Robin Williamson

Robin Duncan Harry Williamson (born 24 November 1943, Edinburgh) is a Scottish multi-instrumentalist musician, singer, songwriter and storyteller, who first made his name as a founding member of The Incredible String Band.

Robin Williamson
Robin Williamson performing in 2009
Background information
Birth nameRobin Duncan Harry Williamson
Born (1943-11-24) 24 November 1943
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
GenresFolk, folk rock, psychedelic folk, classical, celtic
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, harp, violin, flute, keyboards, mandolin, gimbri, banjo, bass
Years activeSince 1963
Associated actsThe Incredible String Band
The Merry Band


Williamson lived in the Fairmilehead area of Edinburgh, and attended George Watson's College before leaving at the age of 15 to become a professional musician. At first he performed in local jazz bands, with Gerard Dott (later to be a member of the Incredible String Band) and others, before turning to traditional music as a singer and guitarist. By 1961 he had met and begun sharing a flat with Bert Jansch, and in 1963 they traveled together to London to play the metropolitan folk circuit.[1]

By 1965 he had returned to Edinburgh and formed a duo with Clive Palmer,[2] specialising in fiddle and banjo arrangements of traditional Scots and Irish songs. Joe Boyd signed them to Elektra Records in 1966, by which time they had recruited third member Mike Heron. As resident band at Clive's Incredible Folk Club in Glasgow, they called themselves the Incredible String Band.

Between 1966 and 1974 the Incredible String Band, based around Williamson and Heron, released some 13 albums, becoming in the UK one of the most popular, best-loved and influential groups of the era.[3] The group also included Williamson's sometime girlfriend Licorice McKechnie.

Williamson released his first solo LP, "Myrrh", in 1971 when still a member of the Incredible String Band. After the band split up in 1974, he began living in Los Angeles and, for a while, turned his attention to writing, co-writing an espionage novel, "The Glory Trap". Many of his albums are released on his own label, Pig's Whisker Music.

By 1976 he had returned to music, forming The Merry Band with Sylvia Woods (Celtic harp), Jerry McMillan (fiddle), and Chris Caswell (flutes, and wire-strung harp). They toured extensively for three years throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, and released three albums "Journey’s Edge", "American Stonehenge", and "A Glint At The Kindling".[4]

After the breakup of the Merry Band, Williamson returned to the UK and started to tour solo, offering sets dominated by traditional stories set to song. Releases of this period include "Songs of Love and Parting" and "Legacy of the Scottish Harpers". He has also written a tutorial book of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Fiddle Tunes (ISBN 0-8256-0165-7) as well as one for the penny whistle (ISBN 0-8256-0190-8).

Williamson's live album with John Renbourn, 'Wheel Of Fortune' (1995), was nominated for a Grammy, (as was the Incredible String Band album 'Hangman's Beautiful Daughter', in 1968[5]).

In the late 1990s he took part, with Palmer and Heron, in a reformed Incredible String Band. Williamson left the band some time around the start of 2003 - some rumours had it that he was forced out in acrimonious circumstances. The reformed band disbanded once again in 2006.

Meanwhile, Williamson resumed his solo career, notably on record with a series of albums for the ECM label: The Seed-at-Zero (2000), Skirting The River Road (2002), The Iron Stone (2006),[6] and Trusting in the Rising Light (2014). As well as his own words these albums featured material from Dylan Thomas, William Blake, and Walt Whitman. Musically, these records show him increasingly working in a fusion style (similar in some ways to the avant-garde work of the Incredible String Band in the 1960s) which incorporates folk, jazz, Renaissance, Classical and Eastern influences. A group of distinguished jazz musicians accompany Williamson on the three most recent ECM records, notably violist Mat Maneri, bassist Barre Phillips, Swedish multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller, percussionist Ches Smith and English sax player Paul Dunmall.

