Posts Tagged ‘Mike Heron’

The incredible Incredible String Band record is frankly amazing. It’s just very different. It’s fairly indescribable. The closest description would be a sort of folk, sometimes termed psychedelic folk: Whichever way you like to describe it, it polarises listeners – many love it, many hate it. It has enjoyed much reverence from musicians and critics. Paul McCartney, Dylan and John Peel were fans. McCartney selected the album as his favourite of 1968. Led Zeppelin were apparently heavily influenced by it, particularly around the time of producing their III album. It frequently features in “greatest albums of all time” lists. Yet many find it unlistenable.

“Plas man” on amazon describes it as “amateurs playing various instruments, and different tunes, all at the same time.” Another amazon customer was even less charitable describing it as “by far the worst album I ever bought. What the hell were they thinking or indeed smoking. Utter and complete garbage.”

In one amusing review  they write: “What I find incredible about this group is that they were ever allowed in the studio in the first place. They have all the talent of third-rate buskers, the kind of street performers whose sound makes you dash to the opposite side of the street as you approach the spot from which their horrible noise emanates.” She goes on to damn the music as “the most repulsive music I have ever heard.”

To many western ears it sounds out of tune the singing is described as beyond any notes found on any scale known to humankind! Fantastic stuff. I don’t know about you but anything that elicits such extreme views has got to be worth a listen.

In the style of a good court room drama I’m pleased to take the role of the defending barrister putting the case for the defence of this album. I will present three pieces of evidence which I will show prove beyond reasonable doubt that The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter is in fact an amazing record. In fact I can do this by an examination of the first three tracks only.

The opening song Koeeoaddi There  There are enough ideas in this 5 minute piece for a whole career let alone a single album or song. The structure of the song, like a lot of Incredible String Band songs is all over the place but in my opinion it holds together and works. It’s actually a masterpiece!. The lyrics present a description of childhood to which many of us can relate, particularly the “shadowy fingers on the curtains at night”: There is also a mention of Mike Heron’s enigmatic girlfriend Licorice in a Dr. Seuss inspired verse: But me and Licorice saw the last of them one misty twisty day Across the mournful morning, moor motoring away, The girls in the band are an interesting case. They were Christina “Licorice” McKechnie and Rose Simpson. I’m not sure whether they were more important as musicians or girlfriends – certainly it appears they were the latter before the former. Licorice was partnered with Robin Williamson and left the band in 1972 after their romantic relationship ended. Rose was Mike Heron’s partner and allegedly was invited to join the band only because Licorice had been invited too. By all accounts there was a fair bit of rivalry between Williamson and Heron personally and professionally. The girls didn’t get on either! you know, In the middle of the night she (Rose) left Robin’s sleeping bag, crawled in with Mike, and stayed with him for the next three years. you know, the swinging sixties, and just look at that cover! Or was that Rose?

The Minotaur Song which is an enjoyable call and response marching song. It features Richard Thompson and Judy Dyble from Fairport Convention. Roll up your sleeves and sing-a-long:

The thirteen minute epic A Very Cellular Song, a kind of circular suite that opens with a wavering organ riff and harpsichord refrain which ebbs and flows, and leaves and returns throughout. The lyrics are out of this world, literally: I have heard the last verse before as a yoga mantra. I had assumed this was a traditional mantra but apparently the mantra was lifted from this original ISB song.

Apparently the spiritual leader of Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Bhajan, once came into a room where a group of yoga students were singing the ISB song. Yogi asked them to keep it up, and from then on requested them to sing it after his classes. It quickly became a tradition that continues today at the end of every Kundalini Yoga class taught throughout the world.

When the Incredible String Band toured the States in the late 60s May the Long Time Sun was always the closing song at their gigs. They were invited to play Woodstock but didn’t make the edit for the original film. Originally scheduled to play the more acoustic Friday evening as one of the headliners they were bumped to the heavy rock Saturday due to the famous rain and didn’t go down so well. An opportunity lost.
The Woodstock setlist:
Invocation
The Letter
Gather Round
This Moment
Come With Me
When You Find Out Who You Are

Oddly there were no songs from “Hangman”.

listeners need to investigate, or reappraise, this most unusual and fascinating album. After Hangman the band fell within the clutches of Scientology and despite some decent later albums and continuing good sales (much of the proceeds they invested in the Church) they gradually lost their edge: Soon the new compositions began to lose their wild melodic beauty. In the studio, there were fewer moments of surprise and inspiration. Joe Boyd The band broke up in 1974, both leading members going on to take up solo careers with the occasional short lived reunion. The enigmatic Licorice, like one of her front teeth, sadly went missing in the late 80s, presumed dead.

To read more about the Incredible String Band, along with all the other artists Joe Boyd managed and produced in the late 60s – Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Nick Drake, early Pink Floyd etc. I highly recommend his brilliant and very readable White Bicycles memoir.

