Island Samplers – more than your money’s worth in old pence

Island sampler You Can All Join In front cover

In the early 1970s, inspired by the success of CBS’s The Rock Machine and The Rock Machine Turns You On, many record companies started putting out budget-price samplers. Island Records made some of the most popular samplers, and the Island samplers are still regarded with affection and listened to today. Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Traffic, Cat Stevens and King Crimson all gained some of their early following from these collections. This is their story.

Cheap as chips

At the cusp of the 60s and 70s, albums were still quite an expensive item at around £2 (The equivalent would be £21 today; for context, the average weekly wage was around £32, a pint cost 20p and a new car £600!) These budget samplers would come in around at the pre-decimal equivalent of 70p (£8 today!) and were good for the labels, the artists and the punters. For many, this is how they were introduced to their favourite bands and albums. Would you pay £21 for a new album unheard?


You Can All Join In (1969)

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When Island released its first sampler, the Island ‘family’ was small enough and obscure enough to be gathered together in a park of a morning for the cover photo, taken by designer Cally for Hipgnosis, ‘bleary eyed after a party’. Standing shivering in greatcoats are the likes of Richard Thompson, Stevie Winwood, Sandy Denny, and all the members of Jethro Tull, Traffic and Free.

(Wikipedia for a who’s who of the cover)

For some of the bands, this was lift-off. Jethro Tull, Traffic, Fairport Convention and Free all gained a huge new audience. Some of the other bands, like Art and Tramline, disappeared.

1. Jethro Tull – A Song For Jeffrey
2. Spooky Tooth – Sunshine Help Me
3. Free – I’m A Mover
4. Art – What’s That Sound
5. Tramline – Pearly Queen
6. Traffic – You Can All Join In

7. Fairport Convention – Meet on the Ledge
8. Nirvana (not THAT Nirvana!) – Rainbow Chaser
9. John Martyn – Dusty
10. Clouds – I’ll Go Girl
11. Spencer Davis Group – Somebody Help Me
12. Wynder K. Frog – Gasoline Alley

… and You Can All Join In is one of those seamless compilations that simply cannot be improved upon. A dozen tracks highlight the best — and that is the best — of Island’s recent and forthcoming output, from much-anticipated debut albums by Jethro Tull, Free, and Spooky Tooth to the sophomore effort by Fairport Convention. There’s also a healthy taste of the label’s most-successful-so-far signing, Traffic, as a leaf from Steve Winwood’s back pages — the Spencer Davis Group’s “Somebody Helps Me” joins Tramline’s cover of “Pearly Queen” and Traffic’s own “You Can All Join In” (yes, indeed, this collection’s title track). (

The compilation reached the top 20 in June 1969. Such is its place in music history that this cheap, almost throwaway compilation was reissued on CD during the early 90s rush to the shiny disk, even beating some of the albums it referenced. The CD combined it with Nice Enough To Eat, and is now attracting high second-hand prices.

Nice Enough To Eat (1969)

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Encouraged by the success of You Can All Join In, a followup Island sampler appeared later the same year (1969) featuring many of the same bands. Jethro Tull, Fairport, Free, Spooky Tooth and Traffic got a further boost, and this time they were joined by such rising stars as Mott The Hoople, King Crimson, Quintessence, Nick Drake and Dr Strangely Strange. This lineup has proved to be more enduring over the ensuing decades, with only Heavy Jelly lost to us.

The collection may have been a bit less cohesive and more demanding than its predessor, lurching from Nick Drake’s tender Time Has Told Me to the iron crunch of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man, gentling down to Quintessence and the Strangelies. describes it as ‘slightly incoherent’.

Mike Sida’s cover spelled the band names in alphabet biscuits on the front, and featured biscuits accompanied by various pills and capsules on the back.


