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The Incredible String Band

One of the most engaging groups to emerge from the esoteric '60s was the Incredible String Band. Basically the duo of Mike Heron and Robin Williamson, its sound was comprised of haunting Celtic folk melodies augmented by a variety of Middle Eastern and Asian instruments. Heron was a member of several rock bands in England in the early '60s, while Williamson and Clive Palmer played as a bluegrass and Scottish folk duo. Heron was asked to join as rhythm guitarist, and the trio named itself the Incredible String Band.

The band was spotted at a club by Joe Boyd, who was opening a British wing of Elektra Records. The trio gave Boyd a demo tape of mostly American bluegrass standards with a few original songs, which impressed him more than the standards. The Incredible String Band, released in 1966, featured mostly original numbers enthusiastically played in American and Celtic folk styles. Following the album's release, Williamson spent several months studying music in Morocco, and Palmer left the group to travel to Afghanistan. For the String Band's second album, The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion, exotic touches such as the Middle Eastern oud, Indian sitars, and tambouras began to permeate the group's sound. The band's lyrics also became more whimsical; highlights include Williamson's tale of insomnia "No Sleep Blues" and Heron's amorous "Painting Box."

The press raved about the Incredible String Band, and their next album, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, was the band's brief flirtation with stardom. Although the music was less commercial than its predecessor, the LP reached the Top Ten in the British album charts and was also the group's highest Billboard chart placing in America, reaching number 161. The songs became less structured, as on the opening, "Koeeoaddi There," which changed tempo frequently as it cascaded joyously with sitars and jaw harp. The album's centerpiece, "A Very Cellular Song," was a suite of short pieces sewn together with the folk song "Bid You Goodnight." For Wee Tam and the Big Huge, the Incredible String Band were augmented by Williamson and Heron's girlfriends, Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson.

The group also began to electrically amplify its instruments. This expanded lineup performed at the Woodstock festival in 1969, but due to circumstances it was not one of the band's most memorable performances. The Incredibles' slot was originally to be Friday night after Joan Baez; however, due to heavy rain, the band opted not to perform. Folksinger Melanie took the Incredibles' place and went down extremely well, writing her big hit "Candles in the Rain" about that moment. The Incredible String Band got a lukewarm reception the next afternoon between Creedence Clearwater Revival and Canned Heat.

At the turn of the '70s, the Incredible String Band began to lose some of their momentum. The album Changing Horses was not as engaging as the band's previous collections, and the group's eclecticism became a liability rather than an asset. Bassist and pantomimist Malcolm LeMaistre joined in 1971 for U, a well-received stage show that did not translate as easily to record. The band made the transition to electric rock & roll in 1972.

In 1974, following the album Hard Rope & Silken Twine, the Incredible String Band disbanded. Both founding members had prolific solo careers; Heron's took him in a rock direction, while Williamson explored his Celtic roots. For several years the band was seen as a dated anachronism. Recently, with the resurgence in interest in the psychedelic '60s as well as world music, the Incredible String Band's music has been rediscovered by new audiences won over by its mystical charm. A double CD of rare tracks, studio outtakes, and live performances, Tricks of the Senses, was released by Hux Records in 2009. ~ Jim Powers
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: 5000 Spirits / Hangman's Beautiful Daughter

