There is so much to say about Scottish born Robin Williamson, it is difficult to know where to start, he is a multi-instrumentalist musician, singer, songwriter and storyteller, but if you ask me even that is an understatement!
Robin Williamson is a prolific musician, and he went straight from school at 15 into being a professional musician, I had no idea he had been in so many bands! My ramblings here will only give you a rough idea of Robin’s career, and hopefully that will inspire you to explore his music further!
1961 he met and shared a flat with Bert Jansch, another Scottish Folk musician who was a founder member of the band Pentangle, they went to London together to play the folk circuit.
Of course everyone knows he was a founder member of The Incredible String Band, but did you know that they recorded an incredible 13 albums between 1966 and 1974?
The band was formed after Robin’s return to Edinburgh where he met fellow musician Clive Palmer who ran the Incredible Folk Club in Glasgow, hence the Incredible name perhaps!
If you have no knowledge of The Incredible String band, I can tell you that they were and internationally popular band that played a fusion of folk and World music, described by someone or other as Folk Rock, possibly because it was so unusual that it could not be described as anything else.
The Album cover of 5000 Spirits.
The ISB played a plethora of musical instruments from all over the world somewhat experimentally, and wrote songs in the 1960s that definitely characterise that period in an often rather psychedelic way. They even played at Woodstock!
If you want to know more about Robin’s time in the sixties and with The Incredible String band you can read this very engaging interview with Richie Unterberger in 2003.
In 1971 he released his first solo album “Myrrh”, an album of songs written by Robin with a very folky feel to it, Robins distinctive vocals and lots of inspired instrumental parts and some sweet harmonies.
In 1974 he moved to Los Angeles where he formed His Merry Band in 1976 with Sylvia Woods (amongst others) a celtic harpist of great renown, and one of the only Americans to have won the All Ireland Harp Championships. They toured the US, Canada and Europe extensively and recorded three albums together, (I can’t help getting excited now at all this new music for me to listen to!). Journeys Edge, American Stonehenge and A Glint At The Kindling.
It was with great excitement that I discovered that Robin also published two tutorial books, for the fiddle, and the penny whistle. English, Irish, Scots and Welsh tunes! These he created after his return to the UK and the release of his solo album Songs Of Love and Parting which I already love and listen to, and Legacy Of The Scottish Harpers, Oh how can there be so much excitement at 5am on a Tuesday morning? I just don’t know what to listen to first, and there are so many links here you can join in my Robin o rama!
He made a live album with John Renbourn, in 1995, whom I also love to listen to, called Wheel Of Fortune which was nominated for a Grammy. From this album I am most familiar with the “Snow That Melts The Soonest”, which is a beautiful rendition of this song with haunting whistle playing.
Since the late nineties the Incredible String band reformed and parted a couple of times, a thing that bands do, musical relationships seem to me to be intense and difficult to end entirely, they are somewhat different to non-musical friendships, something else passes between people who play music together, a certain Je ne sais quoi, something deep and intangible, at least in my experience (or inexperience) anyway!
More recently Robin has made albums that feature material by Dylan Thomas and William Blake, and his most recent releases include a fusion of Folk, Jazz, Classical, Renaissance and some Eastern Influences, according to Wikipedia, and clearly I haven’t listened to his entire repertoire to verify this! But I do know that astonishingly Robin has released more than forty five (yes 45!!) solo albums, NOT including the ones with the incredible string band (at least eighteen).
One of the things that really interests me about Robin is that he can play songs like “The Ace of Spades” by Motorhead, or “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan with his harp beautifully and characteristically, and it seems as if they were always played that way.
Robin is a storyteller, through which I believe he rediscovered/reignited the ancient tradition of spontaneous accompaniment on the celtic harp. Robin tells many of the stories of the Tuatha Dé Danann, (the ancient race of deities and heros, who were skilled in art, science, poetry and magic, and inhabited Ireland before the modern Irish) in a beautiful and captivating way. You can watch a long video of him telling some of these stories Here at the Glastonbury Megalithomania back in 2009.
Robin also plays music with his wife Bina, I once watched a gig of theirs in Glastonbury, together they play a mixture of traditional and contemporary music, on a variety of musical instruments and styles, and I seem to remember including Bina playing the bowed Psaltery.
This article really just about touches on who Robin Williamson is, it doesn’t tell you anything personal, because its easy for me to fall in love with musicians and feel like I know them, but actually I know very little about Robin Williamson, I have enjoyed finding out more about his career and discovering that there is a ton of his music out there to listen to!
O The things I didn’t know about Robin Williamson! (could be a good title for a tune!) But what I do know is that his gig on the 19thof March at the Assembly Rooms in Glastonbury, (Details Here) is the day after my birthday, which I will spend with my mum in Oxfordshire because I love her, and I will drive back specially the next day because watching Robin Williamson fills my heart in a completely different way.
I look forward to seeing him play every year, ever since the first time I watched him with my beautiful friend Joanna at St John’s church in Glastonbury. I was not just blown away by his musical compositions, his charming voice, his musicianship and his songs but also by the way he presented them, each song was introduced fully with a story of some sort, an utterly captivating (unsurprisingly seeing as he is a storyteller) humorous and somewhat intricate story that cleverly weaved its way into the delightful song that followed.
What I keep coming back to while writing this is that watching and listening to Robin Williamson really makes me feel happy and lighthearted, in such a welcome way, which for me at the moment really is a big thing. Thanks Robin X
Featured Image by Niall Reddy. Robin and Bina photograph by Kevin Garland.