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1. Fairport Convention – Cajun Woman
2. Mott The Hoople – At The Crossroads
3. Spooky Tooth – Better By You, Better Than Me
4. Jethro Tull – We Used To Know
5. Free – Woman
6. Heavy Jelly – I Keep Singing That Same Old Song

7. Blodwyn Pig – Sing Me A Song That I Know
8. Traffic – Forty Thousand Headmen
9. Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me
10. King Crimson – 21st Century Schizoid Man
11. Quintessence – Gungamai
12. Dr. Strangely Strange – Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal

Bumpers (1970)

The next Island sampler was a double album, released in 1970. There were variations in the designs and track listings released in Europe and Australia, which Wikipedia puts down to a rushed release. It cost the equivalent of £1.50. Bumpers were a kind of sports shoe fashionable at the time, and the cover was designer Tony Wright’s artwork, put into context by Mike Sida (who, inexplicably, put the shoes on the feet of an Aztec figure on the back).

In the track listing we can see some follow-through of the acts that were now the flagbearers for Island – Tull, Crimson, Fairport – as well as newer acts like Cat Stevens and Fotheringay, the band formed by Sandy Denny on leaving Fairport. Jimmy Cliff was there representing Island’s Jamaican past, as this music began to go mainstream in the UK.

Traffic – Every Mother’s Son
Bronco – Love
Spooky Tooth – I Am The Walrus
Quintessence – Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga

Mott The Hoople – Thunderbuck Ram
Jethro Tull – Nothing To Say
Jimmy Cliff – Going Back West
Blodwyn Pig – Send Your Son To Die
Dave Mason – Little Woman

John and Beverley Martyn – Go Out And Get It
King Crimson – Cadence And Cascade
If – Reaching Out On All Sides
Free – Oh I Wept
Nick Drake – Hazy Jane

Fairport Convention – Walk Awhile
Cat Stevens – Maybe You’re Right
Renaissance – Island
Fotheringay – The Sea
Clouds – Take Me To Your Leader

El Pea 1971

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The last in the series of classic Island samplers was this double album released in 1971, the title an obvious pun on ‘LP’. The design – by Douglas Maxwell Ltd – was unusual – a cardboard gatefold sleeve in which the two albums were presented in transparent plastic pages. The inner sleeve had drawings of the artists by Alan Cracknell.

El Pea had a leaning towards acoustic and folky songs.  Some of the hungover urchins who had appeared two years ago on the front of You Can All Join In were now stars, and could be used to attract listeners to Island’s newer signings like Amazing Blondel, Tir Na Nog and the Incredible String Band, who had just come to them from Elektra. Notable surprises were the String Band’s Mike Heron showing off his rock chops with John Cale, and McDonald and Giles  and Emerson Lake and Palmer, two off-shoots from King Crimson.

1. Traffic – Empty Pages
2. Sandy Denny – Late November
3. Alan Bown – Thru The Night
4. Heads Hand & Feat – Song For Suzie
5. Fairport Convention – Lord Marlborough

6. Jethro Tull – Mother Goose
7. Quintessence – Dive Deep
8. Amazing Blondel – Spring Season
9. McDonald & Giles – Extract from Tomorrow’s People: The Children Of Today
10. Tir Na Nog – Our Love Will Not DecaY
11. Mountain Side 3 – Don’t Look Around

12. Free – Highway Song
13. Incredible String Band – Waiting For You
14. Cat Stevens – Wild World
15. Bronco – Sudden Street
16. Mike Heron – Feast Of Stephen

17. Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Knife Edge
18. Nick Drake – Northern Sky (listed on the sleeve as One Of These Things First, a different track from his album)
19. Mott The Hoople – Original Mixed-Up Kid
20. Jimmy Cliff – Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving
21. Mick Abrahams – Greyhound Bus

I don’t think El Pea was ever released on CD but it’s been shared on YouTube here

The appeal of the samplers was clear. Punters got a chance to hear some of the best new music at a heavily discounted price, whilst the record company got to promote music that did not readily lend itself to radio or TV airplay. Some of the compilations were classic recordings in their own right, and Island Records probably came out with the classiest. (Nic Oatridge)

Other labels samplers

Island sampler artists I’ve written about


A Norman Lamont sampler!

