beGlad The Anthology
Published: October 2003.
Revised edition May 2013
Edited by Adrian Whittaker, the beGlad
Anthology covers the Incredible String Band 1965-1974 through the
pages of beGlad.
This is an immense work and worthy of a
place on every String Band fan's bookshelf. the book covers the
history of the Incredible String Band and, in true beGlad magazine
style, is highly detailed. The appendix covers areas such as the ISB's
instruments, an ISB family tree, the influences of the ISB, a prize
quiz, crossword as well as a detailed bibliography and
2013 Revised Edition
Daily Telegraph 11 October 2003
Archbishop and all that jazz
Rowan Williams has provided a welcome
antidote to the staid George Carey since becoming Archbishop of
Canterbury earlier this year.
Even so, Spy was surprised to hear
sightings of the bearded one in the 12 Bar Club on Thursday evening.
He was at the Soho jazz joint for the launch of Be Glad, an anthology
devoted to 1960s group the Incredible String Band.
"The Archbish was just mingling
with the rest of us in his clerical garb," says one reveller.
"I was a bit surprised to see him
at the 12 Bar - it's pretty down-at-heel."
Williams's love of the Incredible
String Band became apparent when he went on Desert Island Discs and
chose one of their ``hits'', The Hedgehog Song. He has also written
the foreword to the book.
"His contribution turned out to be
very erudite," says the book's editor, Adrian Whittaker.
"It was all about bardic and
Celtic traditions, and quoted the band's songs."
The Guardian 25 September 2003
Band of angels
What is the job
poetry is supposed to do? This may be a definition shaped by
unfashionably archaic standards, but I think it's meant to do at least
It should take us into the realm of myth - that is, of the stories
and symbols that lie so deep you can't work out who are the authors of
them, the stories that give points of reference for plotting your way
in the inner and outer world. It's meant to celebrate; to clothe
ordinary experience with extraordinary words so that we see the
radiance in the ordinary, whether it's in landscape or in love or
whatever. It's meant to satirise - to give us a sideways glance on
familiar ways of talking or of behaving or exercising power, so that
we're not bewitched by what looks obvious and wants us to think it's
obvious. It's meant to lament, to give us ways of looking at our
losses and our failures that save us from despair and apathy.
If you listen to the Incredible String Band's songs, you realise
rapidly that they correspond with astonishing completeness to the
requirements of poetry. Plenty of songs of that period managed the
celebration or the lament, few could do the myth or the satire.
Perhaps for a lot of us growing up in the late-60s and early 70s,
there was a gap in the heart where this very traditional bardic, even
shamanic, sense of poetry was looking for expression; and the ISB did
just that. Forget the cliches about psychedelic and hallucinogenic
vagueness: this was work of extraordinary emotional clarity and
metaphorical rigour - an unusual combination. Lyrics stick after
decades, "Every cell in my body has it all writ down";
"You know all the words and you sung all the notes, but you never
quite learned the song"; "The caves where sleep the stars by
And the literacy you might have needed to pick up all the allusions
was and is intimidating - Sufism, Celtic myth, Biblical and Gnostic
symbols. Combine this with a versatility in musical idiom worthy of
Lennon and McCartney at their best, and you have a rare phenomenon:
the contrapuntal intricacies of much of Be Glad For The Song Has No
Ending, the Caribbean jog of the Hedgehog Song, the sly parodies of
Bob Dylan in more than one piece.
For those of us who fell in love with the ISB, there was a feeling
of breathing the air of a very expansive imagination indeed. It was
all right to be enchanted - but not bewitched (see above) by colossal
and antique symbols; all right at the same time to be thinking about
the experiences of "ordinary" first loves and first
betrayals; and all right to find the earnest nonsense of real
hallucinogenic maunderings funny. There was no one quite like them; we
liked to think it was a very grown-up taste, but that makes it sound
If I go back to the start, I'd have to say again that it was simply
a discovery of poetry; and as such - risking the embarrassment that so
regularly goes with my particular vocation - I'd also have to say that
it was a discovery of the holy; not the solemn, not the saintly, but
the holy, which makes you silent and sometimes makes you laugh and
which, above all, makes the landscape different once and for all.
Rowan Williams, from the introduction to An Incredible String
This book is a digest
of pieces from the beGlad fanzine. It opens unapologetically,
describing the ISB as the "most multi-faceted group in British
popular music", a statement that I would not contest, bar sliding in
the qualification that this applied to only a few years of their
life. Above all, it is the sort of book that makes you listen to
their albums again, though, in their case, like the Rolling Stones,
the transition of retrieval medium from vinyl to compact disc
effortlessly wiped out the need to "upgrade" over half their LPs.
