Guide to British Music of the 1960s

October 2003

Book Review

beGlad, An Incredible String Band Compendium edited by Adrian Whittaker

It has taken many years but the world now has its first definitive book about one of the most influential groups of the 1960s, the Incredible String Band. Sounding quite different to anybody else, you either got it or you didn't. But the Beatles, Stones and Led Zeppelin all worshipped at the court of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron and their influence is clearly audible in such great works as Led Zeppelin IV. 

Over the last decade there has been a tremendous upsurge in interest in the Incredible String Band to the extent that the original line-up even reformed and toured for a couple of years. there is one reason that underlies this renewed interest, the fanzine beGlad. Started by Andy Roberts in the early 1990s, beGlad provided a forum for Incredible String Band fanzines with interviews and features. As such it started to bring people together. 

By the mid-1990s, there had been a String Band Convention in Leeds with Mike, Robin and Malcolm LeMasitre all playing, albeit separately. In 1997, Mike and Robin played together for the first time since 1974. Clive and Malcolm also appeared on the same bill in Camden. At the end of 1999, Robin, Clive and Mike, the original Incredible String Band, were on stage together. Without beGlad magazine this would probably not have happened. beGlad brought many new fans to the band and they are the ones still going to see the current line-up or solo concerts by Robin Williamson. 

Shortly after the Leeds Convention, Andy Roberts stopped editing beGlad. However, the song did not end as the magazine was taken over by Raymond Greenoaken and Adrian Whittaker. They built on Andy's start and turned beGlad into an A4 glossy magazine. However, number 20 was the final issue as Raymond and Adrian have other interests that require their time.

But the story does not end here. The wealth of information contained in beGlad has enabled editor Adrian Whittaker to compile it into a book. Despite the fact that much of the material was already written, this was still a mammoth task to take a series of disparate articles and to turn them into a book the details the career of the Incredible String Band until their 1974 split. This is more or less in chronological order with biographical features interspersed with highly detailed and analytical album reviews. There are also features on aspects of the Incredible String Band's lives such as the role of scientology, the numerous different instruments that they played live and on record and interviews with those whose own lives encountered those of the String Band. These include Billy Connolly who was a regular at the early gigs at Clive's Incredible Folk Club in Glasgow in the mid-1960s and appeared on the bill at the 1999 concert in Edinburgh where Mike, Robin and Clive were reunited. The circle was indeed unbroken. 

The book is not just for the die-hard Stringhead. Of course, the enthusiastic String Band fans will find plenty of material for consideration. The album reviews, for example, are frequently highly analytical and detailed but the complexity of some of the String Band's material, musically and lyrically, demand a detailed investigation. But even the casual fan or even those less acquainted with the String Band will find their story very intriguing, entertaining and moving and easy to read. 

Adrian Whittaker has clearly succeeded in evolving from a series of articles by different writers, written over a decade to a clear and concise history of the Incredible String Band. While it has been left as articles, partly as a credit to the original writers, it reads smoothly with no disturbing transition from one writer to another. Whittaker has also updated and corrected, where necessary. In addition, there is an extensive glossary of instruments used, detailed discography as well as a quiz and crossword. 

This is far more than a tribute to the most idiosyncratic British band of the late 1960s and early 1970s but it is also a testament to the hard work and dedication of those who created and built beGlad into the excellent fanzine that it was. A second volume of additional material is alluded to and there must be considerable content about the solo careers of Mike, Robin, Clive and Malcolm as well as other "occasional" members of the band. This is, of course, another major project. 

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