As the 40th anniversary of Woodstock approaches, Alec Downie continues his look back at Scotland’s only representative at the legendary festival, The Incredible String Band. Following their disastrous appearance at Woodstock, ISB never had the same success, but their influence continues to grow.

Industrious as they were adventurous and prolific as they were inspiring, Woodstock seemed to knock the stuffing from the band and none of the subsequent 8 albums released after “Wee Tam and the Big Huge” made the same impact as their earlier works, though the duo’s continued diversity and imagination inspired Rolling Stone in May 1970 to pronounce, ‘The Incredible String Band are an endless stream of inspiration”.

As with many great bands ISB have seen a renaissance in recent years with accomplished artists like the Pet Shop Boys, Gilberto Gil and Devendra Banhart, whose Cripple Crow album cover is a pastiche of ISB Hangman’s, citing them as influences. ISB’s unique style can been heard in the music of Fleet Foxes, Belle and Sebastian or Glasgow’s Foxface (see video below) . Pitchfork media reviewing the re-issued Incredible String Band / Liquid Acrobat as Regards the Air on March 4, 2003 contend,

“Elders like Robert Plant and John Lennon championed them in the past, and Boston folksters got with them in the eighties, but their status came back to the fore recently, as No Neck Blues Band and Avey Tare & Geologist attached the ISB’s stream-of-conscious meanderings to their noisy blurts. Oneida even named a song after the group’s girlfriends Rose and Licorice (a song since covered by Liars)”.

Andy Beta, of Pitchfork goes on to say,

“Blame it on a poor outing at Woodstock; on rising membership fees for Scientology (look what it did to Chick Corea and Travolta!). Blame it on parting ways with labels and long-time producer Joe Boyd, on the tartaric dissolution when Rose left the group, but the magic summoned by the Incredible String Band in the late 60s quickly abandoned them. These two reissues play like dashed, crumbling relics, only hinting at what the ISB were capable of in their prime. Anyone intrigued by their legend should look instead to what transpired between these two releases, when they may have deserved the title “the greatest band of all time.”

It is hard to argue with Beta’s surmising and like many other great Scottish near misses The Incredible String Band will remain the musical equivalent to Archie Gemmill’s goal against Holland, a beautiful thing to remember despite the failure to get to the next round.

“The hangman is death and the beautiful daughter is what comes after. Or you might say that the hangman is the past twenty years of our life and the beautiful daughter is now, what we are able to do after all these years. Or you can make up your own meaning – your interpretation is probably just as good as ours.” – Mike Heron

Sometimes I want to murder time,
Sometimes when my heart’s aching,
But mostly I just stroll along,
The path that he is taking.

October Song


The Incredible String Band – Koeeoaddi There


Foxface – Last Waltz


Footnote: It is almost impossible to be original when talking about a band in a chronological way so I owe a great deal to Wikipedia and my ending probably stole way, way too big a quote from Andy Beta, of Pitchfork but if you can’t say it better etc. Also, Martin at , like the best fan sites do, hosts a wealth of info on ISB. Furthermore I and almost every other writer on ISB owe an even bigger debt to Glasgow’s walking rock encyclopaedia Brian Hogg who wrote the definitive intro to the band’s early years in his book, All That Ever Mattered: The History of Scottish Rock and Pop by Brian Hogg, which seems to be the basis of most commentaries. The book is sadly out of print and I keep cajoling Brian into a 2nd edition every time we have a pint in the Chip, but until then you’ll have to try and get the odd copy on Amazon 2nd hand.

All That Ever Mattered: The History of Scottish Rock and Pop (Paperback)
by Brian Hogg

Wikipedia – The Incredible String Band


Devendra Banhart