Lee Speaks About Music… #101

The Similitude Of A Dream Live In Tilburg 2017 – The Neal Morse Band

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Introduction…

Well I have been a fan of Neal Morse ever since I first got into the band Transatlantic back in the year 2000. Since then I very much started backtracking on the albums he done with Spock’s Beard and also have followed and collected quite a lot of his solo albums apart from his religious Worship albums that is. I also have most of his live concerts on DVD & Blu Ray he has done particularly with his solo career and like this one with where he has added a band to the end of his name, including the live Transatlantic concerts that were released on DVD.

To be honest because of the way I store my CD’s/DVD’s and Blu Rays on different shelves. I always find myself double (or even treble) checking what I do have or don’t have of  Neal Morse whenever I go and buy something he’s put out. He is perhaps the most artist I have trouble with when ordering anything he puts out, and on many occasions I have nearly ordered something of his I already have. Neal Morse can be very busy at times and can quite often churn out a lot of material with all the projects he is involved in. The fact that I enjoy what he does so much is why I buy a lot of his material including his live concerts which can be highly entertaining to watch.

Though I have to confess that since seeing him live with Transatlantic back in 2010 at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. I would not pay money to go and see him live again. What I find with an awful lot of these newer prog bands is that they tend to drown the audience out by playing way too loud. That was a bad experience I will never forget and since then I have seen other bands like Frost* do exactly the same thing at their live shows. I can honestly say you will not get to hear the real quality of any of those bands live on stage and are way better off by buying the DVD or Blu Ray when it comes out, than paying the price of the ticket to go and see them live.

The Similitude Of A Dream is the 2nd of two albums Neal Morse has written with his main band. It was very much a double album and the original studio version was released back in November 2016. It’s one of his better albums and certainly the best out of the two he has done with his band. Though as to if it can compete with both the albums ? and Sola Scriptura that he done much earlier under his own name. I personally do not think so. However I think this live performance of the album raises the level of the album up a notch more and even works better live than the studio version I feel. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The Blu Ray edition comes in the more thinner version of the plastic case in relation to the normal thicker ones you would get a film in, and they tend to use these thinner cases for music these days. I have to confess I have never a real fan of Blu Ray cases and much prefer the way some artists like Ayreon package their discs in which is more like a cardboard DigiPak the same size as we have here. It’s a lot better presentation and these type of plastic blue cases do look really cheap and flimsy. Even a DVD case is made much more stronger in reality.

However I quite like the hubs that hold the discs in this case and they are a lot easier to retrieve the discs without much effort at all. They are perhaps not the best being as they can quite easily come loose off the hub, especially when being transported, but least they are not like some hubs that hold them a lot tighter that you have the risk of splitting the actual disc if your not too careful retrieving the discs. This presentation is no doubt done on the cheap and you do not even get a booklet with it :))))).

As with most music concerts they covers tend to be a snapshot of the band from the concert. The photography was done by Christophe Pauly and the layout by The Man In The Mountain whoever he may be :))))). All the credits and linear are on the back cover.

The Release Editions…

The Similitude Of A Dream: Live In Tilburg 2017 was released in two editions. The DVD Edition comes with 2 CD’s & 2 DVD’s. The Blu Ray Edition comes with 2 Blu Ray discs only and both are the same price on Neal Morse’s own website to which they are charging $25.00 each. Some other outlets are charging more for the DVD edition than the Blu Ray and I have to say that the price point of these things in my own country I would say are well overpriced.

I opted for the Blu Ray Edition and managed to get it for £14.70 brand new from a third party seller on Amazon called Uniqueplace Dot UK. They themselves were charging more for the DVD edition that came with 2 CD’s & 2 DVD’s and that was priced at £19.82. But I was not interested in having the CD’s and preferred the Blu Ray for my needs. Although the third party may sound like they are based in the UK. They are not at all and you do have to wait a couple weeks for it to arrive.

To be honest I am very wary about using third party’s on Amazon but I have used this seller in the past and the product is the genuine item and brand new, and comes sealed. Some people on ebay are even charging over £19 for the Blu Ray second hand. So it was worth the extra wait to get it at the best price, and for £14.70 that’s a bit of a bargain. Though I certainly do not think it should cost more than £20 for the 2 Blu Ray edition in the first place and £25 at most outlets over here is way above the price it should of retailed at.

The Similitude Of A Dream Live (Blu Ray) In Review…

The Similitude Of A Dream (Live In Tilburg 2017) by The Neal Morse Band was released on the 15th June 2018 and contains the whole of the double album played live along with a couple of tracks from Neal’s earlier solo albums and a couple from their previous album done with his band. The Netherlands is quite a regular jaunt for Neal Morse to pop over from his home country in America, and he has played at the 013 in Tilburg a number of times including with the other project bands he has been involved in over the years.

The venue itself is quite popular with most prog rock bands due to its smaller capacity to which many prog bands could not fill much bigger venues and the only bigger events you may get to see them at is more of and outdoor venues in a festival sort of thing along with a bunch of other acts.

To be honest an outdoor festival may very well be the best place to see these kind of more newer prog rock bands, simply because in an open field you can pick your own spot to get the best sound, rather than them playing at ridiculous volume levels like they do in these smaller indoor venues. When I say newer prog rock bands I am referring to those who came out much later than the 70’s just like Neal Morse who first started out with Spock’s Beard back in the 90’s.

I have never seen any prog rock band who came out in the 70’s play at the ridiculous volume levels these idiots play at, not even in the smaller venues like they play at today either. I seen many back in the 70’s play at the Odeon New Street in my own town of Birmingham which is pretty much the same size venue I seen Transatlantic live at Shepherds Bush. They was loud, but never that loud that you could not make out what the bloody band was playing like they do at them, and the musicians sounding out of tune with one another because the sound was bouncing off all the walls in the place.

The whole concert is spread out over the 2 Blu Ray discs and this as to be the first concert ever I have brought of anything of Neal’s that does not come with any extras in the way of bonus footage. As a rule he videos everything and sticks hours of extra footage on them, you even get to see him and the band eat lunch :)))))) but this one does not even have any backstage footage and comes with Zilch. Maybe the Slough’s they had on the stage and in the audience ate the extra footage :)))))).

Blu Ray 1.

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The main menu opens up with an animated picture of the book. The menu itself is simple and easy enough and only gives you 2 options which are “Play All” and “Song Selection”. The Blu Ray only comes with 1 soundtrack which is just your basic stereo LPCM 48/16 format and not a Blu Ray HD audio format at all.

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By clicking on the “Song Selection” it gives you the choice to choose from any track from all the songs that are contained on the 1st disc. It also plays a slide show of a few pictures that ran on the screen at the back of the stage during the live concert.

The first disc comes with 13 tracks in total, the first of which is an introduction that is followed by the 12 tracks that were on the original 1st disc of the studio album, and it has an overall playing time of 54 minutes, 45 seconds.

Blu Ray 2.

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As you can see from the picture above the 2nd disc opens up with a different animated menu screen which shows some different pictures that appeared throughout the show.  Once again you get the same 2 options to choose from.

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“Song Selection” menu shows you all the songs you have to choose from the 2nd disc and you get a slide show of some more different pictures that came from the backdrop they showed during the show. The menus are pretty good, however the fact that it comes with only 1 audio format and very little options has me thinking was it worth putting this concert on Blu Ray :)))))).

The second disc contains the 11 tracks that were originally on the 2nd studio album, plus 4 tracks they played in the way of an encore. This disc comes with an overall playing time of 93 minutes, 35 seconds.

The Picture & Sound Quality.

Well no doubt the sound quality which I have already mentioned is certainly not up to the standards or even fitting for a Blu Ray disc. So is the picture any better? To be perfectly honest no it’s not at all, and there is no real difference between buying the Blu Ray or the DVD. This has most likely been filmed on non HD cameras, put on a DVD and transferred to Blu Ray. If it was filmed with HD cameras they were not the best by a long shot, and this is not what I would call a pristine picture either that you would get with most Blu Rays that have been filmed with quality cameras.

You can very much get the same by playing a DVD in a Blu Ray player simply because it up-scales the picture and that is more or less the quality we have on this Blu Ray. The only real advantage of buying this concert on Blu Ray over the DVD is really down to the fact that you can get it cheaper and nothing really more I am afraid.

But that is not to say that what we have here is really bad at all, and the picture quality is without doubt still very good and so too is the sound even if it is in a much lower audio format and there is no 5.1 mix here. To be honest judging by the 5.1 mixes that have been done in the past for both Neal Morse’s and Transatlantic DVD’s. I honestly do not think you will missing a thing. Simply because the guys who have done the 5.1 mixes in the past have not got a clue how to mix a concert in 5.1 :))))). Thankfully they do a pretty decent job with the stereo mix.

Musicians & Credits…

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Recorded live at the 013 Tilburg on the 2nd April 2017. Sound Engineer Rich Mouser. Stage Technician Christian Kuhn. Lighting Director Mateusz Dudar. Camera Operators John Vis. Meriam Verkleij. Geert Jan Schoonbeek. Olivier Dague. Christelle Herbette. Studio Mix by Eric Gillette. Video Content Christian Rios. Photography by Christophe Pauly. Layout The Man In The Mountain. Tour Manager Daniel Schindler.

Musicians:
Neal Morse: Vocals/Keys/Guitar.
Mike Portnoy: Drums/Vocals.
Bill Hubauer: Keyboards/Mandolin/Sax/Vocals.
Eric Gillette: Guitar/Vocals.
Randy George: Bass/Bass Pedals/Vocals.

The Concert In Review…

The Similitude Of A Dream live tour kicked off in North America in the first month of 2017 and Neal and the band played 17 concerts over there between January 14th – February 7th. They also played a total of 17 concerts on the European tour between March 22nd – April 9th along with 2 more shows. The first being Israel on the 12th of April and at the Rosfest in Pennsylvania USA on the 6th of May.

The concert we have here was filmed at the 013 Tilburg in the Netherlands during their European tour on the 2nd of April 2017. The 013 Tilburg is the largest and most popular music venue in the southern region of the Netherlands.

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The venue is named after its postcode 013 and contains 2 concert halls inside the complex. The smallest of them holds a capacity of 700 people whilst the largest of the two holds up to 3,000 and the larger of the two is where the Neal Morse Band played. The venue originally opened up back in 1998 and in 2011 the director Guus van Hove of the 013 died of heat exposure along with his girlfriend in the Californian Joshua Tree National Park. He had gone there to try and find the tree that was on U2’s album cover of their 1987 album The Joshua Tree.

Although it’s a bit of a misconception to people thinking that the tree was actually in the Joshua Tree National Park and it is in fact 200 miles away from it. The tree also fell in the year 2000 and the only thing that remains on the spot is a plaque that someone planted in the ground bearing the words “Have you found what you’re looking for?” in reference to the song from the album “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For“. Though it is still a popular attraction for tourists.

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The concert opens up like a film with it’s introduction with the orchestral music and the picturesque landscape showing the names of the band that are featuring in the show. They have certainly made a big thing out of the show and it adds a nice touch. Though by the rather nice scenery I wouldn’t of minded watching a film like this, especially with that poor chap whose locked up in the cage :)))))).

After the rather big orchestral intro Neal Morse pops on the screen in a hooded jacket with the hood over his head, looking like he’s just come back from a Klu Klux Clan party :))))). Only it’s all dark and in the darkness his robe does look black, although later on it does appear to be white unless he has 2 of them. He starts off singing the opening track of the album “Long Day” unaccompanied which sets the opening scene of the story to the album and the band explode into action with its musical overture which picks things up very well indeed.

Throughout the show Morse uses masks, cloaks (hooded jackets) and a torch to try an portray and put across the story, and although it may appear a bit odd for him to do this, he’s not usually the Peter Gabriel kind of guy for using such things as a rule. To be honest with him having an hood on it reminds me of the cover of his Sola Scriptura album he done back in 2007. But the one thing I have always admired about Neal Morse is the fact he always puts his heart and soul into the performance and lets himself go.

He always gives it 100% and I could see that when I seen him live with Transatlantic back in 2010. Even though that show was hampered by ridiculous volume levels, there was no doubt both he and the band were giving it all in the performance, and I could see that just by looking at them. I see it in every live concert I have of his on DVD and Blu Ray as well and they are quite exciting to watch.

Since leaving Spock’s Beard back in 2002 Morse became a born again Christian and tends to focus even the prog rock side of his albums with his lyrics around Christianity and Religion. No doubt for some it may put them off, but I myself have never really paid to much attention to the lyrics in the biggest majority of concept and albums, and for me the music will always come first.

To be honest no matter how many times I have read the story behind The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis I still cannot really tell you what it’s about, apart from it’s about some schizo off his head on acid :))))). Yet I still regard that concept album as the best there as ever been. The music and the way the lyrics are expressed is what rocks my boat and even amongst Morse’s lyrics you will quite often find something to grab you and latch onto. As like the song in this concept story the “City Of Destruction“. You can make your own world out of it, and get off on that.

The Similitude Of A Dream is based around The Pilgrim’s Progress which is basically a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan back in 1678. Bunyan was very much into religion and was imprisoned a few times basically because he would not stop preaching. He was first sentenced to 3 months in prison but as he refused to give up preaching it was extended to 12 years. They had certain stricter laws back England in those days unlike we have today, and Bunyan was basically preaching something more along the lines of Catholic religion which was still forbidden around that time down to King Henry VIII bringing in the Church of England in the previous century.

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Even after he came out he went back in again for another short spell. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress whilst he was inside prison, and he wrote it in a metaphoric way around characters, places and events to deliver a broader message about the real world and events that were going on in it. To be honest even though John Bunyan may of been some religious nut, the story we have here that Morse portrays is perhaps less religious than most of his albums, and we have some quite interesting characters in this one.

It’s perhaps something more like an autobiography of Bunyan’s life being locked up for preaching sort of thing. Like I say I do not really pay too much attention to the lyrics, and I have never read The Pilgrim’s Progress either and merely just read up on a bit of history about it all. But no doubt the lyrics that Morse has written around the subject matter are very well put into context to be able to dramatise it all in perhaps more of an exciting way. I suppose they beef it up that much more and Morse always makes it that more convincing in how he delivers it all. Just as well they do not lock people up for preaching these days, otherwise you will not be seeing another Neal Morse concert for a long while :))))))).

The other thing I quite like about this particular concert is that Morse has utilised his band very well for even them to play a part in the vocal duties, and the guitarist Eric Gillette also has a really great voice to project and portray the lyrics just as well as Morse can do himself. The band do a grand job on all the harmonies and even both Bill Hubauer and Mike Portnoy take on some of the lead vocals on some of the songs too.

What I enjoy a lot about Morse’s music are the musical interludes between the songs and this is really where the prog rock side of things comes into play allowing the musicians more freedom with the interplay and interaction between each other. A lot of the actual songs you will find in a lot of his concept albums are written in the way of normal singer songwriter songs or rock songs, and that’s basically how everything is all pieced together. None of his albums are really one continuous song not even a massive long song such as The Whirlwind he done with Transatlantic.

The Similitude Of A Dream album is certainly no exception either and is written in the same way. But how it’s all pieced and woven together works very well, but in reality a lot of the actual songs are certainly verse and chorus structured just like any song in reality. It’s not exactly what Yes done with a song like “Close To The Edge” for example to which even though it was pieced together with many parts, it works perfectly like one song. But what you do get with an album such as this, is certainly plenty of variety.

The other thing you get with this live concert is some pretty amazing musicianship, and let’s face it just how many artists out there can play a quite complex album like this live in its entirety, and that’s something Neal Morse does with the biggest majority of his albums. To be honest I do not even think Yes have played Tales From The Topographic Oceans in its entirety live on stage. Though no doubt they could play the whole album “Close To The Edge” live blind folded. But of course for any band to be able to pull it all off takes plenty of practice and rehearsing and they have to put in the hours just like Neal Morse and his band have here.

