The Music of the Incredible String Band

You are here

As part of the Herald Young Critics programme, participants reviewed The Music of The Incredible String Band concert at the 2017 International Festival.

The Music of the Incredible String Band

Alex Enaholo

The Incredible String Band were a Scottish folk band famous in the 60s and 70s for their psychedelic style of folk music. The band, both original members and guests, let this sound loose upon the playhouse in this celebration of the 60’s and the 50th birthday of the band itself.

The audience, made up mostly of lifetime fans of the band, were mesmerised by the performance with huge rounds of applause after every tune. They reeled in the nostalgic mood of the entire performance. It was visible throughout the show that most of the audience felt transported back to their younger days. However, to those unfamiliar with the band, the in-jokes and nostalgia was impenetrable.

The band itself was a huge group with both original members and newcomers who were all very talented, and all put their own stamp on the tunes played, from operatic vocals to penny whistle solos each player brought something different to the show.

The show’s runtime of 2 hours and 45 minutes was excessive and with many of the songs lasting substantially longer than 5 minutes, even the most excited fans’ attention started to drop towards the end.  The atmosphere of the playhouse was challenging for the band as they seemed e out of place in the grand theatre, and photos of the 60’s showed a park or folk club as a more suitable venue.

Overall, the performance really connected with the audience in the room, but to an outsider was a high quality albeit very lengthy folk concert.

Rachel Cronin


The 60’s Scottish folk sensation, who's founder Mike Heron and infamous bassist Danny Thompson revisited their music along with several guests, and seemed to turn back time at Edinburgh Playhouse. The different musicians singing different songs prevented the concert from getting too tedious, although I did think at a length of over two hours (including a 20 minute interval) it ran on slightly too long. A fairly broad variety of music yet keeping to the strict 60s vibe gave the concert meaning, as a tribute not only to the band but to the influential and changing time the 60’s and early 70’s were.

 The concert undoubtedly attracted an older audience who were excited to hear the music from their youth played live. The casual and laid back atmosphere of a generation absentmindedly singing along was something I found extremely heart-warming.  The psychedelic folk music was the perfect soundtrack to the slideshow above the musicians, which showed pictures of The Incredible String Band in their prime of the 60’s and early 70’s, and perfectly summarised the look and feel of that time period.

The Music of The Incredible String Band definitely represents the heart and soul of the Edinburgh International Festival. Hearing and understanding the Scottish music and culture, as well as the together atmosphere and reminiscing of good times past makes this concert the perfect companion for anyone looking for a flavour of Edinburgh, Scotland or even just a night of nostalgia.

Natalie Pearse

As the theatre lights dim, speakers surrounding the stage and the odd guitar stand poised, mimicking the anticipation of the audience. They gleam against the stage lights with a soft ripple of smoke dancing amongst the slender microphone stands. You can feel the suspense in the theatre air as figures enter the stage, flooding it with life and sound.

The night starts with "When the Music Starts to Play,” an appropriate song for an opening number - not only for its subject matter but also because you can tell it’s a favourite of the audience - lifting everyone’s spirits with their joyful harmonies.

One thing that strikes you about this performance in particular is the community that you witness on stage. Whether it be the touching father and daughter duet with its quiet, peaceful aura or the entire band performing together and sharing microphones, the passion and love that these musicians share is evident and so infectious as a member of the audience that you can't help but feel uplifted.

The audience throughout the performance are very much included so that the night feels more like a family celebration than a formal show. There are frequent references to the band’s past which are met with appreciative chuckles and, in turn, the atmosphere is nostalgic and warm.

This tribute is showcasing the band’s spirit just as much as its music and, the symphonic phenomenon that it is, is met with a standing ovation as it comes to a close.

Ben Petrie

The immediate sense of community and informality created by the performers, immensely passionate about the Incredible String Band, was the most prominent and pleasant feature. The haphazard layout on the stage combined with the easy-going musicians made you feel as if you were sitting in a tenement flat in Edinburgh in 1967 rather than one of its proscenium-arch theatres.

But their laid-back demeanor didn't detract from the artists' deep passion for the music of the String Band. A wealth of Scottish names including celebrated singers Barbara Dickson and Karine Polwart all expressed their connection to the band in varied, often comedic ways.

There was an element of unpredictability throughout: namely through the presence of a harpsichord, as well as the contrast in musical influences and styles, from songs with a classical Baroque undertone to a Yiddish style violin and rhythm, into the operatic singing style of Janis Kelly.

Projected images of Edinburgh in the late sixties turned back time, as well as the music’s warm and nostalgic effect. Apart from unnecessary lighting changes the tech didn't shift attention from the deep and meaningful compositions, retaining a raw and instrumental feel - no production required.

The audience were invited to participate many times, but only some responded with minor clapping and uncertain humming.

Overall, the captivating and heart-warming abilities of the Music of The Incredible String Band preaches that pitch-perfect singing and fastidiously structured melodies aren't they key to catchy, popular and vastly influential music.

Catherine Bough

The Golden Age of ‘The Incredible String Band’, known for its quirky lyrics and sweet melodies, was celebrated at the Edinburgh Playhouse last night. The slow entrance of founder band member Mike Heron into the lights was met with raucous applause, subsequently waved away by the unassuming, almost bashful musician who either took centre stage for a few songs or swayed contentedly to the rhythm of his own music in the shadows.

The performance itself was cleverly composed, as the musicians managed to include sounds from Africa with the presence of bongo drums, America with the twang of a provocative violin accompaniment and Scotland, with the addition of an earthy whistle by Fraser Fifield. ‘Maybe Someday’ contained mellow undertones of bongos and a rousing gypsy violin solo. Opera singer Janis Kelly then managed to hold the audience in an enraptured silence, creating a beautifully stark contrast to the previous song. This unpredictability of the performances appealed to the young audience members, many of whom were new to the band.

The often haphazard arrangement onstage and frequent muddled moments did not detract from the outstanding musicianship- the ease at which the guest performers played their instruments before bobbing offstage gave the show a distinctly laid-back feel, emulated in the audience, who murmured, hummed and nodded whilst drinking their beer and closing their eyes to the familiar gentle harmonies. The warm, simple stage lighting added to the overall charm and the hippy nature of the band, contributing to a very enjoyable evening.

Gregor Ashworth

‘The Incredible String Band’ concert at the Edinburgh Playhouse kicked off with energy, an ‘oriental’ vibe through the backing of a faint whistle from Fraser Fifield gave mellow tones for which this band is renowned. Robyn Hitchcock certainly hadn't left the glory of the sixties in a floral shirt  and vocal tones that harked back to the ‘Summer Of Love’. Whilst it was nice to have a veteran of the group in Mike Heron perform once again, unfortunately his voice was not up to the standards of times past. With the talent of his daughter, Georgia Sneddon, behind him it certainly played for a lovely reunion of past and present members. Unfortunately, the sheer volume drowned out many of the vocalists yet Francis Kelly did not let this affect her with a powerful voice and song which revitalised the show.

The ambience and chilled notes was created by the quirky music and lights. During certain songs the lights would change to a deep purple, possibly suggesting their psychedelic roots and take the audience to an almost ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ performance with references to the fantastical.

Whilst it seemed as if the crowd at times lacked energy (to be fair the average age was fifty-five) they certainly gave an enigmatic send off to the music that was their track throughout the sixties and seventies.

Photo credit:
The Music of The Incredible String Band © Beth Chalmers | Edinburgh International Festival