born in Edinburgh in 1943, Williamson became a professional musician at the age of 16. He was originally inspired by traditional singers including Jeannie Robertson, Joe Heaney and Jimmy McBeath: "Their influence on me remains very strong. To me, folk music and folk tales embody the notion of the 'inspired voice', older mysteries coming through the singer or narrator. I try to communicate that with purity."
Robin Williamson first came to attention in 1962 when he, Bert Jansch and Clive Palmer ran an Edinburgh folk club which became a centre for new impetuses in the music. Amongst the artists who gravitated there were John Renbourn, Anne Briggs, John Martyn, Roy Harper, and Archie Fisher. It was also home base for the duo of Williamson and Palmer. In 1965, they recruited a third player, Mike Heron, and called themselves the Incredible String Band, a group that quickly moved beyond any conventional definitions of "folk". Although there was at the time no convenient tag for their eclectic mix of styles, the ISB were really standard bearers of a nascent "world music", blending or contrasting contemporary folk with North African street music, Indian ragas, flamenco, Bahamian balladry, Chicago and country blues, jug band music, Scottish/Irish jigs and more in a global musical vision. Their influence on the rock music of the psychedelic 60s was profound, and their recordings, for Elektra and Island, were best sellers. A 1967 recording, "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter", was a Top 5 hit in Britain, and subsequent ISB albums also charted. They filled concert halls on both sides of the Atlantic, headlined festivals, appeared at Woodstock and in Bill Graham's Fillmores East and West, and made many concerts. Allen Ginsberg heard Williamson and Mike Heron singing their literate, allusive, well-crafted songs and immediately set about "tuning" his own poetry. The Rolling Stones tried to sign the Incredible String band to their label, and artists from Judy Collins to Van Morrison covered Williamson's songs, which were also praised by Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, Tim Buckley, John Lennon and many others.
As the 60s turned into the 70s, however, forces around the Incredible String Band were attempting to streamline it into a more conventional rock group, better suited to a less imaginative time. Increasingly disenchanted with this development, and never much interested in electric music in the first place, Williamson quit the group during a US tour in 1974. For ten years he based himself in California, where he wrote and published poetry and fiction, and also led an American ensemble, The Merry Band. In the mid-1980s, he returned to Britain and set up home in Cardiff in Wales, working primarily as a solo artist, playing mostly Celtic harp and guitar now, and singing stronger than ever. His own grass roots record label, Pig's Whisker Music, documents his achievements in areas ranging from traditional and contemporary song to storytelling, poetry, music for theatre, and settings of the Psalms. He continues to tour extensively in Britain and the US each year, and has maintained a loyal following. A fanzine celebrating his current and past work, Be Glad For The Song Has No Ending (named after a 1970 film about the ISB), is published twice-yearly in England.