Category Archives: Incredible String Band

Bardic Review…

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It has been our policy for some time now to ask Companions to bring readings for inclusion in our Landscape Weekends…

We first tried this on the Glastonbury Walk-and-Talk weekend and were delighted with the results.

The energies of the earth it seems respond favourably to the human voice, especially when it is utilised to bring forth heartfelt emotion.

…Our readings to date have ranged far and wide over a spectrum of traditions and forms although it seems that the shorter pieces, generally, have more effect.

On the now distant ‘Circles Beyond Time: Seeking the Seer’ weekend one of our Companions chose to give a rendition, unaccompanied of a Robin Williamson composition, October Song.

Coincidentally, we were due to attend a Robin Williamson concert later that week and so the opportunity to tie these two events together became irresistible…

It is a relatively old song now, if age has any meaning for a song,  and it was once described by Bob Dylan as ‘quite good’.

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‘I’ll sing you this October song,
Oh, there is no song before it.
The words and tune are none of my own,
for my joys and sorrows bore it…’

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‘…Beside the sea
The brambly briars, in the still of evening,
Birds fly out behind the sun,
and with them I’ll be leaving…’

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‘…The fallen leaves that jewel the ground,
They know the art of dying,
And leave with joy their glad gold hearts,
In the scarlet shadows lying…’

‘…When hunger calls my footsteps home,
The morning follows after,
I swim the seas within my mind,
And the pine-trees laugh green laughter…’

‘…I used to search for happiness,
And I used to follow pleasure,
But I found a door behind my mind,
And that’s the greatest treasure…’

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‘…For rulers like to lay down laws,
And rebels like to break them,
And the poor priests like to walk in chains,
And God likes to forsake them…’

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‘…I met a man whose name was Time,
And he said, “I must be going, ”
But just how long ago that was,
I have no way of knowing…’

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‘…Sometimes I want to murder time,
Sometimes when my heart’s aching,
But mostly I just stroll along,
The path that he is taking…’

October Song, Robin Williamson.

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I rather think that the stones of Carl Wark enjoyed our Companion’s rendition of this song, and I’d also like to think that Robin would have been pleased with it too…

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Bent-Black-Sun-Day…

 

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“There is one thing that still troubles me,” said Wen who really seemed to have the ‘Rapunzel’ thing stuck in her craw.

“Yaas,” said Don, in his most irritating drawl.

“Shouldn’t the seasons be sisters?”

“On what grounds?”

“Well, I’m presuming that Mother Nature is an Enchantress precisely because of things like her ability to transform the world through her seasons.”

“This is true, Little Grub,” said Don with the kind of tired air which suggested he would not be around for very much longer, “but the seasons are really contrived in so far as they are useful for sustaining our life through crops. Agriculture is a technology. A very ancient technology but a technology nonetheless. In that sense the seasons are man made.”

“And that’s why we can have the debate over whether or not there are really three or four seasons,” said Wen.

“Or even two. In the four season year there are really only two pivotal points and their inverse or reflection.

Wen considered this idea for a bit and then pressed on with her original line of thought, “so the brothers are really alchemists?”

“The first alchemists, adding their art to nature, I like that, Little Grub, can I go to sleep now?”

“Only if you give me something to ponder while you’re gone.”

“You seem to be doing rather well in your pondering without me.”

“But it’s not the same.”

“Why, oh why, my Little Grub, would the day of the king’s death be now known to us as Bent-Black-Sun-Day?”

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A short time later Don re-entered the temple room somewhat bleary-eyed.

“Better?” asked Wen doing a poor job of camouflaging her excitement.

“You have been grubbing,” stated Don by way of an answer.

“The bent twig of darkness grows the petals of the morning and shows to them the birds singing just behind the dawning.”

“Ah, Little Grub, ’tis music to my ears.”

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Bardic Study – Waltz of the New Moon…

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Another one of Robin’s early efforts.