The whole concert is near enough 2 and half hours long and it’s perhaps just as well its been put on 2 discs in 2 parts. I am not saying I cannot sit here for 2 and half hours in one sitting, though it’s perhaps something not many of us could do all the time. So watching it in 2 parts is perhaps more convenient to fit in the time. For this review I am not really going to be taking you through all the tracks, and merely pinpoint very few highlights at all of the tracks and discuss more about the overall production and how it’s been filmed.

I would expect most people who brought this live concert would already have the studio album like myself anyway. But what I will say is that they have certainly done the album justice by this live performance, even if I do not think it’s the best live concert I have by Neal Morse and what I mean mainly by that, is how the concert as been filmed. For example you have 5 cameras filming the show and although I cannot fault the editing, because that is very good. Especially with how they pointed to the individual members of the band when they have their individual moments throughout the concert. But quite often the cameras are focused way too far away from the stage.

Effectively with how it’s been shot you could say it was like being at the concert, where you are struggling yourself to see them on stage if you are not close enough to the stage. But with any concert you buy on DVD or Blu Ray this is something you should not have this problem at all with. And it should be shot in a way where you can see everything more closely just like the difference you would get with watching a live game of football at the ground and watching it on TV. You will always see it a lot more clearer on the TV even if it cannot quite capture the live atmosphere of actually being there.

And before you start thinking perhaps they filmed it this way to try and make it look and sound more like the real live experience. I am sorry to say both the sound and picture quality is quite a margin away from being able to do that, and this is not even good enough to put it on a Blu Ray in the first place. They may just as well of put it out on DVD and CD only. I am not saying that the concert is extremely bad, but regarding the sound and picture quality of his other concerts I have on DVD. They are better.

To be honest I have always preferred to watch a live concert rather than just have it on audio and listen to it, and with today’s technology of Blu Ray and 5.1 they have come on in leaps and bounds and you can get more near the real concert experience, which is something that was never possible years ago. But with this concert you may as well just have it on a CD or a vinyl record, and this is not like most quality Blu Ray concerts that you can put in your player and listen to through your system without having to twiddle around with various settings to get it to sound anywhere near good.

My personal favourite parts are like I mentioned earlier are very much the instrumental tracks such as “Overture“. “The Slough” and so on and musical intervals they play between the songs, but the more stand out songs are perhaps those that do reoccur throughout the concert such as “City Of Destruction” and “Broken Sky” for example. Both “The Man In The Iron Cage” and “The Mask” are also great songs and the latter of those two where Morse actually puts on a mask (Though he does put on the mask much earlier on in the show too) is perhaps another bad example of how far the cameras are too away. Simply because you can hardly make out what the hell he is wearing :)))))).

The 4 tracks you get in the way of an encore are perhaps quite an unusual choice. Although both “The Call” and “Agenda” may not be as much being as they was both from the previous album Morse did with his band The Grand Experiment. You also get “Author of Confusion” from the One album he done back in 2004 and the self titled track from his 2012 album “Momentum“. But nothing from his days with Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic to which you would of got on his other concerts. I perhaps missed something from those two bands he was with as well, and some of those songs were classics in relation to the ones he chose here. But I suppose it’s something different and the band do a GREAT! job of them too.

Summary…

To sum up the Blu Ray edition of The Similitude Of A Dream: Live In Tilburg 2017 by The Neal Morse Band. The first thing I can honestly say regarding both the Blu Ray and DVD editions, is that in this case you may be better off buying the DVD that comes with 2 CD’s. Because in all honesty the Blu Ray does not give you a better picture and sound quality and it’s a bit of a farce putting it on Blu Ray in the first place.

I doubt very much that the concert was filmed in High Definition, and if it was the cameras they used were pretty basic and not really good enough to do a decent enough job of it in the first place. You get no HD sound quality formats either and regarding the sound quality it’s much more better suited to headphones. Overall this is not a concert that measures up to the higher standards Blu Ray can give to you, and is more fitting to the DVD market.

The DVD is also the better package, and in reality although they are priced up at the same price on Neal’s website, I can perhaps see why other outlets are charging more for the DVD edition. Though I must say for all those idiots in my own country who think that 25 American dollars is 25 British pound, and are charging that ridiculous price. That I am sorry to say is way over it’s price point.

25 US dollars is just over £19 here in England and in reality even considering I got the Blu Ray for £14.70 it’s not really a bargain at that price. I personally think the Blu Ray should cost between £12 – £14 even though it comes with 2 discs, simply because this is not up to genuine Blu Ray standards, and the DVD with 2 CD’s should be priced between £18 – £20. And those are more of a GENUINE HONEST PRICE for the both products.

Conclusion…

I am going to conclude my review about the concert rather than the formats its been released on, and even though it may appear in my review that concert was not filmed very well and is perhaps not up to the standards of Morse’s previous concerts he has released. Not by any means should those factors put you off. Simply because this is still very much a concert that can be enjoyed, and I also think that this live version of The Similitude Of A Dream is certainly more exciting than the studio version of the double album, and Neal and his band do a remarkable job of presenting it all to you.

During the time I spent over the last few days of writing this review. I have noticed that Neal Morse just announced that the Morsefest concert from 2017 is being released on the 2nd of November and it is available to pre-order from the 18th September. This is a concert that once again features Neal and the band playing The Similitude Of A Dream again plus Testimony 2 and a few other epics they have never played before.

For this release it also includes a 5.1 Soundtrack and in DTS as well. Though I have to confess regarding any release Morse puts out I would not be expecting too much from the 5.1 multi surround mix and no doubt that will not be as good as the stereo mix either. Simply because he uses engineers who do not have a clue how to do a 5.1 mix :)))))). Just like this release it’s also being released on both DVD and Blu Ray exactly the same way this release was.

But it also comes with a 2,000 copies limited exclusive edition to which you get a 50 page Artbook. 2 Blu Rays. 2 DVD’s and 4 CD’s. No doubt at a very expensive price as well :)))). There is no doubt it may look nice but I think having the concert once is enough for me, and I do not need it on Blu Ray and DVD. If this is filmed by the same camera crew I shall not bother with the Blu Ray this time around and pre-order the DVD.

But does one really need all these concerts? Well my answer to that is certainly not at all. But what I will say is that no concert is alike and hopefully this just might be better than this one I have just purchased. I would even say that if your thinking of getting this concert I have just reviewed. It may be worth hanging on a bit and get the Morsefest one instead. But overall I do enjoy a good live concert and no doubt Neal Morse does put his whole soul and spirit into his performances and I enjoy the experience even more so than the studio versions, even if they may not be as well recorded.

For I Have Seen The Broken Sky Turn Blue…

The 2 Blu Ray listing is as follows:

Disc 1 (Total Time 54:45)
01. Intro.
02. Long Day.
03. Overture.
04. The Dream.
05. City Of Destruction
06. We Have Got To Go.
07. Makes No Sense.
08. Draw The Line.
09. The Slough.
10. Back To The City.
11. The Ways Of A Fool.
12. So Far Gone.
13. Breath Of Angels.

Disc 2 (Total Time 1:33:35)
01. Slave To Your Mind.
02. Shortcut To Salvation.
03. The Man In The Iron Cage.
04. The Road Called Home.
05. Sloth.
06. Freedom Song.
07. I’m Running.
08. The Mask.
09. Confrontation.
10. The Battle.
11. Broken Sky / Long Day (Reprise).
Encore:
12. Momentum.
13. Author of Confusion.
14. Agenda.
15. The Call.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 5/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Picture Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Audio Rating Score. 6/10.

Lee’s Live Concert Rating Score. 8/10.

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Lee Speaks About Music… #100

Garden Shed (Golden Edition) – England

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Introduction…

Well I stumbled on this classic album from 1977 thanks to a guy by the name of Yoshiyuki Ooseki who had posted it in the PROG ON group on Facebook. It’s not that often I come across such Gems I missed out on back in that golden prog rock decade of the 70’s especially when it’s a band that came out of my own country. But apparently this is one of those albums that got released at a time when Punk Rock had raised its ugly head, and got very little promotion simply because the music scene was changing.

So for the band who went by the name of their own country England the timing of their one and only debut album Garden Shed that got released back then was certainly not in their favour. Had it of been released a few years earlier, it may have been a completely different story for the band, and by now I dare say they would of been far more successful and this album may have gone Platinum by now in sales.

I have to confess for the name of a prog rock band England may have been a bit of a crazy name to choose, especially has most people may have mistook it as something more associated with the football team, but when it comes to being crazy how many keyboard players do you know who would saw an authentic Mellotron from the 60’s in half :)))))). Well before I go any further, let’s take a look at the artwork and packaging as per usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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There have been quite a few reissues of the album over the years and I opted to go for one of the more recent releases which is the Golden Edition which comes with 2 CD’s and was released in Germany in 2015. This particular edition comes with the 1997 remaster of the original album on the 1st CD which was remastered by King Crimson’s engineer Tony Arnold. The 2nd CD contains bonus material which consists of old and newer material some of which no doubt has been released on other editions and was remastered by Robert Webb.

It comes in a 3 panel very well quality made cardboard DigiPak with plastic trays to hold the discs in place and a pocket to store the booklet. The booklet is a generous 28 page one and contains all the lyrics, credits and linear production notes along with some pictures. It’s quite informative too and is a very well made package overall.

For those who are after this Golden Edition I do seriously suggest you to shop around, simply because some sellers are wanting an arm and a leg for it. The cheapest price on Amazon was £29.99 and no way on this earth is any 2 CD Set worth that much. Others were charging as much as a £100 for it. I managed to get mine off ebay brand new for £17.99 and it arrived the very next day after I ordered it. It also came sealed and was the genuine item. So do not fall for these idiots who want ridiculous money for it.

The Artwork.

The albums original artwork was of a painting done by Mike Cosford who was a new up and coming artist at the time and had recently done the artwork for the various artist prog rock album Peter And The Wolf. Another excellent album and well worth sorting after too. Webb suggested to Cosford that he wanted the artwork to be based around the label that Robertson’s put on their jars of marmalade.

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His reasoning behind wanting the artwork based around the label is that a shed could be seen in a sense a form of something that could be about produce. For example you can store the garden tools in it that can be used in the garden to grow produce. The same as the shed could be used for other activities mostly men got up to and some may have even brewed their own beer in it or grew tomatoes and other things in it.

The fact the brand name Golden Shred rhymed with shed and it’s label could pertain to be seen as an earlier and better English social climate is what Webb seen in it. Mike Cosford also went on to do the artwork for the pop band Erasure. The photography for the other pictures in the booklet was done by Joolz Hooker, Karen McKenna, Maggie Alexander, Stephanie Mackrill, Sue Arber, and Warren Page.

A Brief Bit of England’s History…

Well it’s just as well that this bit of brief of history is about the name of the band and not the country, otherwise I would be here for an eternity :)))). The band England were formed in 1975 by Mark Ibbotson who was the bands drummer at the time, the other members of that incarnation of the band were bassist Martin Henderson, guitarist Jamie Moses and keyboardist Robert Webb. Both Webb and Henderson had previously collaborated on an unreleased album and it was not long after the band had played a few gigs at the Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone Kent the guitarist Jamie Moses decided to quit the band and was replaced by guitarist Frank Holland.

In the following year in March 1976 having just played a showcase gig that resulted in the band getting a contract with Arista Records. The very guy who formed the band Mark Ibbotson and gave it the name, decided to leave straight away. He was replaced by drummer Jode Leigh and the new line up of the band spent the rest of the year rehearsing and recording new material for an album for Arista Records. But the one thing Ibbotson did leave behind when he left, was his MK II Mellotron and has to what happened to it is quite a very interesting story.

When the keyboard player Robert Webb got together with Mark Ibbotson back in 1975 Ibbotson happened to mention to Webb that he had a MKII Mellotron and Webb took an interest in it and thought it could open up a few more possibilities for the band. They even used it at a couple of the gigs they played at the The Hazlett Theatre back in 1975. But humping something like that around was a bit to much has it took 4 guys to carry it. Another fascinating thing is that when Webb asked Ibbotson where he got it from, he told him he brought it off the parents of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Though it’s never actually been proven Webb thought that Ibbotson had no reason to lie.

It’s believed that each member of the Rolling Stones owned a Mellotron at one time or another, and there are numerous photographs that support this. There’s even a MkII under glass at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, with a plaque that claims that this was Brian Jones’s instrument. However, its provenance is unproven, and it’s more likely that this is one of the other instruments owned or used by the band during their brief ‘oh my god, how can we possibly compete with Sgt Pepper?’ era sort of thing :)))))).

The Mellotron Brian Jones original brought was thought to be the ninth Mellotron to be made, and it was actually made in December 1963 and was originally an MKI Mellotron. Only 55 MKI’s were ever dispatched from the factory to Mellotronics in January 1964. Although the Mellotron was retained as the company’s demonstrator and upgraded to MkII specification in March 1965 and it was a MKII when Jones had originally brought it. No paper records no longer exist to really prove it.

Mellotron_MKII

MKII Mellotron

As you can see from the photo above the MKII Mellotron is quite a beast and the fact that it was to heavy to cart around all the time, its most likely why when Ibbotson left the band he most likely left it behind with the band. Though later on in the 70’s the MKII had very much gone out of fashion since the arrival of the MK 400 to which most prog rock bands were using by now. Robert Webb would of no doubt would of preferred to have an MK 400 Mellotron but there was no way he or the band could afford to buy one. The MKII was way to heavy even for him to cart around so he decided to cut it in half and do some of his own modifications to it.

Luckily for Webb he had a fascination for modifying things since he was 14 years old, though not everything he did quite worked out as they was supposed to and were that successful. Although an MKII Mellotron may look like it’s an easy task to saw in half being as it has two keyboards, it’s far from anything as simple as that. It’s also just as well that he also had brushed up and improved on his electronics knowledge to which he did by reading the Electronics Today International Magazine and by taking lots of things to bits.

By 1976, it had become normal for Webb to modify almost every instrument he owned. But quite often his own modifications did not exactly end up looking that good. But he was not really bothered how it looked as long as it worked.

HalfATron_02-BRHMlLS2QRNWV_tJyQezCTX4WgUZJT2n

The Half Tron

Well as you can see this hardly a nice piece of furniture any more that would of looked nice in anyone’s home after Webb got his hands on it :))))). To do the job he had to put the one keyboard in another cabinet. and it even looks more like something that you would of seen Keith Emerson sticking knives in and throwing about all over the stage :)))). Although it did look a bit better than the photo of it here and the cabinet was newly painted black with fresh paint. He even called it Black Melly and it was dubbed by many as the Half Tron.

But nevertheless this is very much quite unique and the only Half Tron in existence. As for the other half of the MKII. It ended up in a skip. Black Melly featured throughout the bands 1977 debut album Garden Shed. Whether it really was originally Brian Jones’s MKII Mellotron or not, it was certainly a fascinating story, and the story does not end here either, because after the album was made the band split up and he eventually ended up selling Black Melly to Dillon Tonkin of Quasar in 1982.

Some 21 years later in 2003 he received a phone call from the very person he sold it too. Asking if he was interested in buying a broken Mellotron he had in his garden shed.  Black Melly was in very bad condition though he took it home and called Martin Smith and John Bradley at Streetly Electronics and told them what he had bought. They immediately offered to collect it to see whether it could be resurrected. A decade later in 2013 Black Melly had finally been given a new rebirth and I have to say it looks very much a pretty picture now.

Black Melly

For the full story of Black Melly’s complete history you can find it by clicking on the link below and it was published in 2015 in the Sound On Sound Magazine. A magazine I used to buy myself many moons ago, and I wish I still had kept the mags I brought as well. https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/restoration-mellotron-halfatron

After the release of the bands debut album Garden Shed the band did go back into the studio to record more material and paid for the recording session themselves at Surrey Sound Studios. By this time the bands bass player Martin Henderson had already left the band and went to join the Jeff Beck band for his live tour of America. He was replaced by Jaffa and even though they did record more material it was not really completed enough to make a 2nd album. However they did make another album out of it and titled it The Last Of The Jubblies. It was finally released some 20 years later in 1997.