If you’ve made it this far you might want to try this:

Mike Heron for beginners: 3 albums and 5 tracks

Mike Heron

I’ve written a lot here about the Incredible String Band, including fairly detailed posts about Robin Williamson and about Mike Heron’s Smiling Men album. Here I’ll take a look at a few Mike Heron destinations to which you might choose to trust me to guide you. Like his bandmate Robin Williamson, his unpolished voice can be a barrier for some people, but get past that and there’s a wealth of great music to be appreciated.

They were rarely anything less than brave, inspired, and profoundly weird. (Andrew Gaerig)

Three albums

The Incredible String Band: The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968)

Cover of The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter album
Widely regarded as the Incredible String Band’s masterpiece, their third album is dominated by Robin Williamson, featuring only three Heron songs alongside seven of Williamson’s. But it’s Heron’s A Very Cellular Song that most captures the spirit of the band and, some would say, the times.

“Weaving between styles as divergent as Bahamian funerary music, East Indian incantation and ancient Celtic mysticism, A Very Cellular Song represents a high point in the band’s creativity and surely influenced a host of others including Led Zeppelin, the Who and Lou Reed. Handclaps, kazoo, harpsichord and pipes intermingle and morph into each other. If this sounds like dissonance and chaos, it is. However, it holds together and in the end conveys a powerful range of human emotion through pain and joy and back again.” (Dan Lander in Music is Rapid Transportation – not sure about Lou Reed but hey. The influence on Robert Plant is well documented and evident throughout his career.)

The Incredible String Band: Wee Tam and the Big Huge (1968)

Cover of Wee Tam and the Big Huge showing Mike Heron and Robin WilliamsonReleased in 1968 as both a double  and two single albums, this is regarded as highly as Hangman’s, but it’s a very different album: less experimental, less multi-tracked, more pastoral and folky. Of all their albums it offers the widest Williamson/Heron contrast, with Williamson taking songs for long poetic meanders through clouds of myth and childhood. Heron’s songs – Puppies, Log Cabin Home In The Sky, You Get Brighter, Air, The Greatest Friend, Cousin Caterpillar, and Douglas Traherne Harding – are rooted in folk guitar and simple chords, and the imagery of earth, home and nature. They exude happiness and warmth. It was of this album that a friend of mine said Williamson was the balloon rising into the clouds, and Heron the string keeping it attached to the earth.

Mike Heron: Smiling Men with Bad Reputations (1970)


This was Mike Heron’s first solo album. A shock for the String Band’s folkie/hippie audience, it saw Heron unleashed as a rock singer, but only on a few tracks. Others wouldn’t have been out of place at that point in the Incredible String Band’s career. The rock tracks are the best, however. It was one of the great 60s guest star albums. Feast of Stephen has a sumptuous John Cale arrangement.  Warm Heart Pastry sees Pete Townshend and Keith Moon (credited as ‘Tommy and the Bijoux’, with Ronnie Lane on bass) having the most fun they’d ever had outside the tensions of The Who. Some of Townshend’s best guitar ever.  My full review here.



Five tracks

Mike Heron after the Incredible String Band

cover of album Mike Heron's ReputationAfter the breakup of the String Band, Mike attempted a mainstream rock band, Mike Heron’s Reputation, which produced two albums. The first was built on his tracks from the album the String Band were working on when they split, augmented by session players. It’s very light and accessible, inspired by Buddy Holly in particular. The followup, Diamond of Dreams, got mired down in over-fussy prog arrangements.

After another album  in 1979, Mike Heron, failed, he went into a long period of withdrawal from the music business, writing for other artists and aiming for publishing success. Only one of these – a weird 1979 Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cover of Don’t Kill It Carol from Diamond of Dreams – was anything like a hit.

