An interview for the magazine beGLAD -abridged and paraphrased in places by Wizz
(I’m sure I couldn’t have been that erudite!)

Wizz stayed at Mary Stewart’s Cottage on several occasions and he and Pete Stanley can be heard on one of the“Balmore Tapes”. beGLAD cornered him recently at Bradford’s Topic Folk Club and grilled him for memories....
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“I knew Clive Palmer from London originally and then we stumbled across each other in Paris in 1959 I think and we then busked together with Mick Softley around 1960-61. I went solo and travelled around a bit and came back to England in about 63 /64, had a kid and started to play with Pete Stanley on the folk club circuit. I played with Pete till late 66.
I hadn’t heard from Clive for ages – didn’t know where he’d gone or what had happened to him - and then I got a letter from him saying “I’ve been living in Edinburgh in a flat with a guy called Robin Williamson” – he didn’t mention Bert Jansch but I subsequently found out that Bert was living there as well – “and Robin and I have been working as a duo singing trad material and we’ve just opened a club called Clive’s Incredible Folk Club and I’ve formed a band called Clive’s Incredible String Band and we’re playing lots of old-timey music. I hear you’re working with Pete Stanley, why don’t you come up and do a gig at the club and you can stay over at the place where I’m staying?”

So we went and that was an amazing gig because they’d booked Davy Graham on the same bill. We arrived and there was Davy, dapper in a white suit with a blonde on his arm. The residents were the Incredibles, Hamish Imlach and Archie Fisher and unknown to me at the time, people in the audience such as Rab Noakes and Billy Connolly.

We played the gig which went fine and if I remember rightly it was an all night do. We’d driven up on the previous night, arrived in the morning and went straight over to Mary Stewart’s where Clive had told us he was living. It was difficult to find that first time because it was in the middle of a golf course and we had to drive down a muddy rutted track. So we drove into this place which was like Alice ’s Restaurant, because it was that kind of situation, there were kids and dogs running everywhere and Clive came limping out to greet us.

So we did the gig that night and I remember going back at six or seven in the morning and going straight up to bed for a bit and my wife Sandy stayed up with the kids. (Ed’s note – Wizz travelled to gigs with his family in a camper van) I can remember waking up about mid-day and hearing the sound of a sitar – it was Archie Fisher sitting outside the cottage playing a sitar. It was one of those amazing spontaneous things that happened at Temple Cottage .

I think the second time we were up there must have been ’66 when Pete and I had a tour of Scotland and we stayed there for several days. That’s the time that those tapes were made. (See last issue’s feature on the Balmore Hoard – Ed) At that time Mike and Robin were living up in loft, in the roof. We used to go to sleep in the room below and we’d hear them playing together. They were just a duo by then and I think they’d probably already made the first album by then. Of course originally it was going to be more of an old timey album but I think that Joe Boyd heard that they wrote their own stuff so the album was mainly original material. I don’t think Clive had written anything of his own so he nicked a song from me – Teapot Blues and changed it to Empty Pocket Blues and copyrighted it! So I lost that song to Clive – but we’re still friends! Mary Stewart was an amazing woman- still is probably, I haven’t seen her for a long time now.
She was a veterinary surgeon at Glasgow University at the hospital there and she was also involved in cancer research so she had cages out at the back of the house with hundreds of cats in them!. Temple Cottage was a mingling of the climbing fraternity and the folk crowd in the way that there was a mingling of the surfing fraternity with the folkies in Cornwall . Those things don’t seem to happen anymore they’re kind of split, separate areas. But you always had famous climbers passing through – Chris Bonnington, Tom Patey, people like that.

We stayed there quite a bit over the next two or three years. When I did the support on the last Pentangle tour – about 1972, Clive’s band COB were on the bill too and we all went back to Mary’s after the Glasgow gig (without Clive I think). The next morning Mary said to me and John Renbourn “Come down to the local primary school – its just at the end of the track” So we went down and played for the children at the school. That’s a nice memory.

That muddy track was the only access to the cottage. We were always getting stuck on the way in or out and having to be pulled out by a jeep or tractor!. The cottage was a long low kind of building – I’ve got a photograph somewhere of me and Clive and Sandy sitting outside of it.

I think that Mary’s marriage had broken up and she was there on her own with various students and musicians. She had Alex Campbell’s kids there ‘cause Alex had gone off somewhere around the world touring and his wife was living there with the kids. The house was always full to absolute overflowing. As you can hear on the tape you’d sit around playing and there’d be eight nine or ten little kids in the room up till midnight just listening to the music. In those days this was unusual, that kind of attitude to everything and it worked – it really did work. Okay I’m sure there were problems there as there are with any kind of community situation but it was quite idyllic to come into it. And an amazing amount of good art must have come out of it quite apart from the Incredibles because it was such a wonderful atmosphere in which to be creative.

I think Bert Jansch stayed there on and off but not when we were there – an ex-girlfriend of his called Jan lived there for a long time. There always had to be someone there to feed and clean the cats everyday and Jan did that for years.

I can’t remember the occasion when the tape was recorded at all. (beGlad supplied Wizz with a complimentary copy tied with tasteful ribbon as an inducement to submit himself to interview)

When I heard it I thought, thats amazing because I can’t remember anything about it. I can date it by the sound of my old guitar and by the way we were playing – Pete and I had been playing together for quite a while – and I can date it by the ages of the kids in the background. There’s a point on the tape where Pete’s playing on his own for a long time and Sandy says we probably went upstairs to put the kids to bed and towards the end of the tape I’m back again so we must have come down again about an hour later.

I remember Robin Williamson playing a Blind Boy Fuller blues – this could have been the same night and thinking, never knew how that one worked. I used to listen to Blind Boy Fuller records ‘til my ears bled trying to work out how he did the guitar parts; and there was Robin playing it note for note and I thought , so thats how you do it! He’d worked out from the record what the chord shapes were. I hadn’t thought that it could have been in G as opposed to A or E which most of the other stuff is. I thought bloody hell – what a talent – he can work out all that blues stuff as well as being a fantastic fiddle player!

He could do all that stuff. Thats so often the case isn’t it? The Scottish singer Robin Hall who used to sing with Jimmie McGregor, I remember seeing him one night with Long John Baldry singing gospel and blues and he had a fantastic blues voice. It always amazes me how multi-talented people are. I’ve struggled to play blues all my life and Robin (Williamson) did it all so effortlessly.

In later years I met the Incredibles only once. I was coming back from a folk club gig, just like what I’m doing tonight in exactly the same way thirty odd years on. I stopped at the Blue Boar at Watford Gap, which in those days at two in the morning would be jumping. You’d see all the bands that had been playing at the universities that night – any night of the week it would be like that. You’d run into all kinds of people and I remember bumping into Robin and Mike and Joe Boyd one night. They were obviously on the road touring. I’ve not seen Mike since then. I’ve seen Robin a few times – at a festival in Cornwall in the 8o’s and then recently he and I were playing in Jersey at the same time. And we played together on one song a couple of Summer’s ago in Cornwall .

But Temple Cottage ; it’ll go down in history.... it should go down in history. It should have the blue plaque."

(beGlad Magazine No.10. May 1997. Also reprinted in "beGlad an Incredible String Band Compendium"
by Helter Skelter Publishing)

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