The ISB – Mike Heron and Robin Williamson
Listen/Download – Incredible String Band – No Sleep Blues
Welcome back to the ongoing series of poptacular musical excursions otherwise known as Iron Leg.
While trolling through the archive of previously digimatized, yet not quite blogged music, I happened upon one of my favorite slices of UK freak folk.
The Incredible String Band was one of those groups that I knew of (pretty much just the name) for many years before I actually heard them, an event that occurred when I picked up an expensive (but wholly excellent), imported, multi-cd comp of psychedelic music during the early days of compact discs.
The track in question was their 1968 single ‘Painting Box’, by which I was seriously underwhelmed. Here, finally was the Incredible String Band, and I was perceiving strings, but a decided lack of incredibleness.
That said, years later, during the depths of my UK folk/folk rock mania, with Nick Drake, and Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch etcetera etcetera, I found a Rykodisc reissue of the album that included that track, ‘The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion and decided to explore further.
Released in July of 1967, it was their second album, and their first since the departure of Clive Palmer. Truth be told, by the time this album came out, the group with the grandiose name was basically the duo of Mike Heron and Robin Williamson, augmented by Williamson’s girlfriend Licorice (yes, Licorice) and bassist Danny Thompson.
When I first had the CD, I dug it heavily because despite the surface folksiness, the music was in fact the work of a couple of twisted hippies and the sounds they made owed as much to then contemporary England as it did to Morris Dancers and the like.
What I also noticed was that the music on the album had a slightly schizophrenic bent, with two distinct musical personalities fighting for prominence within. A look at the writing credits revealed that the stuff I was really digging was credited to Robin Williamson, and those I dug not so much to Mike Heron.
The tune I bring you today is my favorite Williamson-penned track, ‘No Sleep Blues’.
While there are certainly elements present of what might be termed ‘old time folk’, i.e. traditionalist hootenanny plucking, it was overpowered by a certain longhairs on caravan in Morocco vibe, otherwise known as a hashish haze,or at the very least the residual effects thereof.
I can well imagine the English equivalent of Pete Seeger tearing his (or her) hair our at the roots when hearing stuff like this, but I also see the more cosmopolitan contingent of the freak scene shying away from it as well (until they all morphed into hippies a few years on).
Heron and Williamson went on to a long career as the ISB, and individually as well.
I hope you dig the track, and I’ll see you all next week.