwork epic that jumps from one mood to the next without much warning.

The album closes with “Pinky: A Mystery Cycle,” which features some eerie violin courtesy of the multi-instrumentalist Belinda Bourquin and ominous spoken word vocals courtesy of McAuliffe. Cartwright again shines on electric guitar.

Soundtrack is an eclectic patchwork of psychedelia, folk, grunge, and prog. The album is neither particularly coherent nor consistent, but for some this will be part of its charm. For those who enjoy Curved Air, Fairport Convention, or Strawbs, this will be worth a listen. And judging by the live performance below, they must have been quite a group to see, too.

Stay tuned for number nineteen!

Curved Air legend and virtuoso violinist Darryl Way releases first solo album In 20 years

London, UK – Much to the anticipation of music fans and critics worldwide, Curved Air founding member and virtuoso violinist Darryl Way is releasing his first solo album in 20 years! Now available on Explore Multimedia, via Cherry Red Records, ‘Ultra Violins’ features Darryl’s own interpretations of several well-known classical pieces, as well as a re-recording of Curved Air’s classic hit “Vivaldi”. Says Darryl, “The motivating force behind creating ‘Ultra Violins’ was to introduce some new material for solo violin that came from the vocal repertoire and the darrylway_ultraviolinsworld of orchestral music, rather than music specifically for solo violin.”

Originally formed in 1969, Curved Air was a groundbreaking progressive art-rock band renowned for their showmanship. Each member pushed the boundaries of possibilities for rock music performance. Darryl Way with his flamboyant virtuoso exploration of electric violin, Francis Monkman with his brilliant innovative sound manipulation using the VCS3 synthesiser, keyboards and fiery intricate guitar playing. and Florian’s expressive approach to rock drumming. Vocalist Sonja Kristina won the hearts of a generation of music lovers and was voted top British Female Vocalist of the 70’s whilst the three top twenty albums that this lineup released are regarded as classics. Darryl wrote the music for the Top 10 hit (reached #4) “Back Street Luv” and was a major contributor to the 3 albums that made the Top 20. With Curved Air he toured extensively, performing in practically every major city in both America and Europe. Before becoming headliners themselves, Curved Air toured with Black Sabbath in the UK and in the USA they toured with Deep Purple, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. They also appeared on the same bill as The Doors, Steppenwolf, B.B. King, Johnny Winter and Dr. John.

After Curved Air Darryl went on to release several critically acclaimed solo albums in both ‘rock’ and ‘classical’ genres. Among these, was his ‘Concerto For Electric Violin’, which was premiered on the South Bank Show with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and himself as soloist. Darryl’s collaborations include working with Sir Tim Rice, Sting and Gary Brooker (Procol Harum). In classical genres he has orchestrated Stewart Copeland’s ballet “King Lear” for the San Francisco Ballet, and Stewart’s opera “The Holy Blood and Crescent Moon”, premiered by the Cleveland Opera in the US. In 1996, Darryl’s own opera “The Master and Margarita” was premiered at The Place Theatre in London. Alongside these projects, Darryl has also worked as a film and television composer.

As a violinist, Darryl has lead the London-based Electric Symphony Orchestra for concerts at the Royal Festival Hall, and lead and recorded with The Elektra Ensemble, performing classical and contemporary music. As a session musician, he has recorded with Jethro Tull, Sky and Marrianne Faithful, as well as several film scores with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Recent work includes being musical director for the soprano Emma Shapplin, for a series of televised UNHCR concerts at the Parthenon in Athens. Recent compositions include a Symphonic Choral work entitled “Siren’s Rock”, premiered at the Plymouth Guildhall with the South West Sinfonietta, Opera South West, Naomi Harvey (WNO) soprano and Stephen Crook, tenor. Recent projects include writing and producing two albums and DVDs (in 5.1 Surround Sound) for a classical crossover project entitled Verisma. For this project he directed and produced four videos, which have been broadcast on Classic FM TV.

During his illustrious career, Darryl has created and been a major part of over 20 commercially released albums. And now, after 20 years, his highly anticipated new solo album ‘Ultra Violins’ is now available! Along with his stunning adaptations of orchestral pieces such as “Scheherezade” and “Farandole”, is a new composition by Darryl titled “Tarrantelle”; a piece inspired by a performance by Maxim Vengerov, the Russian violinist. Also included on this album is Darryl’s video for “Farondole”. He explains, “Ever since 2002 I’ve been making videos for various projects, including my classical crossover band Verisma, which features the magnificent tenor voice of my co-collaborator, Stephen Crook. We were lucky enough to get our first video broadcast on Classic FM TV, and from then on we had a further four videos broadcast on this TV channel. So to promote the digital release of ‘Ultra Violins’ I decided to make a video of it.”

Of the the new version of ‘Vivaldi’ included on the album, says Darryl, “It is a piece in two halves, as was the original Curved Air show stopper. The first half has been arranged in typically baroque style, or in the style of Vivaldi himself if you like. After a short transition passage the piece arrives in the 20th century, as the introductory melody is now played on electric violin, emulating an electric guitar, with bends and slides. This leads into the main section of the piece which is now played on electric violin put through a distortion unit, with heavy guitar chords as an accompaniment, along with counter melodies also played on electric violin. This section sets out to capture the excitement of the original, which always left the audience wanting for more at the end of a Curved Air set.”

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