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The Incredible String Band

Prog Folk

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The Incredible String Band The Incredible String Band album cover
3.23 | 31 ratings | 6 reviews | 13% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1966

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Maybe Someday (2:15)
2. October Song (4:07)
3. When the Music Starts to Play (2:41)
4. Schaeffer's Jig (0:55)
5. Womankind (3:44)
6. The Tree (2:54)
7. Whistle Tune (1:00)
8. Dandelion Blues (2:59)
9. How Happy I Am (2:19)
10. Empty Pocket Blues (4:45)
11. Smoke Shoveling Song (3:47)
12. Can't Keep Me Here (2:12)
13. Good as Gone (3:31)
14. Footsteps of the Heron (3:13)
15. Niggertown (2:08)
16. Everything's Fine Right Now (2:12)

Total Time 44:42

Line-up / Musicians

- Mike Heron / acoustic guitar, lead (1,3,9) & backing vocals
- Clive Palmer / banjo (4,15), acoustic guitar (9,10), kazoo (16), lead (10) & backing (9) vocals
- Robin Williamson / acoustic guitar (2,5,8,11,13), mandolin (9,16), violin (1), fiddle (4), tin whistle (3,7,10), lead (16) & backing vocals

Releases information

Artwork: Joe Boyd (photo)

LP Elektra - EUK-254 (1966, UK) Mono
LP Elektra - EKS-7322 (1966, US) Stereo audio; New cover art
LP Music On Vinyl ‎- MOVLP1563 (2016, Europe)

CD Elektra - 7559-61547-2 (1993, Germany)
CD Fledg'ling Records ‎- FLED 3076 (2010, Germany) Remastered by Simon Heyworth

Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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Buy THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND The Incredible String Band Music

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND The Incredible String Band ratings distribution

(31 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(13%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(32%)
Good, but non-essential (45%)
Collectors/fans only (10%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND The Incredible String Band reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by ClemofNazareth
3 stars The first Incredible String Band album should probably come with an asterisk for those who mostly know the band from their late sixties/early seventies work. Or at least the myriad of reissues should have been issued under a subtitled name. Good music to be sure, but there’s not a whole lot here that ties the album to the band’s later sound.

Clive Palmer initially brought Robin Williamson and Mike Heron together, and the three of them would drift apart following this release as Palmer and Williamson pursued their respective metaphysical muses in the East while Heron returned briefly to his career as a pub band player and sometime session musician.

There is very little of the psychedelic sound of the band’s later works here; none in fact. There’s no odd string tuning, no exotic instrumentation (unless you consider a mandolin or banjo to be exotic), no electric instruments, and very little percussion. And no women - Licorice McKechnie would be promoted from Williamsons’ girlfriend to band member in 1968 and Rose Simpson would join shortly after. What is here is some very good traditional folk music of the Anglo variety with subtle hints that the band members had the makings of something more exciting.

The original release’s cover is a bit humorous with each band member displaying an oddly-shaped and old-fashioned acoustic instrument in Amazing Blondel fashion. I don’t know what two of the three are but they both appear to be variations on a lute, while the third seems to be a one-string mandolin of some sort. I’m sure I’m wrong about all three of them, but in any case there is no indication that any of those instruments are actually played on the album. Instead Palmer and Heron both play mostly acoustic guitar while Williamson alternates between guitar, mandolin and violin, and also adds a bit of wooden whistle and kazoo from time to time. Palmer plays banjo as well but in quite subdued fashion for that instrument, so don’t expect to break into a hoedown dance while listening to him.

These are all quite short tunes in common mid-twentieth century fashion, just a few minutes each with mostly strumming or picking guitar, mellow vocals and occasional harmonized backing, and garnished with flute-like whistles, soft banjo picking and mostly imperceptible violin weaving in the background. You get the idea.

A few of these tunes seem vaguely familiar to me even though I first heard this album only a couple years ago. “Empty Pocket Blues” and “Can't Keep Me Here” both seem to be either based on or at least similar to something traditional I must have heard somewhere years ago. The rest of the album is fairly stock folk stuff, with nothing in particular standing out. One odd tune is the scandalously-named “Ni**ertown”, a banjo led instrumental that sounds more like it came out of the American Cumberlands than from Britain. This is also the only track where Palmer’s banjo dominates.

The vocals on “Smoke Shovelling Song” sound a bit like early Dylan, but the rest of these tunes are fairly unexceptional though well-played. If you’re looking to discover the band start with their mid- career albums (1967-1970) and save this one for later. I should give this two stars since it really is for collectors only, but the quality of the music and the cleaned-up reissues are both excellent, so three stars but mostly recommended to completionists or those who get into traditional folk music.