In the early 1990s he put together a small band of excellent musicians who lived near him in the Scottish Borders as Mike Heron’s Incredible Acoustic Band. There were no traces of psychedelia or musical exotica here, only concise, well-arranged songs drawn from the news, history and literature. This band took part in the first reunion with Robin Williamson in 1997, and produced a good album Where the Mystics Swim, but were later dropped in favour of the reformed original lineup of the Incredible String Band with Williamson and Clive Palmer. When that broke up, Heron kept a low profile, but a 2009 tribute concert to the String Band brought him together with upcoming folk-rock band Trembling Bells, with whom he has continued to collaborate and tour. They are joined by his daughter Georgia Seddon, a skilled multi-instrumentalist, singer and arranger.

I stumbled on this recent track of Mike revisiting a couple of his songs with Trembling Bells but can’t find any more about whether it was part of an album.


Other people’s selections


Mike Heron miscellany

Echo Coming Back  A compilation from several albums Heron released after the Incredible String Band – in other words, most of his career. They range from the mainstream country-rock of ‘Mike Heron’s Reputation’, through the home-produced demos on the Glen Row Tapes to his short-lived but excellent Incredible Acoustic Band of the 1990s

Where the Mystics Swim, the Incredible Acoustic Band’s album, released then re-released a few years later in new packaging, seems to be a rarity, commanding high prices.

Conflict of Emotions is a collection of home recordings and intimate solo tracks, meant as demos, showing the range of Heron’s songwriting.

You Know What You Could Be is Mike’s well-received account of his dual life in 1960s Edinburgh as a trainee accountant and would-be beatnik. It’s credited to Mike Heron and Andrew Greig but Greig isn’t a ghost writer. Just over half the book is Greig’s account of his would-be Incredibles clone band from Fife trying to get a foothold in the late 60s music scene. Both sections are a pleasure to read and the consensus from reviewers was that another Mike Heron autobiography would be very welcome. When I met him at a book signing he said he’d already started.




My Mike Heron covers

Over to you

OK this is my highly subjective take – if you were trying to introduce a friend to this music what would you choose? Add it to the comments below!

Shawn Phillips – a voice in the wilderness

In any time historical period, history is written by the winners. We remember some artists from any period of music and some are lost. One unsung hero of psychedelic folk-rock is Shawn Phillips, a voice as striking as Tim or Jeff Buckley, and a prodigious guitarist and arranger. Here’s a taste of his story.

I’ve been around

In the late 60s a tall, rangy Texan folk singer performed with Tim Hardin, taught guitar to Joni Mitchell in Canada, received sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar and later gave George Harrison his first sitar lesson. He co-wrote Season of the Witch (perhaps more than co-wrote, according to some articles) with Donovan and was one of the backing vocalists on Sgt Pepper’s Lovely Rita.

Shawn Phillips Bright White
Bright White

The classic albums

His own music, recorded with members of Traffic, was seen as too ambitious for a folk singer by most of the record companies, until A&M gave him a chance and released a sterling run of albums  – Contribution, Second Contribution, Collaboration, Faces, Bright White and Furthermore. They were all cut from the same cloth, with the same core team of musicians and innovative string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster. Many of the songs were the same basic theme (particularly strict-metre poetical lyrics tumbling over descending basslines) developed in different ways, each with enough of a new twist to sustain interest.

After the (non) goldrush

Shawn Phillips Second Contribution
Second Contribution

After 1974 the albums – and reviews and articles – became less frequent and it became clear Phillips was not destined for the stardom many thought he deserved. As musical fashions changed his audience shrank to a small committed following and he withdrew to Texas where he all but disappeared from the mainstream music industry.

In Texas he volunteered as a fireman, which he said gave him more satisfaction than performing at the Isle of Wight Festival. However he had to retire from that at 60. His partner Juliet was from South Africa and in 2000 he followed her back there, picking up his music career again and finding sympathetic backers and, once again, growing audiences.