By the autumn of 1978 the band very much decided to call it a day and split up. Although in 1983 the bands guitarist Frank Holland got back together with the bands original drummer Mark Ibbotson and they recorded a couple of singles under the bands name of England. Both were released on the Jet Records “Victoriana” in 1983 and “The London Story” in 1984.

All the members from the band still stayed in the music business one way or another. For example in 1985 Mark Ibbotson became the manager of The Pretty Things and as managed the band ever since. The bands first guitarist Jamie Moses went on to work with Brian May of Queen and has been May’s rhythm guitarist since 1992. He was even part of the bands live touring guitarist when Queen got together with Paul Rogers and has played as a session guitarist for an array of well known artists over the years.

In 2006 both keyboard player Robert Webb and bass player Martin Henderson got back together and formed another incarnation of England along with guitarist Alec Johnson, drummer Steve Laffy and Maggie Alexander on vocals & keyboards to play a live concert in Kikimimi in Japan. They played near enough all the material from their debut album the Garden Shed and a few other songs besides. A live album on CD was also released in the same year on Strange Days Records.

More recently last year a Box Of Circles was released on Green Tree Records on CD and Vinyl. Though this is a compilation album and contains tracks that were never on their debut album and other tracks that got released on other albums over the years to which are more neo contemporary classical style and is completely different to their norm.

The Album In Review…

The original album Garden Shed by England was released sometime way back in 1977. The album contains 6 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 35 seconds. Way over the allocated time slot to fit on a vinyl record and from listening to some of vinyl recordings of the tracks on Youtube some of them are quite muffled and suffer for it. Though I do not have the original vinyl album at all, but knowing from experience of vinyl recordings an album this long is genuinely going to suffer because of vinyl restrictions, and they overstepped the mark by trying to cram far too much onto it. Resulting in deterioration of the genuine quality of the master tape.

Though to be perfectly honest even though the CD does get rid of all the muffled dirt the vinyl album would of had, I personally think the CD could of been done better. I think it also may of been down to further mastering process that Robert Webb applied to it on top of Tony Arnold’s remastering work that may very well be to blame as well. No doubt the recording on the CD is very clear and very good, but it does sound a bit too high and light and as certainly lost some of it’s weight in comparison to the tracks that have not been effected on the vinyl album.

The 2nd CD that comes in the Golden Edition contains 8 tracks and has an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 51 seconds. This could be seen as a bit of a mixed bag because it contains a live recording from their Live In Japan album from 2006 and some other tracks the band wrote with various line ups as well as the original line up on the original album. it also includes some of the tracks that Robert Webb wrote for his own album Liquorish Allsorts. So there is nothing new regarding the material you are getting here. But if like myself you never had it, no doubt it would be new and seen as a bonus.

The material for the original album was written by the individual members of the band and recorded in various places by themselves on a multi track Revox Reel To Reel Tape Recorder to which they would share out with each other along with their instruments to record. Though they all agreed that all the writing credits should go to the band rather than be credited individually to themselves. The final recordings were done in the studio with the use of the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio at first and then completed at both Air and Morgan Studios in London.

It’s also said that although the original vinyl album was released in a single sleeve they wanted it to be released in a gatefold sleeve and had all the additional artwork for it at the time. But the record company wanted to get the album out and could not wait. But when it was released the album contained some information on the sleeve to which for the price of £1 you could send for a special booklet. Though all those who did send for it never received it, and the booklet never got as far as going to print. The money was never refunded back either to those who had sent for it either, and very much went to help the band out.

Musicians & Credits…

Band

Creative Director Robert Webb. Recorded on the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio in Maidstone and at Air and Morgan Studios in London & various other studios. Recording Engineers Robin Freeman & Robert Webb. Executive Producer Bernd Bruhn. Artwork Painting by Mike Cosford. Design, Layout & Typography by Diedrich Ausprunk & Nanette Consovoy. Photography by Joolz Hooker, Karen McKenna, Maggie Alexander, Stephanie Mackrill, Sue Arber, and Warren Page. Linear Notes by Maggie Alexander & Robert Webb. Remastered by Tony Arnold & Robert Webb.

Musicians.

Frank Holland: Guitars/Vocals/Mellotron/Leslie Guitar (On Yellow).
Robert Webb: Mini Moog/Hammond/Harpsichord/Mellotron/Fender Rhodes/Piano/Hohner Clavinet/12 String Guitar (On Yellow) Vocals.
Martin Henderson: Bass/Acoustic Guitar (On Yellow)/Vocals.
Jode Leigh: Drums/Vibes/Percussion/Bass (On Yellow)/Vocals.

The Album Tracks In Review…

When the album Garden Shed was released like I mentioned earlier the record company gave the album very little promotion, and it was just before the album was released that a new managing director of the company was put in place and he had no real interest in those artists that his predecessor had signed up. The only bit of promotion it did get was a full page AD in both the Melody Maker and NME. The Melody Maker described the band as Yes in a Toy Shop and no doubt there are some resemblances to Yes and Genesis on this album and many others too.

Because we have 2 CD’s in this Golden Edition I shall take on the both discs individually starting with the main album first and the bonus disc straight after it in my review here. So let’s take a deeper look at the material we have on both discs.

Disc 1. Main Album.

Track 1. Midnight Madness.

The album gets off to flying start with it’s opening track and was written by the bands keyboard player Robert Webb. The intro he done on his mini moog which you could only use one voice at a time and was recreated from the Revox multi track tape recorder version he recorded before going in the studio. They never had a sequencer back then and he started from the harp like sound which was used throughout the track. Even the fine orchestral brass section was done on the same mini moog.

The piece builds up well from its intro and then vocals come into play and the song opens up and is quite a majestic bit of prog heaven of a track. I cannot be sure but I think Robert Webb was also the bands main vocalist, though no doubt all the band are joining in on the harmonies in a lot of the songs on this a really GREAT! album. The band certainly have a strong back line with both Martin Henderson on bass and Jode Leigh on drums and in some respects it’s a bit like listening to Chris Squire and Bill Bruford.

Robert Webb does some outstanding keyboard work on this track and throughout the album, and even though this band do have some Yes influences, the music is actually more structured around the keyboards in the same way early Genesis could be at times with there more heavier and powerful tracks unlike the acoustic tracks they also done.

So this is not a band like Yes where the guitarist has a lot more to say like Steve Howe did for example in that band, and it’s not an album where a guitarist like Frank Holland is really going to stand out like Howe got too, or even Steve Hackett got to shine on some occasions, and you will have to listen more closely for the guitar because just like Genesis the keyboards have more of a dominant feature along with the bass and drums.

No doubt some of the vocals and harmonies are a dominant feature with this band, and they are really excellent. There are times  in particular when the harmonies are Yes like, but I hear all other sorts of bands with their vocals and they can even be like 10CC, Queen and even Sparks at times.

No doubt all 4 members of this band have great vocal qualities about them. There is even a couple of tracks on this album that do remind me more like Yes was a bit further on down the line in their career and not before this album was made, and this track is one of them with part of its musical structure.

For example the back beat or back line of this song in parts very much remind me a bit like “Into The Lens” that both Geoff Downes & Trevor Horn wrote a few later on and featured on Yes’s 1980 Drama album. It may not perhaps that evident with this song, but there is a song further on this album that I would certainly say that Yes may have heard and ripped part of it off :)))))).

I quite the lyrics to this song as well and they are very fascinating and very well written. It tells the story of a strange person who was in possession of a pocket watch that gave immortality to whoever was the owner of it. It’s all about being caught up in the mythical midnight madness of time sort of thing and it really is a superb piece of work and song that contains bags of chord progression and diversity. It’s also a very strong contender for the top spot on the album, and to be honest there are some tracks on this album that make it very difficult to choose a personal favourite.

Track 2. All Alone (Introducing).

The shortest track on the album is another one that Robert Webb wrote and the fact that it contains the word “Introducing” in brackets may very well suggest that it’s either introducing himself because it features him alone on piano and vocals, or it may be introducing the next track on the album, because it runs straight into it.

This short ballad is perhaps something you could perhaps associate with ELP’s Keith Emerson & Greg Lake in the way it’s put over with the fine piano and vocals. It’s a nice enough little ditty of a song that tones the album down nicely enough over the its 1 minute and 46 second time slot and works very well as an interval between the other material on the rest of the album.

Track 3. Three Piece Suite.

This is a piece that once again was written by Webb and it was actually written back in 1975 and even played live back than when the band were a 3 piece outfit with Mark Ibbotson on drums along the both Webb on keys and Henderson on bass. It was developed more over the following 2 years and I have to say the end result we have here is quite spectacular enough for me to merit it with top spot award of the album.

Strangely enough that first incarnation of the band England with those same 3 members also wrote and recorded a 24 minute epic track entitled “The Imperial Hotel” that never seen the light of day till 2006 when they played at that live gig in Japan. They also played a 10 minute version of it live at that show and gave the original 24 minute epic that was recorded back in 1975 away for free in the form of a 1 track EP at the concert and in the form of a digital download for their fan base on their website.

Unfortunately the website no longer exists and the only way you have of getting hold of it would be by selling a kidney ;)))))). I dare say to somebody who has it would be asking the price of the Queens Jewels for it :))))). From the reviews I read about it, it was not that well recorded and being as I could not hear it for myself and had no way of getting hold of it. I did find it on Youtube and gave it a blast and I quite liked enough to even download it illegally.

Naughty me but if the band want money for it, they should re-release it on an EP or even put it on a compilation album, and I would gladly buy it. But no way am paying silly money for it, especially for something that was given away in the first place.

Getting back to the song “Three Piece Suite” the song goes down quite a few roads with the progression and transitional changes that is along its path. The opening is very early Genesis like even if it’s got birds singing away in it like “Close To The Edge” by Yes. But when the vocals come into play they are perhaps more Yes like but like many songs on this album like I said before, they have so many different vocal phrases and styles they can sound quite like many bands.

For example you even hear some of the softer and sweeter vocals you may find in The Alan Parsons Project or Barclay James Harvest along the section that follows Frank Holland’s lead guitar solo where Martin Henderson’s bass gets a dominant feature also in this vocals section that runs between the 6.00 – 7:50 minute mark. But even more reminiscent are the vocal lines that accompany the up-tempo section that follows that section with the piano and organ, and the vocals that do come into play to the melody at the 8:15 mark are very reminiscent to the pop band Sparks and the high pitch sort of vocals you would hear on their hit record “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us“.

I should also point out that during Frank Holland’s lead guitar solo at precisely the 7:46/7 mark (how precise is that LOL) you get this piercing noise of either somebody screaming or they just got an electric shock :))))) and this can be quite annoying if you are listening to this on headphones like I do myself with the volume whacked up. Oddly enough there is another version of the song that was recorded at the Olympic Studios in London on the 2nd disc, and the piercing screaming noise is not on that version. So my ears have got less chance of getting damaged :)))))).

Three Piece Suite” is a brilliant song that contains lashing of mellotron and keyboards, a tasty guitar solo, drums bass the lot. But I could say the same more or less for the opening and final track on the album as well. It’s got GREAT! lyrics too and this is not about a piece of furniture and is perhaps more of a poetic journey through nature.

Track 4. Paraffinalea.

This next song “Paraffinalea” got released as a single from the album and I dare say just like the album got very little promotion meant that the single never really stood a chance of getting anywhere either. The band did have complete freedom over their album and it was even them who decided to release it as a single.

Single

But as you can see by the picture above the single was only released to radio stations to air and not sold in the record shops. Annie Nightingale gave the single a positive review and thought the band were destined for great things. The B’ Side “Nanagram” was left off the album and is an instrumental piece. It’s very good as well and the original studio version and live version from 2006 is on the 2nd disc that you get here with this package.

There is no doubt that this particular song does sound more like Yes. But there is a difference in just how Yes sounded earlier on in the 70’s to how they sounded much later on in the latter half of that decade. And this is the very song on the album that I mentioned where I feel Yes may have just ripped England off.

Though my theory about this is very much my own theory and it would be pretty hard to prove, especially as the song I am saying it’s like is not even played in the same chords. It’s also not even played in the same tempo either and the instrumentation is also quite different. But I can always latch on to a familiar melody line and that is what we do get in this song that does remind me of the song “Madrigal” that appeared just a year later on Yes’s 1978 album Tormato.

Paraffinalea” is played at a much faster pace and tempo than “Madrigal” but part of the melody line is certainly the same, even down to the fact that I could sing and make the some of the words from “Madrigal” fit into its vocal line. But no doubt England are also very much using Yes harmonies on this song, so in reality they have both ripped each other off :)))). But both are also pretty much very fine and good songs. This song was also written by Robert Webb too.

Track 5. Yellow.

Another fine song and in a way I suppose the title of the song could even be seen as “Mellow” and that is exactly what we have here with subtle melancholic feel the song gives to you.  This song was written by the bands drummer Jode Leigh who was also a multi talented instrumentalist like many of the others in the band. On this track they also swap their instruments around too, and Leigh plays bass on this one and also takes on the lead vocals to which they are double tracked.

The song opens up with the mellotron which is played by the bands guitarist Frank Holland and its a bit like the sound of the mellotron Rick Wakeman used on the Tales From The Topographic Oceans album by Yes. Although the song itself is much more like very early Yes or even some Crosby Stills Nash & Young would of done with how it all flows beautifully along. Holland also plays a Leslie guitar on the solo which was overdubbed afterwards.

Whilst both the keyboard player and bass player play acoustic guitars. Robert Webb on 12 string and Martin Henderson on the 6 string. Webb also overdubbed an acoustic and electric piano on it afterwards too. It’s very much another GREAT! song and one of the shorter ones just like the previous track on the album, and this one simmers the album down very nicely indeed.

Track 6. Poisoned Youth.

The last track on the album is GREAT! piece of prog rock that was written by Frank Holland & Robert Webb. It’s also the longest track on the album weighing in at some 16.15 minutes. Once again we get the Bruford like drums and punctuating bass lines throughout the song, along with lashings of mellotron, great guitar and even all the fun at the fairground with the keyboards.

The vocals and harmonies are also very well done as ever and you even get a touch of Freddie Mercury in this one. It also has all the great diversity and progression with it’s many transnational changes, and its perhaps has both subtly and power about it, with how it all builds up and runs along. It’s very much another contender for the top spot on the album and ends off the album superbly.

Disc 2. The Bonus Disc.

Track 1. Nanagram (Live 2006).

The bonus disc kicks of with a live version of the instrumental track “Nanagram” that was originally the B’ Side of the single “Paraffinalea” that was released for radio stations only. This particular version was also from the Kikimimi: Live In Japan album that got released in the same year of 2006. It features a new 5 piece incarnation of the band that consists of 2 of the original members Robert Webb and Martin Henderson. Making up the rest of the line up is Alec Johnson guitar. Steve Laffy drums and Webbs girlfriend Maggie Alexander who does the odd bit of vocals & additional keyboards now and then.

It’s the only live track you get from their live album on this bonus disc and they tend to do a pretty decent job of it live, though I would not say it was as good as the original studio version which is also included on this disc and from what little reviews I have read about their live album they are not exactly that promising. I have not got the album to make any judgement of my own about it, and it is very hard to get hold of, and even though the reviews are not exactly in favour of the album, those who do have it are charging the crown jewels for it second hand :)))))).

But the other bit of information I did find out about it with my research. Is that the band never had a mellotron on the stage with them, simply because of the cost of the insurance it would of been to transport it with them to Japan. The mellotron and some other instruments were overdubbed later in the studio. So the live recording no doubt is bound to sound that much better than the actual gig itself.

Track 2. Carmina Burana.

