If ever there was a magical band it was the Incredible String Band. Could it be possible for a concert in 2013 to transmit their utterly1960s magic? Wondrously, it was!
For the uninitiated, Trembling Bells are a young psych-folk quartet from Glasgow, who have deservedly received rave reviews for their post-Unhalfbricking sound. They even have the good taste to dress like it's still 1969. Mike Heron was, with Robin Williamson, leader of the psychedelic acoustic Incredible String Band (1965-1974), who personified hippydom at its purest. Tonight the Bells and Heron combined, with Heron bringing along Georgia Seddon (his daughter, a fine vocalist, also adept at keyboards and percussion) and John Charles Wilson (aka Frog Pocket; fiddle and mandolin). Various permutations of the seven musicians played a set of mainly ISB numbers, with a few Bells ones thrown in.
The gig started with Heron offstage, as the rest played a stunning version of Robin Williamson's Maya. The musicians do not imitate the Incredible String Band, rather they refreshen the ISB's spirit with inventive arrangements, full of neat little touches. Trembling Bells' founder Alex Neilson is a superb drummer, playing in a much busier and heavier stylte that one would expect for such material, yet always in a way that enhances the texture appropriately. Other musicians contribute percussion in various quieter forms impressively, and each one contributed well to an ensemble vocal sound. Bells' lead vocalist, Lavinia Blackwall, though, has a particularly beautiful voice, utterly worthy of the songs, to which it leant yet further charm. Then Heron, now seventy years of age, appeared on stage, with a broken right arm. Despite this, he radiated a lovely vibe, gentle, relaxed and quietly joyful. Playing guitar was of course not possible, but with the richness of other accompaniment this was not missed. More crucially his vocals have retained the distinctive, knowing innocent feel they had on the ISB records. He launched into This Moment, and all was right with the world.
And so on, through an evening of consistent greatness, with the Bells songs and the two numbers from Heron's 1971 solo album, Smiling Men With Bad Reputations, holding their own alongside the ISB classics. The set climaxed with the sublime A Very Cellular Song, a classic example of hippy-dippyness transcending itself to acquire a genuine spirituality. Then the encore, a 'Caribbean version' of the former Archbishop of Canterbury's favourite song, The Hedgehog's Song.
The concert was labelled 'The Circle Is Unbroken'. Unlike Mike Heron's arm, indeed it was. Oh, one reflects wistfully on what life might be like if hippy culture had continued to expand, but the endorsement of such bright and talented members of a much younger generation as Trembling Bells is a very pleasing affirmation, and the spirit was certainly alive tonight. 'May the long time sun shine upon you / all love surround you / and the pure light within you guide your way on'. Yes indeed; amen.
Writer: Rychard Carrington