When invoking the  Bardic Spirit  there  are not  too many candidates around, unfortunately…

For a spell this was my all time favourite song ever, if only for its helter skelter whirl of minor key madness…

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I hear that
the Emperor of China
used to wear iron
shoes with ease…
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I think these lines refer to a type of ‘not to touch the earth’ scenario.
That is, The Emperor, who is regarded by his subjects as a ‘God incarnate’ is held to be too sacred to be sullied by the touch of the earth.
In contradistinction to this rather absurd notion Robin then sets out his own position.
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We are the tablecloth, and also the table, and also the fable of the dancing leaves…
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That is, we are  the structure and garment of life’s spread, both the Spirit and the Flesh and Bone, and the continual re-incarnation of the spirit in that continually recycled flesh…
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The new moon is rising
the axe of the thunder is broken
as never was
not since the flood
nor yet since the world began…
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This  process, in case we ever forget, is exemplified for us in the cycle of the Moon.
Every new moon then… is also a new beginning.
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The new moon is shining
the angels are washing their windows
above the years
whose jumble sale
goes spinning on below.
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Could anything be clearer?
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Ask the snail beneath the stone,
ask the stone beneath the wall
are there any stars at all?
Like an eagle in the sky,
tell me if air is strong…
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We may pity the stone and the snail their stony snail lives in the relative dark but even the eagle who knows about the sky and the stars knows nought of the constituents of the means of its flight.
These then are the natural and eternal hierarchies of an ever expanding understanding.
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In the floating pan pipe victories
of the golden harvest
safe in the care of
the dear moon…
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The notes of the pan pipe do float.
And the sickle moon is ultimately responsible for the cutting of the corn.
(This song was composed, at night, in a corn field, in August.)
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The new moon is rising
the eyelid of god is approaching
The humane train
the skating
raining
travelling
voice of certainty…
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The new moon is shining,
the harmonious hand is now holding,
Lord Krishna’s ring,
the eagle’s wing,
the voice of mother,
everything…
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And the voice of mother brings with it a bright blessing…
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In the floating palaces,
of the spinning castle…
May the Fire King’s Daughter,
bring water to you.
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The Fire King is the Sun.
The Fire King’s Daughter is the Moon.
The spinning castle is the Earth.
Its floating palaces are the Clouds.
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…Which bright blessing, is… the rain.
 
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‘Waltz of the New Moon’ appears on The Incredible String Band’s third studio album, ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’, which is widely regarded as their finest album.

The title is colloquial slang for a gallows or scaffold.

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Bardic Study – The Iron Stone…

