The Incredible String Band – Opher’s World pays tribute to genius.

incredible string band

It doesn’t get more incongruous than this. How did a traditional folk trio from Edinburgh become the toast of London psychedelia? The answer lies not so much in the soil as in the lands, instruments and times. They might have started off as a trio playing traditional songs but they always had a love of strange and varied instruments and a desire to visit exotic places. It doesn’t get more exotic than psychotropia. The first album was Folk with a few different instruments. After that it got far less traditional.

They split up in the mid sixties with two of them going off to follow the Hippie trail to Afghanistan and India. When they met up again as a duo they had a whole slew of new instruments and head’s full of other cultures, ideas and possibilities. When it came to recording they found that these ideas opened up further dimensions, the recording studios enabled enhancement and the Indian sound was flavour of the month. This was the age of mind expansion. All things were possible. They took full advantage. Once the genie was out of the bottle it was not going back. Of course I am also sure there were some psychotropic chemicals that were probably more potent that a pint of heavy.

The songs had progressed from the standard three minute ditties to long epic numbers with tales of fantasy, spiritual quest and mythology. Joe Boyd’s production added the psychedelic ingredient to multilayer the sound. The Arabian and Indian instruments created an esoteric feel. The cover and title of first ‘5000 spirits of the layers of the onion’ and then ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ were suitably colourful and doused with LSD. They were a Psychedelic Folk Band and found themselves playing the Underground venues and festivals and not the Folk Clubs.

That’s where I first caught them. They fitted in well and were wonderful. They exuded a positive vibe and exuberance that shone. They interchanged instruments from a seemingly endless store and had a great time. The music was complex and sophisticated. The songs were all spiritually uplifting and fitted right into the sixties quest for meaning and purpose. My long lost friend Gary Turp, who was heavily into Buddhist Meditation worshipped them. They were the epitome of Hippie optimism.

The double album – ‘Wee Tam and the Big Huge’ confirmed their excellence. Nobody sounded like the Incredibles. They had different themes, styles, voices and sound to everyone else.

The general consensus is that the music went off following their dalliance with scientology following ‘Wee Tam and the Big Huge’ but I never felt that. The addition of the girls worked well. They’d always really been part of the group anyway and then the dance/mime troupe added another dimension. I saw their supposedly disastrous production of ‘U’ at the roundhouse and it was brilliant. I wanted to go back and see it again. It suited the optimistic idealist I was back then. I am a little more of a world-weary optimistic idealist now. Back then I thought we could change the world and make everything perfect overnight; now I think it might take a week or two!

The band split up with acrimony. Seemingly the gaiety and exuberance always masked a lack of friendship between Robin and Mike. They never got on, but that never got in the way of the music or vibe on stage.

I saw their great reunion at the Bloomsbury theatre in 1997 and then the original three in Beverley a few years later and thought they were great.

What the world needs now is a good dose of Robin and Mike’s positivity and optimism. They helped produced that incredible zeitgeist that was the sixties ‘can do’ culture. They made everything possible. They weren’t a good time band they exuded a spiritual vibe that was so incredibly uplifting …. And I’m an atheist! What I’d give for a slab of that vibe right now. We could transform the world.

The Incredibles lived up to their name and it is no wonder that they are spoken of with such great affection by all who saw them, heard them and loved them.

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