This track was previously unreleased at the time this Golden Edition was released back in 2015. However that is not strictly true at all, because it was in fact from Robert Webbs solo album Liquorish Allsorts which was released the year before in 2014. It also appears on the compilation album Box Of Circles that was released in 2017. This is very much an arranged version of “O Fortuna” to which the music was composed by Carl Orff back in 1935. The Latin text that was written in the form of poems and goes back as far as the medieval times way back to 11th and 12rh century and put to Orff’s music would of been something more your Gothic Operatic classical style music.

To be honest this is same sort of evil chanting stuff they would use in horror films and even though the music for the film the Omen was composed by Jerry Goldsmith this particular original composition is certainly something very similar to some of the music that was used in that film. To be honest I am not into opera or even Gothic rock bands and this sort of stuff is really only effective in horror films more than anything else, and it’s not really my cup of tea at all.

However the arrangement we have here is more rocked up, but it’s a long way off the mark to the material that was written for the Garden Shed. And in my opinion the music we have on the album Garden Shed leaves Carl Orff whoever he is in the dust :)))). To be honest this is not the type of tune I would even consider doing a cover of myself. it’s just bloody dreadful and the only people who may appreciate Orff’s composition more are classical music fanatics and horror film fanatics.

But in saying that I prefer Webbs more rocked up arrangement to the original and it’s not bad. It’s a bit of a funky rocked up version and the bass line and drums very much give it the funky groove. However I am not into vocals at all even though they may be doing a good job of it.

This line up of England which is on their latest compilation album Box Of Circles and is the same line up he had with him on his solo album Liquorish Allsorts which does have most of the bands original members but only in parts, and it also has an array of other guest musicians and singers on it. This is more of Webbs England and from his solo album Liquorish Allsorts and nothing like it was back in the 70’s that’s for sure.

Track 3. Fags, Booze & Lottery.

This is another song that is also on the latest album Box Of Circles and I believe it was written by the bands drummer Jode Leigh and Robert Webb. To be honest I quite like this one and this more like something Ian Dury would of wrote (especially lyric wise) rather than the two guys here and is very much just like listening to Ian Dury & The Blockheads and not England :))))). If you are into Ian Dury you will either love this or hate it for being a bit like plagiarism.

Track 4. The Ladies’ Valley.

Another song from Webbs solo album Liquorish Allsorts like many of them are on this bonus disc. Webbs solo album was put together with material that he had done over the last 40 years. He was also commissioned to write some pieces of music by Marco Bernard who was the producer and the guy behind putting together various prog rock artists for his project based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s novel the Decameron to which he completed way back in 1353. Apparently Boccaccio’s contained 100 short stories that became one of the most important books in all history.

Bernard started work on the project in 2011 and gathered an array of prog rock artists from old and new to put his massive project together. Which was released in 3 parts and each part contained 4 CD’s in each box set that got released between 2012  – 2016. Webb wrote 3 pieces for the project 2 of which are on this bonus CD and other one is on his solo album Liquorish Allsorts and all 3 can also be found on Bernard’s musical version of Decameron in parts 2 and 3 of that project.

The Ladies’ Valley” features Jenny Darren on vocals and it’s quite a lengthy track that’s some 7.75 minutes long and is like a game of two halves in some respects. It’s what Webb describes as an exploration of classical orchestra and operatic rock ballad. He was inspired by what Jon Lord did with Deep Purple back in 1969 with the Concerto For Group And Orchestra album. The first part is very much the classical operatic ballad side of things, to which runs into an instrumental orchestra section, and then is beefed up with the drums and keyboards to give you more of a prog section before it finally comes down and goes back into how it all started with the vocal section again.

It’s perhaps something you have to be in the right mood for, simply because the only bit of prog rock here is really in that great keyboard section. The rest is very much contemporary classical music with a lady who has a very good voice. It’s like I said this album is quite a mixed bag, and the very fact that we do have quite a contrast in the styles of the material you get on this bonus disc will certainly conflict with ones listening pleasure.

Effectively this track could be seen like sending for say an album by Yes and them sending you something more like Charlotte Church instead. Which although I have nothing whatsoever against Charlotte Church’s GREAT! voice but the genre is quite a margin off the mark if you catch my drift. Personally I feel it’s a very good song, but placed on an album like this, it’s really out of place and that is where it’s not really going to be given perhaps the right respect it deserves.

To put it in a nutshell. The whole classical side of things here really outweighs what bit of prog rock you get on it, and for those expecting more of the same as we got on the main album on the 1st disc, I can see why they may be a bit disappointed with the 2nd disc you get here. Pretty much most reviews of this Golden Edition also point to that as well, and I can see why.

Track 5. Masters Of War.

Here we have another cover version and basically this is a cover of George Gershwin’sSummertTime” put together with a set of Bob Dylan’s lyrics and sung once again by Jenny Darren in a blues style. This song is also on the compilation album Box Of Circles and once again it’s really down to personal taste, and as much as I do like George Gershwin this is not for me I am afraid. Though I cannot fault the instrumentation and the vocals, but even playing this in fifteen and half bars does not make this prog rock I am afraid :)))))).

Track 6. Three Piece Suite (Olympic Version, 1976).

A slightly earlier and shorter version of the track on the original album, and was recorded in a different studio. The song is more or less the same but you can hear a slight difference particularly in the way its been recorded as well. This is also the first original recording as well and is more of a rougher recording. But just like the version on the main album won my top spot of award of that album, it does here as well. I would even say the slight difference you get here is worthy of having as a bonus track too. It was also included on some other releases over the years.

Track 7. Heebeegeebee.

This is another song that ended up on Marco Bernard’s musical version of Decameron and this early mix uses musical ideas from the 1977 Garden Shed period which survived on a chrome cassette from those days Webb recorded on the multi track Revox reel to reel tape. Though the piece never had any lyrics at the time, Webb wrote some based around the biography of Giovanni Boccaccio.

Most of the keyboard ideas were written when the band England lived together in a house Crowborough Sussex and had the band have been able to continue, it most likely would of wound up on their next album. Steve Unruh of The Samurai Of Prog provided the drums and percussion parts and sent them to Webb via the internet.

I quite like this one and it’s certainly the best of the newer material that’s on this 2nd disc and for me the last 3 tracks on this disc along with the live version of “Nanagram” are the only real prog rock tracks on this 2nd disc, and are very much the best highlights from it.

Track 8. Nanagram.

The original studio version of the B’ Side of “Paraffinalea” that was made back in the days of the original album. This is certainly amongst the better of the bonus tracks we get on this 2nd disc and is great to see they have included it. Even though it’s an instrumental piece this perhaps would of been better putting on the original album in replace of “All Alone (Introducing)” though no doubt the album was already way over its allocated time slot for vinyl and it would of made it even longer.

Summary…

To sum up the Golden Edition of the Garden Shed by England. There can be no doubt the main album is certainly a GREAT! piece of prog rock heaven that came out of that golden decade of the 70’s. The 2nd disc you get here could not really be seen as a bonus disc, simply because of its price point of £17.99 does mean you are without a doubt paying more for this 2 CD Edition of the album. But in saying that just trying to get your hands on the single disc version will cost you a hell of lot more than the Golden Edition in some places. So you may as well get this instead.

The 2nd disc I would consider worthy of having for the odd few tracks, but it does not work like your getting an extra album, simply because the material is a mixed bag and does not really Gel as a bunch of tracks that would really be suited to fit together like a good album should. To be honest Robert Webb should of used some of the tracks that was put on the The Last Of The Jubblies album because they would of worked a damn site better as a companion disc to the Garden Shed. The other material from his solo album and other albums is really out of place, and the only real newer track that does work is “Heebeegeebee“.

No doubt that Webb was trying to circulate around some of the newer material and you cannot really blame him for trying either. But the fact that the genre is really out of place I feel makes it worse. I am not for one minute saying those particular tracks are bad, but the fact that they do not really belong on an album like this, I feel will put a lot of people off buying the newer material that is on an album like Box Of Circles because they certainly do not fit or belong here, where as they are very much are more suited to make an album like a Box Of Circles work better, and that is the album they do belong on.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review I shall conclude it by speaking about the main album the Garden Shed and not the extra disc you get in this package. There can be no doubt that if there is an England album that’s worth having this is the one. It’s very much a solid album from start to finish and I cannot really fault the material that was written for it at all, and it is without a doubt very clever from both the musical and lyrical aspect side of things.

The musicians are also very clever although they may not be a great live act simply because they never really got out enough to play that many gigs at all. They was not together long enough for us to really find out. But no doubt these guys can play and were capable of writing really great songs and it’s a shame they never stuck together and continued doing what they was doing back in the 70’s. But obviously they came out at the wrong time and the music scene was very much changing and a lot of new prog rock bands would have certainly of struggled to get a record deal back then.

I would say for anybody really into serious prog rock this is an album everyone should have in their record collection. Stumbling on it now after all these years very much makes this like some long lost hidden piece of treasure, and is truly quite a remarkable GEM. I would even say that this is kind of album that even if I brought it back on its release back in 1977 I would still very much be still playing it today. Simply because this is really music that was most certainly made to last the test of time, and is an immensely enjoyable album.

No doubt the band have plenty of musical influences like many bands do, and you will hear the likes of Yes. Genesis. ELP. Queen. Sparks and many, many more especially in the vocal presentation of the album. But no doubt they also had their own distinctive style as well. My personal highlights from the main album are “Three Piece Suite“. “Midnight Madness” and “Poisoned Youth“.

There is no doubt that album as good as this should not be ignored and in all honesty it should be more frequently re-issued to stop people charging stupid money for it. Even though I ended up paying £17.99 to get my hands on this album I personally feel the main album alone on the 1st disc was perhaps worth it, just to get you hands on it. But for double CD like this, it should really cost no more than £14.99 in reality and around £12 for a single disc version of the album.

Come Out And Join The Woodland Company…

The album track listing of both discs is as follows:

Disc 1.
01. Midnight Madness. 6:57.
02. All Alone (Introducing). 1:46.
03. Three Piece Suite. 12:59.
04. Paraffinalea. 4:13.
05. Yellow. 5:25.
06. Poisoned Youth. 16:15.

Disc 2.
01. Nanagram (Live 2006). 5:11.
02. Carmina Burana. 4:01.
03. Fags, Booze & Lottery. 4:48.
04. The Ladies’ Valley. 7:44.
05. Masters Of War. 4:28.
06. Three Piece Suite (Olympic Version 1976). 11:46.
07. Heebeegeebee. 5:38.
08. Nanagram. 4:15.

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 7/10

The Bonus CD Rating Score. 5/10

The Original Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Other Oddities… #3

Album Art The Enticing Factor…

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I wonder just how many of us over the many years have actually gone out and brought an album without even hearing anything from the actual record, and brought it purely down to the fact that the albums artwork enticed us to purchase it?. I know I certainly have over the many decades I have been buying music. No doubt I dare say that quite a few of us have as well. But does every picture tell a story, or even the right story for that matter ?.

One should never judge a book by its cover so to speak, and its certainly true one also does not get what they was hoping to get by buying an album just because the artwork happens to look good. There is no doubt the artwork can draw a person in and even entice them enough to buy the actual album, and it may not always be the music that is the attraction, though I would certainly say the music is, and should be the biggest attraction and not the artwork. Especially in the case of if the album that looked so good on the outside, proves to be so very disappointing with what they actually put on the inside with the material they put on the actual album itself.

Selling music is just the same as selling any product in reality. The whole idea of the artwork is all part of the package, and the better it looks, the more appealing and enticing it is to attract the customer to purchase it. For the vinyl collector it could be said that the artwork is certainly more of an attraction than the music itself in some way I suppose. The much smaller compact disc (CD) is not as eye catching in comparison to the 12 inch vinyl album, even though the sound quality of the recording is just as good, and in some cases much better.

These days nearly all recordings are digital anyway and most old analogue master tapes have been transferred to digital simply because they had to preserve them because tape deteriorates over the years. The only real analogue recordings to be found these days, and chances of getting hold of them, Is by going out and buying second hand vinyl albums from many moons ago I am afraid.

So no doubt the biggest attraction for all vinyl lovers is the size of the albums artwork on the cover. Though in all fairness, both music and art can be seen as ART. Although when buying music I would of thought the music was much more important than the artwork that gets put on the cover. That’s most likely why The Beatles opted for a plain white album cover on their 9th studio album that became known as the White Album. Because to them it was always the music that was important to them, and not the packaging.

Over the many years of buying music I have come across some amazing album covers, that in my opinion are much better than the music that is on the record. A perfect example would certainly have to be Led Zeppelin’s 5th studio album Houses Of The Holy. I also think that this is the best artwork put on any of their albums and is certainly more like something Roger Dean would of done rather than the people who were behind it which was Hipgnosis.

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No doubt the artwork we have here would of attracted many to buy it, but for me personally the best thing about this album is the actual album cover and not the music on the album. Even the production work on this album was dire, and the material was certainly not up to the bands usual high standards, and was a very poor attempt of Led Zeppelin trying to go more commercial by writing pop songs. To which in reality were not even in league with the many pop artists who were writing songs in a more commercial way and putting them out as singles back then.

This album really sucked and was amongst one of their worst ever albums. I certainly think more effort went into the artwork than the record. I dare say that if you was to make an album cover like this these days, you may very well get arrested and be accused of being some sort of pervert as well :))))))).

Speaking of these days and how things have changed over the years. This next album done by Magenta’s main man Robert Reed shows how not much thought went into this particular artwork he chose for his first solo album Sanctuary. Now this is a guy who chose to emulate the work of Mike Oldfield with what he does regarding his own solo material. To be honest just like him being a fan of Oldfield myself I love what he does regarding this solo project of his, and this is certainly a case of the music being much better than the artwork he chose for this solo debut album of his.

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This particular image I had seen on the internet for more than a decade before it wound up being the cover of his first solo album. Even though the water could be seen as life it’s perhaps not how I would describe “Sanctuary”. I would associate it with more of picture of paradise and some sort of safe haven. Even by glancing at the symbol that is formed with the water here, it’s not the symbol of sanctuary either which is more like this below.

Key of Life Symbol

The symbol the water has formed here is perhaps something more like that we seen on Patrick Moraz’s debut album back in 1976. As seen in this artwork of his album below.

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To be honest even though the artwork for Robert Reed’s debut album is not as fitting as the artwork done for both Patrick Moraz’s and even Mike Oldfield’s debut albums which may have been more fitting. I personally feel the music speaks better on all 3 albums than the artwork. Though the best artwork of those 3 albums I would certainly give to Tubular Bells as the most fitting to the actual music that is on the record.

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Out of the little artwork I have presented here, no doubt the only real artwork out of all 4 of the albums I have mentioned so far. Tubular Bells is certainly the winner when it comes to marrying up the artwork to the music. To be honest it’s very hard to get a perfect match to the music on any album. For example as good as King Crimson’s debut album cover really is, the only song on that album it really represents is “21st Century Schizoid Man“. As for the rest of the material on the album, it says very little in relation to the artwork at all.

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I personally feel that the artwork that was done for King Crimson’s much more later album The Power To Believe was certainly more fitting when you are taking onboard all the albums tracks that were written for the album, and not just a single track like “21st Century Schizoid Man” that really pinpoints and focuses the albums artwork on that track alone, and that is not even the albums title either. So how does the artwork done for their debut album really say a thing about the albums title In The Court Of The Crimson King. It doesn’t, no matter how striking it looks.

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Whereas the artwork for their 2003 album The Power To Believe is much more fitting and not only suits the albums self titled track, but the rest of the material that was written for it as well. If you are going to match the music to the artwork The Power To Believe is the real winner out of these 2 albums. But that is not to say that the music is better than what we have on In The Court Of The Crimson King and that really is a classic album and one where many would consider even its artwork to be the best. But you cannot deny the fact that it does not fit the albums title and certainly not the biggest majority of the music on the album.