Involvement with Scientology

Williamson was introduced to Scientology in the 1968-1969 period. In a 1979 interview, he stated:

It's actually a very practical philosophy. It enables you to live slightly better, get on with your fellows slightly better and feel a bit happier about things. That's the reason that I'm interested in it -it's very useable and practical. I've been rather romantic and spiritually inclined. It's probably been helpful to me because of its practicality.[7]

Solo discography

  • Myrrh (1972)
  • Journey's Edge (1977) (with The Merry Band)
  • American Stonehenge (1978) (with The Merry Band)
  • A Glint At The Kindling (1979) (with The Merry Band)
  • Songs of Love & Parting (1981)
  • The Fisherman's Son And The Gruagach of Tricks (1981)
  • Prince Dougie And The Swan Maiden (1982)
  • Rory Mor And The Gruagach Gaire (1982)
  • Music for the Mabinogi (1983)
  • Selected Writings (1984)
  • Five Humorous Tales of Scotland and Ireland (1984)
  • The Dragon Has Two Tongues (1985)
  • Five Celtic Tales of Enchantment (1985)
  • Five Legendary Histories Of Britain (1985)
  • Five Bardic Mysteries (1985)
  • Five Tales of Prodigies and Marvels (1985)
  • Legacy of the Scottish Harpers (1986)
  • Legacy of the Scottish Harpers Volume Two (1986)
  • Winter's Turning (1986)
  • Songs For Children of All Ages (1987)
  • Ten of Songs (1988)
  • Music For The Newly Born (1990)
  • Wheel Of Fortune (1995, with John Renbourn)
  • The Island Of The Strong Door (1996)
  • Songs For The Calendarium (1996)
  • Farewell Concert At McCabe's (1997, with The Merry Band)
  • Mirrorman's Sequences (1997)
  • Celtic Harp Airs And Dance Tunes (1997)
  • Memories/Erinnerungen (1997)
  • Dream Journals (1997)
  • Bloomsbury 1997 (1998, with Mike Heron)
  • Gems Of Celtic Story 1 (1998)
  • Ring Dance (1998)
  • Gems Of Celtic Story 2 (1998)
  • A Job Of Journey Work (1998)
  • The Old Fangled Tone (1999)
  • Music For Macbeth (1999)
  • At The Pure Fountain (1999, with Clive Palmer)
  • The Seed-at-Zero (2000)
  • Just Like The Ivy (2000, with Clive Palmer)
  • Bloomsbury 2000 (2001, with reformed Incredible String Band)
  • Carmina (2001)
  • Skirting The River Road (2002)
  • Gems Of Celtic Story 3 (2002)
  • The Iron Stone (2006)
  • The Celtic Bard (2008)
  • Just Like The River And Other Songs For Guitar (2008)
  • Love Will Remain (2012)
  • Trusting In The Rising Light (2014)


Robin Williamson; illustrated by Janet Williamson
  • Home thoughts from abroad : poems 1966-1971; illustrated by Janet Williamson (1972)
Robin Williamson
  • English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Fiddle Tunes (1976)
  • Penny Whistle Book (1977)
  • Five Denials on Merlin's Grave: A Poem With Annotations (1979)
  • Holy Howlers (1987)
  • The Craneskin Bag: Celtic Stories and Poems (1989)
  • Wise and Foolish Tongue: Celtic Stories and Poems (1991)
Dan Sherman and Robin Williamson
  • The Glory Trap (1981) (novel)
Robin Williamson and John Matthews
  • From the Isles of Dream: Visionary Stories and Poems of the Celtic Renaissance (1993)
  • The Bardic Source Book: Inspirational Legacy and Teachings of the Ancient Celts (1998)
R.J. Stewart and Robin Williamson
  • Celtic Bards, Celtic Druids (1996)


  1. Adrian Whittaker (ed.), Be Glad: The Incredible String Band Compendium, 2003, ISBN 1-900924-64-1
  2. Powers, Jim. "The Incredible String Band: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  3. Boyd, Joe (2006). White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s. Serpent's Tail. pp. 184–190. ISBN 1-85242-910-0.
  4. Jackson, Leon. "Robin Williamson: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  5. Jurek, Thom. "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter: Review". Allmusic. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  6. Spencer, Neil (10 December 2006). "Pop and jazz CDs". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  7. Hunt, Ken. "Robin Williamson interviewed on 13 August 1979". Incredible String Band Mailing List Page. Retrieved 7 March 2019.

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