He also found time to volunteer as a paramedic:

Shawn Phillips with hybrid guitar
Phillips recently with hybrid guitar (click for fullsize)

Now, when a call comes in, it’s Sea Rescue. It only took me less than two and a half years to certify as a firefighter and EMT. But it took me four and a half years before they ever actually let me go on an operation at Sea Rescue. That’s because at 4 o’clock in the morning on the Indian Ocean when you’re 40 nautical miles out to sea, you don’t fuck about. That’s all there is to it. I’m a navigator with them. I gotta know where we are, because it’s pitch black out there. That’s the work that I really love to do.

Back on the road

As Rush Evans says in the Goldmine article linked, below, live performances create income; decades of album sales do not. Despite releasing ten major-label albums and another 10 in his later career, Phillips had to take to the road to live. From his South African base he worked out how to make it a pleasure, not a burden. He returned to touring the US, smalltime with Juliet and their son in a campervan, using expertly programmed digital tools to fill out his songs with live orchestration.

He’s curated a huge website and YouTube channel of his own work.

Shawn Phillips Collaboration

Shawn Phillips and me

I’d been aware of him for a while before I heard him. I’d seen his striking appearance on album sleeves, like a Pre-Rafaelite vision of Jesus with super-long hair. But wasn’t in the habit of buying full price albums by people I’d never heard.

When I found Collaboration in a second-hand shop, however, I thought I’d take a punt on it. It became one of my most -played albums. It skips in a hearbeat from funk workouts to classical guitar flourishes to whispered love songs.

While he’s a top class guitarist in many styles, Phillips’ main instrument is his voice. His range covers an astonishing four octaves and some songs like What’s Happenin’ Jim seem to challenge him to test the upper limits of his falsetto. This is why he’s the only one of my inspirations whose songs I’ve never tried to cover.

The chief collaborator on Collaboration is strings arranger Paul Buckmaster.  Armed, the track immediately following What’s Happenin’ Jim has a dark, brooding fadeout with timpani, cellos and Phillips holding one falsetto note longer than most lungs could last it. He can still manage it as this recent video shows (the Neil Armstrong story is pretty good too!):

Here’s an oddity – the young Shawn Phillips demonstrates a sitar to blind bluesman, Rev Gary Davis. He doesn’t seem that impressed.

Find out more about Shawn Phillips

Come Together (Beatles cover) – Norman Lamont & the Heaven Sent

The Heaven Sent performing Come Together

During the Bridge of Orchy sessions, we had a go at our cover of the Beatles Come Together from Abbey Road.  Okay the singer flubs the words at the start but there are a lot of words and he’s old – cut him some slack! It’s not note-for-note but I like the feel of it.

The lineup here was:

  • me, rhythm guitar
  • Fiona Thom, acoustic
  • James Whyte, bass
  • John Lawrence, keyboards (on his final appearance with the Heaven Sent)

Other Heaven Sent videos


The Orchy Sessions

Witchseason & Joe Boyd

Joe Boyd

Witchseason logoThis little logo appeared on the sleeve of so many of the albums I listened to from the end of the sixties and the early 70s that it was a kind of quality assurance stamp. Mostly on Island but some on Elektra. This was the symbol of Witchseason Productions, and of Joe Boyd and it played a huge role in the career and development of many artists who are still loved today.

Joe Boyd

By the time Joe Boyd, born in Massachusetts but raised in New Jersey, settled in London in 1966 he had already established his place in music history. He had promoted tours by leading blues artists in the US and in Europe, bringing new audiences to the likes of Muddy Waters and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Initially dismissing Bob Dylan as a flash in the pan, he wandered into a room at a New York party where Dylan was playing the unrecorded ‘Hard Rain’ to friends and was smitten. Becoming a pillar of the folk scene, he embraced Dylan’s rebellious nature and was on the mixing desk when Dylan shocked the audience at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival by playing his first electric set.

