Dave Amitri on The Incredible String Band
I’ve taken some guidance from Wikipedia to get some background of The Incredible String Band and it strikes me that they were from a time now over 50 years ago of which I know very little. However they were “discovered” by someone who saw them play live and signed them. The album I’ve listened to 3 times today is their eponymous debut.
The first thing that struck me before I heard a note were the sleeve notes, I literally laughed out loud. I’ll share 1 paragraph ….
“There are three logs, one for each of the incredible string band, and although they look just like any other logs, they were given to the three musicians by a golden wonder potato, who was a very close friend of the magic blackbird”
There is more of the same and a joyful description of each song by Mike Heron, no lyrics, just a stream of consciousness that already sets the scene for what is to follow. I knew what was coming before the needle hit the record. The one for “Oh Lord How Happy I am” should become a daily poem at all secondary schools in the UK. The front cover seems to include Martin Fry, Ed Sheeran and Noel Gallagher holding a selection of antiques for celebrity “Flog It”
The album opens with “Maybe Someday” which is a lovely ditty in the folk traditions and instantly put me in mind of those guitar lesson programmes in the dead zone of weekday morning TV of the early 70’s. You’re immediately aware that these are talented musicians having a crack at singing in a Bob Dylan style, I have to confess I haven’t checked who came first. As expected there are flutes, I suspect some lutes and other instruments you wouldn’t find in a Coldplay recording session (no-one tell Chris Martin) but in the hands of Heron, Williamson and Palmer (who only gets one song which according to Wiki stretched his belief in the magic blackbird) it creates a really pleasant sound and collection of songs
It’s obvious I can’t judge after 3 listens beyond the honest view that there is enough here for me to give it another go. I’d love a time machine to back to 1966 and get a sense of the vibe of that time that allowed this album to be made. It’s clear all was not well with the world and The Incredible String Bands freeforming hippydom and music was intended to be an antidote to that, A group of celestial travellers takings sounds from the birds and the forest and turning them into songs for all to enjoy. It’s a shame they followed the structure of an album format and could have been even more out there. The writing on the cover is a real find and I genuinely love it.
In summing up, it’s a folky journey back to a more innocent time. Any album that can go from “Footsteps of the Heron” to “Niggertown” is ok with me. 3 obviously talented, creative musicians just being in a time and space that I suspect not many others have inhabited. It’s given me an insight into Johnny C’s world and leaves me with a lovely mental picture of Pencilsqueezer at his easel. brush in hand being inspired by “Smoke Shovelling Song” . All in all a lovely time capsule of an album that I will definitely be trying again