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The Incredible String Band

Prog Folk

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The Incredible String Band Changing Horses album cover
2.83 | 19 ratings | 3 reviews | 5% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1969

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Big Ted (4:21)
2. White Bird (14:46)
3. Dust Be Diamonds (6:14)
4. Sleepers, Awake! (3:44)
5. Mr. and Mrs. (4:54)
6. Creation (16:04)

Total time: 50:03

Line-up / Musicians

- Robin Williamson / electric (3) acoustic (5,6) guitars, violin (6), piano (1), flute & sarangi & Chinese banjo (2), organ (5), gimbri (6), percussion (2,3,5), washboard (1), lead vocals (1,3,5,6)
- Mike Heron / electric (1,5) & acoustic (2,3) guitars , sitar & mandolin (6), piano (1), vibes (3), percussion (5,6), lead vocals (2)
- Christina "Licorice" McKechnie / acoustic guitar (1), organ (2,3,5), kazoo (3,6), percussion (6), backing vocals
- Rose Simpson / bass, percussion (6), backing vocals

- Walter Gundy / harmonica (1)
- Ivan Pawle / organ & piano (6)

Releases information

Artwork: William S. Harvey with Janet Shankman (photo)

LP Elektra ‎- EKS 74057 (1969, UK)

CD Elektra ‎- 7559-61549-2 (1993, Europe)

Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Changing Horses ratings distribution

(19 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(5%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(32%)
Good, but non-essential (53%)
Collectors/fans only (11%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Changing Horses reviews

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

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars The first "officialization" of ISB becoming a quartet is with Changing Horses' artwork, where both Licorice and Rose appear. Again as a sign of rivalry between Robin and Mike, if Rose's bassist role appeared as now necessary, Licorice's few vocals and finger percussions seemed a bit light, so she was put on kazoo and keyboards, where she appears credible (at least on this record) and on all tracks bur two, one being reserved by Ivan Pawle, leader of the Irish equivalent of ISB, D Strangely Strange.

As you'd guess the album is more or less evenly spread out, with both songwriters grabbing three tracks including an "epic" each. With Heron grabbing the lion's share of the opening side, with the almost-15 mins White Bird, which is repetitive except around its end, where welcome changes appear. As he writes also the repetitive Dust Be Diamond, you could say that the tracks is just as boring, overstaying its welcome, while the a capella Sleepers Awake lacks interest. Yup, it(s clearly Williamson's song that attract a bit of interest from the progheads, but the average Mr & Mrs and the album opening Big Ted are nothing worth writing home about, the lengthy 16-mins long Creation holds some really interesting passages, making this track the most interesting since Hangman. With slight eastern accent given in the singing, but through Mike's sitar as well. While some might say that that the track is also repetitive, but here it's used to its advanteges

If it wasn't for Creation, the album would of Wee Tam's boringness, but Creation is giving it an edge and so it climbs to TBH's case and even 5000 Sprits. I wouldn't call this album essential by all means, but it shows that ISB could still manage some interesting moments, despite having seen their better days past by some time by now.

Review by ClemofNazareth
3 stars One of the most satisfying characteristics of progressive music is its ability to transcend time. This is an inherent trait considering music of the genre is by-definition pretty much ahead of its time, at least when first created. But not all progressive music stands the test of time equally well, and this album is unfortunately one example of poor aging.

The Incredible String Band were innovative in their time, with an ever-evolving style that blended traditional folk instrumentation and storytelling songs with an eclectic mix of unusual instruments, often Eastern philosophical and compositional nuances, and the effervescence of youth, love and hippie naiveté. The band managed to remain quite active in various forms for a decade or so and sporadically resurfaced for decades after their formal disbanding in 1974. But this 1969 release really marks a pivotal turning point in many ways, and the band would never regain the same level of creativity or appeal they experienced in the late sixties.

The most pronounced change in the band was their lineup. Following several years as largely a duo consisting of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron (with various transient members and Williamson’s girlfriend Licorice McKechnie performing on their earlier albums), the band had settled on the lineup of Williamson, Heron, McKechnie and Heron’s girlfriend Rose Simpson. Dr. Strangely Strange keyboardist Ivan Pawle plays piano and organ, and Walter Grundy would come aboard with his harmonica for this and a couple of subsequent albums, but for the most part the band for a brief period was primarily its two founding members and their significant others. Many instruments on this album are plugged in as well, with the band beginning to move to a more electric sound.

