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Michael Tyack of Circulus 

Circulus (picture below left) have been described in the Guardian as Britains No1 medieval rock band. They recently released their second album, and at the time of writing were arranging to accompany Lali Chetwynd to the Basel Art Fair in Miami. Cornwall had a very strong folk scene in the 60s and 70s, and produced the greatest acid folk band 'C.O.B.' fronted by Clive Palmer (picture below right). Michael Tyack, a fan of this older generation and now singer and song-writer for Circulus gave artcornwall a rare interview.




Rupert: I'm a big fan of the Incredible String Band and C.O.B. and, knowing this, a mutual friend recommended the first Circulus album to me.  Anyway I bought it in August and I've been enjoying it since. Am I right that you have personal links with Cornwall? Does the band come down here much? I notice you came down to Tapestry. Have you any plans to come here again?

It would be really nice if you would allow me to interview you by e-mail about links between interesting art and interesting music and their crossovers...Talking of which did you know that Clive Palmer is back living in Cornwall? 

Michael: Yes I am from Cornwall. Camborne way. We mainly play in London, but are in the middle of a country-wide tour. We have played at the Clipper in Camborne, Falmouth Pavilion, Bodmin Dragon Centre and not so recently two Tapestry festivals at St Columb.

I'd be happy to answer any questions you like. There's a great folk club at the Shipright in Falmouth every Tuesday run by a really good folk band called Thistle Town. They're also planning on doing a folk/psych night but since the Jacobs Ladder has re-opened and is totally shit they don't know where to do it!

I didn't know Clive Palmer was living back in Cornwall. Do you know where abouts?

Do you know Bob Devereux? He’s involved with the folk scene in Cornwall and made an album with Clive Palmer about ten or more years ago. He runs the Salthouse Gallery in St Ives and has some interesting stories to tell - and seems happy to tell them. He’s also got some cool photos of Robin Williamson in the early 70s walking round places like St Agnes. Last time I went to his gallery - this Summer it was - he said that Clive had moved to Carbis Bay....

Because through this website I'm trying to help and support art and artists based in Cornwall, I am interested in Cornish cultural history - (not just because I'm parochial - though I am a bit!) and I think its interesting that in the 50s and 60s there were some good visual artists inspired by being here -  and I wonder how that relates to the emergence of a really influential cult band like C.O.B. in Mitchell. In a way there was a shared artistic milieu  - a shared sense of an idealistic getting back to nature/a simple life. At the time it seemed genuine and authentic and unselfconscious - as reflected in the music - and the times were sympathetic to that kind of message.

The question I'd like to put to you is: is it possible to write psychedelic folk now and do it seriously - or does it have to be done in a slightly knowing tongue-in-cheek way. How do you think times have changed since then?

Back in the late sixties Cornwall must have been a wonderful place for an escaping artist. Before every ramshackle barn became a financial commodity and when St Ives was still a fishing port. Or hanging out with COB at the Sacred Heart!

Do I believe in fairies? Belief is perhaps based on knowledge, intuition and experience. I believe in them, though I have never seen one. I also believe in interplanetary travel by spiritually advanced beings. A lot of people must think Circulus are being tongue in cheek with songs like "Power to the Pixies" but there are some who wouldn't hold that prejudice. "Psychedelic" is really too much of a difficult and misused word to answer the question. I certainly believe it's possible to make interesting folk music nowadays.

Do you have much interest in visual art and are there any parallels that you can see with your own experience as a contemporary musician?

Since the film Spinal Tap there has been a lot of taboo in music. Since there was never an equivalent film dealing with the subject of visual art - artists have been allowed to continue painting their fantasies without consciously censoring the "tongue in cheek" factor. Artists have always strived to be free and so once again should music makers. Be free, try and be free!

I think things are not so different in visual art: I havent seen it but Tony Hancock made a film in the 60s that was a parody of Modernist painters that is Spinal Tap-like. Being ironic, tongue in cheek - is something you see again and again in visual art these days - if you think of people like Jake and Dinos Chapman who refer to the holocaust and that kind of thing but also give the impression that its a kind of knowing game and that they're not really that serious. You just didnt have that in the 50s and 60s. People seemed to really believe in what they were doing (ie they believed in the power of art or music to make a real difference). I think the hallmark of our era (post-modernism?) is that idealism has been replaced by a more cynical and distanced attitude - where you can quote/borrow from artists you like - but also send up their original idealism. My initial impression of Circulus was that they are very post-modern in this sense - but may be I got it wrong...

There's no denying that pinnacle of euphoria reached during the late sixties and early seventies across all the arts was a remarkable zenith. It reflected the new spirituality in people, new horizons as man reached the moon and new horizons with mind-altering substances. We lost our innocence and are now left with what you define as post modernism. There's only one way out of it. 'Post-optimism'. Open your heart to the wonders of the world and see what happens! 

Another related question: Circulus seem to play down references to the sixties in their look and music, and play up older (eg Elizabethan) references - is that partly because the music scene is already littered with 60s revival-types (mainly rock bands) and Circulus like the freedom that comes with going another less commercial way?

I used to play in 60s dress-up type bands, that's what I was into. Then I played in an Elizabethan band who didn't dress up. After many years I sort of combined the two and got Circulus.

Is there a sense that Circulus can make people reflect on how barren their spiritual lives are these days? A song like ‘My body is made of sunshine’ has that effect on me. I find it intoxicatingly beautiful: but it would not work as a rap song or whatever - it works because it seems to speak of another more magical time and era...

Thank you. The idea of our bodies being essentially made from sunlight came to me from the Aetherius Society's "The Nine Freedoms". Their leader found out all kinds of stuff by receiving mental transmissions from the Cosmic Master Aetherius and Mars Sector 6! I tried to transmit that spirituality in the song.

Lastly what do you know about COBs story? Coming back to them: was the Sacred Heart the name of the folk club in Mitchell? I know that their second album refers to the Sacred Heart....There isn't that much on the web about COB...

I read an interview with Clive Palmer in Record Collector a couple of years ago where I think he mentioned the Sacred Heart being their local. I know that they were produced by Ralph McTell and that things all soon went a bit wrong for them and they sold very few records. Moysche McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart is probably my favourite album of all time. And they dreamed it all up in Cornwall. a review on Julian Copes site of COB's second album Circulus own website