Perfect Sound Forever

Robin Williamson


Photo from Pig's Whiskers

Interview by Richie Unterberger (April 2003)

In the 1960ís, Scotland's Incredible String Band put together elements of folk and world music into something that was called folk-rock, in part, because it couldn't be called anything else, and certainly couldn't be called folk. Robin Williamson, Mike Heron, and Clive Palmer were the trio that made their 1966 debut The Incredible String Band, which though more expansive in its instrumentation and freewheeling in its ambience than British traditional folk, was still basically a folk record. Palmer left after its release, and the ISB briefly went on hiatus, regrouping as a Williamson-Heron duo with more exotic instruments, some of which Williamson had brought back from Morocco. Gimbri, sitar, tamboura, flute, and oud mandolin are all heard in addition to the expected guitars on 1967's The 5000 Sprits or the Layers of the Onion. As the title suggests, the lyrics had taken a turn toward the far-out as well, with songs about hedgehogs, mad hatters, a dialogue with a floating cloud, and "Way Back in the 1960s," written (right at the heart of the decade's most psychedelic phase) from the point of view of an old man looking back on the madness many years down the line. For all its weirdness, its most popular song was a relatively cogent romantic one, "First Girl I Loved," which found its greatest Stateside audience through a cover by Judy Collins.

The instruments multiplied yet further on The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, with hammer dulcimer, harpsichord, pan pipe, Jew's harp, water harp, chahanai, finger cymbals, and more adding to the clamor. Both this and its predecessor put growing emphasis on melismatic, vari-pitched vocals, creating a wavering drone that nonetheless was extremely varied in both vocal and instrumental arrangement. It also lacked, strictly speaking, much rock to its folk-rock; there were no electric guitars. But as with Pentangle, rock listeners would be the Incredible String Band's core supporters, sending The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter to #5 in the UK. It was an amazing placing for such an adventurous record and a band whose very format made hit singles out of the question, and whose airplay was limited to a few adventurous DJís. For that, the Incredibles and other like-minded underground acts had to rely upon John Peel, who once played The 5000 Sprits or the Layers of the Onion in its entirety on one of his shows, though at midnight. By the end of the 1960ís, the Incredibles' sound had softened somewhat as Rose Simpson and Licorice McKechnie took larger roles in the vocal and instrumental arrangements.

Robin Williamson spoke to me in the fall of 2001 for the second volume of my two books on the history of 1960s folk-rock, Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock. Published by Backbeat Books in mid-2003, it also includes plenty of coverage of other star and cult folk-rockers from all over North America and the British Isles, drawing from more than 100 first-hand interviews. Eight Miles High documents folk-rock from mid-1966 to 1970, covering folk-rock's expansion into psychedelic folk-rock; the birth of the singer-songwriter movement; the birth of country-rock; the late-'60s heyday of British folk-rock; and folk-rock's growth as a live music in concert and festivals in the second half of the 1960s. The book's predecessor, Turn! Turn! Turn!: The '60s Folk-Rock Revolution (Backbeat, 2002), covers folk-rock through mid-1966, from its roots in the early '60s folk revival through the birth of the music in 1965 and the mid-'60s heyday of folk-rock pioneers such as the Byrds, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, the Mamas & the Papas, the Lovin' Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield, and many others. More information on the books is available at www.richieunterberger.com/eighthome.html and www.richieunterberger.com/turnhome.html.

Richie Unterberger is also the author of Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll, published by Backbeat in 1998, which profiles 60 cult rockers of all eras. He also wrote Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries of 1960s Rock, a follow-up of sorts to that book (Backbeat, 2000), which examines nearly 20 cult rockers from the 1960's that didn't make it into the first volume, allotting about three times as much space and depth for each chapter. There's more information on his books on his web site, www.richieunterberger.com.



Q: When the members of the Incredible String Band first started playing together in the mid-1960s, how was the music different from what other British folk musicians were doing at the time?

A: What we were doing in '65 was something quite different. What I was doing, in my mind, as a good place to start, is that I was carrying on in a direct line from more like from Jack Kerouac, in one way. And from traditional singers in Britain, as well as old-timey American music, a kind of mixture of those things. The main singers I liked in Britain were Jeannie Robertson, the Scottish singer, and a number of other people that were tradition-bearers in Scotland and in Ireland. But I worked with Tom Paley from the New Lost City Ramblers when he came over to Britain. That's why I first began playing fiddle, really, was with him. So that was an old-timey element as well.

