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At the start of a four-day immersion in gigs and record buying, ProgBlog attended the album launch of Gryphon's first studio release for 41 years, ReInvention.

More akin to the eponymous first album from 1973 than the more proggy later material, it's a worthy addition to the Gryphon canon

By ProgBlog, Sep 24 2018 03:48PM

The weekend starting on Friday 14th September was rather busy. After finishing work at 5pm I arranged to meet family for a meal at Canonbury Kitchen, conveniently located close to Highbury and Islington station and the Union Chapel where I’d got tickets to see Gryphon’s album launch gig for ReInvention, their first studio album for 41 years. For anyone requiring a pre-Union Chapel gig meal, Canonbury Kitchen is a modern, informal Italian restaurant with exposed brickwork and high ceilings that’s been around since 2010, offering both traditional and contemporary cooking at competitive prices and with very friendly and attentive staff – it comes with a ProgBlog recommendation. My brother Richard was the only other one of the family attending Gryphon and he didn’t know what to expect, either from the music or the venue itself.


There was no queue outside the chapel when we approached, about 15 minutes after the doors opened (unlike for Tangerine Dream earlier this year where there was a human chain snaking around the block) but the pews in the central seating block were almost entirely filled or reserved with articles of clothing while their owners frequented the bar. After a brief stop at the merchandise stand for a copy of ReInvention (currently only available on CD) and an ‘Ashes’ T-shirt, with lyrics from the penultimate track on the new album, we took our place close to the front in the pews to the right of centre. Richard was impressed with the setting, but who wouldn’t be? I saw the band at the Holy Trinity Church in Claygate in March this year and thought that was a fitting venue, despite the secular style of Gryphon’s music; however, the Union Chapel is something else, a unique architectural gem.



The present building dates from 1876, when the foundation stone for a design by architect James Cubitt was laid. Cubitt had some renown as a designer of non-conformist churches and based his design for the Union Chapel on the medieval cathedral of Santa Fosca on the Venetian island of Torcello, proclaiming that he wanted to “step out of the enchanted circle of habit and precedent... ...to break through the tyranny of custom.” The chapel was inaugurated in 1877, but the spire, part of the original plan, was subject to delays over cost and work on a modified design didn’t commence until 1881, eventually reaching completion in 1889. The incumbent minister responsible for the rebuild, Dr Henry Allon, expressed a desire to put music at the heart of the new chapel and the magnificent rose window, with its angels playing musical instruments, is a reminder of those wishes which continue to hold true.



What we got was a performance of almost all of the new album, plus early favourites Kemp’s Jig, Estampie, The Unquiet Grave, The Astrologer and a medley of material from Red Queen to Gryphon Three; back in March they had only played a couple of new tracks, one of which was Rhubarb Crumhorn. The other difference between the Claygate Musical Festival and Union Chapel performances was that bassist Rory McFarlane was temporarily unable to play so his part was taken by Rob Levy. I think the new material is more closely related to the first album, despite a couple of songs being written for, but not making it onto, Raindance which were re-recorded for the ReInvention.

The main attraction of the band’s music to fans of progressive rock, apart from the incredible musicianship, was surely the dense textures created by Richard Harvey’s ever-expanding keyboard set-up that included some distinctly non-early musical instruments. Of course prog-heads weren’t averse to medieval instrumentation which also formed an integral part of the Gentle Giant sound, and even the whimsy and humour, a constant strand running through Gryphon song titles, fitted in with a prevailing appreciation for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I just think that the band’s trajectory, from Gryphon (1973) to Treason (1977) was in an ever-more (progressive) rock direction, leaving behind the early music and folk adaptations that had, to a greater extent, made them stand out. If I were to make one criticism of the self-penned 70s material from Midnight Mushrumps onwards, it would be that there wasn’t always a satisfactory resolution to their pieces even though Red Queen to Gryphon Three remains my favourite Gryphon album; I think that some of the compositions lose their way. On the other hand, the first album and ReInvention include music that sticks more closely to a song format with distinct beginnings, middles and ends, like The Unquiet Grave, a traditional tune with a haunting, other-worldly bassoon section and an agreeable ending or even instrumental Hampton Caught from the new release. Part of the reason for this return to early music form must be down to multi-instrumentalist Graham Preskett who first appeared with the band in 2009. With quite a few song-writing credits to his name on ReInvention, his use of violin and mandolin, and a hefty dose of harpsichord patch have pulled the ensemble’s sound back in a more folk-rock direction. Richard did comment that he thought it might have been a bit more rock-y and was surprised that Graeme Taylor didn’t use his Telecaster very much.


Their sound was fairly well balanced from our seating position and though the performance seemed looser than at Claygate where they played more of the full Gryphon repertoire, the clear individual instrumental lines demonstrated the complexity of the music. The one song that didn’t quite work, possibly because of the frequent switches between keyboards and woodwind, was The Euphrates Connection and I was a little disappointed with Hospitality At A Price...(Dennis) Anyone For? – a throwback to 1920’s music that could serve as a sequel to Le Cambrioleur est dans le Mouchoir from Raindance.


The between-song banter, an alleged democratic endeavour shared equally between the members while allowing Brian Gulland and Andy Findon to change instruments, was apparently undermined by humorous interjections from their colleagues. However, we were given to understand that percussionist David Oberlé was dissatisfied with the characters he’d been chose to voice: the serving girl in The Astrologer and the Aged Man in Haddock’s Eyes, amidst suggestions of type-casting! We listened to the CD on Saturday, a beautifully produced album that must have caused huge technical problems getting the right levels for such an array of instruments, and where The Euphrates Connection works perfectly.

