At last, Kip Of The Serenes has been re-issued on cd!
I bought Halcyon Days earlier this year and was delighted with it, and became all the more eager to finally hear Kip Of The Serenes when it transpired that it was to be re-released. For a few years I'd been smitten with Robin Williamson's version of "Strings In The Earth And Air", as performed on his beautiful, wayward solo album Myrrh, and had wanted to track down the original. Well, now I have it, and I am delighted, it is quite as lovely as I pictured. The whole of Kip Of The Serenes is equally great, and I am duly thrilled to own a copy!
From the opening of "Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal" to the last notes of "Donnybrook Fair" I'm in "that pleasant waking dream", and I'm speachless. Some songs have so many layers of subtle complexity to them I'm sure I could appreciate them differently each time I listen indefinately. They clearly had an acute sense for the little details and for how to tell their eccentric stories, unexpectedly baffling the listener by introducing a new tune mid-song, only for it to vanish again, as on the mellifluous "Dark-Haired Lady", when "Goldenhair" by James Joyce is quoted to an unexpected jazzy-Brazilian interlude (I have to wonder if there is any connection between this use of "Goldenhair" and Syd Barrett's, or did both DSS and Syd invent the wheel independently?). They were having a whale of a time making this album and that happy vibe rubs off on the listener.
Beyond the album itself there are four bonus tracks, all worthy additions. I think this version of "Mirror Mirror" is greater still than the very fine one featured on Halcyon Days, and the instrumental version of "Strings In The Earth And Air", in all its fragility, is very charming and acts as a great compliment to the album version.
My expectations for this album were exceeded, and now "Halcyon Days", in relationship to Kip Of the Serenes comes over more as an appendix, which in a sense is what it is.
It often seems that when Doctor Strangely Strange are mentioned, the Incredible String Band come into the conversation, but whilst I am sure that they were inspired by ISB, I think that it's unfair to cast them always in their shadow. To my thinking Kip Of The Serenes is stronger than The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and 5,000 Spirits, it is possessed of some gorgeous intricate music, lyrics of a higher order, and more charm. Where the ISB on occasion might decay into a stoned stupour, everything on Kip... seems lovingly crafted, with great humour and a theatrical ear for the spell-binding that pays off again and again.
This is one of those albums that I feel an instant affection for, accompanied by an impossible wish that somehow I could turn back the calendar to 1992 and have known it since then, because I would have loved it all these years alongside the two Trees albums that came my way at that time. There's probably some means in the Strangely Strange universe to make that wish real...