The Incredible String Band At The Movies

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I went to see Olivier Assayas’s most recent film, Summer Hours, the other night, and was stunned to hear the Incredible String Band’s Little Cloud playing over the last scene and end credits. The ISB are not exactly what you would call fashionable these days: Joe Boyd, who managed and produced them, wrote in his excellent book White Bicycles that “history has deemed the ISB terminaly unhip, forever identified with an incense-drenched, tripped out folkiness.”

The ISB started out as a threesome, with banjoist Clive Palmer, Mike Heron and Robin Williamson: that’s the lineup on their first, eponymous record, released in 1966. Palmer quit the group, leaving Williamson and Heron to create a gentle, whimsical, remarkably original LP, The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion, that for me was one of the best records of a year (1967) that had plenty of great ones.

Williamson and Heron continued to make their eccentrically eclectic music for some years, and put out some great records. In fact, I hereby sheepishly confess that the first Dolly Parton song I ever heard was an ISB cover of My Blue Tears. During the ’70s they just kind of faded away – “with ever declining audiences and less and less interesting records,” as Boyd put it.

Summer Hours is about the fragmentation of a family and the loosening of the bonds that made it a family; an accounting of losses and discoveries, of transitions and travels and secrets forever buried. I hope it finds the audience it deserves. Little Cloud serves it as a closing affirmation, an acknowledgment that our tears might be more than a show of grief; they might (like the little cloud’s rain) be a harbinger of new growth as well.

The video is from Julie Felix’s BBC show, circa 1968, the song is Painting Box, from The 5000 Spirits. Please enjoy.

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One Response to “The Incredible String Band At The Movies”

  1. Callie Says:

    made me think of “Little Bird”–“is it tears I see or is it rain”

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