Robin Is A Merry Man

This last week has seen some musical busyness.

On Thursday, reading The Metro on the way into VoxBox on the bus they had highlighted a gig in Glasgow. Robin Williamson at the Arches, starts at 8pm. This is from The Metro which is a poppier kind of of paper. I’m so glad that they featured the gig. I’m a recent convert to The Incredible String Band (See previous post entitled ‘Meeting Michael’). They’re known as a psychedelic folk band from the 1960s and are the only Scottish band to play Woodstock. Robin founded the band with Mike Heron and Clive Palmer. There is no quiz at the end of this blog post.

I found a Robin Williamson record in Avalanche of all places just last year. Songs of Love and Parting from 1981. It appears that Robin took up harp playing many years ago. His version of The Parting Glass is tearjerkingly good. I needed to convince a friend who knows nada about the Incredible String Band let alone old style harp based folk music to come with me at short notice. How do you sell this gig?

Using youtube you will find that he is a slightly eccentric looking, very slightly portly man who holds court in intimate looking fireplace gigs from time to time. Usually with a huge concert harp and drum powered with foot-pedal. A real life psychedelic Dumbledore and magician of a man. He shuns much of the ISB material for which he is most famous, preferring to do his newer thing, reinterpretations of obscure folk songs and interesting covers. Ace of Spades by Motorhead? Harp and drum version? You betcha! You have to come and see this incredibly important string plucking one man band!

Persuaded, we went across to the Arches in Glasgow.

Mike Hastings and Solveig provided support (The Pendulums/Trembling Bells). “My fingirs are culd” Solveig said as she is Norwegian and not used to the Scottish Spring weather. Guitar and fiddle music. Great playing, beautiful stuff. They are the next generation, true heirs to the House Of Jansch.

Then Robin Williamson:

The lighting cast 10 foot shadow of a harp and hands left and right sides of the cave walls.
Then in front of us, he patiently, intensely, at leisure and vigorously played and sang his songs. Most with harp and pedal drum. Some with acoustic guitar. All old songs sounded new and all new sounded old and they were all timeless beauties of whimsical fancy. Always loosely freewheelin’ and always in control. This is a master of his craft.

The song choice betrays a man with a tonne of confidence and a real artistic independence where he can avoid playing his best known ISB songs in favour of keeping people entertained by playing incredibly obscure folk archive songs, some of which that are 400 years old in the folk tradition, “I’ve added a couple of my own verses too”.

What were the songs called? I haven’t a clue, I wasn’t taking notes! He did ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ somewhere in the middle. A quick story: Bob Dylan once described one of Robin’s songs as “Quite Good”. Rather than be damned by faint praise, “I’ve been using that in my publicity ever since” he says.

For the encore some people started calling out for the Hedgehog Song. “I won’t do that for two reasons, one I didn’t write it and two I can’t remember how it goes”. Aha, a schoolboy error! That was written by his old String Band pal MIKE Heron. So I shouted for Ace of Spades. My dear companion, slightly befuddled but having loved the gig picked up on my enthusiasm and REALLY shouted ACE OF SPADES!! at the long grey haired folk royalty on stage. It felt like he was shouting requests to Lemmy from the back of a Motorhead gig to the affront of most of the crowd! I slouch deep into my seat. We will soon be stared to death. “Now that is something I could have a go at” said Robin. Phew. The crowd are baffled and Robin launches gently into ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. It sounded a bit like this:

He needs a better publicist. But it was better than quite good. It was better than Bob Dylan.

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