Week of July 27, 1997
Mandalaband was the brainchild of David Rohl, musician, composer, producer and now eminent Egyptologist, Director of the Institute for the study of interdisciplinary Sciences and Editor of the Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum. His was the guiding spirit behind the two albums which appeared on the Chrysalis label under the Mandalaband name in the latter years of the seventies.
To trace their origins, we must journey backwards in time to 1967, when the young David Rohl left school in the midst of his "A" level exams in order to form a band called The Sign Of Life, who played their first London 'gig' at Battersea Town Hall on September 28th, 1968. His interest in mythology in general, and that of Egypt in particular, was reflected in the change of name of this band to Ankh, the hieroglyphic determinative for life in Ancient Egypt. Ankh, by then consisting of entirely different musicians from the earlier band, recorded some demos at Stockport's Strawberry Studios with Eric Stewart, part-owner of the studios, former lead singer of The Mindbenders and later to achieve fame and fortune with 10cc. On the strength of these demos, Ankh were signed up by Vertigo for an album to be produced by BBC DJ Tommy Vance. However, Vertigo declined to issue the finished product, and the band split up. Disillusioned, Rohl went to study photography at Manchester College of Art, during which time he was commissioned to photograph The Moody Blues - examples of his work can be seen on the inside of the gatefold sleeve of A Question Of Balance.
Rohl's next venture drew on his experience of working with Eric Stewart and within his own band, when, at the age of 23, he set up a new recording studio just outside Stockport. Camel Studios, in Poynton, was the birthplace of the original Mandalaband. Tony Cresswell had auditioned as session drummer for Camel Studios and became a founder member of the new band. David and Tony then recruited Vic Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso who worked as an arranger and co-director at Camel before joining the fledgling outfit.
Meanwhile, bassist John Stimpson and lead guitarist Ashley Mulford's band Friends had broken up, and he, too, became part of the band after recording at Camel. The final piece fell into place when David Durant, a singer and friend of Stimpson and Mulford, auditioned and became the voice of Mandalaband.
They quickly drew the attention of major record companies, and Chrysalis won the race to sign them. Their first live gig, at Warwick University on 30th January 1975, was swiftly followed by a support slot on Robin Trower's UK tour in February, but problems arose when Rohl was prevented from producing their debut album, Chrysalis preferring instead to bring in John Alcock. Rohl, who says that he has always been happier in the background than performing in the limelight departed from the band he had founded, and the album, an ambitious concept inspired by the Tibetan people's brave resistance to the Chinese invasion and subsequent occupation of their country, largely written by Rohl, went ahead without him. The recording was not an unqualified success, and Rohl's stand was vindicated when Chrysalis Managing Director, Chris Wright, asked him to return to remix the tapes at Air Studios. Despite his ministrations, the album never quite captured the power and epic sweep of Rohl's original vision. The four movements of "Om Mani Padme Hum", affectionately known as "Oh My Papa" by the band, took up the whole of the first side of the debut album, Mandalaband (Chrysalis CHR 1095), which was released on October 24th, 1975, (and re-issued on CD by Edsel in early 1992). With its mantras taken from Tibet's national anthem, sung in Tibetan over a highly complex arrangement for band, choir and string synthesizers, "Om Mani Padme Hum" was as far outside the mainstream of the 'rock' idiom as it was possible to get, and fell on confused and bemused ears! The album was engineered by Tim Friese-Greene, who is now well-known for his success with the band Talk Talk.
Rohl returned to engineering, at Indigo Sound in Manchester, working with such luminaries as Marc Bolan, Thin Lizzy and Barclay James Harvest, whilst the remainder of the band, with new vocalist Paul Young and an additional guitarist, Ian Wilson, (both formerly of local band Gyro) renamed themselves Sad Café and recorded another album. Chrysalis failed to see their potential, and Sad Café and their album were sold to RCA, with whom they went on to have hits with songs such as "Every Day Hurts" and "My Oh My"; Paul Young also tasted success in Mike And The Mechanics. In 1976, Rohl took over from Eric Stewart as Chief Engineer at Strawberry Studios where he produced a series of albums and singles for artists such as Barclay James Harvest, Maddy Prior, Tim Hart and Roy Hill. Chrysalis retained his services as a writer and performer during this period, and at their suggestion the Mandalaband name was retained for his next project, a series of three albums based around the theme of a fabulous gemstone with mystical properties. The first part of the trilogy, The Eye Of Wendor: Prophecies, was act in a prehistoric world peopled by characters who would not be out of place in a Tolkien bestiary (in fact, the opening theme was originally penned for a soundtrack to The Lord Of The Rings).