Gryphon continue to carve out their own niche with a blend of early music and modern. The crumhorn may be their USP but I’m personally in favour of more bassoon in progressive rock – it has such a beautiful tone – and Gulland’s quotations from Over the Rainbow, Chattanooga Choo-Choo and other well known melodies during Estampie is a great crowd-pleaser. It was a very enjoyable gig and it’s a great CD. Unfortunately for me the vinyl is on its way so I’m going to have to buy that, too!










By ProgBlog, Apr 2 2018 05:14PM

Mythical beast in deepest Surrey – Gryphon at the Claygate Festival, 15 March 2018



Having originally bought Gryphon’s Raindance in 1979, four years after its release, it wasn’t until the CD age that I next added to my medieval-prog collection with the compilation CD The Collection (1991). Their appearance on all four of the BBC Radio channels in the same week following the release of their debut, Gryphon (1973), is oft-quoted, as are the sensationalist Melody Maker headlines from August 1973 about the ‘13th Century Slade’, written by Gryphon champion Chris Welch. I first became interested in the band when they toured with Yes in 1975 and my brother returned from their April performance in Liverpool with the concert programme which included a concise history of the group up to that time (up to Red Queen to Gryphon Three, 1974). I subsequently added a combined CD release of Gryphon plus Midnight Mushrumps (1974), and Red Queen to Gryphon Three and Treason (1977) were birthday and Christmas presents; I began to buy the original albums on second-hand vinyl last year.


Much was made of the idea that Gryphon music was, like the mythical beast itself, hybrid in form, taking in folk, medieval and Renaissance music and by the time of Midnight Mushrumps, acquiring an increasingly progressive rock sensibility; the rationale behind Welch’s Slade comparison was that like Slade, they were simply playing dance music, only dance music that was popular in medieval times and it was undeniable that the ensemble caught the nations collective imagination, offering something to everyone: the infectious jigs for anyone who liked to dance; the early instruments and Royal College of Music credentials for classical music buffs; the interpretation of traditional English songs for folk-lovers; and the way the amplified virtuoso sound struck a chord with prog rock aficionados. Their 70’s high points were appearing with Yes at Madison Square Garden and the Houston Astrodome, and being asked to provide the music for Sir Peter Hall’s National Theatre production of The Tempest at the Old Vic but their brief period in the limelight ended in 1977 after Treason, an album without original guitarist Graeme Taylor and which most corresponds to progressive rock at a time when prog itself was falling out of favour with the general public. I find Treason a little disappointing, possibly because it’s more song-oriented even though the playing remains as good as ever. Following that album, founder, keyboard and recorder player Richard Harvey pursued a career in film and TV soundtracks and Gryphon, for the time, ceased to be. They got back together in 2009 for what was planned as a one-off concert, then returned to sporadic action in 2014, most notably appearing at Cropredy in 2016 and Islington’s Union Chapel later that year, plus a couple of gigs in 2017, though Harvey left the band to concentrate on his other commitments prior to Cropredy.



The current line-up, which I managed to get to see at the Holy Trinity Church in Claygate, making an appearance as part of an ambitious annual festival for a small Surrey village, consists of co-founder Brian Gulland (bassoon, crumhorn), and original members Graeme Taylor (guitar) and Dave Oberlé (percussion, vocals) plus Graham Preskett (keyboards, mandolin, fiddle), Andy Findon (woodwind) and Rory McFarlane (bass guitar.) The set list comprised of favourites from the 70s, possibly biased more towards their eponymous debut plus a couple of tunes (one of which was Rhubarb Crumhorn) very much in the expected fashion, from a new album due out later this year. Their humour, exemplified by the song titles and between song banter easily endears them to a crowd; the encore of Le Cambrioleur est dans le Mouchoir (from Raindance) coupled with Gershwin’s Promenade and Tiger Rag by Original Dixieland Jazz Band was dedicated to Stephen Hawking and Jim Bowen plus, at the suggestion of a member of the audience, Ken Dodd. I was a bit disappointed with the size of the audience: the venue, an unusual Victorian neo-gothic church with twin spires and beautiful beams and nice acoustics, suited the band perfectly but for all the good work of the Claygate Festival organisers, this rather small Surrey village is not best equipped to attract large crowds however highly their acts are regarded, doubly so on a weekday night.



My favourite piece was probably The Unquiet Grave, an English folk song thought to date from the early 15th Century, collected by Francis James Child in 1868 and most famously arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1912. (Obsessive fact: Vaughan Williams spent his childhood at Leith Hill Place, about 20 miles from Claygate). The song has a befittingly haunting melody that makes the hairs on your arms stand up but the Gryphon arrangement has an equally haunting middle section, what I like to think of as the experimental proggy bit, in the same vein as the improvised The Illusion section from King Crimson’s Moonchild. The Astrologer (featuring Gulland’s special hat) provided another example of how well Gryphon handle folk music but the more complex and long-form pieces such as the extract from Midnight Mushrumps and selections from Red Queen to Gryphon Three are brilliant, carefully crafted and superbly executed tracks equal to the best in the prog genre.



This incarnation of the band, a bunch of supremely talented multi-instrumentalists with a keen ear for a good melody and a knack of putting together stunning arrangements (Oberlé’s singing isn’t too bad, either) continue to mix cutting-edge with tradition: the use of iPads in place of sheet music!

I’m going to grab a copy of the new album as soon as it becomes available and go to see them again ASAP. I’d strongly recommend anyone to do the same.










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