50 YEARS AGO IN 1969 THE INCREDIBLE STRNG BAND RELEASED CHANGING HORSES

50 Years Ago In 1969 The Incredible String Band Released Changing Horses

Fifty years ago in 1969, the Incredible String Band hit the road, and embarked upon what was a gruelling touring schedule. During this period, the recently expanded lineup of the Incredible String Band continued to live communally in a farmhouse in Newport, Pembrokeshire. It was also during this time, that The Incredible String Band became interested in mixed media, which was something that would later influence their music. However, in 1969, touring was what kept them busy, and in August became part of musical history when they belatedly took to the stage at The Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

The Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

The Incredible String Band’s most high-profile performance took place at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair which took place between the ‘15th’ and ‘17th’ of August 1969. By then, The Incredible String Band were one of the biggest and most successful folk bands in the world. That’s why they were booked to play at Woodstock in 1969.

Rain delayed the Incredible String Band’s performance at Woodstock. They were due to play at 10.50pm on Friday ‘15th’ August 1969. This was when all the other folk acts were due to play. The Incredible String Band were due to follow Ravi Shankar, However, as Ravi Shankar played, the heavens opened. This presented a problem for The Incredible String Band, who refused to take to the stage. Realising that The Incredible String Band were one of the biggest folk bands of the day, their performance was rescheduled. Melanie was called in as a last-minute replacement for The Incredible String Band and they took to the stage the following day. 

Between 6.00-6.30pm on Saturday the ‘15th’ August 1969, the Incredible String Band took to the stage, following Keef Hartley. From the moment that The Incredible String Band took to the stage, they played a starring role in the Woodstock Festival. They had the audience in the palm of their hands. Following their appearance at the Woodstock Festival, The Incredible String Band kept on touring. 

Two weeks after playing a starring role at the Woodstock Festival, The Incredible String Band found themselves in Texas for the Labor Day Weekend. That was when the Texas International Pop Festival was held at the Dallas International Motor Speedway. The Incredible String Band played on Sunday the ‘30th’ August 1969. However, their performance didn’t match their appearance at the Woodstock  Festival which disappointed the members of The Incredible String Band. However, they had to put this behind them, as they an album to release in three months time, Changing Horses.

Changing Horses.

In November 1969, The Incredible String Band were preparing to release their fifth album Changing Horses. By then, much had changed over the last few months for The Incredible String Band and especially Robin Williamson and Mike Heron.

Robin Williamson and Mike Heron had split from their respective girlfriends and moved from Newport to Innerleithen, in Peeblesshire, Scotland. This became the new headquarters for The Incredible String Band.

While The Incredible String Band had performed as a quartet on Wee Tam and The Big Huge, the only two full-time members of the band were Robin Williamson and Mike Heron. However, despite the breakup of their relationships, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron confirmed that Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson were now full-time members of The Incredible String Band. This wasn’t the only change that occurred. 

Recently, The Incredible String Band had fully embraced the controversial cult-like Church Of Scientology. They had been “believers” since the autumn of 1968, when they dined with producer Joe Boyd after a sellout show in New York. That night, Joe Boyd happened to mention that the manager of the restaurant they were dining in had turned his life around since he last seen him. This transformation the manager claimed was down to his recent  conversion to the Church Of Scientology. Having told the story, Joe Boyd finished his meal and then left the restaurant to head off on a business trip to California. Little did Joe Boyd realise the consequences of his story.

In Joe Boyd’s absence, The Incredible String Band approached the band’s US agent wanting the payments that they were owed for the mini tour of the East Coast. When the US agent phoned Joe Boyd before paying the money to The Incredible String Band, he decided to find out what the band wanted the money for? 

Joe Boyd struggled to contact any of the members of The Incredible String Band, who had checked out of the Chelsea Hotel. By then, Joe Boyd was wondering why The Incredible String Band needed any money as he had given the band an allowance before leaving for California. Eventually, though, Joe Boyd got through to Licorice McKechnie, who explained they needed the money to pay for some “courses” with the Church Of Scientology. This was just a day after Joe Boyd had mentioned the Church Of Scientology. Had they working quickly on their latest potential converts, who just so happened to be high-profile and relatively wealthy musicians?

When Joe Boyd returned the next day, he was met by the four members of The Incredible String Band who were determined that he should write them a cheque for the “courses.” After questioning the group, it turned out that after Joe Boyd left the restaurant, the manager began his pitch on how the Church Of Scientology had transformed his life. The next day, the same restaurant  manager invited the four members of The Incredible String Band to its New York “celebrity centre.” By the end of the evening, Robin Williamson and Licorice McKechnie had been converted.

Joe Boyd was reluctant to write the cheques there and then, and managed to convince Mike Heron and Rose Simpson to think things over. They agreed and headed home to Britain, but before long they too had been caught in the Church Of Scientology’s thrall.

