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Get to know musicians joining The Music of The Incredible String Band line-up

Joe Boyd, curator of the concert, tells us more about The Music of The Incredible String Band line-up. We couldn’t ask for a better expert – he has produced The Incredible String Band's records and managed them in the 1960s and has written about that period in his book, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s. Read on to find out who will appear on the Edinburgh Playhouse stage on 17 August for the very special concert paying homage to the group.


The music of the Incredible String Band always defied categorization. Was it psychedelic folk? World Music ahead of its time? The avant-garde end of the Sixties singer-songwriter movement? In truth, it was at heart an outgrowth of the fertile and strange world of early '60s Edinburgh, with its deft folk musicians, its world-travellers, its Bohemian fringe and its psychotropic explorers. 

Very Cellular Songs, a tribute to the songs of the Incredible String Band boasts a line-up as diverse as the characterizations of the band's music. Anchoring the evening firmly in the Incredible String Band's legacy are Mike Heron - half the original duo, and composer of half the group's songs - and bassist extraordinaire Danny Thompson, who played on many of their most memorable recordings. The Edinburgh origins of the Incredible String Band have been eloquently chronicled by Mike Heron in his new book (with Andrew Greig) You Know What You Could Be.

Green Gartside and Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock, who "grew up with my nose pressed against the glass of the Sixties" took in early Incredible String Band recordings with his mother's milk, as did Green Gartside, who as "Scritti Politti" was a seminal '80s pop modernist; he had left his native Wales under a cloud after inserting a single gold ear-ring in emulation of the other half of the original Incredible String Band, Robin Williamson. Hitchcock and Gartside represent the individualistic, even eccentric, sector of British music which could be said to have carved out by Heron and Williamson in the 1960s. 

Alasdair Roberts, Karine Polwart and Withered Hand

Never forgetting how fundamentally Scottish the band was in inspiration and in spirit, our concert also features three of the most original and important voices in this land's current music scene, Karine Polwart, Alasdair Roberts and Withered Hand (solo). Polwart is well known to the International Festival audiences from her triumphant one-woman show Wind Resistance in 2016, while Roberts has forged acclaimed and original paths with his solo work and in collaborations such as the Furrow Collective. Withered Hand comes from the Scots alternative scene and is a member of the world-famous Fence Collective. 

Detecting the resonant influence of the Incredible String Band's music in those voices is easy compared to imagining that two of Britain's greatest divas are also devotees of Mike's and Robin's songs. Janis Kelly and Barbara Dickson are both Scots who grew up listening to the Incredible String Band and took divergent paths to stardom. Barbara Dickson went from Glasgow folk clubs to starring in West End musicals and topping the British singles chart while Jannis Kelly journeyed from music school in that same city to singing leading soprano roles at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and New York's Metropolitan Opera. 

We are honoured to welcome these great stars to the team for August 17.

Janis Kelly, Sam Lee and Justin Adams

Further 'wild cards' in the pack are Sam Lee, the polymath star of the newly energized British folk music scene and Justin Adams, collaborator with Malian and Moroccan musicians as well as with Robert Plant. Both - Lee vocally, Adams instrumentally - connect to the exotic side of Robin's and Mike's music; Sam is an adept of Mongolian throat-singing as well as being a master of the gypsy traditions of the British Isles while Justin is a virtuoso on even more instruments from North Africa and the Middle East than used to clutter the stage at Incredible String Band concerts back in the day. 

Scottish audiences will be familiar with a star guitarist Neill MacColl, son of Ewan, who has recently been featured in a glorious show dedicated to his father's songwriting called Blood And Roses: The Songs of Ewan MacColl, which came to Glasgow’s Celtic Connections in January 2015. Neil's uncanny mastery of Nick Drake's guitar parts was a feature of the Way To Blue concerts and he is equally adept at Robin and Mike's unique approaches to the instrument.

The singers will also be aided and abetted by Scots violinist Greg Lawson, who has played across the musical spectrum from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to Mogwai and all stops in between, David McGuinness, a keyboard marvel of similar varied pedigree from the Concerto Caledonia to collaborating with Scots folk aristocracy including Alasdair Roberts and Georgia Seddon, Mike Heron’s daughter, a keyboardist and musicologist who accompanies Mike when they perform with Trembling Bells.


Book now

The Music of The Incredible String Band concert is on 17 August 8.00pm at Edinburgh Playhouse. Book your tickets now.

Don’t miss our new event Classic Album Sundays celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Incredible String Band’s album 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion. Find out more and book now.


Photo credits:
Joe Boyd © Andrew Goertler
Green Gartside © Tom Sheehan / Robyn Hitchcock © Laura E Pertain
Alasdair Roberts © Drew Farrell / Karine Polwart © Paul Heartfield / Withered Hand © Laura Lewis
Janis Kelly © Raphaelle Photography / Sam Lee © Frederic Aranda / Justin Adams © York Tillyer