The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion

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The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion
ISB LayersofOnion cover.jpg
Studio album by The Incredible String Band
Released July 1967 (1967-07)
Recorded 1967 Sound Techniques, Chelsea, London
Genre Psychedelic folk
Length 50:10
Label Elektra / WEA
Producer Joe Boyd
Incredible String Band chronology
The Incredible String Band
(1966)
The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion
(1967)
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
(1968)
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[1]
Pitchfork Media (7.3/10)[2]
Rolling Stone (positive) [3]

The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion is the second album by the English psychedelic folk group, The Incredible String Band (ISB), and was released in July 1967 on Elektra Records (see 1967 in music). The album was recorded following the reformation of the band as a duo consisting of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron. Notably, the album was a change in musical direction for the two as they transitioned from their more conventional folk music structures into complex psychedelic compositions influenced by British folk and Indian music.[4]

Upon release, the album peaked at number 25 on the UK Albums Charts, and failed to chart on the Billboard 200. It was preceded by the single, "Painting Box", in June 1967 which evidently failed to chart. An additional promo single, "Way Back in the Sixties" was also released in support of the album. The album established the band within the British folk scene, while also gaining them an underground presence in the United States. At the time of its release, the album was recognized as being ambitious, and for creating a contrasting sound to other musical acts who were also utilizing similar instruments at the time.[5][6]

Background[edit]

The ISB came to prominence in the UK in June 1966, as a result from the release of their debut album, The Incredible String Band, which incorporated more conventional folk tracks in comparison to their later work. It bestowed upon the group a "Folk Album of the Year" award in Melody Maker's annual poll, but members Robin Williamson and Clive Palmer left England following its release. In late 1966, Williamson returned from leave, in which time he ventured to Morocco with his then-girlfriend, Licorice McKechnie. With his arrival, Williamson brought back a wide variety of exotic instruments of African and Middle Eastern origin. Mike Heron, as well, had begun to broaden his musical horizons by experimenting with the sitar in Williamson's absence. Williamson reformed the ISB with Heron, but not with founding member, Palmer, who was still in Afghanistan.[7] As a duo, the two rehearsed early versions of the material that configured their second album. Crudely recorded on a tape recorder and a single microphone, rehearsals took place in Balmore between October 1966 and February 1967, in a period that was charged by extensive discussions between Williamson, and Heron over the instrumental arrangements of the new material.[8]

Shortly afterwards, in early 1967 the two-piece ISB became regulars on the London folk scene as an opening act in local venues, with a set list that featured the upcoming album's songs. Nearly as exotic as their instruments, Williamson, interested in multi-media, hired two dancers known as Mimi & Lesandra (incorrectly deemed Mimi & Mouse) to take part in the band's concerts. Promotion of the ISB's songs saw the ISB performing "Chinese White" on BBC's Late Night Line-up, and was capped off by a brief appearing at the Newport Folk Festival. Following the band's short touring schedule, their record producer, Joe Boyd, who had previously worked with the group on their debut album, returned to undergo developments for the duo's second album.[9]

Following further rehearsal periods (recordings of the resulting demos were later released as The Chelsea Sessions 1967), the ISB completed the entire album at Sound Techniques, Chelsea, London in early 1967. The recordings were conducted on four-track, in the first instances of the duo overdubbing, and multi-tracking their wide assortment of instrumentals that included sitar, gimbri, and mandolin. Much of the instrumentals drew upon influences of the psychedelic genre, along with the foreign playing Williamson witnessed in his travels. Williamson and Heron's compositions were eccentric in nature, relating with themes of mythology, life, and religion. For the recordings, session musicians were featured, such as Nazir Jairazbhoy on sitar, Pentangle's Danny Thompson on double bass, and on piano was counter-culture activist John "Hoppy" Hopkins. Future ISB member McKechnie also made her first contributions to the band, appearing as a vocalist and a percussionist.[8]

Although several other musical acts, including The Beatles and Bob Dylan, had already begun incompassing sitar into their compositions, the ISB possessed a pivotal exception in comparison to their contemporaries. By incorporating Jairazbhoy, a master sitar player, the band featured a musician who was traditionally taught with the instrument, instead of a western instrumentalist. Williamson also drew inspiration from his time in Morooco, becoming influenced by the song structures and vocal techniques. The album's compositions reflected upon these developments, Williamson's adaption of the Arabian oud to the guitar, and the vocal arabesques being major stylistic points in the album's overall sound.[8]

Release[edit]

The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion was released in July 1967 on the Elektra label to the UK (catalogue item EUK 257), and the US (catalogue item EUK 4010).[10] The album, more successful than the ISB's debut, peaked at number 25 on the UK Albums Charts and number one on the UK Folk Charts, in part due to its promotion by DJ John Peel. Its cover, designed by Dutch artists Simon Postuma and Marijke Koger, better known as The Fool, featured a multi-colored hermaphrodite juxtaposing both light and darkness.[11] Two singles preceded the album's release, both of which were issued in June 1967, only to the UK. "Painting Box" then "Way Back in the Sixties" managed to promote the diversity in the band's lyrics and instrumentals, but failed to chart in the UK Single Charts.[5]

Track listing[edit]

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Chinese White"   Mike Heron 3:40
2. "No Sleep Blues"   Robin Williamson 3:53
3. "Painting Box"   Heron 4:04
4. "The Mad Hatter's Song"   Williamson 5:40
5. "Little Cloud"   Heron 4:05
6. "The Eyes of Fate"   Williamson 4:02
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Blues for the Muse"   Williamson 2:49
2. "The Hedgehog's Song"   Heron 3:30
3. "First Girl I Loved"   Williamson 4:55
4. "You Know What You Could Be"   Heron 2:46
5. "My Name Is Death"   Williamson 2:46
6. "Gently Tender"   Heron 4:49
7. "Way Back in the 1960s"   Williamson 3:11

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Chart Entry
date
Peak
position
Weeks charted
UK Albums Chart[6] October 21, 1967 25 5

References[edit]

  1. ^ Allmusic review
  2. ^ Pitchfork Media review
  3. ^ Thompson, J. Rolling Stone, San Francisco, 25 May 1968. page 21. Worst Reviews Ever
  4. ^ Thom Jurek. "The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion". allmusic.com. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Incredible String Band, The– Painting Box". discogs.com. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Chart Archive - Incredible String Band(Link redirected to OCC website)
  7. ^ "The Incredible String Band- 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion". makingtime.co.uk. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d Adrian Whittaker (ed.), Be Glad: The Incredible String Band Compendium, 2003, ISBN 1-900924-64-1
  9. ^ "Incredible String Band - Timeline". wolfgangrostek.de. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Incredible String Band, The– The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion". discogs.com. Retrieved April 6, 2015. 
  11. ^ Walter Everett, The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver Through The Anthology, 1999, p. 97, ISBN 0-19-512941-5
  12. ^ Nazir Jairazbhoy