Very Cellular Songs

On Sunday evening I was at the Barbican Centre for Very Cellular Songs – The Music of the Incredible String Band. This featured a number of performers singing and playing Incredible String Band songs. The performers included Mike Heron and Clive Palmer who were original members of the band. According to Joe Boyd, who curated and introduced the show, the third original member, Robin Williamson, isn’t keen on being involved with such retrospectives. The best known performers were probably Richard Thompson, Robyn Hitchcock and Green Gartside but all of the performers were very impressive.

I’ve never really explored the ISB’s music. I’ve had a copy of The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter for a while but I can’t have listened to it more than a handful of times. I can’t really explain why I haven’t listened to them much. I suppose that going to this gig was an attempt to work out for once and for all whether or not I liked them. And I’m really glad that I did because I had a great time. It’s now four days later and I still have snippets of their songs going round my head.

One of the problems with this kind of show is that because the line-up changes with each song, there’s a bit of an extended pause whilst the previous performers leave the stage and the new ones come on. This was slightly exacerbated by the fact that Clive Palmer was walking with a stick and it took him rather a long time to get on and off the stage. But as Richard Thompson pointed out, compared to some of the ISB gigs in the sixties, this was really slick.

I also found myself realising why I used to enjoy going to the Cambridge Folk Festival so much. It was a great way to find new bands. There were a number of performers who I’d never heard of and I’ll certainly be be investigating more music by Abigail Washburn, Alasdair Roberts and the Trembling Bells.

It was a very enjoyable night. I’m rather hoping that it was recorded in some way so that I can relive it. If, like me, the music of the ISB is a bit of a closed book to you, then I recommend listening to A Very Cellular Song or (if you prefer something a little less out there) Everything’s Fine Right Now.

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  1. I’m sure it was a lot of fun, and I’ve been to the odd Ealing Jazz Festival and enjoyed listening to the music there.However, I find that listening to music live doesn’t often translate to listening to the recorded stuff at home. I very seldom can listen to any jazz at home without getting music of any kind is great.

  2. Damn damn damn damn damn, I’m a huge fan of ISB, and this sounds like it was great.ISB albums you must purchase immediately: “5000 Spirits”. “Wee Tam and the Big Huge”, which is quite variable in quality, but has some lovely songs – like the Beatles’ White Album, it would probably have been better edited down to a single LP. And my guilty pleasure “Liquid Acrobat as Regards the Air” which is a better album from their late and generally lamented post-’69 period.And I’ll also plug my mates, Circulus, because they’re the most unusual folk band around at the moment.BTW I saw Robin Williamson doing a gig a few years ago and it stank, so possibly it was better without him.

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