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THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND

Prog Folk • United Kingdom


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The Incredible String Band biography
Founded in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1966 - Disbanded in 1974 - Reunited between 1999-2006

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND were a prolific early progressive folk band whose various members mostly went on to successful music careers after the band's demise, but who remain a continuing influence on progressive music artists even today.

The roots of the band are found in acoustic folk/bluegrass duo Robin WILLIAMSON (guitar, vocals) and Clive PALMER (banjo) who began performing together in the Edinburgh, Scotland area in 1963. The duo added multi-instrumental folk musician Mike Heron and took the name INCREDIBLE STRING BAND after being discovered by legendary producer Joe Boyd in 1965. The resulting group was signed by Boyd to Elektra Records in 1966 and released a critically acclaimed studio debut. But when Palmer left the band for an extended journey to Afghanistan and later India, the two remaining members disbanded. They would reform a year later as a duo with Williamson adding several exotic new sounds such as oud, gimbri and tamboura as a result of his own eastern travels (in Morocco). This became the core of a group that, along with Williamson's girlfriend Licorice McKechnie, guest artists and the occasional short-term member would prove quite prolific and successful. The band released a dozen albums beginning on 1967 and toured extensively to increasingly large crowds. The band's reputation was enhanced during these years thanks to strong endorsements by musical icons such as BOB DYLAN, PAUL MCCARTNEY and ROBERT PLANT (who once claimed LED ZEPPELIN learnt their craft from listening to an ISB album), as well as by covers of their music by JUDY COLLINS and MANFRED MANN among others.

In the end the changing times as well as the band members' varied spiritual forays led to their demise following a concert tribute to the late Scientology guru L. Ron Hubbard in 1974. Williamson and Heron would get together again for a show in 1997, which led to a brief reunion of the original band (including original founder Palmer) and joined by some family and friends. This lineup produced several years of small-venue touring as well as a studio and live release, but the reformation would fade away shortly after Williamson left for good in 2004.

Both Williamson and Heron have had lengthy post-ISB careers, particularly Williamson who would go on to release dozens of f...
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THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.23 | 28 ratings
The Incredible String Band
1966
3.88 | 52 ratings
The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion
1967
3.39 | 62 ratings
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
1968
3.41 | 31 ratings
Wee Tam
1968
3.73 | 28 ratings
The Big Huge
1968
2.80 | 17 ratings
Changing Horses
1969
3.10 | 11 ratings
I Looked Up
1970
3.70 | 22 ratings
U
1970
1.68 | 9 ratings
Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending (OST)
1970
3.05 | 17 ratings
Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air
1971
2.87 | 15 ratings
Earthspan
1972
2.22 | 8 ratings
No Ruinous Feud
1973
2.24 | 13 ratings
Hard Rope And Silken Twine
1974

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 1 ratings
Across The Airwaves
2007

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.00 | 1 ratings
Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending
2002

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.88 | 52 ratings

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The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND formed as the trio of Clive Palmer, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron in 1966 after Palmer and Williamson had been performing together since 1963 in night clubs. As a trio the band released only one album, its eponymously titled debut the same year as formation and immediately clicked with a folk crazed public with kudos even from Bob Dylan who claimed the STRINGS were his favorite new band however for whatever reason Clive Palmer decided to go separate ways thus leaving the band as only a duo.

Given the changing times as the year 1966 ceded into the Summer of Love, THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND adopted the psychedelic flavors of the brave new world and released its second album THE 5000 SPIRITS OR THE LAYERS OF THE ONION to critical claim for its bold transition into a more progressive style of folk music that added the contemporary Indo-raga trends of incorporating not only the sitar but also other exotic instruments such as the oud, tamboura, bowed gimbri as well as finger symbols.

The album was quite long for the sixties with thirteen tracks that added up to over 50 minutes but somehow managed to be squeezed in on a single album. THE 5000 SPIRITS was perfectly tailored for the psychedelic 60s with an audacious but beautiful colorful album cover and authentic English folk melodies accompanied by exotic instrumentation which were performed by four guest musicians including Pentangle's Danny Thompson on double bass and legendary UFO Club owner John Hopkins on piano. Nazi Jariazbhoy performed the sitar and Christina McKechnie added some feminine charm in the form of background vocals.

