Mike Heron & Trembling Bells with Hapton Crags - Celtic Connections, Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 24 Jan 2013
Psych folk line-up gives a glimpse into an electric Eden
Nothing lifts the soul quite like The Incredible String Band. This is why you must never swallow the line that ISB were some kind of 1960s novelty outfit, a crowd of free-love Catweazles seeing salamanders in the bonfire. They weren’t. Well, they were a bit. But also they made some of the most affecting, eccentric, spiritual music we have, like the sound of God tuning up. Mike Heron was a founding member, the Magi of their mad harmonies, and tonight Trembling Bells backed him, giving his mazy, psychedelic madrigals more conventional settings. Truly, it was a match made in Nirvana.
Trembling Bells, formed by sometime Volcanic Tongue shop-boy turned free drumme, Alex Neilson and featuring the soaring vocals of Lavinia Blackwall, could be likened to a kind of Glaswegian Fairport Convention, on a stately parade through the sunnier dells of the English folk inheritance. Here, certainly, they rendered Heron’s more obtuse and twistier numbers rather more explicable, straightening out the gnarls and turning his clippety-clop psalms into a huge, spilling, celebratory psych-folk, a glimpse into an electric Eden. This certainly helps when faced with 'A Very Cellular Song', a ten-minute number about asexual reproduction in earthworms, which sounds hellish but which here became a jaw-dropping hybrid of Blue Peter and King Crimson. Opening the show was Hapton Crags, a solo folk artist who represents quite a departure for the more typically plugged-in Creeping Bent organisation. Named for a scenic bit of wilderness in south Lanarksire, Hapton Crags (only his friends get to call him Hapton) kept it dark, with a set of compelling and unsettling murder ballads that put one in mind of Bert Jansch trying 'Lady Godiva’s Operation' by the Velvet Underground. From trippy caterpillars to shotguns in Strathaven, it was a night to reveal all the strange and glorious mysteries of the folk tradition.