Caped crusaders of acid folk help Devon celebrate pagan festival in style
We knew something like this would happen. This morning NME woke up with a horse’s head in our bed. Worse still, the head was attached to our own and our eyes were not eyes at all, but equine nostrils. This is what a night with Circulus, Britain’s finest – or rather, only – psychedelic medieval folk rock group, can do.
It could have been worse. When it was first suggested we accompany this six-strong collective (it’s usually seven but wind merchant Will Summers is missing, replaced by a giant plastic goldfish) to deepest Devon for a day of pagan tomfoolery we were suspicious. Maybe it was all an elaborate ruse and we would end up like Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man, burning to death in a giant straw figure with no facial features shouting, “AWAKE YE HEATHENS!”
Instead we end up in Pilton (no, not that one), a village that redefines the word quaint and just happens to spend one day a year getting trolleyed to celebrate the Green Man, ancient harbinger of life and rebirth.
“This,” says Circulus mainman Michael Tyack, as he surveys men on unicycles juggling with fire, morris dancers slapping each other with big sticks and a man driving up the street in a miniature boat singing ‘In The Navy’, “is the reason why we all live in England!” Ironically for a pagan festival, the gig takes place in the Church Hall. First up, Richard Olson of the similarly bucolically-inclined Eighteenth Day Of May plays a solo set, including a glorious folked-up cover of Spacemen 3’s ‘Walking With Jesus’, before Circulus make their entrance.
Despite the funny outfits, songs about pixies and the fact that they have a bongo player called Victor Hugo, Circulus are definitely not a joke band. Tyack might have the droll wit of Jarvis Cocker had he been born half a millennium earlier and spent his time twitching a portcullis rather than net curtains, but his knowledge of his art is impressive. Crucially, he also writes truly great pop songs; and so he should – he’s been doing this for a decade, although Circulus’ debut album, ‘The Lick On The Tip Of An Envelope Yet To Be Sent’, only came out earlier this month.
‘My Body Is Made Of Sunlight’ is The Polyphonic Spree if they were a bunch of south London ’shroomheads rather than loons from Texas, ‘Candlelight’ is, quite simply, beautiful and there’s something strangely satisfying about the fact that ‘Miri It Is’, the funkiest song of 2005, was originally written in the 13th century. With everything marinaded in keyboardist Ollie Parfitt’s Moog mania, Circulus sound like a long lost medieval rave band and NME gets well and truly caught up in the spirit of it all. Hence how we ended up horsing about onstage and into the night like Bez. With hooves.