Once the darlings of British DJ John Peel, who first released these two albums on his Dandelion label, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre epitomized the English intellectual take on music. Comprised of students at Exeter University, the 15-strong troupe was a multimedia event, with music, dancing, and a light show -- everything a bunch of young hippies could want, really. However, they were very much of their time, as the music hasn't aged too well. Certainly the word "pretentious" springs to mind with titles like "Enigmatic Insomniac Machine," "Pinky -- A Mystery Cycle," and "Weirdsong of Breaking Through at Last," while the use of ethereal female voices (mostly Vivienne McAuliffe), recorders, and plenty of acoustic guitars offers a medieval feel -- "Third Sonnet to Sundry Notes of Music," which is Shakespeare set to music, runs from plainsong, to an Elizabethan dance, to portentous early English opera, before heading into electric boogie territory -- all in just the first minute of a 13-minute song. It's all completely over the top, full of its own cleverness, and trying to be thoroughly portentous. By the time of The Asmoto Running Band in 1970, they'd cut down the song times a little, and producer Nick Mason from Pink Floyd focused them a bit more. But it's still music with a heavy emphasis on art for art's sake, and ambition that far surpasses technique (especially in the case of guitarist Root Cartwright). It's impossible not to find some degree of warmth for what's essentially an artifact of a time long past, especially if you ever saw them play live. However, sitting through the whole thing for sheer pleasure is impossible. File under curio.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson