Robin Williamson: Just Like the River
I had the pleasure of seeing Robin Williamson, it must have been in 1990 or ‘91. It was one of the most unusual performances I have ever seen. As I think of it now, I imagine that the evening began with an array of instruments on stage, the most prominent being the harp at center stage. As we sat in the audience, we heard a tapping sound behind us. There was an old man in a hooded robe, walking down the aisle with the aid of a tall wooden staff. Silver hair flowed out of the hood from his face and shoulders. He reached the stage, turned back his hood, and sat down at the harp, and began to play.
I’m pretty sure that’s not how it actually happened, but see Williamson perform if you get a chance, and you will understand where this image comes from. Williamson fancies himself as a bard in the ancient Celtic tradition, and he has the knowledge to back it up. He has co-written books on the Bardic tradition, and he has a deep knowledge of the old lore. And his performance that night reflected this. It was a mix of songs and stories, and he accompanied himself on mostly harp, but also on guitar at times. He showed a deep respect for and knowledge of the material he presented, but this was no scholarly speech. Williamson also displayed warmth and a sneaky sense of humor.
Just Like the River is the title track from a collection of songs for guitar and voice. The song strikes me as a beautiful meditation on aging. I would have liked to present one of his songs on harp, but sadly, the best of those are not available. Incidentally, if the name Robin Williamson sounds familiar, you may have heard of him as one of the founding members of The Incredible String Band. A lot has happened since then.