In his fascinating autobiography White Bicycles, his first impressions of Britain are striking:

Shuttling back and forth between Britain and America in the sixties provided endless opportunities for comparison and contrast. For a start, the British didn’t seem to own anything. The most poverty-stricken folk singer in Cambridge (Massachusetts) or Greenwich Village had at least a record player and a refrigerator and many drove cars. In England, pilgrimages would be made with a newly purchased LP to the flat of someone with the means to play it. Milk bottles on the window ledge brought hurriedly inside on winter mornings were a reminder that kitchen appliances –and central heating –were rare luxuries

When I started meeting musicians, I noticed other differences between the cultures. Some British art students would form a group, then learn how to play their instruments well enough to perform the songs written by the group’s strongest personality. The results might be technically unsophisticated but were often more original than those of their American counterparts, who were too close to our musical forms to do much more than accurately re-create them. Dylan, always the exception, was almost British in his unconcern with vocal grace or instrumental fluency.
Joe Boyd, White Bicycles


In both America and the UK, the hip music scene was closely interwoven with what was called the Underground – venues, magazines, demonstrations, festivals and, above all, tribal identification. The clothes, the hair and the albums you carried under your arm advertised you as not part of the mainstream. In the US it was more serious and political – after all, they were at war and males in the Underground were resisting being drafted into the army and sent to Viet Nam. In Britain, it was lighter in tone and more about culture. Boyd notes how young men with long hair, earrings and Afghan coats would be standing in the pub sharing pints with their ‘straight’ fathers – something very rare in the polarised US.

Boyd quickly established himself as a father of the Underground scene in London, setting up the venue UFO where the cool bands could play to stoned and tripping audiences. While he partook in all the hedonism available, he was organised, efficient and had an American work ethic. He produced Pink Floyd’s first single Arnold Layne, and narrowly missed signing them and The Move to his new management and production company. It wasn’t long before he found his first rising stars, the Incredible String Band, in Glasgow.

I had been stumped for a name when Donovan released a song called ‘Season Of The Witch’: Beatniks out to make it rich Must be the season of the witch.”
Joe Boyd, White Bicycles

Although the String Band were on Elektra, who supported Boyd’s ambitions, he found his spiritual home with Chris Blackwell, who was turning Island Records from a West Indian calypso and reggae label into a home for the more experimental side of British music.

Joe Boyd with Incredible String Band
Boyd (left) with Rose Simpson, Mike Heron and Licorice McKechnie of the ISB, and tour manager Walter Gundy

Soon he had an impressive roster of performers – The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Vashti Bunyan, John and Beverley Martin, Dr Strangely Strange – all earning around £20 a week (£240ish today). Of these, it was Nick Drake who most inspired him, and on whose behalf he worked hardest. Boyd was a champion of artists who seemed to have – indeed who had – little commercial potential. Nick Drake’s albums were an opportunity for him to take the raw material of a brilliant but shy songwriter and package it in imaginative arrangements. They made little impact at the time outside the small London folk-rock scene but the Nick Drake legend has grown steadily and endured till a tribute concert by well known artists can fill a hall.

John Wood

Island and Boyd were two corners of the Witchseason triangle. The third was studio engineer John Wood, who not only captured the Witchseason artists at their peak but managed the studio experience in a way that challenged them and brought the best out of them.

“In a way I would say that there were three stages to the process. The first stage concerned the relationship with the artist about the music — what were we really doing here? — which was my job. Then came the actual recording, in which John took a stronger role than I did, in terms of the process — we’ll have the guitars here and the drums here, that was all John. And then once the sound was all set up, I got involved again, saying ‘Let’s do it again a little faster,’ or ‘Let’s do it again a little slower,’ or ‘I don’t like the way you’re singing it.’
(Joe Boyd interview)

What was Witchseason really like?