Roger Dean as always been one of my favourite prog rock artists, but not even most of his artwork genuinely suits the music that’s been put on a lot of the albums he done the artwork for. He does not just do artwork for prog rock artists ether. For example this artwork was done for  the so called British Afro pop band Osibisa who were formed in London England back in 1969 and consisted of four expatriate African and three Caribbean musicians. Some may even say they was progressive rock but they had more of a feel for funked up jazz with a load of African percussion thrown into the equation for good measure.

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I would even say these guys had a lot of soul in their music too, and was not a bad band at all. But even though they resided in England they very much tried to bring the African Jungle to it judging by Roger Dean’s artwork and this is quite fitting to their self titled debut album. I very much think that Dean had heard the music beforehand to get the right feel and inspiration for the artwork and it works.

Roger Dean’s most noted work would of certainly been for the band Yes. His futuristic vision is bang on for the futuristic music the band present to you in the style of symphonic prog rock. Yes music back in its heyday from The Yes Album up to Relayer certainly sounded like something that was way ahead of its time and came from another planet, simply because there was nothing else quite like it on this planet.

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Roger Dean’s work for the bands triple live album Yessongs was certainly breathtaking and fitted the music right down to a tee. The same could be said of his works on the albums Close To The Edge. Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer.

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They are all pretty much outstanding fine pieces of art to which the art of the music they was put to, said it all very much spot on. Both the artwork and music was very much a perfect marriage. My least favourite artwork from the Yes albums I mentioned would have to be the artwork done for Fragile. Though no doubt the fact that it showed a planet with pieces breaking away from it, it did very much fit the albums title.

Although just as colourful as the artwork Dean done for Steve Howe’s debut album Beginnings. The music Howe did on that album did not really match the beauty of the artwork. Though I do quite like the album a lot and it’s cover is Fantastic.

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I would even say that Dean’s artwork he did for the rock band Budgie was not exactly fitting to the bands music. But nevertheless they was amazing covers especially my favourite album of theirs Never Turn Your Back On A Friend.

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There is no doubt all these works of art done for these albums certainly benefited more on the vinyl album rather than the miniaturised versions of them you get on a CD. Some works of art even gave you something that bit more special being released on vinyl too, such as this classic album of Jethro Tull’s from 1972.

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Although the album looked the same size of a conventional vinyl album. It had a newspaper inside and a folded flap to open it up into a full size newspaper just like you would buy in the shops back in the 70’s. It was also the same size of your Evening Standard to which were much bigger than they are these days.

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The whole album Thick As A Brick was very much a spoof of a concept album just like the newspaper was a complete spoof with its main headlines about little Milton, and was all done in the same humorous style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Both the album cover and album went together like two peas in a pod and was a perfect example of some of the quality you got with the vinyl album.

I would even say that if you did not enjoy the music that much, you still got your money’s worth out of the comical satire that was printed in the newspaper. But for me personally this as always been my ultimate favourite Jethro Tull album, and it’s not all about the rather funny newspaper either, and it’s the music that speaks to me the most about this GREAT! package. But no doubt the album cover was certainly a massive bonus.

For my final look at album art and how it marries up to the music on the record. I thought I would return to the same album art designers that I opened up with Hipgnosis. By the looks of things on this album released back in 1973 they was perhaps “Shaping” things up to the music that was put on the record :)))))).

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Pink Floyd’s classic album Dark Side Of The Moon may not look that impressive by just looking at the triangular shape and the lines they drew on a black background. If you was to just look at the shape and lines literally and stare them in the face, there is no doubt that it says very little about the music that’s on the record. It’s certainly more boring in relation to the cover done by the same designers who did Led Zeppelin’s album Houses Of The Holy. So just what makes this particular design so special or even interesting ?.

Well no doubt this is an object where one has to use their mind to really make anything out of it, otherwise the shapes we have here are nothing more than your average child would of drawn on a piece of paper at school or at home. Another strange thing that pops into people’s minds about this particular album cover. Is that for some reason in the many TV documentaries and all those who mention the albums artwork. The name Storm Thorgerson immediately springs to mind.

But in reality he had very little to do with the artworks final design we have here at all. But he was the one who got the inspiration for it from this photograph he had seen in a photography book, and the original photo he seen is the one pictured below.

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The whole idea in the first place for the albums artwork came from the bands member Richard Wright who suggested to the team at Hipgnosis that he wanted something bold and simple. To be honest the original photo above says a lot more about refracting light from a prism than the flat objects we have on the front of the album cover. George Hardie was also actually the man behind the album covers design and it was he who simplified the original photo that Thorgerson had seen in the book.

Although Thorgerson did suggest to Hardie that the back of the cover should have another prism recombining the spectrum of light. Which basically was an upside down version of front cover as shown in this picture below. (Please note this is not the back of the original vinyl album from 1973 though the image is the same).

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Both the albums artwork and the stickers that was originally on the front were done by George Hardie and it was Roger Waters idea to continue the spectrum of light on the inside of the Gatefold Sleeve and the visual representation of the heartbeat sound running through it as shown below.

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The albums design is said to represent 3 elements: 1. The band’s stage lighting. 2. The album lyrics and 3. Wright’s request for a “simple and bold” design. Rather strange since it supposed to represent the title of the album, and I guess you have to use your own imagination and eclipse the idea to work out just how that works. No doubt the music on the album is way better than it’s simplistic design. But over the many years other people may have a much better idea of how they see it with some of the designs they have done around it all.

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So to conclude my discussion of album art and how it can entice one into buying music because of the effect it can have on some people. There can be no doubt that it does very much play a part in it all. In the past I have found myself walking into a record shop to buy a specific album I had in mind of purchasing before I left my house. And ended up walking out of the shop with something else instead, just because the artwork was indeed enticing and attracting and drawing my attention to it.

Though that was something I would of done many moons ago, and not so much today. But even though I no longer collect vinyl these days and mainly buy CD’s/Blu Ray’s and DVD’s. I will quite often (particularly when I buy CD’s) end up paying more for it just because it comes in a cardboard DigiPak or DigiSleeve rather than buying it cheaper in a plastic Jewel Case. This is basically because both DigiPaks and DigiSleeves do look more like a miniature representation of the vinyl album, and in all honesty you simply cannot beat how the artwork looks on a 12 inch vinyl sleeve.

My main reason for no longer buying vinyl these days, is really down to storage space and I simply cannot be arsed to keep getting up to turn over the record :))))). To be honest I like all music formats apart from the Cassette. And no way could I go back to using those things again, and in today’s world there is no reason to either. But just because any album comes with a bad artwork cover. The music should be the real thing you buy it for, and not the artwork no matter how good it looks. But it’s a bonus perhaps when they both marry up to each other.

Lee Speaks About Music… #99

Monuments – Napiers Bones

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Introduction…

For those who are familiar with Gordon Midgley’s solo work I am pretty sure they will be certainly aware of his work he does with vocalist Nathan Tillett and their project that is known as Napier’s Bones. Since the pair found each other on Soundcloud back in 2014 and started to collaborate with one another, so far they have managed to release and put out an album every year. Monuments is their 5th and latest album to hit the shelves so to speak, and I have to say this duo seem to be getting better and better with every album they put out.

No doubt Gordon Midgley’s production work has improved over the years to which will certainly have contributed to why each album sounds and feels better, but I also cannot really take anything away from the composition side of things either. Napier’s Bones is a project that presents the music to you in the form of a concept story, and each album can be quite fascinating in the way they present it all to you. Which is very much in the same style as progressive rock.

Gordon Midgely is no stranger to concept albums and even his own solo work tends to focus on that side of things as well even with his instrumental albums to some degree. It was only October of last year that we got to see the release of his GREAT! solo album The Fall Of The House Of Usher which was a concept story album based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. There is no doubt that Midgely not only can write great music, but he is also a great multi talented musician who is full of ideas and is capable of playing what he presents to you as well.

Napier’s Bones may not be the type of band you will get to see play live. But both Messrs Midgley & Tillett have both played in bands live previously before. But just because they now tend to function on the studio side of things, one should never really be put off by the GREAT! work they do together with how they function as a team. This is a team that is capable of churning out some really GREAT! music and they certainly have the power to ROCK!. Before I go any further let’s take a look at the artwork and packaging as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Well the first thing I should really point out is that no Napier’s Bones album comes in the form of a physical CD like in the picture above. But even though their music comes really in the form of a digital download. They do also send you the artwork so you can make it look like we have in the picture above by printing it out yourself and burning the album out yourself onto a CDR.

The Artwork.

All the artwork is done by Nathan Tillett and I have to say he always tends to do a very impressive professional job of it as well. Besides the graphic design work he does, he is also very good with a camera and goes out and about to capture the subject matter of the concept story with his camera. This video below shows you the process of turning his  original photograph into something that is more fitting with how he has done the design around it.

The Album In Review…

Napier’s Bones 5th album Monuments was officially released on the 24th August 2018. The album contains 5 tracks and has on overall playing time of 50 minutes, 43 seconds. The album was written, mixed and produced by Gordon Midgley in his home studio. I did mention that his production work gets better and better and I have to say this new album sounds purely fantastic, especially being that it was produced in his own home in Bradford.

All the material for the album was practically done predominately on his acoustic guitar, and Gordon started work on the first epic mammoth track “Standing Childe” way back in September last year. However due to the sudden loss of his father it very much put an halt on things, and he never got back to work on it till around Christmas in December of 2017. He also wrote “Waters Dark” in that same month. The remaining 3 songs for the album were written sometime between January – April 2018 and he had started work on the proper recordings of the songs in March 2018.

The other half of Napier’s Bones Nathan Tillett lives some 329 miles away all the way down Plymouth in Devonshire. He actually records his vocal parts on his ipad in his car and sends over the stems via the internet. His voice projects more of the raw power into the project and no doubt it works very effectively as well. Both Tillett & Midgley also have their own solo projects and have been involved in other projects besides Napier’s Bones but this is a project that perhaps is a bit more special and works really well I have always felt.

No Napier’s Bones album could ever really be achieved without the right weapons and tools at hand, and Gordon Midgley comes armed with an array of them to achieve what he’s after and get the job done precisely, efficiently and effectively.

The Gear

Midgley is a very talented multi instrumentalist and has put in a lot of hours learning his tools of the trade so to speak. Predominately he is a bass guitarist and guitarist though his skills stretch out more beyond and he is just as efficiently good with his keyboard and drum programming skills and has spent the time with his effect pedals and studio plugins to get precisely the right sounds he’s looking for.

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Both the Korg MS 20 and Volca Keys come in very handy and are very useful tools to get the job done. All those along with his microphones, amplification plus recording and mixing skills are more than enough to do a very professional job.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Gordon Midgley. Recorded between March – July 2018 at GM’s Home Studio in Bradford. Engineered by Gordon Midgley. Mastered by Gordon Midgley in August 2018. Artwork Photography & Design by Nathan Tillett. All music and lyrics by Gordon Midgley.

Musicians.

Gordon Midgley: Vocals/Electric & Acoustic Guitars/Keyboards. Drum Programming..
Nathan Tillett: Vocals.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Like many concept albums many artists will quite often either write their own stories or draw on source material from a book, or some ancient bit of history. Whether it be some sort of legendary thing about fables, fantasy, witchcraft or a true historic event like war for an example. For a reviewer like myself I quite enjoy doing a bit of my own research, especially when the subject matter has been documented and it’s quite easy to find it out on the net. Like most of the concepts Gordon Midgley writes about I always tend to find  them interesting, and the fact that the album Monuments does have an “S” on the end of it, means there is more than one story going on here.

During the time of working on the album, every now an then Gordon will post the odd teaser video showing the progress of some of the tracks for the album. Though most of these are posted on Facebook, he will post the odd one on Youtube as well. This video is one of the two he made during the 2nd track on the album “Mirabilis“.

Here he explains a bit of background information regarding the subject matter he’s writing about, and shows you how the guitar parts fit into the track itself. It was around this time he had also purchased an Epiphone Firebird to add to his collection of guitars. he also has a Gibson Firebird to which he had long before this one. You also get to hear how Nathan’s great rock voice fits into the song.

No doubt you will find many influences in all the songs Napier’s Bones have done over the past 4 or 5 years. On this particular album you get to hear influences from Rush. Queen. Steve Hackett. Pink Floyd and many more. But of course Napier’s Bones have their own distinctive way of doing things themselves. Besides the musical aspects even Nathan Tillett’s voice is very much his own and it’s highly original material. So let’s now take a closer look at the album Monuments as I take you through all of its 5 tracks.

Track 1. Standing Childe.

The opening track on the album is quite a BEAST of a track and weighs in at a touch over 23 minutes. The 23 minute epic comes in 9 parts to put across the story of the first of the monuments we have here on the album. The standing Childe in some way could be seen as all that is left of Ordulf the son of Ordgar today. As legend as it Ordulf was known as Childe The Hunter a brave noble warrior who obviously must of made some sort of an impact enough to be remembered in honour of his name.

Speaking of honour the name Childe was most likely derived from the Old English name  Cild and they changed it to Childe in honour of his name. Ordulf’s father was the Anglo-Saxon Earl of Devon from way back in the 11th century. No doubt over the many years many different stories have been told of Childe The Hunter regarding his party battles and the slaying of mythical beasts on Dartmoor’s moor, but the one thing that may be certain is how he met his fate.

He very much met his fate in the freezing snow with his horse. Although the horse kept him warm for awhile it was not really enough. He ended up killing his horse and then he disembowelled it and crept inside the warm carcass for shelter. Though nevertheless he still froze to death. But just before he did he supposedly wrote a note to the effect that whoever should find him and bury him in their church, would inherit his Plymstock estate.

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Childe’s body was found later by the monks of Tavistock Abbey. However, they heard of a plot to ambush them by the people of Plymstock, at a bridge over the River Tavy. So they took a detour and had to build a new bridge to get across the river, which was just outside Tavistock. They was also successful at burying his body in the grounds of the Abbey and inherited the Plymstock estate.

The picture above is of Childe’s Tomb and was before it’s destruction which took place in 1812. The tomb was virtually destroyed by a man back then who stole most of the stones to build a house nearby, but it was partly reconstructed in 1890. Child’s Tomb still stands today the picture below is what it looks like now after the reconstruction.

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The words Gordon Midgley has wrote for his story of Childe The Hunter’s party battles is put across in the way of making it that much more exciting, and I have to say I quite like how he has gone about it all, and put it all into context to be able to put it all across more effectively with the vocal side of things to coincide with the music.

As I mentioned before he has broken the story down into 9 parts. All of which are very much have subheading titles for each of the parts that are contained throughout the 23 minute blockbuster of a piece. The first subheading is titled “(I) The Childe” and this is very much an instrumental piece to set the scene for the epic story that is to unfold. It takes up the first 3 minutes of the 23 you get here.

It opens up with the eerie sound of the wind and the crashing waves of the sea and with some ambient guitar. All of which take up around 22 seconds before it then bursts into action with powerful power chords on the electric guitar, all supported very well by the drums and bass, and a rather nice lead synth playing a fine melody at first.

The synth takes on the lead role and fizzles and sustains its way out nicely at around the 1:10 mark. Then we get this lovely little change with the acoustic guitar coming into play to which is accompanied by a lovely flutey sound from the mellotron. This all builds up very well and at around the 1.5 minute mark and Brian May swings into play for a bit of the action but Midgley is having none of it and soon swings into action on his electric to shut him up for awhile :)))))). It’s all pretty hot and it builds up with some mighty power to hammer its way into the next section which is the second part of the monster piece.

“(II) Mark Well” is a beautiful acoustic song that runs from 3:01 – 5:40 and I love the way the whole thing runs so smoothly into play from where the last part ended. It all fits into place so well and we get some beautiful acoustic work from both 6 and 12 string guitars. Tillett’s vocals are quite golden on this lovely ballad, and not only does he have a great ballad voice but it can change with more powerful expression at any time to suit the moods throughout the piece, or any piece for that matter.

