Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"Wee Tam & The Big Huge" by THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND (2015 Beat Goes On 2CD Reissue – Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review By Mark Barry...

"...Remember It All From Before..."

There are times when you listen to The Incredible String Band and wonder how we put up with it all – how we the unsuspecting and nay vulnerable music-loving public didn't just fall down on the floor in fits of laughter – ridiculing this utter hippy claptrap. But then you re-hear something like "Puppies" or "The Yellow Snake" or "Maya" and absolute magic happens – those swirling Sitar flourishes – those gorgeous complimentary vocal patterns that I defy anyone else to achieve – and you suddenly remember why TISB is held in such affection – and in some cases – genuine awe.

Beat Goes On have been steadily feeding our Acid Folk habit with CD reissues of The Incredible String Band for a while now (I've reviewed "U" and "I Looked Up" elsewhere) – and here they come again with the band's 4th album – the double set "Wee Tam & The Big Huge" unleashed on a Psychedelic world in the Autumn of 1968. Using the 2010 version as its base – this double-disc doozy is newly remastered in 2015 to superb clarity. Here are the communes with cousin caterpillars, sons of Noah and the occasional half-remarkable nature (if you know what I mean man)...

UK released July 2015 – "Wee Tam & The Big Huge" by THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1191 (Barcode 5017261211910) is a 2CD reissue and pans out as follows:

Disc 1 (44:03 minutes):
1. Job's Tear
2. Poppies
3. Beyond The See
4. The Yellow Snake
5. Log Cabin Home In The Sky
6. You Get Brighter [Side 2]
7. The Half-Remarkable Question
8. Air
9. Ducks On The Pond
Tracks 1, 4, 7 and 9 are written by Robin Williamson while Tracks 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8 are by Mike Heron.

Disc 2 (43:13 minutes):
1. Maya [Side 3]
2. Greatest Friend
3. The Son Of Noah's Brother
4. Lordly Nightshade
5. The Mountain Of God
6. Cousin Caterpillar [Side 4]
7. The Iron Stone
8. Douglas Traherne Harding
9. The Circle Is Unbroken
Tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9 are written by Robin Williamson while Tracks 2, 6 and 8 are by Mike Heron

"Wee Tam & The Big Huge" was released as a 2LP set in the UK in October 1968 on Elektra Records EKL 4036/37 (Mono) and EKS 74036/37 (Stereo). The Stereo mix is used. The UK artwork has the lyrics for Side 1 and 2 on the front sleeve and Side 3 and 4 on the rear with photos of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron on the inner gatefold. It was famously issued in the USA in 1969 in different sleeves on two separate LPs - "Wee Tam" on Elektra EKS 74036 and "The Big Huge" on Elektra EKS 74037. Alternative artwork of the two American LPs (slight variants of the original photographs) is featured on Page 2 and 3 of the booklet.

There is an outer card slipcase which lends the whole thing a very classy feel and a 20-page booklet which features the lyrics to all four sides, the poem that came as an insert with UK originals ("The Head" by Robin Williamson) gets a pride-of-place centre page spread while JOHN O'REGAN's typically excellent and insightful liner notes paint an entertaining picture of the group and the album’s history. But the big news is a beautiful 2015 remaster by ANDREW THOMPSON that makes pretty tracks like "You Get Brighter", "Air" and the epic "Maya" sound ethereal and new.

"Wee Tam & The Big Huge" is probably The Incredible String Band’s most accessible outing – the music being primarily Acoustic Folk blended with Eastern themes and instruments like the Gimbri, Sarangi, Sitar and Irish Harp. It opens with the 6:47 minutes of "Job's Tears" where Robin Williamson's Guitar is quickly joined by the 3rd member of the group – the equally high vocals of Licorice McKechnie. The instrumental "Beyond The See" has Mike's Harpsichord and Organ to the fore and sounds fabulous. As the opening acoustic notes of "The Yellow Snake" mingle with Indian Sarangi sounds – the audio is startling and is a million miles away from my battered orange label original on Elektra. The Side 1 finisher "Log Cabin In The Sky" sounds like the kind of Americana The Band was listening to when they made "Songs From Big Pink" while Side 2's gorgeous and simple "Air" is surely a highlight of the whole double album (beautiful vocal arrangements). The nine-minute "Ducks On A Pond" is probably the most Traditional Folk tune on here and again has lovely audio as the trippy lyrics roll by – "...I wear my body like a caravan...gipsy rover in a magic land..."

The East-meets-West musical infusion hits you with Side 2's "Maya" where nine and half minutes of Williamson's Sitar playing makes the track fly – the cool lyrics too rolling off the Williamson's tongue as Licorice shakes the tambourine. Birds and Nature open the Bob Dylan sounding "Greatest Friend" where Heron sounds like he wants to write a classic on the guitar and harmonica but can't quite get there (it's very pretty though). The rather pointless 17-seconds of "The Son Of Noah's Brother" precedes the more substantial "Lordly Nightshade" where "Lordly..." mixes lyrics about Hitler with Hippies (nice). A churchy organ opens "The Mountain Of God" where the melody actually apes a hymn. The "Da Doody Da" refrain in "Cousin Caterpillar" gives the song a sort of Small Faces madrigal effect. Side 4 ends with a tremendous threesome – the sitar/acoustic battle of "The Iron Stone" which features that other occasional band member Rose Simpson on Percussion – Heron's Folky "Douglas Traherne Harding" (gorgeous audio) and the pure English flute of "The Circle Is Unbroken". What a ride...

"Wee Tam & The Big Huge" may be as bats*** as Hamish McLooney who won Madman Of The Highlands fifteen times in a row - but it's also glorious, unique and damn it - loveable. So – a very cool reissue from England’s BGO who are (as we drop mushrooms) lining up the band’s first three albums on Elektra for their next 2CD release - "The Incredible String Band" (1966), "The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion" (1967) and "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter" (March 1968).

It just remains for me to advise you all - in those most ancient of English words - get hippy on yo ass yo dandelion ya!

This review and many others like it are part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Books Series. 

Click the link below to get the E-Book on Amazon (over 1750 e-pages of reference and great ideas)...

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