Despite only reaching #25 on the UK album charts, THE 5000 SPIRITS was championed by none other than DJ John Peel who played multiple tracks during his gigs and even Paul McCartney jumped on board as a big fan thus making the album quite successful in folk circles. The album featured excellent original songwriting with thought provoking lyrics as well as fairly complex folk arrangements for the year 1967 and the impetus for the world of psychedelic folk to expand in the following years. In addition to the world ethnic sounds the folk guitar strumming is also accompanied by the occasional harmonica, mandolin, flute and drums.

THE 5000 SPIRITS OR THE LAYERS OF THE ONION is one of those albums that perfectly epitomizes the era from which is arose but also retains a sense of timelessness as the album resonates even more than a half century later. By adhering to the traditional folk values that preceded the psychedelic movement with only enough experimentation to capture the attention of the folky freaks of the era, THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND not only successfully reinvented themselves with a STRING of beautiful albums to follow but also provided a blueprint for all the psych bands on the mellower side to follow. In short, this is a beautiful pastoral piece of poetic acoustic music that came out in the wild and crazy 60s that ages quite well.

 The Big Huge by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.73 | 28 ratings

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The Big Huge
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The Incredible String Band followed up The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter with a double album (Wee Tam and the Big Huge) which was also released as two single albums - again following a trail blazed by Donovan, who'd taken a similar marketing route with A Gift From a Flower To a Garden.

Whilst Wee Tam showed a gentler side of the String Band than The 5000 Spirits or Hangman's Beautiful Daughter had showcased, things perk up on The Big Huge. The sound is livelier, more varied, and the diverse religious content more apparent, from the opening Maya providing a long sitar-laden exploration of the Buddhist concept to the concluding The Circle Is Unbroken, a sort of response to the classic spiritual Will The Circle Be Unbroken?, whilst along the way it visits quirky territory like Cousin Caterpillar. If Wee Tam was presenting a distinct sound of its own, separate from 5000 Layers and Hangman's Daughter, The Big Huge ends up blending the sound all three together to present a final, definitive statement of the band's most consistent years.

In general, both halves of the double album are more or less on a par with each other; shortly after recording the material the String Band would go on the fateful US tour during which they would be introduced to Scientology, prompting a shift in their worldview which coincided with a shift in their artistic approach and more mixed results.

 Wee Tam by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.41 | 31 ratings

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Wee Tam
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The Incredible String Band followed up The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter with a double album (Wee Tam and the Big Huge) which was also released as two single albums - again following a trail blazed by Donovan, who'd taken a similar marketing route with A Gift From a Flower To a Garden.

Whereas on The 5000 Spirits the String Band had gone absolutely wild for the sort of Indian influences that had been popularised in psychedelic circles at the time, whilst The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter had a sense of playful whimsy to it, on Wee Tam the duo of Heron and Williamson (plus extended family of guest musicians) seem to have mellowed out somewhat, playing a placid, gentle style of psychedelic folk; if 5000 Layers was an acid trip album, this Wee Tam business is more of a gentle toke of grass, or perhaps a soothing glass of smoky whiskey - soothing and relaxing, whilst also having a meditative tone to it, and the odd sitar and call to Krishna here and there suggesting that spiritual ideas were still strong on their mind.

In general, both halves of the double album are more or less on a par with each other; shortly after recording the material the String Band would go on the fateful US tour during which they would be introduced to Scientology, prompting a shift in their worldview which coincided with a shift in their artistic approach and more mixed results.

 The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.88 | 52 ratings

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The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars After the departure of their co-founder Clive Palmer, the String Band reconfigured with the creative duo of Heron and Williamson as their core. This second album finds them plunging deeper into psychedelia than before, with extensive use of the sort of Indian instruments and pastiched borrowings from Indian music that the Beatles had popularised at the time. However, they had not "gone electric" the way Dylan had - nor were they veering down a sunshine pop path in the manner of Donovan (though closing song Way Back In the 1960s is a spot-on parody of Donovan's style).

