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THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND

Prog Folk • United Kingdom


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The Incredible String Band biography
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 folk and spoken-word records as well as find some success as a writer after a short stint leading THE MERRY BAND. Heron has worked as a studio artist, fronted a couple of h...
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Original Album Series -  Incredible String BandOriginal Album Series - Incredible String Band
Box set · Import
Elektra / Rhino Records / Warner Music 2015
Audio CD$11.53
$10.66 (used)
Live at the Fillmore 1968Live at the Fillmore 1968
Hux Records 2013
Audio CD$10.63
$19.98 (used)
Hangman's Beautiful DaughterHangman's Beautiful Daughter
Import
Warner Bros UK 2008
Audio CD$5.42
$3.56 (used)
I Looked Up /  Incredible String BandI Looked Up / Incredible String Band
Import
Bgo 2017
Audio CD$8.97
$8.96 (used)
5000 Spirits5000 Spirits
Import
Warner Bros UK 2004
Audio CD$4.78
$3.78 (used)
Incredible String BandIncredible String Band
Import
Warner Bros UK 2008
Audio CD$4.78
$2.98 (used)
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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)

3.26 | 22 ratings
The Incredible String Band
1966
3.84 | 43 ratings
The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion
1967
3.42 | 52 ratings
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
1968
3.23 | 23 ratings
Wee Tam
1968
3.67 | 20 ratings
The Big Huge
1968
2.85 | 15 ratings
Changing Horses
1969
3.19 | 8 ratings
I Looked Up
1970
3.81 | 19 ratings
U
1970
1.69 | 7 ratings
Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending (OST)
1970
3.08 | 15 ratings
Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air
1971
2.65 | 11 ratings
Earthspan
1972
2.17 | 5 ratings
No Ruinous Feud
1973
2.21 | 9 ratings
Hard Rope And Silken Twine
1974

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

0.00 | 0 ratings
Across The Airwaves
2007

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

0.00 | 0 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 Incredible String Band by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1966
3.26 | 22 ratings

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The Incredible String Band
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE & JR/F/Canterbury 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
3.42 | 52 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 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.84 | 43 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.

 The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.42 | 52 ratings

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

Review by LearsFool
Collaborator Post/Math Rock Team

5 stars One of the names oft forgotten when remembering the original psychedelic era, The Incredible String Band was one of the first psych bands, and they plumbed through an almost purely folk sound that they left drenched in psychedelia, hippie mores, and light elements of what we now call prog. This sound was rather simple, sparse, and seemingly out of place when comparing to the main run of psych bands that embarked through rock. There was a whole folk/country side to the hippie scene, however, and ISB, for two glorious albums, rode that side to an artistic zenith and a good share of popularity. The second of those is this masterwork, where this sparse sound is beautiful, warm, intelligent, and at times delightfully unique and complex. All sorts of instruments - guitar, sitar, singing saw, pipes and whistles, a Hammond - are used and mixed. This is a journey through all four corners of the acoustic side of psych, and a well steered one at that. There's just something about allowing oneself to enter into the light and welcoming music ISB had to offer that even many folk bands forget about, then and now. Perhaps too minimalistic for some - and not by intention - but this is wonderful and enjoyable work.
 The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.42 | 52 ratings

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

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

5 stars The Incredible String Band - The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1968)

This odd folk group has made some very enjoyable records, this one and 'The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion' being the most original in my opinion. The band has in its core Mike Heron and Robin Williamson, two songwriters and multi-instrumentalists with distinctive voices and styles. They both wrote their songs on their own, agreeing on the fact that the other could then later add instruments and lines without interference or too much discussion. The clumsy yet very authentic sound of the Incredible String Band is unique, yet it can also be quite challenging for some. A lot of the large arsenal of musical instruments sound like played by an amateur with much enthusiasm. Girlfriends Dolly Collins and Licorice McKechnie would also join the band and play percussions and keyboards.

The Incredible String Band deserves its place on the progarchives because of the original multi-part songwriting skills portrayed by both Heron and Williamson. At their best their power of imagination is unmatched and the free flow of inspired musical ideas is why I love to listen to a record like this. In addition, the music and lyrics can be really funny and a bit psychedelic. Perhaps a bit like Pink Floyd's debut album.

This album is a nonstop flow of original songs with surprising and fresh sounding ideas. I can highly recommend it, though it can take a while to get into what at first glance sounds amateurish ' but proves to be the reason why this album is among the few ageless and undying sixties records. I'm going to give this warm four and a halve star rating, enjoy!

