Origins of Magic Carpet
Way back in the seventies in London, three friends came together to play some unusual music: sitarist Clem Alford, guitarist Jim Moyes and tabla player Keshav Sathe formed a unique anglo / Indian musical fusion calling themselves Sargam (the name of a note in an Indian scale). They made one album under the band name ‘Sagram’, a mispelling by the Windmill record company which inappropriately entitled the album Pop Explosion Sitar Style! This album was released without the band’s permission, the garish cover photograph bearing no relation to any band members or anything about them.
Featuring the sitar playing of Clem Alford and guitar playing of Jim Moyes, Pop Explosion Sitar Style! is a beautifully played and distinctive acoustic album that reflects many musical currents of the time – from Alexis Korner to the Bauls of Bengal to Ravi Shankar. The complex and sensitive tabla playing of virtuoso Keshav Sathe underpins all six instrumental tracks. We may at least be grateful to Windmill for recording the music for posterity.
In 1971, soon after the release of 'Sagram', the Sargam trio were offered another recording contract by Mushroom Records, with the proviso that they find a singer. Having met her when they were both at Chelsea School of Art, Jim Moyes contacted the singer Alisha Sufit. At the time Alisha was living in Islington, London, singing and writing songs for acoustic guitar and Appalachian dulcimer. She busked in street markets and in the London Underground by day, and did gigs round the clubs and colleges at night. Jim Moyes invited her to play and the four musicians soon renamed themselves Magic Carpet, forming a unique Anglo-Indian musical collaboration, greatly facilitated by the fact that Alisha was writing songs mostly set in open modal tunings on the guitar (DADGAD etc.) making them instantly compatible with the tuning of the sitar.
Alisha's comment: 'The odd thing was that a friend had asked me what sort of band I'd like to be in a short while before Jim's call. I said that I'd really like to play with sitar and tabla, and then, hey presto, a few months later Jim rang me!'
The band recorded the Magic Carpet album in the winter of 1971–1972 on the Mushroom Records label (MR 20). The four stayed together for nearly a year, doing a few prestigious gigs – the 100 Club in London, Wavendon (Cleo Laine and John Dankworth's venue), several festivals, Sounds of the Seventies on BBC Radio, etc., but they finally parted company in 1972. They thought no more about the album until many years later.
Some ten years after its first release, the original Magic Carpet album started to become highly sought after, changing hands for upwards of £120 UK sterling on the collectors' market, plus it was illegally bootlegged at least once. Magic Carpet Records officially re-released the album on CD and 1,000 limited edition vinyl LPs (MC1001CD & MC1001LP). Pressed from the original tapes on top quality EMI heavy-weight vinyl, the LP re-issue quickly sold out and has become collectable in its own right. A growing audience for Magic Carpet soon asked would they be getting back together? Was there any more Magic Carpet material hidden in the cupboard? After a considerable gap, the four met up again. Jim was no longer performing in public and Keshav had retired, but Clem and Alisha were still playing professionally and it was a natural step to do another album – the 'rush follow-up'!
In 1996 they recorded the album Once Moor (subtitle Magic Carpet II) released on the Magic Carpet Records label (MC1004CD & MC1004LP). Once Moor consists mostly of songs written and sung by Alisha, plus some purely instrumental tracks, with Clem Alford on sitar and tamboura, Alisha on guitar, and Pandit Dinesh and Esmail Sheikh on tabla percussion. The album was issued on CD and top quality EMI heavy-weight vinyl, with a virtuoso full-length classical raga as the bonus track on the CD.
Both CD booklet and LP sleeve contain all the lyrics plus original art work by Alisha Sufit. On the back cover is a photo of a real 'Magic Carpet' – an Afghan rug found by chance just before the album release – with the same half-horse / half-woman Baraq image first depicted on the original Magic Carpet LP cover, but this time with two similar figures, eerily apt for Magic Carpet II.