A resolutely psychedelic folk album, with a strong emphasis on both halves of that equation, The 5000 Spirits contends with The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter - a lighter and more whimsical take on similar territory - for the title of the Incredible String Band's best album. I am slightly inclined to give the trophy to 5000 Spirits, but it's a close-run thing.

 The Incredible String Band by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1966
3.23 | 28 ratings

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The Incredible String Band
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

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.
 Earthspan by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1972
2.87 | 15 ratings

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Earthspan
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by RossJWarren

4 stars I must admit the first few times I listened this recording I was not that impressed, but over the years it has really grown on me the the extent that I revisit it often. The songs are all pretty strong the exception possible being "My father was a lighthouse keeper" which sounds a little silly. However when this album is strong it is wonderful " Sailor And The Dancer" always raises the hair on my arms. Licky's voice is stunning here and also on "Banks of sweet Italy".

I have often been told that by this stage ISB had lost their way, but to be honest this and "Liquid acrobat as defies the ground" are my two favorite recordings by this band and I love a lot of their output. IBS may not be for everyone but those of us that love them do with a passion. Their influence on modern neo-folk cannot be understated this band like no other demonstrate what eclectic means.

If you don't own any ISB I would thoroughly recommend the five CD box set , although it does not include this gem of an set it does have their first five, almost universally acclaimed LPs, at a bargain price.

ISB are well worth checking out, if you like them chances are you will grow to love them, if they are not to your taste that is a shame but we are all different. But please please don't disrespect them because for many of us they are Scotland's finest band. Is this progressive music? That is for you to decide.

 The Incredible String Band by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1966
3.23 | 28 ratings

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The Incredible String Band
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

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

 The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.39 | 62 ratings

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The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars For many a high point in the Incredible String Band discography - it's shorter than the sprawling double album Wee Tam and the Big Huge, and crucially it predates their conversion to Scientology which sent them spinning down an often-contentious path - this is a nigh-archetypal work of psychedelic hippy folk. Nods to Indian raga music, a strange sense of humour, and the help of some friends allow the duo of Heron and Williamson to produce the closest a prerecorded studio album can get to sounding like a spontaneous hippy jam session. Fairport Convention guest on backing vocals, providing a chorus used to good effect in The Minotaur's Song.
 The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.39 | 62 ratings

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The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars More true folk music than prog, the influx of Robin Williamson's ever-growing eclectic collection of world instruments is possibly where the "prog" tag got linked to them--that or their attempts at long epics. The songs on this album are quite polished, quite witty (almost Canterburian but, yes, I get it: They're Scotsmen.)

Favorite songs: the Led Zeppelin training songs, "Waltz of the New Moon" and "Three Is a Green Crown"; "Swift as the Wind" (the best vocal on the album); "Water Song" with its amazing solo by the water (:)); "Witches Hat"; the final theme of "A Very Cellular Song"; the musical palette of "Mercy I Cry City";

Too much Jew's harp and kazoo for me. Plus, one of the lead singers (I'm guessing it's Mark Heron) is rarely pitch-perfect.

 The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.88 | 52 ratings

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The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The Incredible String Band - The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion (1967)

Raw creativity, sprinkling all over the rather amateurish - yet enthusiastic - songs. Many will discard the Incredible String Band at first listen, but when you get to know their style and intention it is really a joyfull experience. On this second album Mike Heron and Robin Williamson really found their sound and the flow of inspiration seems endless on these journey of thirteen songs. The Incredible String Band is a multi-instrumentalist group using acoustic instruments like guitar, flute, percussion, harmonica and many more, singing with untrained English folky vocals that show real dedication. The performances are much more 'in the moment' and fresh then almost all folk acts I know of - as if the song was written before your eyes. some songs are folky in a happy crazy way (Syd Barret comes to mind), whereas others are more pastoral and intimate. Because of the amount of songs the album takes a while to get into (like eight spins) but is very rewarding.

Together with 'The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter' the best works of the band I'd say. Four stars, recommended to folklisteners and those in search of free flowing inspiration. Defenitly among the most enduring acts of the sixties.

Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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