 U by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
3.81 | 19 ratings

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U
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by waluigithewalrus

3 stars This is a decent effort from The Incredible String Band, but not something that is necessary for a collection. The album certainly has it's moments; for instance, the opening instrumental track 'El Wood Suite', though repetitive, features a fantastic combo of sitar and flute, with each getting their own melody before coming together in the last section. The 'Partial Belated Overture' is also quite a fun song, featuring two electric guitars going simultaneously in the first part, before switching over to a more upbeat second part featuring the violin prominently. Also among the bright points is 'Invocation', a song that deeply displays the band's Celtic influence with a song that is pretty much an Invocation to the Pagan Gods.

Despite this, there is still something wanting with this album. Many songs are unexciting and far from progressive. 'Bad Sadie Lee' is basically a sing-a-long song about a sort of female version of Billy the Kid. The 10 minute 'Light In Time Of Darkness/Glad To See You' is almost entirely a vocals and piano piece that plods along with no dynamic, tempo, or meter change until it reaches the 'Glad To See You' part of the song, which only last for about two minutes. The track immediately following it 'Walking Along With You' seems to take forever, as there seems to be little emotion in the piece. Perhaps strangest of all is 'Robot Blues' which is exactly what it sounds like; a piano blues piece written about whatever robots get sad about.

Overall, the album has a few worthwhile elements, but is not something that's worth listening to all that often due to only having some progressive elements to it.

 The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.84 | 43 ratings

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The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by ibnacio

5 stars In fact, this album should deserve five stars and it would have them had we been in folkarchives.com or acidfolk.com. Actually, this is a seminal album. Its originality, novelty and absolute freshness would infect a host of folk musicians and bands. This album and the rebirth of The Incredible String Band after the leaving of Clive Palmer would set the rules and canon to a new genre, the Acid Folk.

Some may say there was also the contemporary The Pentangle, but they were more jazz/ blues based and asumed a different direction.

The Incredible String Band brought a new way of doing things to the average folk musician, both to writers or performers. The main influence was East and modal music, with its melismatic chant and a tight connection between text and music. But the Middle Ages were at hand, too. The sixties were the time when Ancient Music came up to find its place in the world of music and has never quitted since. Folk and Rock were not insensitive to that. Great musicians and investigators searched the old churches and colleges archives to find out what and how the music in the Middle Ages was. Names such as David Munrow, René Clemencic or Gregorio Paniagua are among the most important restorers of a genre whose patrimony has not ceased to grow since.

It is not strange that in this ambient people like Williamson & Heron, John Renbourn, Alan Stivell, The Chieftains brought a Renaissance of traditional music.

But what TISB made was setting it into the very core of the pop-rock music of the moment and that was: psychedelia. This, added to an open structure in the compositions; to a melodic line which fluctuates together with the emotions provided by the lyrics; to an oriental-oriented way of playing the string instruments, including the very oriental ones, mainly the sitar with its caracteristic sound; to an impressionist writing and arranging... makes of the TISB's music one of the most original artistic works

It is also true that, in spite of a long career, the quality of their production is not always at the same level but, because of their novelty and creativity, they deserve your listening, at least, to this 5000 spirits that lay in the layers of a both sweet and acid onion.

Four and a half stars or 9 out of 10.

Updated to the fifth star (17/07/2014)

 The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1968
3.42 | 52 ratings

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

Review by Ivan_Melgar_M
Special Collaborator Symphonic Prog Specialist

2 stars This is an album I haven't heard for at least 20 years until yesterday, but due to a post in which THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND was described as great, went to the "Arc of the lost records" (a box where I keep the albums I never listen), found the LP and placed if on the old turntable....Immediately remembered why it was in the forgotten disks box, because in my opinion is boring, unimaginative and full of depressive flat vocals.

Even when the Medieval and Celtic influence (and some music that reminds me of the soundtrack from the "George Clooney" movie "O Brother Where Art Thou?"), place this band in the Folk realm, that's all I can say. because I sincerely don't know if it's a Prog Folk album.

Of course it has a lot of late 60's elements (which band didn't in 1968?), but I believe it's a failed attempt to fusion Folk and Psychedelia, because they are never really experimental. A few weird noises and percussion plus some sitar ands a Beatlesque touch is not enough to make an album Psychedelic....Much less a Prog one.

