Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Iron Stone

New CD release by Robin Williamson

These days there are many faces of Robin Williamson due to his versatility of talents and interests.

During his late teens in the 60s his world was the avant garde world of beat poets, jazz and contemporary music.

Robin's union with Mike Heron evolved in the very successful and world popular Incredible String Band that fused folk music of Britain and Ireland with folk music elements from around the world and presented it with a sense of fantasy, called psychedelia at the time.

Eventually Incredible String Band leaned more and more towards rock music as their gigs elevated from small intimate venues to rock stadiums. This was not Robin's world. To escape his first solo album, Myrrh, was recorded and released to a very confused response. Today, Myrrh is a popular classic and even Robin was overheard this year to mention it was now his favourite work. Soon after Myrrh Robin left the Incredible String Band and emigrated to Las Angeles, a surprise destination to many of his fans.

Incredible String folded, Mike Heron moved forward with a rock band career and Robin became absorbed in theatre productions and film music.

While in Las Angeles a thirst for live performance evolved a new band, Robin Williamson and his Merry Men who recorded three albums full of fun whimsical celticky music giving clues to the Robin music that will follow in the coming years.

During the 80s, Robin was back in Scotland and he had learned the Celtic Harp which was to become his lead instrument as he collected and interrelated ancient tunes and tales. Robin was becoming a bard producing and performing ancient Celtic and Viking myths and tales through songs, stories, theatre and books.

Through the 90s Robin became settled as a family man, less out of the public eye but his performances became more varied. During this time he explored English, Scottish and Irish folk music through frequent duets performances with John Renbourn, Martin Carthy and first Incredible String Band mate, Clive Palmer. There were still the solo songs and stories performances and some theatre collaborations. This was also the time that Robin's wife Bina was starting to become involved in his music by adding some of her Asian heritage.

Late 1990s and up until a couple of years ago the Incredible String Band were together again to include Robin with Mike Heron, Clive Palmer, and this time his wife Bina joined in. Robin eventually left the Incredible String Band again as it was cutting into family life plus he and his wife Bina had ideas of their own they wanted to follow.

Today, Robin still does plenty of gigs with John Renbourn, which are largely old English and Celtic folk songs and music concerts. With his wife Bina they do performances and workshops to celebrate the Celtic festivals. Robin still does plenty of solo gigs that showcase and share all of the many elements from his past through songs, stories, poetry, humorous monologues, theatre and intricate music. His current instruments of choice are harp, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and whistles.

For most of his new work Robin has his own independent label, Pig's Whisker, and through this promises the first real Robin and Bina release plus maybe an album of tunes for relaxation and meditation. I look forward to featuring these on Celtic Ways next year.

Meanwhile, during the last 6 years Robin has released three unique CDs through a jazz label, ECM. Its as if he is forming a full circle between his bardic work of later years with his beat poet jazz world of his late teens. The third of these, "The Iron Stone" is by far the best of the three, I feel.

For one, over the years, Robin's popular silken soft voice had taken on the gruff and rasp tones of the "hand behind the ear" English folk singers. On "Iron Stone, to the relief of long following fans, there's plenty of the earlier silkier vocals of Robin returning.

Released just before Halloween, "The Iron Stone" is an incredible tapestry of many layers. This is not an album you can play once and review it. This takes many listens as you'll always hear it differently each time and it just gets better and better. Robin performs with his harp and his tabwrdd drum that he plays with his foot to provide rhythm. He also adds a few whistle layers. With Robin is Mat Maneris with Hardanger fiddle, Barre Phillips on double bass and multi instrumentalist Ale Moller on mandola, accordion and all kinds of flutes and whistles. Robin hopes that he may tour with this group one day.

1) The Climber
Provides a gothic, musically droning, poetry entrance full of wordscapes we love from Robin broken up with some beautiful tune escapes from the wall of drone. A beautiful start, but takes a few listens to appreciate it.

2) Sir Patrick Spens
A traditional sailor's song that many may know as a bouncing ditty, once popular from Fairport Convention. Robin make it his own with his beautiful tinkling harp accompanied by his story telling singing style with the drama it deserves. All of this is sealed by the dramatic droning of his support band.

3) Wyatt's Song Of Reproach
Words of Thomas Wyatt performed with gentle harp and voice ramblings. Lovely end of day, glass in hand, sentiments

4) There Is A Music
A muddle of dramatic poetry and musical accents and drama rather than tunes. Suitable track for the BBC Proms.