And because I wanted to be a writer, really, rather than a musician at first, my main role model, I think, was Jack Kerouac. Because I wanted to try and write like that spontaneously. So I was in a curious never-never land between the tradition of the Celtic heritage on one hand, and the spontaneous writing of the beatniks in another; the beat writers of America and their English counterparts. So I was somewhere in the middle there.

And it seemed to me, a wonderful place to start was that all human beings had a cultural thread that united them, which was music. That was common to everybody. And that it was a good idea to break down the barriers between performer and audience, and to break down the idea of a virtuoso: those who can play, those who can't play. Try and break away from that, by having a go at playing instruments that one couldn't play at all, to try and create a sort of naive music or an innocent music, like naive painting.

And it struck me that in those days, before the Moog synthesizer had really got going, the only way to make interesting sounds easily was to get interesting instruments. I later found out that Harry Partch had been doing this on the West Coast in the forties. I didn't know about him in those days. But it proved to be, in a way, kind of self-destructive with the beginnings of the synthesizer and it being easy to make those noises.

What I feel I contributed really to the period 1964-65 was a kind of a... it's kind of like fools rushing in where angels feared to tread. I wanted to be the one over the hill rather than the one that built the city. I wanted to have a go at a number of different things. It struck me that you could write a spontaneous, free-form lyric, a la Jack Kerouac. And then you could link it up with spontaneous free-form music, drawn from the various regions of the world. So you have like an Indian bit, a Spanish bit, a light opera bit, an African bit, and you could use all those things like tonal colors, and have a bit of a go on various instruments and so on. Plus then, of course, the whole notion of guitar tunings was a very important thing in Britain, with Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and Davy Graham, who had opened up the sort of DADGAD world, of DADGAD tuning. But we began, in the String Band, to use a lot of different tunings, minor tunings and different kinds of modal tunings.

So I suppose that in a way, more than folk-rock, what I was trying to do then was try to open up the whole subject of folk music into a different, and wider, sphere. Not necessarily a rock sphere, but more of a sort of literary and world music sphere. In fact, the term "global village" was first coined by a New York reporter to describe an Incredible String Band concert in the '60's.


Q: It took several years, though, for you to work with electric instruments to a significant degree on your records.

A: Didn't do too much electric at first, no, it was more like odd instruments from Africa, or India, or somewhere like that. And people were a bit bemused, but not necessarily hostile. I think they felt we were a bit wacky. When we first came to America, I remember, we were doing a tour opening for the Grateful Dead on a number of dates on the West Coast in the early '60s. And the Dead, at that time, were in the electric blues mode. And we were distinctly in the sort of weird mode, you know (laughs). The audiences that we were playing to were trying to work out what to make of us.

That was true in the very early period. Like '61, '62, '63, when I began playing. When I first came down to London, Ewan MacColl was pretty much the king of the London traditional music world. And he didn't approve of using instruments, let alone... Although he did write songs himself, you see.


Q: He seemed to have a lot of contradictions that went against his traditionalist-purist persona. Some of those songs he wrote ended up being known pretty widely outside of traditional folk circles, too. Especially "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."

A: And "Dirty Old Town," which the Pogues ended up recording. He was quite a contradictory man, as you say. And wasn't as Scots as he might appear, 'cause he grew up mainly in the Midlands. He was an actor! I think he started out as an actor. And he created a role for himself, and a world for himself, like a lot of people do. But I mean, I think I've spent a lot of time in my life not only trying to find out who I am, rather than who I want to be; trying to find out who I am, actually. And also trying to use my own voice, rather than an ancestral voice. But I see myself working within the context of a heritage. And in that sense, it's folk. And in that sense, it's contemporary, it's rock. So it's something like folk-rock.

The Holy Modal Rounders in America were quite interesting too, weren't they? Because they were doing a sort of a free-form inspired version of old-timey music.


Q: Yeah, and then they went into a more definite rock direction on their late-1960ís album for Elektra.

A: I've never come across that [Elektra LP].


Q: Was the scene in Scotland much different from what was going on elsewhere in Britain at the time, in London and other cities?

A: It had an interesting scene, because it had an existing tradition going on that was neglected enough for it to be quite wild, you know, like a wildflower? Because the tradition hadn't been tampered with at all in Scotland. In the '80s, they found a massive tradition of storytelling amongst the Scottish travelers, which is sort of like the gypsies of Scotland. And they still had an ongoing tradition of telling stories for entertainment, which hadn't been messed around with or popularized, but was still in existence just as it had been, as late as [the] 1980s, you know. So the folk scene in Scotland wasn't a revival, exactly. It was still all there. As it was in Ireland. It had never gone away. So when we came in with a new take on it, we were taking it right from the source, rather than from the revival.