Review by Sean Trane
2 stars If the Scots will make a relatively small dent on the pure prog rock, they will be at the base of most of the folk, folk rock and prog folk, psych/acid folk scenes. Indeed not only Donovan, but The Pentangle and The Incredible String Band, String Driven Thing will outnumber Fairport Convention etc. While the duo of folk troubadours of Jansch and Renbourn rules over the Pentangle and let McShee shine, in the ISB, the group is made of no less than three Scot troubadours in the name of Robin Williamson, Mike Heron and Clive Palmer, all three guardians of the sacred temple, the latter getting the other two to meet and formed a jug band in Edinburgh.

Spotted by Joe Boyd, an American lost in the swinging London of the 60's, their debut album was produced by him and released on the US Elektra label (Boyd was indeed working much for the legendary US folk label), but to the average proghead, it won't interest much here, as this is a collection of folk songs from the trio in which a few traditional numbers happen to slide in. ISB is a straight folk album, without much going for itself, un less you're a major fan, but Clive Palmer has an ultra-orthodox view on folk, and ends up being more catholic than the pope, which for a Scot... Actually this will be his only album¨ with them as Palmer will not be able to cope with the other's two twisted minds and humour. But as MH and RW were Palmer's friend's, they were never really friendly to each other, although strangely enough they would reform a year later after lengthy trip to their respective nirvanas (Morocco and Nepal), and go on to form one of the better acid folk group ever.

Anyway, not that this is a bad album (apparently it made quite an impact on the pure folk scene), but I've never wished to own it, and although it's 99% acoustic, purist Clive Palmer will leave to found COB and Famous Jug Band, while the other two would go on to greater fortunes with their next albums.

Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The first studio album of The Incredible String Band was released in 1966, and here Mike and Robin are companied with Clive Palmer. The music is yet not so adventurous than in the forthcoming records, but in my opinion the overall quality of compositions, lyrics and playing succeed best in these early albums of the group. The long wailing voices are already here, and the moods change from mystical and serious thinking to very playful humor. The songs are accessible, and only surreal elements are present in some lyrics, not much in the music.

The music of the group at it best has charmed me, as I'm fond of the sincerity, spiritualism and goodness of it. The lyrics and the tunes which appealed me, have caused me to contemplate things, soothed in distress and amused me. I believe that is quite exceptional achievement, and I think I could write few lines from the best songs of this album to this review.

Raw violin and guitar runs present "Maybe Someday", having nice melodic vocals and a form of traditional love song. The next song is really fine, one of the best here, "October Song", a very lovely, hopeful, and sad ballad for guitars and singing, containing the long wailing vocals over pretty acoustic guitar, a trademark of forthcoming career of the band. The lyrics are very fine, an important aspect to me with this group, as I found them motivating to own contemplation. I never regarded these fellows as any kind of "spiritual leaders", or people knowing absolute truth whose disciple one should be. Actually I have quite different view of the world, but maybe this fact creates some kind of interesting synergy to these songs. There is something rarely beautiful and strengthening in their spiritual approach. "When the Music Starts to Play" is a playful, happy ballad enriched with flute, and "Schaeffer's Jig" a short traditional piece, proving they know this stuff well too. "Womankind" is a hypnotic, mystical and dreamy song, with down tune melody and dominant vocals. "The Tree" builds from narrative reciting of pretty, euphoric poem and quick mantra-like runs of guitar. "Whistle Tune" is another traditional pipe solo tune in raw medieval style. "Dandelion Blues" brings fine positive folk song in a more American style, reminding little Peter, Paul & Mary's music. This is followed by "How Happy I Am", a decent positive love song with mandolin licks and whiskey drinking verse. Next song proves that Clive was a good composer too, his "Empty Pocket Blues" is a really pretty minor ballad with descending melody and flute playing some nice "kettle tunes". Then "Smoke Shoveling Song" (Williamson) delivers a fine acoustic song with funny lyrics about a punk causing trouble to the police, and the focus starts wonderfully switching forward in associations related probably to the "smoke theme". "Can't Keep Me Here" is a decent simple happy song, and in "Good as Gone" the rhythm interestingly alters freely along with the fine lyrics. "Footsteps of the Heron" is a sincere personal poem, and "Niggertown" then a traditional mandolin piece with fine old Southern town feeling blowing in it. "Everything's Fine Right Now" closes the album in happy manner.

