THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND (Reissues)|
Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending/Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air (BGOCD627)
Earthspan/No Ruinous Feud (BGOCD628)
Try as their emulators might, there was nothing quite like the Incredible String Band. They struck out individualistically and then stuck it out with an eclectic outpouring that crossed English/Celtic music with reggae, swing and the exotic drones of the East.
Rock-outs rubbed shoulders with whimsy; messages conveyed in evocative and rich lyricism one minute, direct and clear, could be the next fey and obtuse. Never dull - always challenging.
Dark mutterings of their veering ultimately toward a more commercial electric folk rock sell-out by the mid-70s did not detract the band and indeed the later ‘electric’ albums reissued in these excellent, top value 2-for-1 sets from BGO have weathered the passage of 30 years rather well.
1971’s Be Glad... clings stylistically to the band’s Elektra output (also just reissued), unsurprisingly as it includes ‘sock drawer’ material from 1968 and ’69. Of these four albums it is the most acoustic, experimental, charmingly shambling, and the closest to sound-tracking the smoke of camp-fires, dope and essence, all under a blanket of stars. ***
Its successor - Liquid Acrobat as Regards The Air - came only seven months later and is a more polished affair. The band’s growing interest in Scientology is cited as a driver to delivering a clearer message and - in an effort to be heard? - in a more conventional instrumental format.***
A more structured album still came in 1972 with Earthspan; the ISB was not losing its natural elements entirely but rendering them with fuller arrangements and orchestrations. ***
Original line-up member Licorice McKechnie was to leave while Malcolm Le Maistre was to find a growing ‘voice’ within the band output that came to the fore in the last of our BGO reissues: the following year’s No Ruinous Feud.
I bought a vinyl copy of this at the time. It was in a bargain bin. It had proved a contentious release for the fans to hack.
I was curious to see via the ‘pop’ cover art that the blanket-clad hippies of "The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter" had transmogrified into what resembled a glam soft-rock act waiting on the subs bench at ‘Top Of The Pops’.
It’s the most conventionally ‘rock’ of all their covers and closest to folk rock mainstream of the time. Yet the album has stood the passing of time better than most of its contemporary releases.
Indeed, it is as rewarding a listen as the others assembled here for its wit, exuberance, eclecticism and some great songs including one of my favourites: "Saturday Maybe" - slight but rich and memorable. ****
Fans and those curious to know more can buy into these packages without hesitation. No extra tracks, but they are beautifully-packaged with generous booklets and benefit from literate, informed and objective notes from Alan Robinson.
If you fall into the latter camp, why not start with the last? Track back from "No Ruinous Feud", remove the layers of the onion, and you are taken to the core and very essence of the challenging, demanding and always entertaining intelligence that is the ISB. Who knows? You may stay …
Review by Peter Muir
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