Q: It seems like there was a big gulf between what was going on in the London folk scene and the rest of British folk, in some ways.

A: Especially then, it was like that [London] and the provinces. It was like much more so than, say, East coast-West coast. It was the official bit, you know. And Edinburgh--now it's a capital in its own right, Scotland is now a nation in its own right. But in those days, in the '60ís, Edinburgh was a town that had formerly been a royal city several hundred years prior, and was sort of a very strange place. Like Dublin was a strange place.

As time went on, we got more and more out of the folk scene, so I lost touch with all of that. It was very much like, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. That's why we ended up running our own club in Edinburgh, me and Bert [Jansch] and Clive [Palmer] ran a club in the back room of a bar, which ran every Thursday night. And that was really how we were making money about 1961, '62, Ď63. A lot of places wouldn't book us, see, in London, after the first year I went down there, because Ewan MacColl didn't like what we were doing so much. We went back to Scotland and ran our own club. We opened our own club. We started to book people ourselves, and [that's] actually how we got going there.

I think that probably was a way forward. I had a little go at the same notion when I lived in the States, was to start my own cassette sales at gigs. Pigs Whisker Music grew out of that, and my own little label with CDís and so on. It was like a do-it-yourself version. Running a folk club was a do-it-yourself version of employment.


Q: You've been classified as folk-rock, but did you really think of yourselves as doing folk-rock at the time? It's almost as though what the Incredible String Band were doing was so unclassifiable that it was called folk-rock because it couldn't really be called anything else. It certainly wasn't traditional folk music.

A: I don't know. I never managed to make the transition very easily into rock, because I just don't think in those terms. My partner Mike [Heron] came from a rock background. He was playing in rock bands in Edinburgh in the early '60ís, when he first joined up with me and Clive [Palmer]. And really, his background was more to do with rock as in your early mods and that style, like the early Beatles scene, that kind of world. Clive, his background was kind of Edwardian banjo, which he learned in the '50ís as a boy. And my background was a funny hodgepodge of this and that, and I just had to go with various things. I never made a very easy transition into rock, and really only began using electric music, using electrical musical instruments, after about 1969, '70. As the music scene was changing, we ended up from going from playing sort of quite genteel sort of gigs like the Fillmore East, Fillmore West, that kind of thing, to playing kind of stadiums. We did a number of tours where we were kind of like second on the bill to like Marshall Tucker and things like that. And it was a bit uncomfortable for me, really, after 1970, '71.

I was playing electric violin by that point. And we had a drummer and a bass player. So it was kind of just conceivable, but it wasn't an easy niche (laughs).


Q: You were one of the few British acts on Elektra Records in the 1960ís. Was that considered to have a certain hipness at that time, to be one of the few UK acts on the most respected American independent folk and rock label?

A: I don't know whether in Britain it had a certain cachet or not. It was quite nice to go to New York and we'd get to go and pick a bunch of records from Nonesuch, which was one of their subsidiaries, which had all the world music on it. So we'd get a load of free records every time we'd hit New York City. So it was brilliant. That's where we got [Joseph Spence's] The Real Bahamas and all these incredible records that were being made by the Nonesuch label. So in a way, that was an important part of knowing who was doing what, in the Chinese and Indian and African and Tahitian Islands and god knows what else. That was all on Nonesuch.


Q: You and Mike Heron were really the mainstays of the band, even though it kept changing personnel. What in your view was the dynamic between you two that helped make the Incredible String Band work?

A: We were quite contrary kind of people, really. As you know, we've been working together again lately. And we're still coming from different parts of the compass, really. You mean, did we strike off each other, or did we just sort of agree to collaborate? It was just a sort of odd coincidence, really, like a lot of these things. Nothing much else to say about that, really.


Q: I found a quote from you in the British magazine Disc from 1968, in which you said, "The only way to make the world into a paradise is to behave as if it WAS paradise." Do you still believe that?

A: Well, no. I'm not sure that I believe that in quite the same way, although in many ways, I've become more realistic, more pragmatic, and more kind of oddly religious as I get older. I'm not a Christian or any other religion, but I do have a profound sense of awe for the wonder of the universe, and a respect for whoever who created it, the mysterious origins of it. I'm not sure we're gonna succeed in making the world a paradise in the foreseeable future. But I mean, I think it is true to say that a lot of ideas which are now common words, like ecology and so on, were born in the '60ís. And I like to think that we had something to do with the beginnings of all that.