Besides the lovely acoustic guitars (which are superbly recorded by the way) and Tillett’s GREAT! voice. You also get some fine effective electric guitar bringing in some ambience along with some choral sounds from the keyboards. I love where the bass guitar comes into play around half way through it and this is also where the 12 string guitar comes in as well to accompany the 6 string. The piece is filled with beauty, even though the story line is perhaps haunting.

It’s certainly one of my favourite sections of the whole piece, and perhaps apart from the lyrics being story based, it could possibly be the single from the album. I love how it all builds up as well at the end and Brian May comes back for another blast with the twin lead guitars to end it all off. It really is a superb well written song.

(III) Born to this Duty” runs from 5:40 – 8:01 and is another great acoustic song that features both Tillett & Midgley taking on the vocal duties. Once again the transitional change is very smoothly done and Midgley’s voice is more haunting. it also follows Tillett’s in a sort of answering back way. The acoustic guitar runs all the way through this track and the track that follows it in this particular part gets accompanied by a dominant bass line and Steve Hackett drops in with his very well phased guitar :))))).

It builds its way up strongly towards the end and the power takes us into the next part  “(IV) Like None Before” which is quite a short section and runs from 8:01 – 9:51. This section runs at a faster pace and the acoustic guitar is strummed along with a sort of a Jimmy Page droning style. You also get a bit of synth and some more flying around on the electric guitars by Midgley. It also gives Tillett the chance to bring out more angst with his great voice with the powerful build up, and it builds up very and falls down at the end very well to take us into the next part.

The next section “(V) Where Horizon Meets The Sky” runs from 9:51 – 12:09 and this is what I call the 70’s Rush section and this section totally ROCKs! it s way along with very powerful bass and power chords from the guitar, and even the synth work is reminiscent to Rush too. The only real thing that sets it aside is Tillet’s voice which works GREAT! and once again delivers the angst and great expression for the song. “Where Horizon Meets The Sky” is very much the main battle were Ordulf gets to slay the BEAST.

(VI) Fate Will Do As It Must” is another short section that runs from 12:09 – 12:49 and once again the strumming acoustic Jimmy Page droning style guitar comes back into play at pace and is accompanied by the drums, bass and more May-ish lead tones on the electric guitar. Each section runs and blends into one another so well and it works very well in giving you something more to keep you listening and attentive to how the story all unfolds. The power fizzles out effectively at the end to bring in the next part which is where the freezing cold proves to be more of a battle than the BEAST for Ordulf.

The next part “(VII) Today It Ends” is more of an ambient section which utilises guitar effects and more Hackett like lead lines to put over the snow storm and the fact that the freezing cold is setting in. Even the bass line runs along like a clock counting out the hours Ordulf is held down by the storm and is a bit like Roger Waters. This section runs from 12:49 – 16:26 and Tillett’s voice echoes the thoughts Ordulf has he reflects over his life and ponders over if this what we live our lives for.

(VIII) Not Enough” is Ordulf’s last attempt to try and save himself and is the part where he kills his horse and disembowels it, and gets inside its carcass for more warmth. But his luck runs out and the storm is not giving way even to this mighty warriors strength. This section is very well portrayed in an heavenly choral kind of way as it opens up with more Hackett like guitar phasing on the electric and the acoustic guitar also comes back nicely and slots into place in a more subtle way for Tillett to express the emotions with his fine voice.

It also runs directly into the final part “(IX) Behold The Childe” which rounds the story of perfectly with more beautiful acoustic guitar work and electric lead lines, keyboards bass, drums and great vocals. It’s one big epic journey from start to finish and there is never a dull moment in it. Even though the epic is 23 minutes, it seems to be over in no time at all with the enjoyment you get from the piece. It’s all been very skilfully woven together and this is my personal favourite track on the album and merits my top spot of the album award.

Track 2. Mirabilis.

The 2nd of the monuments is that of the alchemist and English philosopher known as Roger Bacon who was also known as Doctor Mirabilis. No one was ever really sure of the year when Roger Bacon was actually born, although he did get about enough for people to take notice of some of his works he did back in 13th Century. Bacon’s major piece of work was the Opus Majus. To which was written in Medieval Latin and sent to Pope Clement IV in Rome in 1267.

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Bacon studied at Oxford and became a master there lecturing about the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle though there was no evidence he was ever awarded a doctorate. The title of Doctor Mirabilis was very much posthumous and figurative, though there was no doubt he was considered to be a very wise man and studied very hard in many subjects. He was also a Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis on the study of nature through empiricism. In the early modern era.

He attributed the Secret of Secrets (Secretum Secretorum) the Islamic “Mirror of Princes” to Aristotle, thinking that he had composed it for Alexander the Great. The guy may very well have studied that hard that it fried his brain :))))). He was regarded as a wizard and particularly famed for the story of his mechanical or necromantic brazen head. He also dabbled in the occult and black magic and thought he could create life from metal. It’s perhaps just as well he was not around in the late 20th century to see Metal Mickey. He most likely would of flipped his lid and tried to say that he created him :))))).

But no doubt Roger Bacon had done enough to leave his mark in history back in the 13th century, and his monumental statue was erected near Ilchester in Somerset, England. For the order Friars Minor. 

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Without a shred of a doubt Messrs Midgley & Tillett have cooked Roger’s Bacon very well indeed. The magical intro gives you the feeling that Bacon is working away in his study or laboratory winding up his mechanical mechanisms to try and bring them to life. Roger Bacon was one of the first Westerners to build chiming clocks, the designs came from the Arabs who took their inspiration from the Chinese. The bells add more to the haunting and mischievous dark goings on with black magic, adding to the magic once again we get some gorgeous work on the 6 & 12 string acoustics along with some more Hackett like lead work.

Both Midgley & Tillett do a grand job on the vocal duties and the piece builds up with some electric force with the drums, bass and more great lead work from the electric guitars. It then comes down with the bells and the haunting feeling of it all and fades its way out very well indeed. This 2nd video is another fine example of just how well it’s all worked out and gives you more of an insight of what the song is all about.

Mirabilis” is another really great song and fine piece of work and is very much another contender for the top spot on the album, I like the chord progression and acoustic work on this album a lot.

Track 3. Waters Dark.

The “Waters Dark” is the shortest track on the album and is just over the 3 minute mark. Unlike the first 2 tracks, these last 3 songs on the album are not so much perhaps monuments, and to be honest because of the titles of these final 3 tracks on the album, it was not so much of an easy thing for me to look up on the net to see how they related to any sort of person who had made an impact enough to leave behind a monument so to speak. I also never had the lyrics at the time either. So I very much ended up asking Gordon if he could shed a bit more light on them for me, to which he provided me with some very useful information and gave me more insight into them.

Although it’s true not all the tracks on the album are monuments, they do however have the odd bit of a connection with one another on some of them. For example the lyrics in this song mentions the chiming of the York minster bells, to which Mirabilis also had bells in and also “Waters Dark” is also mentioned in the last track on the album.

Waters Dark” is based on a legend from the York area and is about a person who goes alone to a place on a river on a May Day to place 5 white stones into the water. A kind of ritual sort of thing I suppose, and by doing such a thing the person is granted a vision of the past and the future. Gordon also told me that Nathan had followed instructions and tried it out, but he’s still waiting for the vision :))))))).

The song itself is another fine acoustic song that has the calming flow and feel of a river with how it’s all put so well across. Tillett is once again on the lead vocals and Midgley echoes along with the backing harmonies. Once again we have some fine work on the acoustic guitar and more Hackett like phasing and phrasing on the electric guitar and they do another grand job here of it all.

Gordon also told me that he wrote the song after his father died last year. I also think some of the lyrics reflect the pain and the time it takes to heal after his sad loss too, and once again the lyrics very well written. I actually remember when I lost my son a few years ago now, I went down to a river on my own and sat on the bank, and stared into the water to collect my thoughts.

Track 4. Free To Choose.

Well I did mention earlier that the 2nd part “Mark Well” of the mammoth BEAST of a song “Standing Childe” that opens up the album could be the single of the album, apart from the lyrics being more story based. But this song “Free To Choose” I feel would certainly be the most fitting song to choose from the album and would even work with the lyrics that was written for it. I also feel it’s got the right temperament and the right up-tempo feel to it, it’s a great song that lifts up very well with the chorus of the song.

The song itself is about the painter Robert Lenkiewicz. Like most painters it’s also very hard for them to get any real recognition for the great work they really do. For example Lenkiewicz was born in London, and because he was the child of Jewish refugees his paintings were very much rejected by the establishment in London. So he ended up in Plymouth where he got a lot more appreciation for his great works of art.

Since Robert Lenkiewicz died back in 2002 in some way I suppose he did leave behind a sort of monument in the way of a Murial. The Barbican Murial is one of his most famous Murial’s that he painted next to his own studio in Plymouth back in the early 70’s and was completed between the years of 1971 – 72.

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Robert Lenkiewicz and his Murial The Barbican.

The above picture above is a photograph of Lenkiewicz and his famous painting taken back in 1979. Unfortunately today the Murial has faded badly over the years and they have had to prop the walls up with timber to try and stop it from collapsing. Gordon took a trip to Plymouth himself to get a photograph of it himself, and you can see how it’s deteriorated over the years and the timber propping it up is holding it all together.

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Nathan used to see the painter around his own town of Plymouth back in the 80’s. He was also quite a ladies man to 100’s of them and he also had 11 children all of which are artists in their own rights. Like many painters when Lenkiewicz died in 2002 despite his prolific output of over 10,000 pieces of work he had done throughout his lifetime. He only had £12 in cash in his possession. He never had a bank account and was said to owe over 2 million pound to various creditors.

Since his death, some examples of his best paintings have been sold for six figure sums in various London auction rooms. Media reports put the value of his estate at some £6.5 million. This figure included a cursory valuation of the artist’s antiquarian library of rare books on witchcraft, the occult, metaphysics and medieval philosophy. It all sounds like he may have been loaded. However, the sale of this entire collection by Sotheby’s in 2003 raised less than £1 million.

Like most painters they are perhaps worth more after they have gone, and they was very much more or less poor whilst they was alive. Though no doubt I rather think Robert Lenkiewicz was a man who perhaps enjoyed his life and just like this song says in the words We are Free to choose this way, free to think, free to be who we are Free expression here, free to love while it lasts” That’s most likely how he lived it, and it’s another GREAT! song.

Track 5. From The Heights.

When I first seen the title for the final song on the album, it had me thinking along the lines of something more associated with one of Gordon’s other hobbies which happens to be mountain climbing. But what we have here is based around has to which one of the Bronte family actually wrote “Wuthering Heights“. Well one thing for certain is that is was not Kate Bush even though she may have wrote a song and sang about it :))))))).

Patrick Branwell Bronte better known as Branwell Bronte was refereed to being the mad, bad and dangerous brother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Although he was the only brother the 3 sisters had Branwell Bronte was also an English painter, writer and artist. Though some may have called him a piss artist when he gave way to drugs and alcohol addiction :))))).

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The painting above was painted by Branwell Bronte and it shows his 3 famous sisters. He even painted himself in the picture, but afterwards decided to paint it out. Branwell also had two other sisters who died just before his 8th Birthday and it deeply affected him. His father very much taught his son Branwell himself at home even though he was advised to send him to school and gave his son a classical education. Even though all 3 of sisters went to school to be educated a typhoid epidemic spread around the school that led to the death of both Maria and Elizabeth Bronte. Their father took Charlotte, Emily and Anne out of school and decided to teach them as well at home.

During the 19th century sickness and epidemics such as typhoid and tuberculosis were nothing unusual and it took its toll on many, and not many lived to grow old. Many were dead by the time they reached 30 including the family in question here. Charlotte was the eldest of her 3 sisters and was near enough a year older than her brother too. Yet she lived the longest out of them all. Though she did not quite make 40 and died at the age of 39. She got to live 10 years longer than her youngest sister Anne and 9 years longer than both Branwell and Emily who died in the same year, and the latter of the two lived only 3 months longer.

Branwell brought his own death upon himself, and unlike his sisters the only real thing that killed him was his own addiction. In many ways I suppose he was the black sheep of the family because he could not hold any kind of regular job, he was often up to no good by trying to cheat people out of money, and even turned to blackmail to get the money to pay for his dirty habit. Well that’s how I see his life anyway by just reading up on it. I can see why he was seen as the mad, bad and dangerous brother because basically he was a disgrace and embarrassment to the family more than anything else.

Most of his early works regarding his writing were done in collaboration with his oldest sister Charlotte to which were mostly poems. Branwell was no novelist like his sisters even though he may have had grand delusions of grandeur as a child. But as he got older he never bothered pursuing a career at all. Even the poems he sent in to try and get some kind work were left unanswered. All his other work were all in fact done with his sisters in collaboration (including a play he did with Charlotte).

Unlike his sisters Branwell liked to have a good time, and spent most of his time with friends in public houses getting pissed out of his brains. Even though he tried to further educate himself he soon gave up more or less on everything he did. Unlike both of his sisters Charlotte and Emily who did go on to further education and even became school teachers. So is it possible that this guy could write something like Wuthering Heights?. Personally I very much doubt it, but you never know.

Emily on the other hand was not like her sisters who were more well known for writing novels, and the only novel credited to her name was the first part of Wuthering Heights. Not even that at first was credited to her real name and all the Bronte sisters did in fact go under pseudonym names. They may very well have had their reasons for doing so as well, after the disgrace and embarrassment their own brother Branwell had brought to their family name. Branwell could not even get admitted into the Royal Academy Of Arts for his paintings, never mind get his poems and a book published (if he did really write one that is). However he was the first Bronte poet to get some of his poems published in local newspapers under the name of Northangerland.

There is no doubt that there was certainly quite a lot of criticism going around when the book Wuthering Heights was published. Many believed because of how it was written that there was no way a woman could of wrote it. But just by reading the background of Emily’s life I would say that Wuthering Heights is more or less an autobiography of her life with the madness of her brother thrown into it all. Emily was the shy one who kept herself to herself, and it just may be the case that she was abused more than the others was at an early age. A lot of that anger about men and all the sickness she went through could of certainly wrote that book.

There is no doubt that Charlotte was the one who helped Emily the most, and it was her that stumbled upon Emily’s poems and other written material and was the one who very much made sure they got published. Emily wanted nothing to do with it and was much more closer to Anne than Charlotte. When the book was first published Anne was even credited to the writing and it was first published under both Emily & Anne’s pseudonym names of Ellis & Acton Bell.

Many publications have been published over the years that have intended to show that  Branwell was the real guy behind the story of Wuthering Heights. Such as the likes of Stella Gibbon’s 1932 novel “Cold Comfort Farm” and Pauline Clarke’s “The Twelve and the Genii”. The only real person who could of really answered as to who really wrote it was Charlotte Bronte and she very much took that to her grave.

The words that Gordon Midgley wrote for “From The Heights” very much portray the life of Branwell Bronte down to a tee. It very much describes the talented young side of Branwell‘s early life up to his pitfalls, downfalls and failures later on in his life, and how at the end of it all, how he was painted out of history. Midgley’s story also pertains to the possibility that Branwell may well of wrote the first draught of Wuthering Heights and Emily was the one who took it and finished it off. It’s also not known if he was aware of his 3 sisters debut novels that got published in 1847 the year before he died.

In many ways Branwell‘s innocent childhood and last years of madness could very well portray the character of Heathcliffe in the book. In the end he threw himself over the cliff so to speak. But no doubt he left a legacy and the picture he painted of his 3 sisters may even be a monument of his own history, even if he painted himself out of it all.

From The Heights” is very much another great piece of work and strong contender for the top spot on the album. Tillett’s GREAT! voice puts over this final chapter of the GREAT! story very well with how he has expressed it all. Midgley comes in the right parts with his vocals to back it up and support and once again we have a very powerful song that is well hauntingly done with the use of acoustic guitar, electric guitars, bass and drums to raise the game and lift it all up with its superb intense build up and puts an end to one really superb album.

