Gryphon

TrackAlbum
Sir Gavin GrimboldGryphon
Midnight MushrumpsMidnight Mushrumps
The Ploughboy's DreamMidnight Mushrumps
Opening MoveRed Queen To Gryphon Three
Second SpasmRed Queen To Gryphon Three
LamentRed Queen To Gryphon Three
CheckmateRed Queen To Gryphon Three
Fontinental VersionRaindance
Ein Klein HeldenlebenAbout As Curious As It Can Be
Flash In The PantryTreason

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

Once dubbed ‘The Elizabethan Slade’, Gryphon were a band of multi-instrumentalists, two of whom had graduated from the Royal College of Music. Between 1973 and 1977, amid an array of personnel and style changes, the band recorded five studio albums. In 2002, a collection of BBC session and in concert performances from 1974 and 1975 was issued.

The nickname came from the way in which the band mixed traditional English folk music with medieval and Renaissance influences; they even recorded Pastime With Good Company on their first album with a writing credit of ‘King of England Henry VIII’. Did the royalties end up with our current Queen of England, Elizabeth II? I suspect the addition of “arr. Gryphon” put paid to that.

The original quartet was Brian Gulland (woodwind, keyboards, vocals), Richard Harvey (woodwind, mandolin, vocals), David Oberle (drums, percussion, lead vocals) and Graeme Taylor (guitars, vocals). The eponymous first album – from which I have chosen Sir Gavin Grimbold – is a collection of traditional songs and tunes with a couple of self-penned tracks of which Juniper Suite gave a pointer to the prog-rock future with less emphasis on the crumhorns and other woodwind instruments.

Midnight Mushrumps followed, the name coming from a phrase in “The Tempest”. The band had been commissioned to write music for a Peter Hall production at the Old Vic. The music was used as the basis for the fantasia that is the title track and took up the entire first side of the original album. Gryphon had augmented their sound with bass player Philip Nestor and there was more emphasis on the band’s own compositions. There was still room for The Ploughboy’s Dream which was probably the last Elizabethan inspired track the band recorded.

The quintet then recorded their magnum opus. Red Queen To Gryphon Three is, as the name suggests, a concept album around a game of chess. The album is a suite of four pieces of music – all in the topper-ten – with themes presented, developed and recapitulated in the style of classical music. This is often cited as the band’s best album, and you can hear it in full here.

By the following year, and the release of Raindance, Malcolm Bennett had replaced Philip Nestor and Richard Harvey was mainly playing keyboards. I had the vinyl LP of this with its minimalist sleeve, the subtleties of which are lost in the CD format. Fontinental Version is a complete nonsense lyric but I have loved this song for the best part of 40 years. Ein Klein Heldenleben (A Small Hero’s Life) is loosely based on Richard Strauss’s tonal poem of a similar name and was the closing track of the album. I’ve decided to include the version that is on the BBC compilation, About As Curious As It Can Be, recorded for the BBC In Concert series.

These first four albums are available from Transatlantic Records as CDs with two albums on each; good value for the price of a single album.

Between 1975 and 1977 Graeme Taylor and Malcolm Bennett left the band. Gulland, Oberle and Harvey were joined by Bob Foster (guitars, vocals), Jonathan Davie (bass) and Alex Baird (drums). Tim Sebastian, the inaugural Bard of Bath, contributed lyrics to six of the seven tracks for the final Gryphon album, Treason, from which we end with the humour of Flash In The Pantry.

In late 2007, the band were said to be working on a new album which has yet to appear and, in June 2009, Harvey, Gulland, Taylor and Oberle reformed Gryphon for a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Since then there has been … silence.

 

Gryphon official website

Gryphon biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #319

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