The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
One of the more unique albums of 1968 came from one of the more extraordinary groups of the age, The Incredible String Band. The Scottish group released its third album, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, in March of that year to high acclaim in the UK where it reached number five on the album chart. It didn’t fare as well in the U.S. at the time as evidenced by, or perhaps partly because of, an unfavorable review it received in Rolling Stone magazine. Not surprisingly, it was later given five out of five stars in the Rolling Stone Album Guide (sometimes we Yanks are just a tad behind the times).
This album followed the group’s 1967 gem, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion, and was somehow even more ambitious. The versatility of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron can be seen with a glance at the instruments they play on the record: gimbri, penny whistle, pan pipe, guitar, oud, piano, mandolin, jaw harp, chahanai, water pipe, sitar, Hammond organ, hammered dulcimer, and harpsichord, among others.
This music contains nuggets of many styles and themes I enjoy listening to: Scottish music, Indian music, folk, psychedelia, wistful songs of youth and first loves, middle Earth and mythology (ISB was also an early influence on Led Zeppelin). It’s as if Ravi Shankar and Donovan formed a band. Or something like that.
I was first introduced to the Incredible String Band about 15 years ago by an aging hippie friend of mine named David. I was a bit incredulous as he described their greatness and how they had performed at Woodstock, etc. It had been a while since I’d seen the film, but I couldn’t recall them being in it (they weren’t, nor were a handful of other music legends who took the stage that weekend). And I most certainly hadn’t heard them on the radio. David recommended I check out their second and third albums, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion and The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, respectively, and it happened that the CD I found contained both albums in a two-disc set. I immediately dug it, but the downside was that I didn’t play The Hangman’s… nearly as often as its predecessor until a year or so ago. I’m now making up for lost time.
- Koeeoaddi There
- The Minotaur’s Song
- Witches Hat
- A Very Cellular Song
- Mercy I Cry City
- Waltz of the New Moon
- The Water Song
- Three is a Green Crown
- Swift As the Wind
Another element of the ISB my friend shared with me was their producer, Joe Boyd. Boyd was a (then) young American in the UK who produced acts that I would subsequently discover and love, including Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Fotheringay, as well as Richard and Linda Thompson. He also produced music by a few acts I had already had in my collection for years: Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, and REM. Boyd was also at the heart of London’s underground music scene, having opened the first psychedelic nightclub, the UFO, where Pink Floyd (then known as The Pink Floyd) staged their earliest light show extravaganzas.
We’ll hear more from the Incredible String Band later in the year.