The four members also claimed to have gone ‘clean’ prior to these recording sessions, leaving behind the drugs that clearly had fueled some of their creativity in 1967 and 1968. And both Williamson and Heron were dabbling in Scientology at the time, which may have had something to do with both of their girlfriends’ departures a couple years later.

As far as the music, much of it is rather tepid; not bad necessarily, but certainly not of the caliber and novelty of the second and third albums that had brought them some measure of renown. But in keeping with the sort of split-personality that characterized the group’s music thanks to the distinctively different styles of Williamson and Heron, the six songs here are really a mixed bag. “Big Ted” is a disjointed acid folk tune that tells the story of a pig that supposedly broke into the band’s communal house and ransacked their record collection. “Dust Be Diamonds”, the only ISB song in which Williamson and Heron claimed co-credits, features singing from all four members with McKechnie on kazoo, and degenerates into repetitive and mostly nonsensical lyrics early on. The album also includes an a’cappela number (“Sleepers, Awake!”) which is interesting only in that it’s the only instrument-free song they ever recorded. And Williamson offers up another of his trademark bard-like Brit folk numbers with “Mr. and Mrs.”, featuring mostly – well, him.

The rest of the album consists of two incessantly long and drifting compositions that would find some favor performed live, but seem to be a bit too unfocused for a studio release. “White Bird”, written by Heron, is pleasant and melodic when the band manages to focus, which is only for about three or four of the nearly fifteen minutes the thing runs on. Like many ISB songs there are mild Eastern lilts and several extended laconic stretches of acoustic noodling, and overall the band’s claim of being hallucinogen-free is somewhat suspect when this song is listened to in the sterile detachment of the twenty-first century.

The other lengthy number is Williamson’s sixteen-minute alternate-reality version of the Genesis story, “Creation”. This one is comparatively more coherent than Heron’s dirge, and features a wide array of instrumentation and percussion in addition to the soothing chanting of both of the band’s ladies. Like I said at the outset though, some things don’t stand the test of time all that well, and Williamson’s wandering tale comes off as rather staid and kitschy some forty years later. This may be a bit harsh for those folks who are old enough to have enjoyed the band back in the day, but for anyone attempting to discover them now there is little likelihood they will come away with the same sorts of epiphanies that the band’s hippie fans did those many years ago.

Joe Boyd, who had discovered the original lineup that included Clive Palmer, would once again act as producer. But the times they were a’changing, and so was the band. A stint at Woodstock would turn out to be a bust, and both Simpson and McKechnie would be gone within a couple of years. In fact the most memorable thing to come out of the Woodstock appearance was a handful of photos of a radiant Simpson on stage in a long cotton dress made see-through thanks to the heat, sweat and humidity of that day. Boyd would move on as well after another album, with Heron taking a more prominent role in the band’s direction as their music moved closer to the standard-fare rock that was more his style; and the band would fade out completely after 1974’s ‘Hard Rope and Silken Twine’.

This was a pivotal album for the band and their fans back in 1969, which itself was a pivotal period for anyone who was drawing breath at the time. The album undoubtedly garnered stronger reactions back then, either for the better or worse. But today it comes off as simply another mildly interesting and mostly forgettable period piece that most modern progressive music fans won’t find much to get excited about. Three stars since it is a good representation of the day, and a pleasant enough example of what ISB was capable of; but not much more. Only recommended to hard-core prog folk fans and those who have fond memories of the band.


Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This album was not very good in my opinion, though there ís one really good, long song in it. The second song "White Bird" written by Mike Heron runs over fourteen minutes, and it is a long religious epic rolling calmly and harmonious, building from organ, flute, singing, organs and bass, later joined by drums. I liked the focused calmness of the song, there are great elements of beauty in it, and the overall picture is not broken by any distracting elements. Along with Maya, this is one of the best songs of the group, but now accompanied with poorer songs.

Other songs of the album are "Big Ted", American country styled eulogy to a farmer man in joyful humorous style, playful but maybe little too silly "Dust Be Diamonds", "Sleepers, Awake!" which is a Christian hymn / gospel choir song, "Mr. and Mrs." which is a melodically strong, but sounding somehow incoherent, and another long epic "Creation". This long starts quite painfully, having some narration over chanting, an element which dominates the song unbelievably strongly. The other elements used in it didn't feel very pleasant either, so this was actually one of the most irritating songs by this group I have heard yet. Though I adored the song "White Bird", otherwise this record did not feel very interesting to me, and I would not recommend it to others except fans of the group.

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