Produced in 1969 for the BBC but never aired, Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending features the Incredible String Band performing tunes and aimlessly frollicking in Aquarian Age splendor. The music is good, of course, and the theatrical segments are photographed in the rich and earthy tones of a Sergei Paradjanov film - it’s quite beautiful and more than a little silly. ISB have always been one of my favorite bands and there was a time I wholeheartedly gave myself over to the communal vibe of their concert appearances. Live, they had the ability to create a genuinely mystical atmosphere and the purity of their intentions made up for some of their goofy hippie earnestness.
Warning: if you have an aversion to macrame, flower children and patchouli, your gag reflex will get a healthy workout watching this video, otherwise you’ll probably find the counter-culture hi-jinks quite enjoyable if a bit twee.
In September of 1969 I saw The Incredible String Band perform at the Fillmore West. I attended the concert with a theater company I was a member of called The Floating Lotus Magic Opera (yes, it’s true). The concert was sparsely attended, the Floating Lotus making up a good part of it, and there was a real sense of communal intimacy in the Fillmore that night, with the audience singing and chanting along with Mike Heron, Robin Williamson, Licorice McKechnie, Rose Simpson and various other members of the String Band’s extended family.
The air was thick with incense, pot smoke and patchouli as the audience (gathering) repeated together the mantra from “A Very Cellular Song.”
May the long time sun shine upon you
All love surround you
And the pure light within you
Guide you all the way on.”
In retrospect, the scene probably resembled a diorama housed in a sideshow museum called “The Weird World Of Hippie Freaks” (no one under 18 admitted). But at the time, it really was sweetness and light and the vibes were good. The Incredible String Band were not your usual rock ‘n’ roll act. They were a group of traveling minstrels that had come to town to share their music, good spirits and friendship. After their performance there was much mingling between audience and band and a genuine feeling of connectedness. I’ve never been to concert like it since.
Be Glad For the Song Has No Ending (1970) is a film that captures the hippiness of TISB and while it is at times dated and silly, there’s no denying the film is a spirited bit of whimsy that falls into the kind of strangely compeling vanity projects that many bands of the era were involved in, most notably Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same and The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. No one will mistake these films as great works of art but they are trippy glimpses into what happens when musicians and Purple Owsley cross paths.