VARIOUS ARTISTS – Dust on the Nettles: A Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72 (Grapefruit/Cherry Red CRSEGBOX030)

Dust on the NettlesIt was a time not only of music’s charting big names but also exploration by the Incredible String Band, Dr. Strangely Strange, developing folk rock (Pentangle; Fairport Convention; Steeleye Span), folk boomers pushing boundaries (Mick Softley; John Renbourn to whom the box is dedicated with Clive Palmer), and also a vibrant scene of counterculture comics, Alice in Wonderland on the Beeb in experimental form, revived novels by Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Tolkien, Krishna Consciousness, New Age, and Jesus Movements (one of which is here). David Wells’ myth-dispelling notes tells us that acid-folk was applied in the late ’60s, not retrospectively, as a quieter parallel to acid-rock. Martin Carthy called it “pagan” at the time.

Here, from 1967-72, are not only the famous, plus those of cult status, but also the obscure pressed in a few dozen copies to avoid VAT, unreleased demos, rare singles and soundtrack samples (Magnet, aka Hocket or Lodestone, for The Wicker Man; a very early Vashti Bunyan from Swinging London). It is a cornucopia, an extensive botanical garden of species and one-off hybrids, but why the absence of Dr. Strangely Strange, Forest, Third Ear Band, Blondel, Sweeney’s Men, Strawbs, Dulcimer, Dawnwind, ‘Mac’ Macleod…Why ‘British underground’ without leading Irish or Welsh for what was a cosmopolitan scene? Were Pentangle, Steeleye Span and Joan Armatrading ever underground pray tell? The title seems a bit like a punt into the wrong neighbours’ garden, the link to the sub-title eludes me, but such points are as titchy as a gnat’s boil regarding the overall musical delight. Nowadays box-sets are as much due to label ownership as personal taste or accuracy, hence contents as elastic as an elastic band used to be. Continue reading VARIOUS ARTISTS – Dust on the Nettles: A Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72 (Grapefruit/Cherry Red CRSEGBOX030)


INCREDIBLE STRING BAND Ducks On A PondRecorded live at the Lowry Theatre in Salford in 2003, Ducks On A Pond was originally released as Everything’s Fine back in 2007 but, and it’s a very important but, this edition is expanded with a DVD containing all nineteen tracks and an interview with the band.

The line-up was Mike Heron, Clive Palmer, Lawson Dando and Claire Smith, better known as Fluff. An Incredible String Band without Robin Williamson is a strange concept and the repertoire concentrates on Mike’s material and everything that Clive wrote for the group. There is a Williamson song in each half with Clive taking the opening lead vocal on the title track and Fluff and Lawson singing ‘The Water Song’. As Mike points out, the band is delving into ancient history and at the time both he and Clive were close to drawing their pensions. So the opening ‘Everything’s Fine Right Now’ comes as a bit of a shock if you’re expecting the lightness and jollity of the original. There is a bit of a struggle to get up to speed but they do so pretty quickly and by the time we get to ‘Maker Of Islands’ everything is going nicely. I don’t like everything on the album. ‘This Moment’ was originally a delicate, precisely arranged little song but here Mike drags everything he can out of it. He’s clearly enjoying himself and it’s his song so why not.

I’m not overly fond of concert videos – I don’t engage with recorded music that way – but the DVD is the best element here. The reason is simple: the CDs are lightly edited which I prefer; there is nothing so artificial as a live album with all the interplay removed. The downside is that it sounds rather loose: long-standing fans can be heard muttering “’twas ever thus”. Add the pictures and all the swapping of instruments and necessary tuning becomes part of the experience and the odd noises don’t grate. The interview with Mike and Clive is fascinating but it does deny rumours of personal differences and no-one who witnessed the final performances of the previous line-up with Robin and Bina Williamson believes that everything was a bed of roses within the group. The history of the songs, particularly the story behind ‘Douglas Traherne Harding’, makes this set an essential purchase for ISB fans.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Chinese White’ from the DVD: