The Incredible String Band - The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter - Review
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critics' view

On their third album, the Incredible String Band’s song arrangements are more complex than ever before; the exotic range of instrumentation on show is extra-ordinary. They line up: Robin Williamson (vocals, guitar, gimbri, penny whistle, percussion, pan pipe, piano, oud, mandolin, jaw harp, chahanai, water harp, harmonica); Mike Heron (vocals, sitar, Hammond organ, guitar, hammered dulcimer, harpsichord); Dolly Collins (flute organ, piano); David Snell (harp) and Licorice McKechnie (vocals, finger cymbals). The results are terrific – theirs is a worldly-wise interpretation of folk, where Celtic, African and Middle Eastern influences can easily co-exist.

A Very Cellular Song” is the outstanding piece here – demanding, but hugely rewarding. Good old Wikipedia sums up the epic suite:
“The longest number on the album, the song is a 13-minute reflection on life, love, and amoebas, whose complex structure incorporates a Bahamian spiritual (‘I Bid You Goodnight’, originally recorded by the Pinder Family). Heron next sings a passage beginning ‘Who would lose and who would bruise’, whose tune is to be reprised later on in the piece. This is followed by an ode to mitosis, sung from the point of view of an amoeba, introduced by Licorice McKechnie saying the words ‘Amoebas are very small’. The last part of ‘A Very Cellular Song’, ‘May the Long Time Sun Shine’, is sometimes wrongly referred to as a Sikh hymn or an Irish blessing, but is in fact an original song written by Mike Heron. The numerous parts of the song are woven together by Heron's harpsichord sections and Williamson's instrumental passages on the gimbri and Jew's harp. Heron later said of the song, ‘All it was was a trip, and that was the music I was listening to, that and interspersed with Radio 4, bits of plays, people talking to each other, and I happened to be listening to the Pinder Family before I started.’ Writer Dan Lander described the song as Mike Heron's masterpiece. He wrote: “Weaving between styles as divergent as Bahamian funerary music, East Indian incantation and ancient Celtic mysticism, 'A Very Cellular Song' represents a high point in the band's creativity and surely influenced a host of others including Led Zeppelin, the Who and Lou Reed. Handclaps, kazoo, harpsichord and pipes intermingle and morph into each other. If this sounds like dissonance and chaos, it is. However, it holds together and in the end conveys a powerful range of human emotion through pain and joy and back again.”

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