Posts Tagged ‘Rose Simpson’

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.