Q: When you compare the ISB's music to that of other folk-rock musicians in Britain and North America in the 1960ís, what do you think set you most apart?

A: I think we were the first to have a go at the world aspect music of it. The psychedelic aspect, well, that was common to all of us in those days. And my attitude is, I mean, I'm more interested now in throwing my soul at eternity rather than pumping my chemicals into my system, you know. I think we were one of the first to have a go at the notion of world music and also some of that raggedy-taggedy kind of clothes and stuff, that got picked up by the fashion world. You couldn't buy any clothes for men in the early '60ís. Going to jumble sales and buying things, I think that became worldwide.


Q: Your early albums were produced by Joe Boyd, who was probably the most important British '60ís folk-rock producer. [Though American, Boyd, living and working in England in the last half of the 1960s, produced the Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Fotheringay, John Martyn, and other British folk-rock musicians.] What were his contributions to your sound?


Q: He had a gift for spotting unusual and wonderful things. Not only us, but Nick Drake and all the early Fairport and Sandy Denny. All those people that he had to do with in those days. And the people that are less well known, like the Purple Gang and the Haphash and the Coloured Coat, the poster company. And other things that were happening, out of [Boyd's] Witchseason Productions. We were all on a wage.

He didn't interfere, really. He was more of an enabler than a director. He used to just sort of get you in there. And if you said to him, "Well, I would like such and such," he would get it for you. But otherwise, just let you get on with it. And I think it's impossible to underestimate the contribution of John Wood, the engineer, who had a lot to do with developing some of those early techniques in the studio called Sound Techniques. He was one of the first guys to have all the modern multi-tracking facilities in Britain that I know of. In fact, my impression was that he developed and invented some of that stuff. It went from jumping tracks to actually having a tape head that played 16 and 24 tracks at a time.

Early on, the first record we made was all standing around one microphone. So that was a 1950s-type technique, right? By the time we got to the second record, we were jumping tracks. And by the time we got to the third, there was a sixteenĖtrack facility. So you could actually play things. It came to be like painting. And that was a wonderful opening of a door. Because I always loved the idea you could sort of put something on and rub it out, and try something else. That really began to be born in the studio. It was things you could do in the studio, we'd then try to re-create live.


Q: What do you see as the Incredible String Band's most important changes and artistic evolutions over the course of your 1960ís albums?

A: We'd become a lot more urbane, because we'd been all over the world by the time we got to the third record or fourth record. We'd come out of playing small places in Britain and I'd made a trip to Africa. Then we'd been all over America and been in time to catch the whole Summer of Love in America, and the commune experience and all that had definitely opened up a number of doors. And it seems to me that that was the biggest change, was the opening up to all those influences and experiences. And the optimism of the time was so dramatic. It was such a dramatically optimistic time.


Q: Did you find a big difference between the ways in which British and American audiences received you?

A: Now, I notice it more. I mean, I lived in the States for a number of years. I lived in California off and on for about 15 years. I'm based back here [the UK] now. I used to notice then in the '70ís and '80ís that you'd say something that was mildly amusing in America, and you'd get a laugh. You'd say something mildly amusing in Britain, and you'd get maybe like a snigger. They're much more reserved. On the other hand, a number of things I was saying make more sense to people in Britain. They might recognize a reference to a hill or a pond that might be a bit obscure in America. But I always loved playing in America.


Q: You played a lot of festivals in the States.

A: We played in 1967 in Newport. I had a wonderful time at Newport. And I met Leonard Cohen and heard some fantastic New York Baptist music, black gospel music. I can't remember the name of the act. It was brilliant. Met Judy Collins, who we later then toured with. And then later on, we were at some of the other festivals. Not only Woodstock, but the Big Sur Festival and a few other things on the West, and other places in America.


Q: Did you encounter any resistance at such folk festivals from purists? A lot's been made of conflicts between acoustic folk purists and the more open, younger folk-rockers, though in talking with a lot of people for my book, that divide really seems to have been exaggerated.

A: We didn't run into that. We got a very enthusiastic reception there. By that time, we seemed to be getting a lot of enthusiasm. In Britain, I think we'd moved off the folk scene, and I think the folk scene in Britain has remained very conservative. I mean, unnecessarily so. Whereas in America, I think it was open to, as you say, that psychedelic influence.

