Drummer John Kowalski and bass player Bob Homa formed Haymarket Square in Chicago in the late '60s. Both had previously toiled in Chicago high school garage band the Real Things, the name a derivation and tribute to English beat band the Pretty Things. Not your typical amateurs, the Real Things actually played professional instruments and earned professional gigs until they disintegrated in 1967 due to the usual reasons of the season, leaving the two original members to assemble a new unit.
Homa decided to place ads in the campus newspaper of the University of Illinois Chicago -- where both he and Kowalski had enrolled by this time -- as well as in two local Chicago dailies. Guitarist Marc Swenson, a 17-year-old lead player who idolized and emulated Dave Davies, was the first to answer and was quickly hired after a short, impressive audition. The three then set about searching for a singer, but were unsuccessful until receiving a call from Gloria Lambert, who had also seen their advertisement. At the time, she was biding her time in the folk band Jordan, Damian, and Samantha until something more exciting (i.e., electric) came along for which she could utilize her classically trained skills.
An audition was set, and when the 20-year-old blonde with the powerful Grace Slick voice showed up, the three teenagers were somewhat awestruck and, of course, impressed, and snapped her up immediately. Like Swenson, Lambert also happened to be a strong burgeoning songwriter. The quartet took the name Haymarket Square in honor of the Chicago Labor riot that took place at the turn of the century.
Within a short time, the band had earned a strong local reputation and degree of popularity on the Chicago rock scene, playing premier rooms such as the Electric Playground and the Playboy Mansion in addition to the many teen clubs and hangouts, and sharing stages with important international groups like the Yardbirds and Cream, as well as local favorites H.P. Lovecraft, Saturday's Children, and the Shadows of Knight. Soon they were composing their own songs in imitation of their idols Jefferson Airplane, while also absorbing the city's blues and folk traditions, and adding a smattering of Lovecraftian occult touches.
Haymarket Square's escalating stature led to an offer from the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in the summer of 1968 to act as backup musicians for a live work of art that was on display at the time, the Original Baron and Bailey Light Circus, produced by a pair of University of Illinois professors. It in turn led to Magic Lantern, released on independent Chaparral Records later in 1968.
As the music featured on it was initially utilized as live accompaniment and created expressly with that purpose in mind, the album plays much like the records of the Airplane's middle, most psychedelic period, as much visceral experiences to fill San Francisco ballrooms as they are objects for home listening, or like early Grateful Dead recordings, intended as soundtracks for Acid Tests and experimental light shows. But as with the work of those bands, Magic Lantern transcends its intended purpose; in fact, it is one of the stronger -- not to mention one of the earliest -- slices of acid rock from the era, outstanding in every way, from Kowalski's expert drumming to Lambert's impressive, insistent singing to the intensely mood-filled, darkly textured original songs.
The band changed personnel shortly after the album's release. Homa chose to exit the band and was replaced by Ken Pitlik, while Robert Miller added a second guitar to the mix. This version of Haymarket Square continued through 1974, when they called it quits. By this point, Swenson and Lambert had married, while the others went their own separate ways.
by Stanton Swihart
1. Elevator (Lambert) - 7:06
2. The Train-Kept-A-Rollin' (Bradshaw, Howie, Sydney) - 7:20
3. Ahimsa (Homa, Kowalski, Swenson) - 8:14
4. Amapola (Swenson) - 10:43
5. Phantasmagoria (Lambert) - 4:08
6. Funeral (Lambert) - 9:23
*Robert Homa - Bass, Vocals
*Marc Swenson - Guitar, Vocals
*John Kowalski - Percussion
*Gloria Lambert - Vocals