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Another early song from Robin Williamson.
Not too much to interpret, perhaps, in this weeks offering.
Just a straight forward description of the finding of a stone, which we are bound to assume is the account of a true story.
And maybe, the answer to a mystery…
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A long wind
A weaving mind
Over all the land the wild flowers grow,
Echoing kind to kind.
On that day when I found the iron stone
Heavy in my hand in the sloping rain.
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Except, as descriptions of a day go that is, perhaps, far, far and away so far from normal as it is possible to be…
‘Long’ in time? Resulting in the ‘Weaving’ of mind?
The story teller could be fishing.
A ‘long wind’ where wind rhymes with mind would lead to a ‘slow reveal’…
It is extremely difficult not to be persuaded of some form of leave taking or transport here.
Who regards plant growth as an echo?
In a later version of this song ‘sloping rain’ becomes ‘floating rain’ which adds immeasurably to the other worldliness of the occasion.
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Ever the seas rolled on
And o’er my heart
They roofed their slates of grey,
The iron stone I found it on that day.
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As is that…
Has the singer collapsed on the beach?
All the seas raise grey slates over the singer’s heart?
In their natural course?
Okay, so maybe the stone itself is having this effect on its finder?
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The iron stone I brought it home.
Heavy in my hand I brought it home,
Black as the thoughts of doom,
A man told me it came from the moon…
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The last line, perhaps, indicates that the singer found the stone when still young…
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Flying through time it flew…
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Well, if it did come from the moon then it would have had to fly through time, or is it the singer who flies through time?…
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Upon the long beach where I found it,
Dancing horses told their tale.
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A poetic description of the sea but by this stage there could very well be talking horses prancing about upon the seashore…
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Among the stones it called me,
There my hand it knew.
Seeing in the thickness of its thick black sight,
Forests and centaurs and gods of the night,
Never that sun shone on…
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Ah ha!
It is a scrying stone, or at least it is being used as one.
The transfer of abilities from singer to stone supports the earlier interpretation.
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Where High Atlantis raised her shores,
How sang the dragons of the sea.
The Stag Hunt rushing round the world,
One turn of light its gone again.
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The Stag Hunt is spectral.
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The eyes of Merlin speak beneath their crown of silver grey.
A piece of iron, black and heavy.
Smooth and rounded by the sea,
Holding its sand and stones.
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It is tempting, perhaps, to regard the last three lines as spoken by Merlin…which may or may not be referring to the stone.
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To recap…
Boy  notices a smooth rounded dark stone amidst the pebbles on a rainy, windy beach.
He picks it up and is immediately transported to a wild flower strewn place where the rolling seas seem to speak to him and guard his emotions.
He takes the stone home and is told by a man that it comes from the moon.
Later he notices that by gazing into its dark depths he can see visions from an otherworldly realm.
And supposes that he encounters Merlin who speaks to him.
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 Personally, I think this is a birth-day song, but I could be wrong.
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 And the mystery it solves?
“He turned up good when he was fourteen, he was handsome and he was good and nobody remembers teaching him anything.”
– Billy Connolly (on Robin Williamson)
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Bardic Study – The Eyes of Fate…

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‘Oh, who can see in the eyes of fate,
All life alone in its chronic patterns?
Oh, swan, let me fly you
To the land of no winds blowing.
I know nothing, and know that I know nothing;
All is in the eye, and in its blinks of seeing.’

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The first verse appears to record a conversation between Swan and Fate. Swan asks a question and is invited by Fate to another world where no winds blow with the proviso that Fate itself is ignorant but merely watches. ‘Blinks’ here, operate as links of time.

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‘So just like the morning,
The ghost of the following day…

Listen…

Hoary, Hoary, Hoary, Hoary…
Rear the rollers, wild and stormy…
Echoes holy… Only lonely… Gone beforey… Hoary… Hoary…’

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The start of the next verse may represent the journey or flight and certainly if the morning is the ghost of the following day we have now travelled or somehow got beyond time in some way.

(Later in the song it becomes clear that this ‘disjoint’ in the day is not natural and can be rectified.)

This is immediately followed by an exhortation to listen…

‘Hoary’ here, is ‘venerable’, ‘ancient’ and ‘holy’.

Whatever decides Fate is very old and appears to be linked to the Sea which despite an absence of wind still rears and is stormy.

This ‘something’ is older than loneliness.

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‘Oh, rivalry and opinion still cast their wild spells.
Effort and contrariness change the directions of time.
The lion still growls in your hollowness.
Please let’s be easy, please let’s be friends.
Watching and learning like small children.’

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In this verse the wild nature of whatever governs Fate appears to be linked to Swan’s propensity for dissension  and emptiness.

Swan is exhorted to reconcile its differences with Fate and learn together by watching for and listening to the lonely ‘Old Friend’.

By so doing the schism in the days can be rectified and a harmony achieved which needs not fame nor fate.

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‘Till out of the morning
Is growing the strength of the day…

Listen…

Hoary, Hoary, Hoary, Hoary…
Hear the rollers, wild and stony…
Echoes holy… Only lonely… Gone beforey… Hoary… Hoary…

Servant of fame or fame for a servant, (Hoary… Hoary…)
You see what you see, you see seldom what is
Servant of fate or fate for a servant, (Hoary…Hoary…)
You see what you see, you see seldom what is.

(Hoary… Hoary…) Servant of fate, Oh…’

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‘The Eyes of Fate’ by Robin Williamson, appeared on the second Incredible String Band album entitled, ‘5000 Spirits’.