America had the tradition of odd spiritual uniquenesses, didn't it? People like the Mormons flourished in America. They all left Britain to come to America to become Mormons, you know. So I mean the notion of us doing kind of William Blake-inspired pantheistic Wordsworthian niche-oriented lyrics didn't seem to be that bizarre. 'Cause they already had, in America they had a tradition of the Shakers and all that stuff.


Q: A lot of people forget that you played at Woodstock, especially as you didn't get into the film or the soundtrack.

A: Well, Woodstock wasn't a very good gig for us. Because we were supposed to go on at the first night. We got rained out. So we ended up having to spend the entire night there, and played the second morning. We had a gig in New York City that night, the Saturday night, in a stadium, which we couldn't get out for. So we had to sleep in a tent, we did a morning gig, and then we ended up going out by helicopter to get to this stadium, flying over New York City in a small plane. So it was odd. And we weren't really--I mean, open-air large festival gigs were always a bit hard for the String Band. Because we were basically an acoustic band. So getting enough volume out of things, generally feedback and sound problems were part of the gig.

Somebody described Woodstock in advance to us, I think it was Joe Boyd, he described it as "the little upstate folk festival." That's what he thought it was gonna be. He was wrong on that one.

Unfortunately, the film cameras ran out [at Woodstock]. There was one half of a track called "The Iron Stone" or something like that. It runs out in the middle. But it's actually quite nice. That's the only bit I've ever seen. And there's some stuff of us getting out of the plane, but I mean, we didn't actually get on the film. Maybe that's a blessing, maybe not, I don't know.


Q: Because your music was so acoustic-oriented, was it hard to project when you played in front of large audiences?

A: Well, the audiences in America were fantastically patient in '67, '68, '69. A good example of that is, we were supposed to do a gig once in the Fillmore West in San Francisco. The equipment had been loaded off the plane without us knowing it from the freight in Canada somewhere, because we were coming from somewhere in Canada. And so we arrived in San Francisco with no instruments. And we were supposed to play. It was either in Fillmore West or somewhere in Berkeley, I can't remember. But all I had was a three-string North African instrument called a gimbri and a bow. So the audience sat for three hours, going "hmmm," which I played along with. I actually got this on tape. I can't imagine any audiences being a) that patient and b) that kind of blissed out much later than that. They seemed to be actually enjoying the experience of waiting.


Q: I wanted to ask about "The First Girl I Loved," which was probably your most well-known song in the States when you started, because Judy Collins covered it. Do you know how she decided to record the song?

A: She may have heard it, because we did a tour with her and Tom Paxton in Britain. That was the first time me and Mike played in large halls. In Britain, we went from playing small clubs, small gigs, to... we got a break playing with them, opening for them.


Q: Your 1970 double album U was also a multi-media stage production. How did that come about?

A: It grew out of a situation where me and a number of people were living in Wales. These were people that me and Mike met in New York in the Chelsea Hotel: Stone Monkey. We were living together in Wales, and moved from there to Scotland. It was in Scotland that U was born. The idea was to put together kind of a stage show that would incorporate all these various kind of naive movement ideas and innocent music sort of notions.


Q: Who were Stone Monkey?

A: They'd been a part of a group called Exploding Galaxy, originated by David Medalla. It was a street happening kind of thing. I'm not quite sure what you describe it as. It was a very much a happening sort of event, art, kinetic art is how they used to talk about it.


Q: You didn't perform U with the whole troupe, beyond ten days in London's Roundhouse in April 1970. Why weren't there more shows?

A: We did a bunch of dates in Fillmore East. In a nutshell, the performances in Britain and America were rapturously received by the crowds, but absolutely panned by the press. I mean, most of the press just insisted on viewing the dance as not really being technical. It totally missed the point. It wasn't supposed to be technical. And it said it had no structure. It was supposed to sort of ramble along in this kind of thing. The whole idea was to allow it to occur. But we ran into dance critics who said the dance isn't dance, and the theatre critics who said, this isn't theater. Of course, it wasn't either dance or theater. They were quite right about that. But that wasn't what we were trying to do.

We were hopping around doing bits of acting and a lot of it was quite slapsticky. The sets were slides. The vague notion was, a soul incarnates out of nowhere, lives, and then vanishes again at the other end. Hence the idea U, you know, manifesting into matter and then reascending back into the great finale. It was a such a forgiving plot line, is how I generally put it. We liked to engage in all sorts of asides, which includes robots and call girls and space characters and a pirate or two, some highwaymen. And a number of other bits and pieces. It was quite fun. The general intent was lighthearted. It wasn't quite pantomime, and it wasn't comedy or anything that formal, but it had some of those elements in it.

