I first heard the String Band
when I was at high school in Wales. We used to go to a friends house at lunch
and listen to new albums. Brian Griffiths used to buy albums if he liked the
covers and he introduced us to the Dead and the Airplane that way ( as well
as some really dud stuff too like Iron Butterfly and Touch ). Anyway, one day
he had this spiffy little psychedelic Album cover that had the most amazing
title. "The 5000 Spirits, or the Layer of the Onion". It just knocked us all
out. At that time none of us were indulging in any chemical stimulation, all
straight Welsh lads we were ( although amongst us was the future editor of Melody
Maker and a few musicians and artists to boot) but we were all definitely
looking for something that was different - and this strange melange of exotic
instruments, coupled with two distinctively weird vocals and quirky lyrics -
was just the ticket. I was enchanted by the whimsical stuff like "Little
Cloud " and "No Sleep Blues " and awed by the heavy stuff like "My name is Death".
To show you how young and besotted with the band we were, we got Allan Jones's dad ( there's a good Welsh name for you now , look you) to drive us to Birmingham to see the ISB at the Town Hall. A long journey over the Heads of the Valley road , which often has nasty weather conditions, it being a road through the Welsh mountains . The antique Birmingham Town Hall is a really interesting place, two levels , we were up in the higher level, with a good view of the stage , but I must admit I would have preferred to be down the front gettting a closer look at the band .
It was a transcendent concert . I remember Mike Heron got a mass of people up on stage and handed out loads of different noise makers , little bells and simple instruments and got them all to play along on some song ( I can't for the life of me remember which one ). A Very Cellular Song was just out of this world, this was the first time I ever heard it I think, it seemed to just go on forever and build and build in intensity.This show was probably the March 16th gig in 1968 - one of the first times I journeyed some distance to see a band. The next time they played Birmingham was Oct 69 and I'd seen them at Sunbury and the Albert Hall before that, both of which were great concerts too .
We came through bloody awful fog as well in the mountains, I'm sure we were worried about being able to get there.I also seem to remember being surprised to see Rose and Licky in the band , as Hangmans wasn't out then, but this may be a superimposition of memories from another gig from later on here, so don't take this as gospel, we are talking about 30 years ago and a lot of braincells have gone under the bridge since then.
I must have seen the band five or six times after that , but I don't believe that any of the other gigs was as magical as that one , the strange, otherworldy costumes and stage banter was just captivating . A joyous feeling, I still get a glow thinking about this concert. I last saw the band at Nottingham Playhouse in 73 with Malcolm Lemestre and that was fun too. I recently got a recording of a 73 show from the states and it brought back to me just how good they were at that late stage in their association.
I was a huge fan for all the time they were together, many fantastic memories of people and places are tied to the String Band , they had no equal , as simply, no one else came near to doing what they did. Like the Dead , Miles Davis and Beefheart, you either loved them or loathed them, there were no half measures. I really would love to see Mike and Robin playing together again , as I always think they complement each other so well. I expect they will never come over to Australia, either solo or together but their music will always have a special place in my heart and have great meaning for me.
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