The Incredible String Band
The Incredible String Band were hugely influential amongst the British underground scene of the late 1960s and were largely responsible for the development of psychedelic folk rock in the UK. Their influence continues to this day and can be heard in the work of artists as diverse as Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Devendra Banhart.
The legendary producer, Joe Boyd, spotted Robin Williamson & Clive Palmer working as a folk duo in Edinburgh in 1965 and having added a third member Mike Heron the band released their self titled debut album on Elektra in 1966. They won immediate praise from fans, critics and fellow artists such as Bob Dylan who was a fan of their ‘October Song’. Following the release of this album, however, the band went their separate ways with Palmer going to Afghanistan, Williamson to Morocco and only Palmer remaining in the UK.
This time apart proved fruitful and merely served to broaden their musical horizons. With the addition of Danny Thompson and Williamson’s then girlfriend Licorice McKechnie, they found great success with their second album ‘The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion’. Song writing was shared between the band and won rave reviews and celebrity fans such as Paul McCartney & John Peel.
1968 proved to be the band’s most prolific and creative period with the release of the experimental ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ which included an adapted Sikh hymn and a 13 minute epic ‘A Very Cellular Song’ written by Mike Heron. Later that year they released the more avant garde ‘Wee Tam and the Big Huge’ which was dominated by songs written by Williamson.
The band became a popular live act touring widely across Europe and America. They almost achieved wider recognition when they played the Woodstock festival in 1969. However, they refused to play in the rain and as a result when they finally took the stage their appearance failed to make the film that went on to launch many of their contemporaries on to the lucrative world stage.
By 1970 their work began to broaden and become more multi media based culminating in a show and album called ‘U’. Response to their work was increasingly luke warm and was out of step with the post hippy glam rock period of the early 1970s. Despite signing to Island Records their popularity gradually waned and the band split in 1974.
There have been several reunions in recent years and their influence shows no sign of diminishing with subsequent generations of musicians citing their influence at regular intervals. Much of their early work has stood the test of time and remains as relevant today as it did 40 years ago and is worthy of investigation.
The Incredible String Band (1966)
The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion (1967)
The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968)
Wee Tam and the Big Huge (1968)
Changing Horses (1969)
I Looked Up (1970)
Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending (1971)
Liquid Acrobats as Regards the Air (1971)
No Ruinous Feud (1973)
Hard Rope and Silken Twine (1974)