So, these musical elements create in my opinion a really balanced and fine record for anyone interested of 1960's well-crafted folk music. It is intimate, personal, accessible and thought provoking (at least for me). Though I like the band, and their later experimental albums containing more "experimental" material, nevertheless they in my opinion succeeded better in their earlier albums, this and the following. I think that the experimentalism is not a virtue in itself, if the end result isn't pleasant.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The Incredible String Band is the self-titled debut full-length studio album by UK folk rock act The Incredible String Band. The album saw a 1966 release through the Elektra label in both the UK and the US. The band recorded this album as a trio consisting of Mike Heron on vocals and guitar, Clive Palmer on banjo, guitar, vocals and kazoo and Robin Williamson on violin, vocals, whistle, guitar and mandolin. This would be the only The Incredible String Band album to feature Clive Palmer as he would leave the band shortly after the release of the album.

The music on the album is warm and well played folk rock with some really great humourous and at times psychadelic lyrics. Just take a look at the lyrics for a song like Smoke Shoveling Song and you┤ll know what I mean. While the music isn┤t quite as adventurous as it would become on subsequent albums, this is still a very interesting fully acoustic folk rock album. The vocals are full of warmth and emotion and are the central part of the band┤s sound. But especially the acoustic guitar playing is also very noteworthy.

The production is warm and suits the music very well.

The Incredible String Band is a very solid and at times great debut album by The Incredible String Band and while later albums might better represent the adventurous nature of the band, I still find this debut album recommendable. a 3.5 star rating is well deserved.

Review by siLLy puPPy
4 stars One of the true pioneers in the British psychedelic folk scene was THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND that developed from a mutual interest of folk music between the two founding members Robin Williamson and Clive Palmer in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1963. After a couple of years playing as a duo they met Mike Heron in 65 and quickly gelled into their new group and got snatched up by Transatlantic Records. Right from the start the trio were catching the attention of even big stars like Bob Dylan with their unique take on the mix of English folk, Woodie Guthrie styled narrations and local Scottish influences. While the band would expand on the second slicker album "The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion" and beyond, this eponymous debut is the only album to feature the original founding trio as Clive Palmer would soon take a sojourn to India and opt not to reunite with the others as they were becoming more and more successful.

As only a trio, the music is much more roots oriented on album number one and not nearly as psychedelic and experimental as what would soon blossom as the band got more comfortable expanding beyond their influences. Despite a mere threesome, this album has a wealth of instrumentation as the musicians were all very skilled and comfortable on many a noise making devices. It's a fairly diverse sounding album as there are many styles, tempos, dynamics and all three members shared lead vocal duties. Mike Heron played guitar only but Clive Palmer contributes not only guitar but banjo and kazoo. After leaving the group he would record a banjo based album ("Banjoland" in 67) that wouldn't be released until 2005. Robin Williamson also plays guitar but also fiddle, violin mandolin and tin whistle. The instruments appear on different songs and create an interesting contrast between styles.

While the psych crowds may find this one a tad ho hum, as a straight forward folk album with a diverse palette of influences, album number one is actually a very pleasant listen with catchy acoustic folk songs jumping all around the folk spectrum with an authentic roots music feel with nice narrative lyrics about everyday life but the flirtations with the psychedelic scene were taking root at this stage with the inclusion of a surreal tale of a magic blackbird and accompanying unconventional vocal styles and mixings of sounds. The album found two different album covers for the UK and US and wasn't particularly successful. While a few tunes were traditionals, the majority of tunes were written by the three members. After this debut album the band would officially split up but Williamson and Heron would reform the band add a few more members and seriously up the sophistication of the style and progressiveness. While this debut can't really compete with the albums that follow, THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND is a fine debut release that shows the band's transition from pure roots to create mixings of those styles.

3.5 rounded up

Review by Warthur
3 stars The Incredible String Band's debut album is their sole one with founder member Clive Palmer, and occupies much the same place in their discography as Donovan's debut album (What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid) would in his: a comparatively "straight" album with only minor flashes of the psychedelic direction to come. Whereas Donovan's debut showed a strong Dylan influence, the String Band seem to be more inspired by traditional folk - if there's any social commentary here, they're being much shyer about it than Donovan would be. By and large fairly rootsy, the band do display a momentary glimpse of more whimsically psychedelic stylings on Everything's Fine Right Now, and already their vocals are a particular treat, but the album is more interesting as a glimpse of the String Band's origins, especially if their psychedelic side is the aspect you're really excited about.

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