The first ever interview from a band where frontman Michael Tyack is rumoured to devour magic mushrooms before a gig, ritualistically die on stage and then be reborn amidst an explosion of psychedelic lights. From their castle in South London where time has been altered and naked women appear from nowhere, Rowan Chernin was the first person from the outside world invited over the drawbridge and this is his tale...
P-O-W-E-R TO THAAAR PIXIEEES Its Monday night in a sweaty Camden basement. Upstairs the empty streets howl and rattle with the autumn bursts of fallen leaves. Below Circulus are playing with the magic sounds of medieval rocknroll. A Moog synth tunes into an arcane sound Henry VIII would applaud as a crumb horn - a woodwind instrument shaped like a walking stick - belts out the swirling chorus. The bass, drums and guitar join together in the kind of rock trance that could raise Merlin from the shadows of a crop circle.
The audience of sylphs and sharp dressed warlocks dance before the tiny stage. Their moves fetishis a time when Robin Hardy's mischievous film Wickerman and Woodstocks long lost front row melded as one. Hands search into the low ceiling of dry ice. The penultimate track with the ethereal chant Power To The Pixies ignites all. In their pilgrim hats, smocks and the garms of bespoke late 60s rock royalty, Circulus can turn water into mushroom wine.
Six years into their career via sacrificial band splits, sweat and half-tank-of-petrol tours Circulus have been regularly enchanting a loyal, likeminded following. Traffic, Pentangle, Renaissance, Crosby, Stills and Nash are among the influences people hear in this mystical anomaly of a band who project their sound from somewhere between 1272 and 1972.
Medieval rock may not be stealing the front-page of NME or hogging the number one download spot. Yet hearing Circuluss airborne magic for the first time people find it near impossible not to enjoy this unsigned, unemployed but perversely happy band.
I found them by chance while researching a feature on the legal explosion of magic mushrooms. Rumours spread about a band called Circulus whose frontman, Michael Tyack, would die on stage and be reborn amidst an explosion of psychedelic lights. Now the electric Pixie song had now taken over from Death. Following the Monday night gig, I leave a message on their website and eventually meet with an impish man with a passion for wearing a helmet made of freshly cut ivy with a spiky rosemary visor. This is the infectiously happy Michael Tyack, lead singer and classical master of numerous stringed instruments. A sharp suited cat that lives with a few members of the band in Plumstead, South London. He invites me round for tea the following weekend and says, well get the traps ready, you wont be disappointed.
Aside from an enormous H-block prison, Plumstead has one other tourist attraction. There stands an incredible terraced house/castle owned by an alternative folk hero/nightclub owner. Driving past this former three bedroom terrace house, with an extension of course, is like venturing past a window onto the strip of Las Vegas. A security guard stands outside and a lifesize toy confederate soldier points a sawn-off shot-gun between the slits of the fortified front garden wall. Two streets along, Im greeted by another colourful display. An enormous Union Jack flag on a ten foot pole appears from over a backyard fence and is waved before the sunset. Welcome to Plumstead you wont be disappointed.
Pulling up outside Circulus's house, my phone rings. It's Michael: "Are you on your way over, we're going out in two hours?"
"Oh, how strange. I'll send out the welcoming committee."
A giant man, the percussionist from Monday night, opens the door and smiles. His glaring white incissors are the size of Jaws, the silver toothed nemesis of James Bond. He says nothing, just points toward the kitchen where Im greeted by the houses residents, all in a line, as though waiting to shake the hands of the wedding guests. "HURRY UP NATALIE," shouts flatmate Kevin, front of the queue. "There's three more to get in there yet, darling." Its bath time at Circulus HQ.
Michael is already dressed in a sharp 20s suit and tie of many matching colours. In fact the tie blends naturally anywhere in this time machine of woodchip walls, wicker sticks and ancient Moroccan rugs. Here the 21st Century stops and Circulus potpourri of scented time takes over. I shrink to the size of a dwarf in a studio basement lined with fairground mirrors and step into their corona of musical bliss emanating from a world where IKEA, homogeneous minimalism and mountebank Beckhamisms cease to exist.
Circulus perform with seven musicians; Lo Polidoro sings, Sam Kelly drums, Will Summers masters the early wind instruments, Olly Parfitt plays the Moog, his brother George is on bass, Victor Hugo (Jaws teeth) percussion and of course, Michael Tyack. I see our music as a quest, says Michael. Combining the two great loves of my life, early music and the obscure far out bands from the early 70s. As you do that, you unearth a lot of spirituality. The synthesis of medievalism and rock works. It really does feel like Ive struck something entirely special, kind of connected with a bit of magic.
Formed at end of the summer 1997 the band remain unsigned and largely unemployed. Around two years ago everyone left, laughs Michael. But I still had the drummer and the crumb horn player. Theres an independent album due early next year and a live performance to accompany a (rather big) catwalk show next season. Coincidences rather than demo tapes have lead to this years gigs; two of which were paid in sandwiches, one in beer and the rest with the kind of small change that rarely covers the parking fines.
Back in the kitchen, Michael winds up and pairs a gormless clockwork clown with a mini blow-up doll. A battery operated robot stomps on the groping duo. Its what we do late at night, Im told. Suddenly a dripping wet blonde girl runs past wrapped in a crazy patterned towel you could only find in Plumstead. The toy orgy stops. Pay attention snaps Michael. With nothing but wet footprints on the lino, the orgy magically reconvenes. Minutes later another wet girl runs past. Its Kate Moss, laughs Michael. A tour of the house reveals room after room of handsome people, walls of rare records, rails of vintage clothing and a sense of perpetual youth sustained in this Pandoras box of stylish relics.
Eventually the house mates leave together for Plumstead Station dressed like a psychedelic gang from the roaring 20s heading to a Modern Times party. I drive home and discover Orbit, their feline housemate, has coated me in black cat magic. Yet all I can smell is Patouli oil. If you want to enjoy glamour, you have to embrace the darkside. One of the flatmates told me that after he encouraged me to drink from a goblet engraved with a demons head. Their alluring world is beyond the TV comprehension of a digitally programmed Pop Idol fan. Even their backgarden is built for little invisible people. If you stand up you can see the prison but if stay small, you can enjoy the fairytale of ivy caves and wicker magic.
I meet the band, sleepless after their party experience, the following afternoon at the Tavistock Festival. A live stage on Tavistock Square, West London where various bands are due to perform before a crowd so stoned people are using each other as chairs. Somehow, Circulus appear to have passed through the thirty-something trial of change and preserved their style and youthful energy. The forces of medieval rocknroll are strong. When the band open with Power To The Pixies the sedentary crowd rouse into applause mesmerised by a troupe in black pilgrim hats, capes and flares. A screen of giant storm surf erupts behind the stage morphing wildly out of shape. Playful toddlers group together and dance before the band, dogs bark and appear to be running around invisible objects. Suddenly theres a stage invasion. The little people want to dance with the band and mums too stoned to stop them.
I didn't make it to Woodstock, shouts a gruff voice, but Tavistock will do.
Post gig the band look ecstatic. "I really enjoyed that, says a glazed passer by.
Thank you replies Michael.
Yeah, hippie music, good to hear it again," continues the stranger.
"We'll, were coming back harder and faster second time around," says Michael. From Tavistock its a long way back to Plumstead but music has charms that, for now at least, only the little people can see.