5) Even Such Is Time
Haunting and on the verge of being presented as a folk anthem. Perhaps this is due to using s Rory Dall Morison tune with Walter Raleigh's words. Gets close to a lot of what Incredible String Band did at times.

6) The Iron Stone
Poetic drama with similar arrangements as on the Incredible String Band's Wee Tam, Big Huge. This time it has the modern jazz feel as well.

7) The Badger
Words of John Clare read by Robin in his bardic style while the band are allowed to be as free form as they desire.

8) Political Lies
A song that seems to have frequently appeared with different sounds on Robin albums. Gentle, tuneful, easy listen and with a message. To me this always sounds very Bruce Springstein. Very pleasant and guaranteed favourite track.

9) The Yellow Snake
Already reviewed by many as a favourite track, even one of fan's all time Robin favourites, Gentle, hypnotic, other worldly and totally composed and arranged by Robin.

10) Loftus Jones
This intimate almost stealth instrumental is my personal joint favourite track on this album. It perfectly follows Yellow Snake to enhance a laying in the sun style meditation. Composed by O'Carolan but superbly arranged by Robin. He told me that this track has inspired him to make a complete meditation album in this style.

11) Bacchus
At the end of Loftus Jones you'll have reached the otherworld with a "do not disturb" sign, but this following track breaks the door down and you crash down to earth. Words by Ralph Waldo Emerson. There's a lot going on here.

12) The Praises Of The Mountain Hare
My other joint favourite, guaranteed to bring a big grin to your face. A humourously read story by Robin followed by a whimsical instrumental that sounds as if it's played by his old Merry Band.

13) To God In God's Absence
Sort of couples with Political Lies due to appearances on seemingly other Robin Albums. Lovely tune and very powerful lyrics. A perfect song for the harp. I would love to hear Van Morrison covering this and I can imagine Michael Jackson doing this in his style too.

14) Verses Of Ellesmere
Another revival song from the past yet beautifully done with mainly Robin on vocals, harp and drum. I love the harp tune breaks on this.

15) Henceforth
Closes the album with reflective Edinburgh poetry surrounded by the drones of the band and then fades out with beautiful dignity.

Listen to samples and buy "Iron Stone" from the link below.
Though only a UK link, for now, you can order for anywhere in the world.


Robin's latest release. The third, and in my opinion, the best of Robin's releases on the jazz label ECM. Wonderful production and some tracks that will be classic gems for years to come.

You can read more about, and order,
The Iron Stone
from these links ...
UK & Ireland



My personal favourite Robin Williamson album, A gentle easy to listen yet very moving work. Recorded after Robin moved back to Scotland after life in California. It marked the start of the bardic performance that he has crafted since. This re-release includes five wonderful bonus tracks giving 18 tracks in all that finish with the superb Lammas.

You can read more about, and order,
Songs Of Love And Parting
from these links ...
USA   Canada   UK/Ireland



After the Incredible String Band broke up Robin headed for California and formed a very lively whimsical combo called The Merry Band, and they were. Incredible musical arrangements that mixed renaissance and celtic phrases and moods that brought life and light to all who heard them. This album is a favourite amongst many of Robin's fans

You can read more about, and order,
American Stonehenge
from these links ...
USA   Canada   UK/Ireland



At the time of release in the early 70s many Incredible String Band fans remarked "what on earth is this!". They thought Robin had lost it, when he actually recorded this before he lost it. At this point Incredible String Band were moving on from their folkey style and into rock music, and Robin was not comfortable with that. Today, many who could not listen to this album in the early 70s now find this a beautiful classic. In Ireland, this year, I even heard Robin say it is now his favourite album.  It sounds so fresh today.

You can read more about, and order,
Myrrh
from these links ...
USA   Canada   UK/Ireland



The Incredible String Band launched Robin and this collection is a perfect introduction featuring songs that most people can enjoy. There's a lot of Mike Heron's classics like Painting Box and Cousin Caterpillar, but there is some of the best songs Robin has written including First Girl I loved, Half Remarkable Question, a beautiful childhood biographical Koeeaddi There and October Song that has been covered by many other singers.

You can read more about, and order,
Introducing The Incredible String Band
from these links ...
USA   Canada   UK/Ireland


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