Wee Tam and the Big Huge was the fourth album by this Scottish psychedelic folk group, the Incredible String Band, It was released in Europe as both a double LP and separate single LPs in November 1968 by Elektra Records. In the US, however, the two discs were released separately as Wee Tam and The Big Huge

The album title imagined a friend of the band (Wee Tam) contemplating the vastness of the universe (the Big Huge) and the work was hallmarked by a vast array of stringed and other instruments from around the globe. The songs were written by Williamson or Heron, always individually. Both men had quite disparate styles. Heron largely embraced a warm, simplistic celebration of the natural world, while Williamson’s lyrics were full of mythical wonder, with imagery raided from paganism.

Heron’s tunes had immediacy. Williamson’s took more getting to know. Yet, their voices work so well together. Their instrumental playing is at times inspired, and the way they blend vocals and instrumentation allows two different souls to become one. As much as the playing shimmered with virtuosity, there was also a coy, amateurish side to the band,

originally released as two separate albums in 1968, Wee Tam& the Big Huge were audacious then and still monumental now. these were, in effect, the Incredible String Band’s fourth and fifth albums; their debut had appeared just two years prior. the band expanded their base with more stringed instruments from around the world, and increased the song length. more than half the songs are over five minutes in length to accommodate the band’s exploration of folkish moods and mysticism. Mike Heron’s “Log Cabin in the Sky” is a classic by any measure, and Robin Williamson’s “The Half-Remarkable Question” shows him in full command of a deeply anchored musical sensibility. the whole set feels like a continuous piece, with the songs rolling into one another with graceful ease.

Wee Tam is arguably the more accessible disc with notable highlights, The colorful and optimistic “You Get Brighter”, and the atmospheric “Air”. It’s a precursor for the brilliance of the Big Huge where Williamson’s creative touch dominates. The second disc starts with the wondrous epic “Maya”, which is sheer poetry and imagination set to vibrant music. The song ends with the sentiment that humanity creates a “troubled voyage in calm weather.” The overriding sense is that there is little wrong with the natural world and it is man who must find his place and learn to live in peace with the earth and his fellow occupiers.

Another peak is the mystic-poetic “The Iron Stone”, a slow-burn exploration, which suddenly morphs into the hippy equivalent of rap as “love paints the cart with suns for wheels” and ends in a wonderful instrumental melange with Heron’s sitar dueling with Williamson’s guitar. It’s sheer brilliance, and you feel exhausted and exhilarated afterward. Mind you, Heron manages to outdo his band mate with weirdness on this side of the album, with the impermeable “Douglas Traherne Harding”.

The real joy of Wee Tam and the Big Huge is that it takes you to places few albums have or will. It is nature’s roller coaster ride. It’s green before its time, haunting and plaintiff, spiritual and uplifting, funny and sad, baffling and informed, and it should be in everyone’s record collection, preferably on vinyl.

Originally a trio, the ISB were signed by legendary producer Jo Boyd. After seeing them at Clive’s Incredible Folk Club, a small venue in Glasgow’s famous Saucihall Street Boyd placed them on the Elektra label. The band released their seminal fourth album, Wee Tam and the Big Hugein 1968. A double album, no less, which was far out, as was the way the lyrics appeared unconventionally on the album covers, rather than inside. The typography and how initial letters of each song lyric were illustrated in a Book of Hours style. The inside spread was occupied by two pure flower-power portraits of Williamson and Heron together.

Willamson and Heron were the epitome of experimentation, free spirit, weirdness, beauty, and truth.

Image result for The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND - " Wee Tam And The Big Huge

Scotland’s Incredible String Band combined traditional music of several cultures and brought that mixture into the hippie era, giving birth to freak folk. Among the ISB’s many fans is Robert Plant, who once cited the group’s “The Hangmans Beautiful Daughter” as a major influence on Led Zeppelin. The 1968 Elektra collection is ambitious and eclectic, applying a wide array of acoustic instruments (including sitar, oud, hammered dulcimer,  pan pipe and harpsichord) to the frequently surreal lyrics of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron. These songs of minotaurs and amoebas are psychedelic in the broadest sense of the term, and make excellent use of multi-tracking and overdubbing, guided by the capable hand of producer Joe Boyd. A commercial success in its native U.K. as well as a Grammy nominee, THE HANGMAN’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER is considered the Incredible String Band’s finest album, and it still works a strange magic on listeners.

For an album with lyrics like “If I were a witch’s hat, sitting on her head like a paraffin stove” and “I hear that the Emperor of China used to wear iron shoes with ease;We are the tablecloth, and also the table;also the fable of the dancing leaves”?
Just goes to show we baby-boomers had a damn sight more musical appreciation sense than we’ve been given credit for! This is, granted, the most mysterious, wordy, other-wordly of the Incredibles albums, but it Never loses its’ way musically, even in the key and tempo changes abounding in Williamson’s opening Keoaddii There or Heron’s 12 minute A very Cellular song, which, over 15 years on, Talking Heads adopted as a concert closer-now you know David Byrne was no fool either.

The best bit about this is you don’t need to be any of these things to enjoy this-stoned/hippy/old/living dead. It probably goes without saying that the duo’s instumentational abilities are great on any of their first 4 albums-this being the 3rd-but here the sheer variety of what they play and what they get out of those instruments defies belief. You could almost listen to the album for that alone, or for the poetry of the lyrics.