EIF 2017: The Music of The Incredible String Band, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
The Incredible String Band
Joe Boyd (curator).
Mike Heron, Danny Thompson, Justin Adams, Barbara Dickson, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Janis Kelly, Greg Lawson, Sam Lee, Neill MacColl, David McGuinness, Karine Polwart, Alasdair Roberts, Georgia Seddon, Withered Hand with Joe Boyd and Rose Simpson (guest).
Running time

It’s 1967, the Edinburgh International Festival is a youthful 20 years old. This concert will both evoke the essence of that everlasting year in a homage to The Incredible String Band and memorialise that optimistic time.

A couple of years earlier Joe Boyd, the curator of the show walked to Archie Fisher's legendary folk club at the Crown Bar in Lothian Street and encountered the band which he was later to manage and produce.

To the strains of “When the Music Starts to Play” we venture into the smoggy folk world of 60’s Edinburgh. As Barbara Dickson, a well-known face in that folk scene performs “Empty Pocket Blues” a screen to the rear of the stage shows the long-gone New Palace Cinema and famous Stockbridge denizen Madam Doubtfire. It was a time that co-founder Heron recalls as “pretty downtrodden, nobody had any money, but the culture was bubbling away”.

The skilful practitioners of folk songs were also part of the avant-garde movement and Edinburgh was at the unconventional cutting edge.

Colour is added in “Painting Box” from The 5000 Spirits of the Layers of the Onion, described as the Summer of Love condensed and later cited by David Bowie as one of the best albums ever. Part of the bands metamorphosis to psychedelic butterflies would seem them travel physically and spiritually collecting instruments and inspiration.

The Band’s unique style was a composite of influences, a “World music” long before the term was known, as heard in “Maybe Someday”. The concert celebrates the mixed styles and the stimuli it provided to other artists. Green Gartside comments that it “changed what he expected of the world”.

Mike Herron stars in a veritable supergroup to reinvent songs such as “Greatest Friend”, “Maya”, “Koeeoaddi There”, “Chinese White”, “My Name is Death”, “First Girl I loved”, “Douglas Traherne Harding” and “The Hedgehog’s Song”. When Sam Lee strips it back to a traditional unaccompanied vocal he comments on how strange it feels to eschew such gathered talent.

Introducing “October Song” Georgia Seddon (Heron’s daughter) describes the music as “slippery, serpentine … elegantly perfect”. Part of the draw of folk for Heron was "people in folk clubs actually listen to the words" and the poetic, mystical, literate lyrics have stood the test of time.

The final number to bid us goodnight is a collective “Very Cellular Song” which perhaps comes closest to the original sound.

In a packed set, there is unfortunately little time for anecdotes, but a book “You Know What You Could Be” has been released.

Seasons they change, but for one night it was again that long hot summer.

Performance: Thursday 17 August 2017 at 8pm.