Guide to British Music of the 1960s

December 1999

CD Review

The Incredible String Band - The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter

 

This is the essential Incredible String Band album for the collection. The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, released in 1968, enlarged on the themes in the previous album (5,000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion) suggesting a lifestyle based on country living, vegetarianism, LSD, cannabis, and concern for all living things. It was even more experimental than 5,000 Spirits. Both Mike and Robin were developing as multi-instrumentalists. Mike restricted himself to guitar, sitar and keyboards but Robin had built up an impressive repertoire including guitar, drums, Jew’s harp, whistle, harmonica, mandolin and sort of Arab fiddle called a gimbri. All of these helped the album rise to number 5 in the UK album charts. This was the definitive String Band album and it became their biggest seller. It contained the 13-minute long A Very Cellular Song which was later covered by Neil of The Young Ones! This was the most experimental song on the album and is, as far as I know, the only song ever written in tribute to amoebae! Was it influenced by LSD? Mike:

“All it was was a trip, and that was the music I was listening to, that and interspersed with Radio 4, bits of plays, people talking to each other, and I happened to be listening to the Pinder Family before I started.”

The Pinder Family had recorded the original of We Bid You Goodnight, part of which is included in A Very Cellular Song. It was also included frequently at the end of Grateful Dead concerts.

The cover of Hangman’s has inspired a lot of questions. The original cover was reversed with Robin and Mike on the front and the group with the children on the back. The title has also prompted many questions. Mike is on record as saying that it refers to the past and the future. The “hangman” is the past and his “beautiful daughter” represents the future. Alternatively, “the hangman is the past 20 years of our life and the daughter is now….” (Mike) “…or you can make up your own meaning. Your interpretation is probably as good as ours.” 

The first track on Hangman’s has also prompted much debate. Koeeeadi There is tinged with sitar and is a very gentle, but weird, opener to the album. According to Robin Williamson, the title came about from rolling a die with different letters on the six sides. Hangman’s remains an essential reference work for anybody interested in the late 1960s’ hippy scene in the UK. Was the music moving away from folk? Pete Brown, poet and lyric writer for Cream, had his opinion:

“The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. That’s what the Rolling Stones have been trying to do.”

Hangman’s was the album which catapulted the String Band from the folk scene into the mainstream of psychedelia. Live shows became more commonplace with the String Band headlining rather than supporting other artists. Hangman’s remains the most popular and most successful String Band album, reaching number 5 in the UK charts in Spring 1968. It sold 2,000 copies in the UK on its first day of release alone. Both the Sunday Times and the Observer covered the album’s release and all reviews were highly positive.

The release of Hangman’s was marked with a sell-out national tour. In these early days, the band’s stage show was augmented by two female dancers called Mimi and Mouse. Mike:

“Yeah, one of the things Robin liked to do was multi-media stuff, involving the audience and so on. It left me cold. I didn’t really like it, wasn’t what I wanted to do. But as how I was a fan of Robin’s I liked to see him expand in that direction, he was fulfilling himself by doing that and it entertained the audience. So all the things with Malcolm and with Mimi and Mouse were more condoned by me and Mimi and Mouse first joined to play the Minotaur, they dressed in a minotaur’s suit, one in the front and one at the back. I don’t think they did any of my songs when I think about it! Joe Boyd might know where they are- he hated them!”

So if you are going to buy just one ISB album for the collection, then this is the one. Despite being over 30 years old, it has not dated at all and the melodies sound as fresh as ever. Furthermore, at the end of this month, the original line-up of the Incredible String Band plays together for the first time since the launch of the first album. Does anybody have any questions?

 

Released: 1968
Elektra EVKS7 258
CD Re-release: 1992
Elektra 7559-60835-2
Highest UK Chart Placing: 5

Essential Tracks:

  • Koeeoaddi There

  • Mercy I Cry City

  • Witches Hat

Track Listing:

  1. Koeeoaddi There
  2. The Minotaur's Song
  3. Witches Hat
  4. A Very Cellular Song
  5. Mercy I Cry City
  6. Waltz of the New Moon
  7. The Water Song
  8. Three is a Green Crown
  9. Swift as the Wind
  10. Nightfall

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