Summary

To sum up Monuments by Napier’s Bones its certainly an album that has plenty to say with all 5 of its tracks and story lines put to them, and is certainly an album that gives a reviewer like myself plenty to speak about. I found all the subject matter throughout this album purely fascinating, and I knew very little and certainly in most cases nothing at all about the impact and monumental history of how these people left their mark on it in one way or another in this world.

The fact that I knew very little and nothing at all about the people that are contained on this truly GREAT! album, made it that more fascinating and exciting to read up on it all. Though please do not take my own personal views of Branwell Bronte’s personal life of how I seen it with my own observations.

My own personal observations have come from mainly reading upon both his life and his sister Emily’s life, and I have not gone into any great detail by reading entirely all the other various publications in my own research on the subject matter. And I am far from any expert who knows the inside out of that classic novel Wuthering Heights either or how it really came about.

There is no doubt that a great deal of thought and effort has gone into the making of this album and it stands up very well as a testament to the history of the lives it portrays, and how it’s been put across. When it comes to concept albums and the source of the material that we have here, it very much suits the world of progressive rock to a fine art, and no doubt this prog rock album is a very fine work of art that truly GELS with how it’s all so skilfully been very well constructed and woven together.

My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Standing Childe“. “Mirabilis” and “The Heights“. I also think it is very hard to pick a favourite out of the 3 tracks and I could even include the other 2 tracks in these highlights. But I could just of easily of said the whole album and as an album it purely works solidly as one.

Conclusion…

Monuments by Napier’s Bones is a very strong body of work and is very much a solid album with all the material that was written for it. There is no doubt that an album like this will, or should appeal to many who like myself are into the world of prog rock and concept albums stories and conspiracy. For those who are into such GREAT! music I can honestly recommend this album 100% and it does not in any way at all disappoint in the slightest bit either. The album very much will stand up and speak for itself, and I suggest at the very least you give it a listen.

Napier’s Bones may very well be a two man outfit, but there is no box of magic tricks or gimmickry that has been added to this album in the studio at all. It’s all purely done with the use of real instruments, real guitar effects, real voices and real sweat apart from the drum programming and even that has been skilfully done. To put it all in a nutshell Its very much the work of two very well skilled musicians who purely make a great team.

Like I have mentioned before regarding overall quality of Gordon Midgley’s production work. it very much has been improving all the time and this album comes with a superb production. I also personally think this album is their best album yet, and If you are into the likes Rush/Queen/Steve Hackett/Pink Floyd and many, many more there is no doubt Napier’s Bones will appeal to your taste. Monuments is a masterful magnificent album that portrays an hauntingly dark, thrilling and mischievous look into those who left their mark in history. Most of which you most likely would never had heard of, which makes it even more exciting.

The album Monuments by Napier’s Bones is free to listen to and can also be purchased as a digital download only for as little as £4 or more @ Bandcamp. You can listen or even purchase it from this link here : https://napiersbones.bandcamp.com/album/monuments  

This Bright Winter’s Day Sally Forth Feel The Bite Of The Wind From The North…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Standing Childe. 23:03.
02. Mirabilis. 10:25.
03. Waters Dark. 3:07.
04. Free To Choose. 5:59.
05. The Heights. 8:09.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #98

ReInvention – Gryphon

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Introduction…

Well it’s finally here after some 41 years and no doubt I would never of thought it would of ever been possible to see a 6th Gryphon album after all these years either. I dare say some of the bands fans would of even past over to the other side by now and this is not exactly like waiting for the next Peter Gabriel album to arrive which may come along once in a blue moon. I think for the biggest majority of bands fans after all these years, you would certainly be dead lucky to see most of the original members still alive. But here we get at least 3 of its 4 original members, and even though the 4th one is not here, he is still very much still alive and kicking.

There is no doubt a lot of Gryphon fans will be missing Richard Harvey, especially with him being the guy who contributed towards perhaps most of the bands written material way back in the 70’s. There is no doubt that he was the guy who wrote many of the bands masterpieces back in that golden decade. But then again so did both Graeme Taylor and Brian Gulland. So no doubt with even 2 thirds of the bands original writing force. I don’t think Gryphon fans will be that disappointed.

I myself am just grateful that I was still around to see all this happen, and I even got to see the band with all 4 of its original members play live back in 2015 as well. They even had Jonathan Davie on bass who was very much on the bands 5th album Treason back in 1977 along with them as well. Gryphon are a band I will very much take to my grave, and if I can afford to be buried in a grave it will certainly be an “Unquiet” one along with my Gryphon albums and HiFi :)))))).

Gryphon today are very much a 6 piece outfit just like the band was on their last album they made back in 1977 Treason. The multi instrumentalist Graham Preskett was the first to join the band back in 2009 when they first got back together and performed their one off concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Rory McFarlane joined the band in 2016 and replaced the bands old bassist Jonathan Davie who rejoined the band back in 2009 and decided to leave towards the end of 2015.

The latest member to join the band is the woodwind player Andy Findon who joined the band last year in 2017. He replaced Keith Thompson who originally replaced Richard Harvey back in 2016 – 2017. Since 2009 the band have very much reinvented themselves and finally at last a new album has finally arrived, and I am very much looking forward to reviewing this one. Though I have to confess before this album arrived and after some 41 years of waiting for it, I never had any great expectations of how it would turn out.

After all this is 2018 and not the 70’s. Today I find it practically impossible for any band that came out of that decade to really recapture that golden magic again. But before I go any further, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork first.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Well the first surprise was that the latest album actually comes in a Digipak and it looks like no expense as been spared here. Like many Digipaks these days it also comes with a pocket to store the booklet in. Speaking of the booklet its an 8 page one that contains all the linear production notes, credits and the lyrics. Talking Elephant have certainly done a much better job than they did with the new remasters of Gryphon’s first 5 albums that I recently brought and it looks very neat for it as well.

The Artwork.

The artwork and design was done by the English psychedelic artist John Hurford. In the late sixties he was one of the leading psychedelic painters, with work appearing in Oz, IT and Gandalf’s Garden magazine. He is the only psychedelic artist of his generation who has contributed to all three of these seminal underground publications. He then went on to do illustrated children’s books for publishers in the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Africa and over 40 titles have been published over the years.

He even done the artwork for Gryphon’s new website that they launched around 2 years ago now. I quite like the fact that like Dan Pearce’s work its very colourful, and in some respects sort of harks back to the cover that Pearce done for the bands 3rd album Red Queen To Gryphon Three. It looks like they may have used the bands wind player the mighty or rather God Almighty Brian Gulland to step in and stop the fight as well :))))).

The Album In Review…

Gryphon’s latest 6th album ReInvention was officially released on Talking Elephant Records on the 10th August 2018 via the bands website only. It was also released at the Cropredy Festival on the same day. Eventually it will get released at other outlets such as Burning Shed and Amazon. The price point is also very reasonable from the bands own website and it’s priced at £12 plus £1.70 postage and packaging to which they so also use 1st class post here in the UK.

The album comes with 11 tracks and has an overall playing time of 62 minutes, and 34 seconds. It’s the longest Gryphon album ever made. No doubt some may consider it too long, but after waiting 41 years I doubt that will be the case at all, and it will be certainly more of a welcoming thing for Gryphon fans. However if the band do plan to release it on vinyl at some point later on. I rather think that they have made it more of a costly thing to do, simply cause you cannot squeeze 62 and half minutes onto one LP.

Gryphon’s new album was recorded and produced by Graeme Taylor at Morden Shoals Studio which is basically a studio he set up in his own attic. Taylor has spent quite a few years recording and producing a variety of other artists albums along with some radio and television work and the Gryphon’s new album comes with an excellent production and sounds really GREAT!.

Gryphon are certainly not the type of band you could set your watch by, and since they got back together in 2009 they have certainly jumped the gun regarding what news they put out and with the announcements they have made from time to time. Since that one off gig they played at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London that I missed in 2009. I kept my eyes peeled on the only real website you could find out any real information about the band.

That website was designed and maintained by Eduardo Mota. I am pretty sure the first rumours that Gryphon was going to be playing live again floated around in 2013. Then it was announced they would be getting together for some shows in 2014. Throughout this time they also announced they would be working on a new album. It all eventually came together again in 2015 and they called their little mini tour The Non The Wiser Tour. No doubt nobody were non the wiser has to when it would all happen again. But I kept my eyes glued to Eduardo’s website from 2010 onwards.

Since 2016 Gryphon finally created their own website and even though Eduardo Mota as not updated anything on his website since January 2015 to be honest it contains more useful information about the band and looks a damn site better than the new website the band have now. I myself found it a very useful website for a lot of the resources for my reviews of the bands 5 albums from the 70’s. I think Eduardo done a magnificent job on that website and he deserves a lot of credit for it too.

No doubt since the band got back together just before 2009 it’s certainly had an hard time of keeping a consistent line up, and that is very much what has held a lot of things back. I also felt that Richard Harvey with all his commitments may have held up a lot of things after that one off gig they did back in 2009. To be honest having seen the band live in 2015 with Richard Harvey. I got the impression that the band were much more stable and comfortable, when I seen them without him in 2016. They also appeared to be more happier within themselves as well.

Gryphon are without doubt still a force as a live act even without Harvey. Though no way could I ever take anything really away from Harvey’s great talent has a composer and a performer.

Even with the line up of the band Gryphon now have you cannot really set your watch by them, and a typical example of that is with the release of their new album. This album was officially supposed to be released on the 14th of September. They even announced it that gig which will be once again at the Union Chapel in London at the beginning of this year. They even called the event the Grand New Album Launch.

I even brought a ticket for the event to get the album upon its release, and they have already released the bloody thing :)))))). I most likely would of avoided travelling all the way to London if I would of known, and waited for them to play at Wolverhampton in November as it’s nearer for me to travel. But I do not mind and will get to see them twice this year now.

In a way I am glad the album got released before the concert simply cause no doubt they will be playing a lot of the new material at the shows, and I would much sooner hear it before hand, rather than listen to a lot of new material I have never heard before.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Graeme Taylor. Recorded & Mastered at Morden Shoals Studio. Recording Engineer  Graeme Taylor. Additional Editing by Graham Preskett. Art & Design by John Hurford. All tracks recorded in 2017.

Musicians.

Brian Gulland: Bassoon/Baritone Sax/Recorders/Bass Krumhorn/Pestle ‘n Mortar/Piano/Vocalisations.
Graeme Taylor: Santa Cruz OM Acoustic Guitar/Fender Custom Shop Telecaster.
Dave Oberlé: Drums/Percussion/Pestle ‘n Mortar Rotation/Vocals.
Graham Preskett: Violin/Keyboards/Mandolin (and a spot of Harmonica).
Andy Findon: Flute & Piccolo(With and without Abell Whistle Headjoints for Boehm-System Flute)/Soprano Krumhorn/Soprano Sax/Clarinet/Sweetheart Fife.
Rory McFarlane: Electric & Double Bass.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Looking at how Gryphon’s new album ReInvention as been laid out with it’s 11 tracks. I think if you was going to compare it with any of their earlier albums from the 70’s with its layout, it would certainly have to be their 1973 self titled debut album, to which even though it was some 20 odd minutes shorter, it did contain 12 tracks. I would also say that the bands new album is more structured around the more folkier side of things too.

Though one could certainly say that no Gryphon album is really alike and that certainly still stands true even after all these years. Both renaissance and medieval music always has been the major element behind the bands music ever since they first started out back in the early 70’s. The only album they ever made where it was not so evident would most certainly have been their last album Treason done back in 1977.

Gryphon have always been known as the medieval prog rockers, and no doubt prog rock is also evident in a lot of English traditional folk music, and the structure of even some of this style of music can still be just as well structured and very complex to play. Gryphon have always applied a lot of classical music to the structure of their music too, which is most certainly down to their more unusual use of instrumentation they use and its what really sets them apart from many others, and why their music is that much more unique.

I suppose the best way I could really describe Gryphon’s new album ReInvention is that you still have the odd bit of medieval goodness that was present on the bands self titled debut album from 1973. But we also have a more airy and lighter approach to approach to folk music which fuses classical, traditional folk, jazz and blues into it’s melting pot. In many ways I get the impression that this particular album was certainly tailor made for the Cropredy Folk Festival rather than any prog rock festival.

In my introduction I stated that I never had any great expectations has to how this album would turn out after all these years. This was very much based on how many artists from that golden decade of the 70’s I loved so much, have somehow lost the knack in creating something they did back then. I also stated that after all this is 2018 and not the 70’s, and today I find it practically impossible for any band that came out of that decade to really recapture that golden magic again.

No doubt many of those artists can recapture that magic when you go and see them live, and let’s face it at their live shows they still play those old classics they created all those years ago more often than their newer material. That is the very reason why most people still go and see most artists play live even today. Though I have to say regarding writing newer material today, I would say that 90% of artists still find it difficult to recapture the magic from when they started out many moons ago.

In some respects I can see why Peter Townshend of the Who gave up writing newer material for the band when they got back together to play some live shows. Even he felt it was too hard to recapture the past and even though many artists still plod on and try and do so, it’s a very hard thing to do. Even a successful artist like Elton John cannot do it either. So the question is can Gryphon do it after some 41 years. Well let’s take a closer look at the new written material as I go through the 11 tracks on the album individually.

Track 1. Pipe Up Downsland Derry Dell Danko.

Well no doubt just by glancing at the title we have here it’s quite easy to relate it to some sort of jig you would find in traditional folk music. A title such as this would of have even been more associated with a band like Fairport Convention before Gryphon were even born :)))))). But oddly enough even though this particular track is mainly an instrumental piece, it does have words and vocals in it, unlike any jig and its quite strange where the vocals come into play as well which is more or less right at the end at around the 3 and half minute mark.

Gryphon’s medieval dance style is still quite reminiscent in the piece, and musically its perhaps more like a reel than a jig. It’s a very interesting piece and no doubt the vocal section which was perhaps most unexpected and sees the band injecting their usual bit of humour into the piece. Both Dave Oberlé and Brian Gulland share the vocal duties and they tend to on a couple of the vocal tracks on the album.

It’s one of the 4 tracks on the album that was written by Brian Gulland and to be honest I have always enjoyed his contribution to the bands writing and was glad to see he had written quite a few tracks for this new album. Both “Gulland Rock” from the bands 2nd album Midnight Mushrumps and “Flash in the Pantry” from the last album Treason I have always regarded as masterpieces.

Though I would not exactly say that “Pipe Up Downsland Derry Dell Danko” is really a masterpiece, its a very well constructed piece of work. You get all your familiarities with the flutes, organ, harpsichord, krumhorns, bassoon, acoustic guitar, percussion and I suppose the only really new addition is the violin. It’s quite a delightful and pleasing way to kick off the new album and I really like what the band have done here, and this is very much a contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 2. Rhubarb Crumhorn.

The first of 4 tracks that Graham Preskett has contributed to the band and judging by its title its perhaps more associated to Brian Gulland but this instrumental piece is perhaps more familiar with Richard Harvey’s writing, in that its certainly something more along the lines of what one would write for Television. But it does have Gryphon’s unique style stamped all over the piece.

Once again the band have done a really superb job of it all and there is a lot more than just the krumhorns that make up the beauty we have here in this very well constructed and well written piece. It’s also another contender for the top spot on the album and its an excellent track on the album.

Track 3. A Futuristic Auntyquarian.

Well the title of this Brian Gulland instrumental piece certainly has more of a Gryphon ring about it. Once again it’s another delightful well structured piece and what I like a lot about this album is the way that all the members of the band stand out so clearly with the use of their instruments. It’s been very well recorded and the band certainly appear to be more in unison with one another. I certainly felt that was missing on the bands 4th album Raindance.

