Ken Brooks, The Incredible String Band, Gently Tender (Agenda Books, 1997)

This book has rather a folksy home made sort of appearance with a rather flimsy cover, but that said it's printed well enough, stays together, and has been typeset in a consistent font with all the pages right way up and in the right order. Details which the publishing trade in general seems to find increasingly difficult nowadays.

The clue to what to expect from the book is on the back cover, where it is described as 'a detailed history of the recording career of the Incredible String Band'. That's exactly what the book is. It isn't a history of the band, or of the people involved, just the recordings. There are a minimal 4 pages giving sketchy personal and background details of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron, how the band was formed, and how a recording contract was gained. This, together with a few passing references later in the book, is all there is of any biographical detail. Little is said about other characters.

Licorice and Rose are barely mentioned except in passing. Malcolm Le Maistre gets a longer paragraph, but even this is mainly about his connection with Pink Floyd. Robin's marriage in 1970 rates a short sentence part way through the book, Scientology gets a equally brief mention. There is nothing directly about the people, their personalities or how they interacted, and no background information to tie the band, into what was an exceptional and interesting period of music history.

The book sets out to list all the songs recorded by the band and provide a short appraisal of each. It gives details of the recording and influences affecting the song and performance, along with other information and opinions which Ken Brooks has added to explain his interpretation of the song. At this level, as a 'listener's companion' the book works quite well, although it is often not clear whether the information provided is accurate or simply the author's opinion, there is a mix of both.

I have to admit to a considerable disappointment that the scope of the book is so limited. I'm sure there is much to write about concerning the members of the band, and there must be many amusing stories that could be told. They aren't here, so I'm still waiting for a book about the Incredible String Band.

But, given the cheap price of the book, for a fan of ISB it's worth getting a copy and reading Ken's descriptions of the songs while listening. You may, in fact you probably will, disagree with much he says but you will gain some new insights and ideas about the songs which are worth the book's cover price.

[Chris Woods]

For information on ordering this book, please contact: Agenda Limited.