Disc 1

1. Chinese White

2. No Sleep Blues

3. Painting Box

4. The Mad Hatter's Song

5. Little Cloud

6. The Eyes Of Fate

7. Blues For The Muse

8. The Hedgehogs' Song

9. First Girl I Loved

10. You Know What You Could Be

11. My Name Is Death

12. Gently Tender

13. Way Back In The 1960's

Disc 2

1. Koeeoaddi There

2. The Minotaur's Song

3. Witches Hat

4. A Very Cellular Song

5. Mercy I Cry City

6. Waltz Of The New Moon

7. The Water Song

8. Three Is A Green Crown

9. Swift As The Wind

10. Nightfall

x

Track List: The Chelsea Sessions 1967

1. Lover Man

2. Born In Your Town (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

3. First Girl I Loved (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

4. Gently Tender (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

5. Little Cloud (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

6. Blues For The Muse (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

7. The Eyes Of Fate (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

8. The Mad Hatter's Song (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

9. Alice Is A Long Time Gone

10. See Your Face And Know You

11. Frutch (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

12. The Iron Stone (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

13. God Dog (The Chelsea Demo Sessions, 1967)

x

Track List: I Looked Up

1. Black Jack Davey

2. The Letter

3. Pictures In A Mirror

4. This Moment

5. When You Find Out Who You Are

6. Fair As You

x

Track List: The Big Huge

1. Maya

2. Greatest Friend

3. The Son Of Noah's Brother

4. Lordly Nightshade

5. The Mountain Of God

6. Cousin Caterpillar

7. The Iron Stone

8. Douglas Traherne Harding

9. The Circle Is Unbroken

x

Track List: Changing Horses

1. Big Ted

2. White Bird

3. Dust Be Diamonds

4. Sleepers Awake

5. Mr. & Mrs.

6. Creation

x

Track List: Wee Tam

1. Job's Tears

2. Puppies

3. Beyond The See

4. The Yellow Snake

5. Log Cabin Home In The Sky

6. You Get Brighter

7. The Half Remarkable Question

8. Air

9. Ducks On A Pond

x

Track List: The Incredible String Band

1. Maybe Someday

2. October Song

3. When The Music Starts To Play

4. Schaeffer's Jig

5. Womankind

6. The Tree

7. Whistle Tune

8. Dandelion Blues

9. How Happy I Am

10. Empty Pocket Blues

11. Smoke Shovelling Song

12. Can't Keep Me Here

13. Good As Gone

14. Footsteps Of The Heron

15. Niggertown

16. Everything's Fine Right Now

x

Track List: U

Disc 1

1. El Wool Suite

2. The Juggler's Song

3. Time

4. Bad Sadie Lee

5. Queen Of Love

6. Partial Belated Overture

7. Light In Time Of Darkness/Glad To See You

8. Walking Along With You

9. Hirem Pawnitof/Fairie's Hornpipe

10. Bridge Theme

Disc 2

1. Bridge Song

2. Astral Plane Theme

3. Invocation

4. Robot Blues

5. Puppet Song

6. Cutting The Strings

7. I Know You

8. Rainbow

Comments

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Great band....thei r solo work is top notch as well...My favorites are The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and Wee Tam and The Big Huge
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@tigger I play the flute as well my brother and I go into the woods sometimes and I play :) my dream school is Berkeley I'd love to get my PhD in anthropology there...if nothing else I plan to visit there one day for sure!
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ISB - intense nostalgia. Nothing like them.
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I first found out about this band from an awesome as ballz movie called "Pirate Radio". The part when Bob goes back into the deep water of a sinking ship to save the album(on vinyl) from going down. Ha! He was ready to die for The Incredible String Band. Now THAT is Love for Music! :)
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I have seen them live & their music is truly incredible
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I used to sing every song playing my flute walking thru the woods of Berkeley. Then they came to Pepperland in San Rafael and I got to spend several hours backstage listening to Robyn talk about Druids and Stonehenge and everything else.
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I heard the name while growing up but was unfamiliar with the music. I don't care for it now that I've heard it
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There should be radio stations dedicated to this music and philosophy to balance those relentless broadcasters of hellfire Christianity .
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wtf is this?! The Water Song...holy hell, still awful. Goodness...o h , is that water I hear? I am gonna listen to the whole thing... waa-ter, waa-ter, waa-ter.(wtf ! ? ) Hey it is over. Wow! Can't say I didn't enjoy this! Thumb dow
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ISB one of my all time favs
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Still no Wee Tam/Big Huge on Pandora...
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brandon_612
Firstly, Thank You Pandora! Listening to ISB is one of the greatest pleasures for me. Im relatively young(25) and I have had the opportunity to have a good friend, transfer from platinum and now IPOD. Pandora plays ISB! TY!
Report as inappropriate
Had the pleasure of seeing Robin Williamson at the Guitar Shop in L.A. twice. Once with John Renbourne. Robin tells wonderful stories and plays a Harp as well as guitar. He's a special artist...
Report as inappropriate
If I could sing only one song...
Report as inappropriate
freakin' fantastic- (these songs are timeless thank you very much kindly
Report as inappropriate
I loved this group back when their albums were first released (I'm 56 now), and it is wonderful that Pandora has ISB in its project. Thank you SOOOO much!
Report as inappropriate
thankyou for the rare treat ive been searching for this group of unique artist.PANDO R A RADIO WHAT A GREAT IDEA much appreicated.

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