Monday, 27 March 2017

"Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending/Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air" by THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND (2004 Beat Goes On 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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                                                                  "...Evolution Rag..." 

I've reviewed the earlier catalogue of THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND from 1967 to 1970 on other superlative Beat Goes On CD Reissues - but have been avoiding this release because I can't abide the hippy claptrap of "Be Glad For The Sing Has No Ending" - especially its associations with the destructive and appalling Scientology Cult that is imbedded into the lyric-songs on Side 1. The album is partially saved by some interesting and eclectic passages on Side 2's nine-part instrumental "The Song Has No Ending" - music from the 1970 limited-release film "Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending". That 26-minute opus is similar to the 20-minute Side1 suite on Amazing Blondel's "Fantasia Lindum" LP on Island Records in 1971 - but not as good or as pretty (see separate review for "Evensong/Fantasia Lindum" also on BGO Records, 2004).

And then there's "Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air" - coming at the tail end of 1971 - an underground album that fascinates to this day (spoken of in hushed tones by some). There are unfortunately still traces of Hubbard’s reality-bending cosmic psychobabble (indoctrinating young impressionable minds for momentary gain) – but the music was better and for its time – a bit out there. Let's get to the Cosmic Boys and their Evolution Rags...

UK released June 2004 (reissued October 2010) - "Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending/Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air" by THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND on Beat Goes On BGOCD 627 (Barcode 5017261206275) offers 2LPs from 1971 (March and October) - Remastered onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (50:54 minutes):
1. Come With Me [Side 1]
2. All Writ Down
3. Veshengro
4. See All The People
5. Waiting For You
6. The Song Has No Ending (A Selection Of Instrumental Pieces - 26:45 minutes) [Side 2]
Tracks 1 to 6 are the album "Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending" - released March 1971 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9140 (No US release). "Save All The People" recorded live March 1968 at The Royal Festival Hall - all other tracks studio.

Disc 2 (48:44 minutes):
1. Talking Of The End [Side 1]
2. Dear Old Battlefield
3. Cosmic Boy
4. Worlds They Rise And Fall
5. Evolution Rag
6. Painted Chariot
7. Adam And Eve [Side 2]
8. Red Hair
9. Here Till Here Is There
10. Tree
11. Jigs: Eyes Like Leaves/Sunday is My Wedding Day/Drops Of Whiskey/Grumbling Old Men
12. Darling Belle
Tracks 1 to 12 are the album "Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air" - released October 1971 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9172 and February 1972 in the USA on Elektra EKS-74112

The card slipcase always lends these BGO releases a feel of class. ALAN ROBINSON provides the very informative and entertaining liner notes in the tastefully laid out 16-page booklet – a lot of which is taken from/in collusion with Adrian Whittaker – author of the 2003 Book "Be Glad: An Incredible String Band Compendium" published by Helter Skelter. Adorning both sides of the text pages are small black and white period photos of the mad ensemble doing their flowers & cosmos thing – whilst the rest of the pages provide you with original recording credits and lyrics for both 1971 LPs.

Audio-wise - it doesn't say who or where these were Remastered - but I'm presuming it's the work of ANDREW THOMPSON because it sure sounds like it. Anyway - the Audio is superb throughout - most of the Acoustic-based songs benefitting from that extra oomph the transfer has given them. With John Woods as the original Engineer (Nick Drake etc) – it’s hardly surprising that these CDs sound so sweet. But the music for me is very much a tale of two cities - good and bad...

"Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending" feels like an odds and sods record - whatever was left in the can - thrown into one lump and issued regardless. Side 1 has the five lyric-based studio songs (One live in 1968) - while Side 2 is the 26-minute-plus Instrumental in nine different parts. The 'ha ha ha' chorus of the live track "See All The People" is insufferable hippy chanting and like most of Side 1 - I find it unlistenable now. There are pretty acoustic passages around the six-minute mark in the Side 2 instrumental that suddenly locate that ISB magic again - and later in the sitar break - but mostly it feels disorganised and rambling for the sake of it. Best track is the slightly vaudeville singing/talking more-tea-vicar song - "Waiting For You".

The harpsichord, the monastic voices and the clever Hari Krishna chanting percussion of "Talking Of The End" make it an extraordinarily odd yet intoxicating opening track. And just when you think you know where the song is going - it suddenly goes into a Sitar break that's both cool and eerie. "...Death is unreal...there's more to be revealed..." they sing on "Dear Old Battlefield" - the most Liege & Lief track on the LP. Mike Heron plays the Randy Newman piano while Likky handles the girly vocals on the pretty yet weird "Cosmic Boy" where the ISB of old is almost unrecognisable. Back to Folk-Prog business with "Worlds They Rise And Fall" - quite possibly the best melody on the album and beautifully played too.

The very Richard and Linda Thompson guitar vibe of "Painted Chariot" got picked as a representative of the band on the "Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal" 3CD Box Set for Island Records in 2005. The English Traditional "Here Till Here Is There" is almost Acapella - Heron and Likky sharing the microphone initially with Recorders thereafter providing the plaintive backing. But the sophisticated story-telling, cod-faced funny, World War sad and beautiful "Darling Belle" dominates the LP – an elongated finisher about life and loss that is all flutes and hissing swans and glockenspiels giving it some banjo yearning. I don't know about them getting their 'heads together in the country' like so many bands tried to do in the wake of Traffic - but the song is so typically ISB and a great way to end the record - mad as a dingbat on some very potent mushrooms - stoner rural music with an accent and a certain charming innocence...

As a group and listening experience - The Incredible String Band has always divided listeners - they're a Marmite band - love or loathe them. Those silly youthful indoctrinations aside - "Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air" is still pretty much unlike anything you've ever heard - then or since. And for that they have our thanks and admiration.

Put succinctly - this is keep the home fires burning music - while the leaves fall with whispers and the foggy dew is wet with aura daffodil love (know what I'm saying pal)...

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