Recording the album called for a new approach, Rohl no longer had his own band; instead, he created the "Mandalaband Club" from friends, acquaintances and colleagues met during his many years in the music business. Musicians of the calibre of Justin Hayward, 10cc, Barclay James Harvest, Maddy Prior, Paul Young and many others gave their services free and were recorded singly or in groups in the small boom when the studios were free. The whole album took nearly two years to record, and the resulting tapes were then painstakingly pieced together and mixed down by David with assistance from Martin Lawrence, who was fresh from engineering Godley & Creme's mammoth project, Consequences.
The main characters in the tale of Wendor are played by individual vocalists: Justin Hayward sings the pail of King AEnord, ruler of Carthilias, Maddy Prior plays his daughter, Princess Ursula, and Eric Stewart is Florian, the young hero whom the prophecies tell will retrieve the Eye Of Wendor from the evil Witch Queen, Silesandre. The narrative vocalists, Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Paul Young, describe Florian's adventures in his quest and the characters he meets, including Almar the alchemist in his laboratory, the primeval sea-serpent Elsethea and Damien, the old King's heir. The major instrumental contributions were made by Rohl himself, Barclay James Hamest's Woolly Wolstenholme, Kim Turner and Steve Broomhead (who both later joined Woolly in his band Maestoso), Phil Chapman and the late Ritchie Close (to whom this CD release is dedicated), not forgetting members of the Halle Orchestra.
The album, The Eye Of Wendor: Prophecies, was finally released on Chrysalis (CHR 1181) on 12th May, 1978, and, whilst it didn't set the world alight, sold respectably in Britain, Germany, Holland, Canada, Japan and Australia. As time has passed, it has achieved cult status and commands high prices on the collectors market. This RPM issue is its first appearance on CD, and is mastered from the original mixdown master tapes to give a new clarity and depth to the album.
The original album included an illustrated story sheet which has been omitted from the CD, as David feels that the music has stood the test of time better than the rather derivative, sub-Tolkien text. That sheet promised that the story was to be continued: as far as the Mandalaband project was concerned, that rash statement was the kiss of death! Whilst The Eye Of Wendor cost just BP8,000 to complete (a derisory sum for an album of such complexity, even in 1978), any follow-up would have been considerably more expensive, and Chrysalis decided not to take the risk.
However, David has since continued to work occasionally in the industry, collaborating with Woolly Wolstenholme on soundtracks for TV, including Cosgrove Hall's animations for Cinderella, 'The Pied Piper (which received two British Academy Awards) and Gerald Durrell's "The Talking Parcel", Thames TV's series "S.W.A.L.K." and "The Squad", and writing the music for "The All Electric Amusement Arcade" on his own. Since then, he has written and produced recordings for the band Vega and a fine song called "Peace On Earth" for a children's version of Live Aid. He continues to study the ancient world, preparing a Ph.D. thesis entitled, A Test of Time: A reinvestigation of the Chaser of the Ancient World, and is currently planning a TV project which would combine the two abiding themes in his life - music and the study of Man's ancient past.
In the meantime, we could do a lot worse than re-appraise his earlier work; The Eye Of Wendor has worn very well, and repeated listens reveal hitherto unnoticed nuances in the music, which make each playing a voyage of discovery. The Eye Of Wendor has a strange history, but it lives on, and we are now its guardians - the story continues
Keith Domone, 1992
Taken from the CD reissue of Mandalaband (Chrysalis CHR 1095) and The Eye Of Wendor: Prophecies (Chrysalis CHR 1181), 1992, RPM Records, RPM 105