Once upon a time, in what was later dubbed the Magic Summer, I discovered the Incredible String Band. I was visiting my father, who was teaching English at Colorado State University at Fort Collins. I had gone with my stepbrother Paul to visit his far-out friend Josh. He seemed a pretty normal 15-year-old, but he had (or claimed to have) dropped acid so many thimes that he once had to take a second dose to get out of what he called Cartoonland. Nobody did any drugs that day, but Josh mentioned he had an album by the Incredible String Band. It was "The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion," and it had one of the most psychedelic album covers I have ever seen. (The group itself did not seem to be into the drug culture, though.)
The ISB (named for the Incredible Folk Club in Glasgow) was an eclectic group. It had various members, but Robin Williamson and Mike Heron were the mainstays. They sang blues, folk, calypso, gospel, Chinese-inspired music, and even a piece reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan ("The Minotaur's Song") . From the first track, "Chinese White," with its refrain, "Oh, will your magic Christmas tree be shining/Gently, all around, " to the final "Back in the 1960s," I had fallen in love with the band. My favorite was "Painting Box, with its chorus:
For somewhere in my mind there is a painting box,
I have every colour there it's true.
Just lately when I look inside my painting box,
I seem to pick the colours of you.
Thanks to the marvels of YouTube, we can hear the ISB singing "Painting Box," along with "The Half Remarkable Question." The clip was recorded from the Julie Felix TV show in 1968 . Felix, a British folksinger, joins Mike Heron and Robin Williamson in singing " Painting Box." The film isn't in sync with the sound, but it's still wonderful. Felix is simply delightful as a host (all-right, I've got a thing for dark-haired, brown-eyed women, but she'd be delightful even if she were a blonde). YouTube also has snippets of the documentary about the band, "Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending."
One caution: the ISB is a group most people either love or loathe. The dark-haired, brown-eyed woman I married can't stand them. We've agreed to disagree.