Andrew Greig by Billy Fox
Andrew Greig by Billy Fox

I used to see the Witchseason logo on Fairport and String Band albums and wonder what Witchseason actually was – I imagined a three or four storey white building on a dignified London street, like the Beatles’ Apple, which I’d seen on Let It Be. Andrew Greig, a String Band fan from Fife, took the same curiosity all the way to London, and turned up on Witchseason’s 83 Charlotte Street doorstep to plug his own psychedelic folk band Fate and Ferret. Here are his first impressions and his fleeting encounter with Nick Drake.

The Witchseason office was not notably psychedelic, just a desk and a phone, and a dark-haired young woman sitting behind it. A few assorted seats, a couple of framed posters, others just pinned to the wall. Boxes, papers and some loose records. It did not look like the epicentre of hip London: the ISB and Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd and the UFO Club.

‘We’re Fate and ferret from Pittenweem. We’ve brought our tape for Joe.’
‘You can leave it with me.’

We waited. A tall man in a dark jacket appeared silently from the street, glanced at us once – something vivid in that look – then studied the floor.

‘Just go in, Nick – Joe’s expecting you.’

The long black hair and averted face nodded and shuffled through to the inner sanctum. George and I looked at each other, shrugged. Five minutes later he emerged, raised his head fractionally to glance at us, then scuttled out.
(Andrew Greig and Mike Heron You Know What You Could Be)


Stories My Killer Told Me coverIf you like the artists I’m writing about here, you might enjoy a free download of quirky story-songs Stories My Killer Told Meget it here!




The End

As his artists grew in stature and confidence, Joe’s nurturing care was increasingly questioned.

The Incredible String Band’s devotion to Scientology and refusal to listen to my advice, coupled with my arguments with Sandy, the growing recalcitrance of Fairport and Nick’s simple concept for his next album all combined to make me feel that everyone might be happier with me out of the way.

Certainly my involvement with Witchseason artists was intense. Everything was based on the assumption that there would be success – when it became clear that it was headed for more hard slog and meagre rewards, the Witchseason business model fell apart. In retrospect, I might have considered selling to Island but staying on as producer etc. But I was too burnt out to see that clearly and was intrigued by the possibilities of learning about the film business.
(Joe Boyd interview)

In 1970 Boyd returned to the States, where he established the Hannibal label and added to his list of achievements the soundtracks of A Clockwork Orange and Deliverance, and worked with R.E.M., the McGarrigles and 10,000 Maniacs while continuing to work with Richard Thompson and becoming a champion of East European music.  Living in London again now, and looking half his age, he continues to speak, write, produce and organise concerts, notably celebrations of Nick Drake, the Incredible String Band, Bert Jansch and Fairport Convention.

 Joe Boyd productions for Witchseason

( This is only the 1967 – 1971 fraction of his massive list of credits!)


The Power of the True Love Knot (Shirley Collins)
The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion (The Incredible String Band)
Rags Reels and Airs (Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy & Diz Disley)
“Arnold Layne” / “Candy and a Currant Bun” (single by Pink Floyd)
“Granny Takes a Trip” (single by The Purple Gang – see ‘Further reading’ section)
“She’s Gone”, “I Should’ve Known” recordings for projected single by Soft Machine, June, Sound Techniques, London released on Triple Echo, 1977, Turns On Volume 1 (Voiceprint 2001 CD)


Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London (Pink Floyd tracks)
Very Urgent (Chris McGregor)
“If I Had a Ribbon Bow” / “If (Stomp)” (single by Fairport Convention)
“If (Stomp)” / “Chelsea Morning” (single by Fairport Convention)
Fairport Convention (Fairport Convention)
The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (The Incredible String Band)
Wee Tam and the Big Huge (The Incredible String Band)
Kalpana – instrumental and dance music of India (various artists)