But really, I'd been pushing for some time in the String Band, because I think one of the axes I always ground was that I liked the notion of everybody having a go, regardless of their particular abilities, just using all people at their various levels. And this again was something that David Medalla and the Stone Monkey had already imbibed, in the notion of street happenings, getting people to generally explode. And so I'd been pushing for a while to get a visual element into what we were already doing musically, and these people were already doing Indian movement ideas and Indian street theater ideas and Japanese and Burmese and Thai kind of puppet notions. For better off or worse, we tried to flush all those things in there.


Q: How big was the group that performed U on stage?

A: There was a group of 15, I think. There was the four String Band people, Licorice [McKechnie], Rose [Simpson], Mike, and me, and then about six or seven other people. After we'd done the Fillmore East for about a week or four or five days or something like that, we ran out of money. And so the String Band basically took the remains of the show, just with the four of us, to the West coast, and did a few more dates on the West and elsewhere, but without all the dancers then.


Q: Was the record U pretty close to what you would have heard if you went to one of the shows?

A: There was this guy Tom Constantine, he used to work for the Grateful Dead. He did a string arrangement on one of the songs, "Queen of Love." And that wasn't in the show, of course. Everything else was pretty much the way we were doing it. In fact, the whole album was recorded in 48 hours. We just went day and night for two days and two nights. In shifts (laughs). And finished. 'Cause we had to leave, there was various reasons. I can't remember what the reasons were, but we had to be done in a hurry. So we just flushed it down and left. And in a way, it seemed to fit.


Q: Were there any songs in U you especially liked?

A: I particularly liked "Astral Plane Theme," which is a guitar thing with a kind of Japanese-style tuning. And it was again quite a spontaneous and improvised kind of piece, and the take on the record was quite nice. Also, "Invocation" is a piece which I performed at Woodstock. It's the only piece that wasn't done specially for the pantomime. It had been used for a month or two already before the show began. So we put that in there. That was a piece which I still do from time to time, and which I still like.


Q: U didn't seem to sell that much, judging from how few copies you see around.

A: A lot of our records were pretty well kept secrets. (laughs) Basically, the entire music business changed about there. The '60ís ended about there, well, it was 1970, wasn't it? So the music business was about to go into marketing in a big way, and genres started to become more important than innovation. People began to say, what is it? Is it folk-rock or is it pop? People wanted to know what it was in music so they could sell it. And also the sales in the record business went up worldwide dramatically into megafigures round about there. And also the independent distribution started to vanish. It seems to me that about half the world's distribution used to be sort of independent in the '60ís, and by the early '70ís something like three-quarters of the world's distribution was already owned by international megacorps.


Q: Labels like Elektra and Island, for instance, were more adventurous then than they would be when they got bigger and part of larger companies.

A: They could afford to indulge their fantasies, which occasionally had wonderful results. I think that's impoverished the quality of music in the world, if you ask me. 'Cause I think that these things flourish with a little bit of freakishness, and a little bit of individuality.


Q: What do you see as the chief legacy of the folk-rock of the 1960ís, musically and socially?

A: Things go three steps forward, two steps back. We saw that very clearly in the sixties. All of a sudden, not only were they opening the doors, they were blowing down the doorframe and taking away the wall. And then in the '70ís and in the Thatcher era in Britain, people just became self-interested and greedy. They went right back to as bad as it had ever been before that in the '50ís, and worse. So everything that had been gained in terms of kindred spirits and fellow feeling and an attempt to break down barriers and walls was put right back. But some things, as I say, didn't go away, because ecology came out of the '60ís. The women's rights movement came out of the '60ís. Respect for children came out of the '60s. A whole different attitude to education came out of the '60ís. And some of those things have stayed with us, in spite of the idiocies of human folly, greed and pride.


Q: What's your latest activities, recording-wise?

A: I've put out more product in the last few years. I've been busy doing that. I've got two records in the last years on ECM, which has been a nice breakthrough for me. The first record was the lyrics of Dylan Thomas, that was called The Seed at Zero. But the second record, which is due to come out next year, is the lyrics of Walt Whitman and William Blake, plus my own lyrics. But performed with free-form, improvising musicians. So the whole record is largely improvised. Vocally as well. The text of it, but the vocals are improvised, along with music. And that was a great experience. We made the whole record in two and a half days.


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