First of all, it was great to see "A Skin Too Few" on a big screen, and I appreciated the film more that ever. It really is a beautifully conceived piece of work. It was also good to see "Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending" again. The Q & A session with Joe Boyd and Peter Neal focused solely on the Incredible String Band movie. Down in the foyer, I heard Georgia Seddon (Mike Heron's daughter) singing "We are the Stars" which is a very beautiful song. I also caught parts of Dr Strangely Strange's set, and they sounded very good.
From the moment it was advertised, I had apprehensions of how the String Band event would turn out. Advertised as a celebration of the ISB's music, it was not clear-cut as to whether it would primarily be a String Band event with guests, or a tribute concert that would somehow feature two of the original members. To the names that were first listed, others were added. Thus, we ending up having a line-up that included Mike Heron, Clive Palmer, Georgia Seddon, Richard Thompson, Dr Strangely Strange, Robyn Hitchcock, The Trembling Bells, Alisdair Roberts, Scritti Politti, Abigail Washburn, and Kami Thompson (Richard and Linda's daughter). Danny Thompson had to pull out, as I believe his wife was unwell. Naturally there were hopes that Robin Williamson would attend. Though, the given reason that he prefers not to go back in time, didn't entirely ring true.
As it turned out, the event was something of a mixed-bag - a bit like the tribute CDs to 60s/70s icons that you get with Mojo or Uncut! Certainly it was an interesting experiment, and much credit has to be given to Joe Boyd who it seems had a key role in putting it all together. I think one of the main problems involved, is that the Incredible String Band's music is so totally unique and inextricably connected to the original creators and genre from which it emerged that recreating it is a very big challenge. Robin Williamson's singing is particularly hard to replicate, and the extraordinary twists and changes in many of the songs make cover versions very difficult (it's a bit like someone trying to cover George Harrison's "Within You Without You"). Thus, I feel that several of the songs as covered by younger artists did not work so well - even though the artists are proven talents in their own fields. It also didn't help that some of the choices were quite obscure songs. For some, this concert would be an introduction to the Incredible String Band, and to hear more obscure songs by artists that you're not so familiar with is not the ideal situation.
The best cover from my perspective was Richard Thompson's version of "October Song" which worked very well, and the most pleasant surprise was The Trembling Bell's interpretations of Mike Heron's hymn-like "The Greatest Friend" and Robin Williamson's plaintive "Cold, Cold Days of February". The Trembling Bells singer Lavinia has a beautiful voice. Alisdair Roberts has to be commended for taking a worthy stab at Williamson's "Maya" and at least conveying some measure of its greatness. However, much of the rest would have come across better in a folk club than it did at the Barbican. Kami Thompson, Richard and Linda's daughter is a very attractive lady and a fine artist, but unfortunately she forgot the last verse of "Painting Box". A group rendition of "Log Cabin Home in the Sky" managed to raise the spirits of the enterprise to some degree.
The ever-endearing Clive Palmer did his set-pieces "Empty Pocket Blues" and a banjo solo, which both went down very well. Mike Heron's best moment was possibly "Chinese White" which really invoked some of the old String Band magic. I wish that his daughter Georgia Seddon had had more of a chance to shine, since she has much to offer. Mike sang "Seasons They Change" as a tribute to Robin - a nice gesture, though the song is one that cries out for Robin's voice. I thought it was a terrible shame that Mike did not sing "Swift as the Wind" himself, because for me this was a highlight of his recent gigs with Georgia.
For most of the concert, the audience were not very responsive. This is one occasion where a little singing and clapping along would not have gone amiss. I was sorry that some of the String Band's more upbeat and joyful songs were not included - for instance "You Get Brighter", "You Know What You Could Be", and "This Moment". However, the show did manage to reach a grand finale with a collaborative version of "A Very Cellular Song" on which many of those present did a solo piece, while Clive did the honours with "amoebas are very small". The concert ended with the uplifting "Everything's Fine Right Now" (and it was!).
Finally, it was my pleasure to bring Julie Felix to the concert, as my guest (Julie featured the String Band on her BBC TV show in the Sixties). Mike's partner Corinna Seddon made us very welcome, and it was a pleasure to meet such good people as Dr Strangely Strange, Richard Thompson, Lavania from the Trembling Bells, and the ever-lovely Rose Simpson.
Love to all, John E