What We Did On Our Holidays (Fairport Convention)
“Si Tu Dois Partir” / “Genesis Hall” (single by Fairport Convention)
Unhalfbricking (Fairport Convention)
Five Leaves Left (Nick Drake)
Liege & Lief (Fairport Convention)
Kip of the Serenes (Dr. Strangely Strange)
“Big Ted” / “All Writ Down” (single by The Incredible String Band)
Changing Horses (The Incredible String Band)


Desertshore (Nico)
Just Another Diamond Day (Vashti Bunyan)
Stormbringer! (John and Beverley Martyn)
U (Incredible String Band)
Full House (Fairport Convention)
Fotheringay (Fotheringay)
I Looked Up (The Incredible String Band)
Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending (The Incredible String Band)
Pottery Pie (Geoff and Maria Muldaur)
Brotherhood of Breath (Brotherhood of Breath)


Bryter Layter (Nick Drake)
Smiling Men with Bad Reputations (Mike Heron)
Call Me Diamond / Lady Wonder (single by Mike Heron)
The Road to Ruin (John and Beverley Martyn)
Heavy Petting (Dr. Strangely Strange)

Find out more about Joe Boyd and Witchseason

White Bicyles

Boyd’s vivid and amiable autobiography.

You Know What You Could Be

A fan’s-eye glimpse of Witchseason and the world they, their musicians and their audience lived in.

Joe Boyd Interviews


Stories My Killer Told Me coverIf you like the artists I’m writing about here, you might enjoy a free download of quirky story-songs Stories My Killer Told Meget it here!





John Martyn for beginners: 3 albums and 5 tracks

First of a series following from my Inspirations series, where I’ll offer a beginners’ guide to some of the artists I love. Three albums and five tracks.

A virtuoso musician with a voice to melt the coldest of hearts.
(John Hillarby)

Three albums

Solid Air (1973)

The definitive John Martyn album, where he found his voice and the musical themes he would develop over the next three decades. The feel is late-night, languid and luxurious. Solid Air, Don’t Want to Know, Go Down Easy and The Man In the Station all have that repetitive, hypnotic groove, Martyn’s slurred voice like a baritone sax. To avoid a one-tone album, it’s seeded with contrasting tracks – the aggression of I’d Rather Be The Devil and Dreams By The Sea and the lighter acoustic sound of May You Never and Over the Hill.



One World (1977)

After Solid Air Martyn ran a zig zag path between his free-form experimental side (Inside Out) and his warm acoustic side (Sunday’s Child). One World is still experimental but manages to include the warm, loving side of Martyn’s personality, even in the instrumental passages.





Grace and Danger (1980)

Created with Phil Collins as they both floundered in the wreckage of broken marriages, Martyn’s record company were reluctant to release this album. According to Wikipedia “Chris Blackwell … was a close friend of John and Beverley, and found the album too openly disturbing to release. Only after intense and sustained pressure from Martyn did Blackwell agree to release the album.”  While biographers could poke holes in the way Martyn seems to adopt the victim role in the breakup (as with Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks) there’s no denying the pain that permeates this album, harnessed by Martyn and Collins into a cathartic and ultimately beautiful experience.

Five tracks

My selection has tended to focus on Martyn the singer rather than the acoustic guitarist – that’s another playlist to be done one day!


Other people’s selections


John Martyn biographies

  • Detailed biography by John Hillarby on Folk? Blues? Jazz? Rock? Reggae? Trip Hop? Funk? John refused to conform to any particular music genre whilst simultaneously embracing them all. Without fail he always took the less travelled road in search of new experiences and inspirations.
  • An obituary and an appreciation (The Quietus) – John Martyn’s fuck-you attitude, his life-long refusal to do anything other than what he wanted may have led to ill-advised decisions in terms of a perfect oeuvre but who gives a shit about that? Certainly not him. John Martyn was a starsailor, still is.
  • John Martyn – the three-year wake –  “He didn’t want anyone to see that soft underbelly. He wanted to be portrayed as the hard man, and people thought he was a bit of a braggart, a bit arrogant, and of course he wasn’t.”(Danny Thompson)

My John Martyn post