‘You Know What You Could Be’ is the kind of phrase that echoes the hopes, dreams and downright fantasies of many a would-be rocker in many a rock band, but in the case of The Incredible String Band, one wonders if not knowing what else they might be led directly to the folk-rock fusion, influenced by several other cultures and traditions in ways that might make them seem almost mainstream today.
The not-quite joint memoir of the bands glory days in the late 1960’s, written by band member Mike Heron and poet and novelist Andrew Greig, is perhaps as hard to define as the Incredibles were and are themselves.
Despite (and possibly because of) the considerable influence of the two albums of their 1967 annus mirabilus ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ and ‘Wee Tam and Big Huge’, Heron seems unable to fully capture a sense of the era of which he and the band were, certainly in Edinburgh, a very large part.
Essentially ending his account in 1967, it is left to Greig to continue the tale as a form of memoir of growing up in middle class respectability in which the music of the day offered an alternative to the staid, douce lifestyle he was expected to adopt.
The link between these two disparate figures, then, is the similarity of their backgrounds and to an extent their efforts to escape their presumed fates. One might suggest, a little harshly, that both failed to fully achieve what they perhaps expected of themselves, and that their book is as much a meditation on the commonality of such experience as it is a memory from times past.
If there’s anything missing from these accounts, it is perhaps the ways in which bohemian experience shifted into self-awareness and self-assertion, a precursor, perhaps of the wider cultural revival already beginning to appear, sometimes in equally unlikely places.
Mike Heron and Andrew Greig, 'You Know What You Could Be' Quercus riverrun £20.00