Mike Heron’s account differs slightly, and claims that his conversion to the Church Of Scientology came after reading a book on self-improvement. After reading the book, he decided to embrace the Church Of Scientology “philosophies.”

After embracing the controversial and secretive Church Of Scientology, The Incredible String Band’s concerts began to change. It’s claimed that the concerts took on a much more communal and friendlier than before their “conversion.” That wasn’t the only change.

The other thing that changed was The Incredible String Band’s attitude to money. After joining the Church Of Scientology the band began to have weekly meetings to discuss their finances. Despite their newfound spirituality, money began to play an increasingly important role in The Incredible String Band’s lives. Already the members of The Incredible String Band were changing due to their dalliance with the Church Of Scientology, and this would affect their music and lifestyle.

After Robin Williamson and Mike Heron’s conversion to the Church Of Scientology the pair gave up drugs, which previously had been part of their lives. Mike Heron alludes to their decision in White Bird, which was one of two tracks he contributed to Changing Horses. The other was Sleepers Awake!, while Mike Heron and Robin Williamson wrote Dust Be Diamonds. Robin Williamson’s contributions to Changing Horses were Big Ted, Mr. and Mrs and Creation. These six tracks would become Changing Horses, The Incredible String Band’s fifth album.

Recording of Changing Horses had to fit round The Incredible String Band’s touring schedule, but much of recording took place over the summer of 1969, at Sound Techniques studio in London, and at Elektra Records studio in New York. By then, the members of The Incredible String Band were different people from. They now spent time studying spirituality and philosophy, and self-analysing as part of their conversion to conversion to the Church Of Scientology. Their newfound religious belief meant that drugs were a thing of the past for The Incredible String Band during the recording of Changing Horses which marked a series of changes.

The first was that The Incredible String Band started to move from psychedelic folk to a new British folk rock sound and even a hint of the progressive rock influences. Joe Boyd started to be more flexible when it came to the band’s creative process, and very rarely chose to intervene. This allowed The Incredible String Band to develop new ideas. By then Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson were playing a more active roles in the band. Licorice McKechnie played the guitar and organ on some tracks, while Rose Simpson’s Simpson’s bass featured on each track on Changing Horses. Just like on previous albums, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron played their usual mixture of traditional and exotic instruments and shared lead vocals. They were no longer as close as they once were, and there was a friction between them. However, by the end of the summer of 1969, the recording of Changing Horses was completed. However, two songs dominated the album, with White Bird and Creation taking up thirty of the fifty minutes on Changing Horses. This was a first for The Incredible String Band.

In October 1969, The Incredible String Band released an edited version of Big Ted as a single. However, it failed to chart, which was disappointment for The Incredible String Band. They had never been a singles band, and were known for the four albums they had released. Soon, four would become five. Before that, the critics had their say on Changing Horses.

Critics on hearing Changing Horses were surprised that The Incredible String Band had moved away from their trademark psychedelic folk sound. It was another eclectic album that marked the start of a new chapter in The Incredible String Band’s career.

On the release of Changing Horses in November 1969, it reached number thirty in the UK. However, after a week, Changing Horses disappeared from the charts. Over the Atlantic, Changing Horses stalled at just 166 in the US Billboard 200. Three weeks later, it disappeared from the charts. This was a disappointment for The Incredible String Band who had starred at the Woodstock Festival just three months earlier.

Having triumphed at Woodstock, The Incredible String Band must have been hoping that Changing Horses would see the band  build on their two critically acclaimed albums. However, record buyers didn’t seem to “get” Changing Horses which was an album that saw The Incredible String Band in a reflective mood as they mused on their newfound spirituality, retell the story of Creation  and deal with subjects like family life on Mr. and Mrs. Other times, the music was quirky and comedic as The Incredible String Band experimented and changed direction on what was a genre-melting album full of different musical textures.

They came courtesy of The Incredible String Band’s fusion of traditional, Moroccan and Eastern instruments, which were augmented by electric guitars and a Hammond organ on Changing Horses. It found The Incredible String Band move from their former psychedelic folk sound to their new British folk rock sound that hints at progressive rock. There’s also elements of country, doo wop, ragtime and vaudeville on Big Ted, while Creation is full of Eastern sounds. They’re part of what was an eclectic album from The Incredible String Band, which marked the end of their golden period.

It was also the end of The Incredible String Band as a duo, as Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson were now full-time members of the band. They would continue to record and play live as band rather than a duo. No longer was it just two friends playing the music that they loved. Instead, The Incredible String Band would spend the rest of their career trying to reach recreate the music they released between their 1966 eponymous debut album and Changing Horses in 1969. 

Sadly, never again would The Incredible String Band reach the same heights of creativity again. Never again, would their star shine as brightly as it had between The Incredible String Band and Changing Horses, which marked the end of a three-year period where The Incredible String Band released five albums and were one of the biggest and most successful folk bands in the world and were on their way to becoming musical royalty.

50 Years Ago In 1969 The Incredible String Band Released Changing Horses

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