By Magician

Catalogue No.



BAZAAR (5.51)
MUSK (6.54)
MORASS (6.54)

All titles composed and arranged by Stan Butcher
Produced by Monty Babson
Engineered by Martin Levan
Original sleeve design by Bill Smith, sorted for this first repress by Andrew Divine
Original Art direction by David Howells
Original illustration by Paul Monteagle

Originally recorded at Morgan Studios, Willesden, London, January 1978.

In all the years I’ve collected British jazz, British easy listening, British exotica, British film music and British library music, this is one of those LPs that collectors will say “you never see”. And I’ll say it too.

I reckon it must have been the mid 1980s when I really started sniffing about for old music, something that was accelerated and amplified considerably when I moved to London in 1989. The scene at the time was exploratory, with lots of new record buyers digging up recordings and genres that had really fallen out of fashion and view. There were records coming into London from the USA - like great soul, odd funk, spiritual jazz, exotica, modal madness, all sorts. And there was a lot coming into the city after weekends from British boot sales, like bizarre easy listening, James Last going all Voodoo, Dankworth going all breakbeat and mysterious looking LPs with obscure TV themes on them.

I recall my first encounter with Stan Butcher in the early 1990s. A short series of easy listening LPs were being talked about and asked for, one being his Swing Like a B…… album (the B…... actually standing for Bastard). This was above average big band music, with a hip edge, and killer vocals by none other than Barbara Moore, who people were finally discovering had sung her way through most themes and scats we’d all heard growing up. For me Stan Butcher was hot and super cool, but only for a few weeks, as there were so few Stan Butcher LPs made to find and loads of other new old music to discover.

Part of record buying and collecting at the time was generous information swaps between collectors and dealers, be that in car parks, cafes, boot sales, shop counters, forums, markets, clubs, people’s homes, anywhere - “have you seen this”, “did you know about that”, “there’s two more on that label but both are crap” etc etc. I recall Steve Stasis (AKA Stasis AKA Paul W Teebrooke AKA Steve Pickford) talking to me about “weird easy” and it was the first time he mentioned and I heard about the album Magician. And the label Hobo. I’d say this was about 1994.

We can now fast forward to the naughties, and I’ve still not seen a copy of Magician, and no one ever mentions it either. But I do remember the label name. And I’ve still not heard it. But I know it drops right to the bottom and very nearly off my mental wants list. More than likely because I’ve never seen it and never even heard it.

A decade later or so later and we are in 2020, in lockdown and I find myself in a situation where I’ve ticked off a lot of musical boxes. And like magic, a copy of Magician appears up for sale. I buy it for far more than I wanted to, but these days there are no other options. You either buy it and bite that financial bullet or wait another decade. On arrival at the Trunk HQ and on first play the LP sounds extraordinary in many ways. Although it was written and recorded in 1978, it sounds rather more 1972 - and with the British jazz line up it somehow manages to sound more like an earlier British library LP, something from the cop styled Themes or KPM stables. In fact I’d say it falls between many musical stools, in that it’s not jazz, it’s not library music, it’s not easy listening, it’s not funk, it’s not exotic either but it somehow manages to sound like all of them.

The original sleeve notes explain things a little more, revealing that the label Hobo was set up by producer Monty Babson, so he could release music no other labels were interested in issuing. At the time, his jazz cohort Stan Butcher had been keeping his keen ears on the world of music, and although he’d come through the light orchestral and easy scenes he was now absorbing music by Chick Corea, Grover Washington, Weather Report, The Headhunters, George Benson and more. And don’t forget Butcher’s biggest influence of all, Gil Evans. Butcher also references a big band funk experiment he’d recently organized called Worlds Of If, playing a suite of music based around the funky American sounds he was into, but once made he could find no label interested at all. Magician was the next incarnation of Worlds Of If but far smaller (there were ten brass and five saxes in the original band), and the concept was different too, making individual tracks instead of a full suite.

The origins of the band and LP name come from the TV. At the time British screens were given the pleasure of showing a lot of imported TV shows from the USA. One such series was called The Magician and featured Bill Bixby as a philanthropic crime solving professional magician who drove about in a white Corvette. When he sawed women in half or tied them up chains and plonked them in barrels of water to escape, his house band would perform a perfectly hypnotic funky background instrumental. While the music for this album was being recorded, producer Monty Babson noted the similarity and suggested “let’s call our thing MAGICIAN”.

Magician was the first issue (Hobo HO501) on Babson’s fledgling label (Babson also co owned Morgan studios where it was recorded) and eventually the LP came out in 1979. It’s unlikely sales were brisk - distribution may have been a little questionable and I think the dark, prog rock style sleeve for what is a cool funky jazz album may have confused absolutely everyone. Let’s face it, Magician looks more like a dark gothic adventure by a weirdy beardy folk outfit than killer jazz.

Today, hearing Magician with fresh ears it’s a complete revelation. It seems out of touch with it’s time, very much out of fashion for 1979. Maybe even five or six years late. But the performances by a stella line up of session talent and of course the notable and memorable contribution of Barbara Thompson now all shine out, and we can thankfully now enjoy what everyone missed the first time around.

I could try and think up a clever pun based on the word magician now but to be honest I’ve got better things to do. I will sum up by saying I wish I’d found this LP decades earlier and that every time I listen to it now I hear something new. It’s a great LP, a real surprise, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it. Just like that.

Jonny Trunk 2022

Trumpet: Stan Reynolds, Leon Calvert
Trombone: Roger Williams
Tenor & Soprano Saxes / Flute / Clarinet: Barbara Thompson
Keyboards: Fi Tench
Drums: Barry Morgan
Guitar: John Girvan, Ray Russell
Bass Guitar: Les Hurdle, Moe Foster