I won't even attempt to review every song, because all the albums sounds as an endless 50 minutes repetitive and boring track.

Except for a few good soft piano passages in "The Minotaur's Song" and the beautiful "Witches Hat" with some nice melancholic organ passages, the album is tedious, boring, dissonant (not in a good sense) and absolutely predictable, I honestly don't know if this guys are really good musicians, because the instruments are left as background for the vocals, which by the way are terrible (Who told this guys they had to sing?....Seems they were not able to keep a tune even if their life was in risk).

I ignore how legendary or popular THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND was when this album was released (I was four years old), all I know is that when I heard it in the early 80's was already dated but today can only be described as absolutely anachronic.

So will give the band the benefit of the doubt and rate "The Hangman's Daughter" with two stars instead of the 1 lonely star I was tempted, at least until I find and listen The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion that must be gathering moth somewhere in the closet, and discover what they pretended.

 No Ruinous Feud by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1973
2.17 | 5 ratings

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No Ruinous Feud
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

2 stars The end was very near for the Incredible String Band by this point, as evidenced by the sad, uninspired and weak 'Earthspan' released a year prior. They would crank out one more ('Hard Rope and Silken Twine') a year later, but honestly the demise was all but acknowledged for ISB by 1971, and possibly even before that.

This album is bookended by 'Earthspan' and 'Hard Rope' and while both of those retain some of the band's trademark sound (albeit delivered in a tired-sounding way), this one appears to have been a modest attempt at shifting their focus to something a little more commercially palatable, no doubt thanks to pressure from their label and also no doubt driven to execution by Mike Heron whose brand can be felt all over the record.

There are some curios here, such as the Dolly Parton cover "My Blue Tears" from her 1971 album 'Coat of Many Colors' which to my knowledge was never even released in Great Britain at the time. There was something of a brief interest in American country music by many rock bands in the late sixties and early seventies, most notably the Byrds' 1968 release 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' and the Rolling Stones 'Exile on Main St.', so its not inconceivable that a British acid folk band might decide to take on a country song. Still, the choice is odd and the timing very strange given that the label of country-rock had already been claimed by the likes of the Eagles and Poco at this point, and frankly the folk/country connection was in steep decline by 1973. "Turquoise Blue" is also credited to Parton but I don't personally know anything about that song so I can't comment other than to say it sounds more jazzy than country.

Elsewhere the band has shifted to a decidedly more commercial rock sound, although Williamson was incapable of changing much so his flute and off-kilter vocals continued to permeate the band's music. The opening "Explorer" sets the tone with a rolling drum roll and conventional rhythm arranged by Heron, while Williamson does his best to work within what he must have seen as unpleasant constraints. The song reminds me of a lot of aging prog rockers later in the decade as they tried similar tactics to meld their trademark sounds with contemporary rock and pop while the music industry passed them by (see the studio releases of the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Genesis, King Crimson and ELP circa 1979-1984 for several examples). "Old Buccaneer", "At the Lighthouse Dance" and to a certain extent "Second Fiddle" all fall into this category, the latter being particularly weird thanks to a calypso theme that drives the instrumental piece.

Things do get better with "Down Before Cathay" and "Saturday Maybe", both much more in the ISB vein but still not nearly as eccentric as anything they released prior to Woodstock. At least the overall mood is slightly more upbeat than what 'Hard Rope and Silken Twine' would come across as a year later.

The closest thing to a traditional ISB song comes with the Williamson-penned "Circus Girl" thanks to almost nonsensical lyrics, a jaunty and unconventional tempo and a cameo disjointed arrangement; but by this time the magic of the band was long gone and the effort seems more like nostalgia than a creative effort.

This is a rather lackluster album, not in the way 'Earthspan' was with its depressing mood but more in that the band seemed to be struggling to recapture a sense of relevance and not succeeding very well. Perhaps my opinion is tainted by the fact I discovered this record years after its release rather than as a natural progression of evolving with the band back in their heyday. Still, today is where we are and this album didn't age well, assuming it was ever all that good to begin with. I doubt many modern prog folk fans will find much that's appealing here, and so I'm left to dub it a two (out of five) star effort and to move on to something else. Recommended only to hardcore older fans (sorry).

peace

 The Incredible String Band by INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, THE album cover Studio Album, 1966
3.26 | 22 ratings

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The Incredible String Band
The Incredible String Band Prog Folk

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.

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

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