The ISB's Robin
Williamson once piously told me that he "never approved of drugs."
Around the time of their 5000 Spirits album in 1967, the
Incredible String Band accompanied many a wanderer's transition from
resin, seeds, stems and Merrydown to psychotropic illumination.
However, the ISB's world of music hall whimsy and sweetshop
wackiness never stretched the mind like the Grateful Dead's driving
take on the weird (although the two co-mingled when the Dead's
Scientology-beagle Tom Constanten teamed up with them glancingly on
the ISB's U, a self-indulgent paradox of a farce that managed
to be porously leaky and impervious to meaning at the same time.
Towards the end,
the ISB just taxed the mind of all but the faithful. By their
initial demise in 1974, they were a whodunit. But most of the
audience, like the cast, has left before the curtain fell.
Have I given away
the ending already? the most interesting parts of the book are the
ones dealing with the emerging Edinburgh folk scene, the Clive
Palmer years that culminated in their eponymous first album and then
their disastrous partaking in Scientology. The fan worship sections
preaching to the converted are hard going, but the book is full of
insights that will cast light on their creative process. In that
spirit, when Mike Heron talks about White Bird being from a
very obscure Pakistani or Indian film it is rather like saying Frank
Sinatra's greatest hits are recondite. The song alluded to was Lata
Mangeshkar's breakthrough song and it literally changes the history
of Bollywood film. Nick from the best.
BBC 2 Radio Folk &
Way back in the 1960s (cue mass String Fan vocal) The Incredible
String Band enchanted a generation with their wildly arcane,
literary and genre-defying Celtic/psychedelic/world music (long
before the latter term was coined) and forever changed the musical
landscape before the magic somehow leaked away in the harsher light
of the mid-seventies.
Some two decades later, beGLAD emerged – a class-act
fanzine toting articles and reminiscences, anecdotes and insights
culled from some of those dedicated aficionados; people who'd felt
themselves more friends than fans, such was the accessibility and
open spirit of the early ISB. Lovingly tended by three co-editors
during its ten-year run from 1992 to 2002, the magazine became a
running archive for all things String, a repository of information,
opinion and analysis from which has sprung this satisfyingly chunky
In voices ranging from the academic to the demotic, beGLAD
tells the Incredibles' story from 1965 to 1974, leaving the reborn
21st-century ISB for other scribes. Through chapters such as The
Edinburgh Years; Woodstock and the U show; Mike,
Scientology and Zen; Life at Glen Row, it draws the reader into a
densely-detailed world simultaneously nostalgic and vital. Major
players such as Billy Connolly, Wizz Jones, Joe Boyd and Rose
Simpson contribute, each album and era is definitively discussed and
along the way you'll find engrossing discourse on comparative
religion, folk mythology, sacred architecture ... and that's just in
a single piece by erudite beGLAD co-editor Raymond
Chock-full of insider knowledge and liberally strewn with photos and
illustrated ephemera, it's as comprehensive and zestful a history as
any Stringhead or interested bystander could wish for. Read it
cover-to-cover (the material is ranged as chronologically as such a
rich subject allows) or dip into specific periods or albums as mood
dictates but be warned – it's hard to put it down but also almost
impossible to resist leaping up to play whichever album is currently
under scrutiny! File under Essential Reading.
Mel McClellan - December 2003
From the makers of superior ISB-zine BeGlad
(1992-2002), with a wistful forward from the Archbishop of
Canterbury (yes, really).
appearance, a forbiddingly scattershot assemblage of essays,
interviews and analyses, but in truth something of a luminous rabbit
from the top hat of mystery. Fine-tuning a mostly breezy, accessible
patchwork of material on one of the '60s most singular acts - who
were, as one apologist concedes, purveyors of "vertiginous
wordplay", "absurd optimism" and "an allusiveness worthy of TS Ellot"
- Whittaker has delivered an affectionate document of his idols and
their (sadly) unrepeatable era of naïveté and idealism. His approach
succeeds (given the all but random career and ethos of these
"laureates of the hippy dream") arguably better than a
straightforward biography ever could. Even if, like this writer, you
never did quite "get it", not feel you will ever have quite enough
time in the world to do so, the book still fascinates (the odd
post-grad album dissection aside) and delights like a lingering
glimpse through the keyhole of a door in October Song. Alas,
not all of us can dream the world alive.