The violin in particular is perhaps contributing more to how much different Gryphon is in presenting their music on this album, and it’s perhaps not an instrument one would usually associate with the band back in the 70’s even though Richard Harvey done a fine job of emulating one on his keyboards back then. I like the way they incorporate a nice bit of blues boogie into the piece and it works it’s way in very well and this is yet another contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 4. Haddocks’ Eyes.

This is perhaps the most adventurous track on the album, it’s also the longest track on the album and weighs in at smack bang on 11 minutes. It’s another of the vocal tracks and is credited to both Graeme Taylor and some famous author who happened to write  the Adventures Of Alice In Wonderland namely Lewis Carroll. No doubt things seem to get Curiouser and curiouser! especially the adventure we have with this set of lyrics.

No doubt Graeme Taylor is providing all the humour we have here in the writing and I am pretty sure he did not have to put Lewis Carroll in the writing credits. But what we have here is perhaps Taylor’s own version of what Alice saw through the looking glass so to speak and I have to say he’s done quite a remarkable job going about it all.

It’s quite theatrical with how the story is portrayed with the music and with how Messrs Oberlé and Gulland put the words across with their fine voices. Speaking of their voices in the speaking parts in particular they remind me of the same voice on Camel’s 2002 album A Nod And A Wink. But Brian Gulland used this exact same vocal expression way back in 1975 towards the end of “Fontinental Version” which can be found on their Raindance album.

Like most of the tracks on the album they contain some really great progression and this one certainly has the length to allow for more diversity to which it certainly displays too. I think Taylor came up with another winner here and this is my personal favourite track on the album and merits my top spot on the album award.

Track 5. Hampton Caught.

Another fine instrumental piece of music written by Graham Preskett and this one suits Gryphon right down to the ground with it’s medieval folk vibe. It’s beautifully arranged and contains all the essence and right ingredients you will find within the bands earlier music and perhaps not that too far away from “Pastime With Good Company” from the bands 1973 debut album.

Only this is much more longer and is some 5 and a quarter minutes long. No doubt there is a bit of fun regarding the title, but they did get to catch a bit of magic here and it really is an excellent piece. It’s also a very strong contender for the top spot on the album too.

Track 6. Hospitality At A Price… (Dennis) Anyone For?.

Another one of Brian Gulland’s compositions and here we get a chance to listen to some of his own “Drivel” :)))))). This is another song with words and he himself takes on all the vocal duties with his own humorous lyrics, its a bit like listening to a musical that came from the 1920’s and once again shows you just how great this band can be when it comes to doing something in this old fashioned style.

Once again the instrumentation throughout the piece is great and it even gives the bands bass player Rory McFarlane the chance to jump on the double bass. The Krumhorns also remarkably work very well with the piece considering its 20’s style jazz music and this is one that would be great to see them play live, and knowing them they will do it for the fun of it all.

Track 7. Dumbe Dum Chit.

Another very well arranged instrumental piece that suits Gryphon’s fine style down to a tee, and is once again penned by Graham Preskett. It’s the shortest track on the album and weighs in at just over 3 minutes. Musically its like another folk reel combined with a fine splash of jazz to add to its splendour. All the musicians play integral parts with their instruments and the interplay between the band is golden. It’s title may also present one with a problem if trying to say it too fast as well :)))).

Track 8. Bathsheba.

The only composition on the album written by the bands bassist Rory McFarlane. It’s title is based around the biblical story of King David fornicating with another man’s wife having seen her bathing in the nod basically. No doubt he got a bit of a Stiffy and could not resist the temptation having clapped his eyes on her :))))).

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It’s another fine instrumental piece that captures the story in a dramatic way, and their is much more to the story than just a bit of hanky panky so to speak. The violin and clarinet play an integral part with the main melody line or theme, and I like how the clarinet and bassoon work in unison with one another and run in a timely way with the bass line and percussion. It’s a bit like a clock counting out the movement of the piece.

Once again all the band members manage to work, and ease their way into the fine piece comfortably enough, and its perhaps not going to set the world on fire. But it does well in portraying the story and the scene we have here and it’s a well worked out piece of work and pleasant enough to listen too.

Track 9. Sailor V.

Another of Graham Preskett’s compositions and this is another fine instrumental piece that perhaps has a bit more of a Celtic feel about it all. In some ways it’s a bit like a cross between what Fairport Convention do these days and what Mike Oldfield done quite a few moons ago. However Gryphon do have their own distinctive style and even though they do a purely fantastic job of presenting a Celtic piece like this to you, their own style is perhaps lost on a piece like this, and this is certainly different.

In some ways I would say that this was perhaps the odd track on the album, and that is certainly down to the Celtic side of things we have here, which is something that is not really associated with Gryphon’s music at all. No doubt Gryphon have always been into traditional folk and renaissance music but this is more of your modern day Irish music and to be perfectly honest Celtic music is not really my thing. But I can take the odd track now and then, but not in large quantities like Oldfield’s album Voyager for example.

There is no doubt this piece is very well structured and very well arranged. This is also a piece that would be well suited for television and even a film, and it would suit both very well. The musicianship is first class throughout the piece and the bassoon and the bit of harmonica slot into place very well. I cannot fault the composition at all and it just goes to show how remarkable a band like Gryphon can play Celtic music they have certainly done an outstanding job of it all.

Sailor V” is the 2nd longest track on the album no doubt the music expresses a voyage across the sea as well. The title may suggest that there were another 4 parts to it before we arrived here. But my guess that it may have been the name given to some sea vessel they spotted or the “V” is an abbreviation of “Thee” :))))). Like I said this is not a piece of music one would associate with Gryphon’s music and I myself am not that fond of Celtic music. However I cannot rule out the art of composition and the purely FANTASTIC way the band have presented the piece and it’s brilliant arrangement. And this certainly has to be another strong contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 10. Ashes.

I must admit when I first seen the title I thought this was one of Gryphon’s older pieces that was written around the time they done the tracks for their Raindance album back in 1975. “Ashes” was very much a piece written by Brian Gulland and left off that 1975 album. It eventually found its way along with 3 other unreleased tracks on the 2nd of the of the two compilation albums released on Curio Records back in 1995, and appeared on The Collection II CD.

But the “Ashes” we have here was written by Graeme Taylor and Gulland’s version of “Ashes” must have been well scattered and blown away by now :))))). The song we have on this album they actually performed live back in 2016 when I seen them at the Robin 2 in Wolverhampton, and apart from this being a studio version of Taylor’s song there is not a lot of difference.

It’s a fine acoustic song that utilises Taylor’s acoustic guitar very well and Preskett gets a chance to bring out the mandolin again as well as the violin. Gulland takes on the lead vocal and jumps on the bassoon for the solo. Findon does a grand job on the flutes and both McFarlane and Oberlé hold up the fort very well with the back line that lends fine support to it all. It’s a pleasant enough song and is perhaps like a light wispy breeze with an airy feel about it.

Track 11. The Euphrates Connection.

The final track on the album was penned by Brian Gulland and its quite a strange piece of music even though we do get a few words sung by Gulland backed up by Oberlé on harmonies at the beginning. It’s perhaps a piece that allows some of the members of the band to come in with their instruments and features a nice bit of acoustic and electric guitar from Taylor. Oddly enough the electric guitar is playing a rather strange western sort of theme which makes it very strange indeed :)))).

It’s a very unusual piece I will give that and quite quirky in a way too. My favourite part is when the pipe organ comes into play and how all the guys support it. It really lifts the piece up and even gives it more of a Jetrho Tull feel to it all. However strange the piece may come across it’s very worked out and very well constructed. It’s certainly the most strangest piece I think I have heard Gryphon do, and I quite like things when they are strange too :))))).

Summary

To sum up my review of Gryphon’s very, very long awaited 6th album ReInvention. I personally do not think there are any real masterpieces on this latest album, but that is not to say it’s not a strong album at all, and to be perfectly honest this album is certainly more than I ever really expected of how it would actually turn out after all these years.

I also think were Gryphon may have the advantage of giving you something that bit more of what you would of been expecting after all these years, is more than likely down to the fact that they never have made an album really the same and they are all quite different.

Even though the band may have perhaps gone back to their folk roots in some respects, this is not really an album like Raindance which I personally seen as a step backwards. The main essence of the band still remains in the written material they have written for this new album.

You still get the medieval side of things on some of the tracks, you also get the odd bit of jazz thrown in for good measure. The classical side of things is still very much there and so is the great progression. You even get a splash of blues and a Celtic piece thrown in which maybe out of place, but never the less its certainly still very much a very strong composition.

My personal highlights from the album are: “Haddocks’ Eyes“. “Rhubarb Crumhorn“.”A Futuristic Auntyquarian“. “Hampton Caught“. “Sailor V“. and “Pipe Up Downsland Derry Dell Danko“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of ReInvention by Gryphon. There is no doubt that I did highly speculate as to if Gryphon could recapture that magic from the 70’s. But in all honesty I should never really have worried about it. There is no doubt the magic is still there and the musicianship is top notch as ever. There is no doubt that they have come out with a newer approach to their music, but it works for them extremely well I feel and I cannot say there is nothing on this album that really disappoints.

Is it the best Gryphon album and can it compete with those albums they made back in the 70’s?. My answer to that 2 part question would be NO!!!!. Of course it’s not the best Gryphon album and to be honest, I could not pick the best album out of Gryphon’s first 3 albums. But I certainly think that the material on ReInvention is very strong and as an whole album it can certainly compete with both Raindance and Treason. The one thing I can honestly say about all Gryphon’s albums, is that not one of them have let me down. And there is not a lot of bands I could say the same thing about.

I think for all genuine Gryphon fans their latest album ReInvention is a must to have and its a very exciting but different album. For those who just brought the bands 3rd album Red Queen To Gryphon Three because it had more of the prog rock side of things. You will not get that on Reinvention I am afraid. Though no doubt you will still get the great diversity and progression and the odd bit of quirky prog rock thrown in for good measure. Gryphon are very much a band you really need to go and see play live. It might just open up anyone’s eyes to how remarkable they really are.

On a final note I just hope I do not have to wait that long to see a 7th Gryphon album. I certainly have not got 41 years left in me, and neither have they :)))))).

I Make Them Into Mutton Pies And Sell The On The Street…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Pipe Up Downsland Derry Dell Danko. 4:48.
02. Rhubarb Crumhorn. 5:53.
03. A Futuristic Auntyquarian. 5:58.
04. Haddocks’ Eyes. 11:00.
05. Hampton Caught. 5:11.
06. Hospitality At A Price… Anyone For?. 3:38.
07. Dumbe Dum Chit. 3:08.
08. Bathsheba. 5:37.
09. Sailor V. 8:35.
10. Ashes. 3:29.
11. The Euphrates Connection. 4:43.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 09/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #97

Treason – Gryphon

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Introduction…

With the departure of Graeme Taylor and Malcolm Bennett things may have looked all over for Gryphon. But they was not about to give up just quite yet, and pretty soon they was to recruit 3 new members to the band, they even brought in a lyricist to make things run a bit more smoothly and create a new sound for the band. Gryphon were bouncing back with a new style for one final time before they bowed out gracefully, and I have to say I quite like the way they did it as well.

There is no doubt that Gryphon were fans and may have been influenced by Yes to some point. But I would not say they was influenced by them enough to try and emulate their music, and on their other 4 albums it’s plain to see that they was more influenced by folk and classical music. I also personally think Gryphon was certainly much more classically minded than Yes as well.

But if Gryphon ever made an album that showed their influence towards Yes. Their 5th album Treason is certainly the one where they did. But before I go any further, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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As with all the new remasters done by Talking Elephant they come in a standard jewel case and a 2 page booklet. This booklet also includes the lyrics besides the usual linear production notes. Unlike the bands first 3 albums that got new remasters in 2016 by Talking Elephant, this one they remastered in 2009.

My old CD was released by C-Five Records back in 1993. I ended up getting this 2009 remaster from ebay for £8.99 as Amazon was asking too much money for it  and had it priced at around £14.99. Once again these new remasters sound great and I have no complaints.

The Artwork.

Well you will not really have a problem spotting the Griffin on this album cover, and apart from the name of the band and the title of the album, that’s about all you can see. Not as colourful as Dan Pearce’s work or even Tony Wright‘s work to think about it. I personally do not think it’s the best of the bands album covers and actually rate this one bottom of the pile out of all 5 of their albums from this decade. The album design and illustration was done by Pat Elliott Shircore and the photographs on the back of the album were done by Pete Vernon and Alan Coleman.

The Album In Review…

The bands 5th album was released sometime between March – May in 1977. The album contained 7 tracks and has an overall playing time of 37 minutes, 26 seconds. By now the band had signed up to a new record label EMI’s Harvest Records and given the services of producer Mike Thorpe. With disappointing sales from the bands last album Thorpe very much steered the band in a new direction in order to try and make them a bit more popular, and to make their new album more of a saleable product.

In May of the same year he even made an edited down version of 10 minute opening track on the album “Spring Song” and released it as a single, to try and bring in a few more punters so to speak. “The Fall Of The Leaf” also from the same album was placed on the B’ Side of the record. It was Gryphon’s first ever single and being as Punk Rock had just burst on the scene and soon became a massive British invasion the single was bound to flop. No doubt Mike Thorpe must of had delusions of grandeur :)))).

No doubt punk rock was to put the mockers on a lot of things in 1977 and many bands were feeling the pinch. I am not sure when Gryphon’s new recruits  of guitarist Bob Foster, bassist Jonathan Davie and drummer Alex Baird joined the band. But it may of been sometime in 1976 I would of imagined. It perhaps seems a bit strange of them bringing in another drummer when they already had one. But the band had more vocal tracks in mind for their new album Treason which gave Dave Oberlé more vocal duties to cater for, so he dropped down to percussion.

Lyricist Tim Sebastion was brought in to handle the lyrical side of things whilst the band went to work on the music. Most of the tracks on the new album was left to Richard Harvey to write the music for them, and only 1 song was credited to Brian Gulland and another to the newcomer Bob Foster.

Most of the album was recorded at the Manor Studios in Oxfordshire the very studio brought by Richard Branson to which Mike Oldfiled’s Tubular Bells was recorded their and launched Branson’s new record label Virgin Records in 1973. Although the studio was not solely used just for Virgin Records and many other record labels had sent their artists to record at the studios. The first band to record an album there was actually The Bonzo Dog Band back in November 1971.

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The Manor Studio

The Manor was a studio up until the year 1995 and The Cast was the last band to record an album there. Over the years many well known artists had recorded their albums at the studio including the likes of Sandy Denny. Gong. Tangerine Dream. Queen. Black Sabbath. Rush and so on. The Manor Studio was taken over by EMI in April 1995 and they actually closed it as a studio. It’s now the country home of the Marquess of Headfort.

Desk

The song that found it’s way on the B’ Side of the single “The Fall Of The Leaf” was the only song the band recorded at Abbey Road studios in London. No doubt the studio is mostly famous for The Beatles recoding their albums there and many other well known artists have used it over the years including Pink Floyd.

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Abbey Road Studio

Abbey Road is one of the largest studios in the world. It’s studio 1 is actually the largest studio in the world and can quite easily accommodate a symphony orchestra and a 100 piece choir simultaneously. Way back In November 1931 Edward Elgar conducted The London Symphony Orchestra in recording sessions of his own music at the studio. 1931 was the year it had opened up as a studio as well.

Cliff Richard & The Shadows recorded their first song and hit “Move It” back in 1958. The Shadows were still known as The Drifters back then too.

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The building was built way back in 1831 and was originally a 9 bedroom Georgian town house. Later on it got converted into residential flats and it was sometime in 1929 that the Gramophone Company acquired the building. They spent the next couple of years converting it into a recording studio and It eventually opened its doors in 1931 after all the alterations. They also extended the property being as it also came with a large back garden.

The Gramophone Company was the predecessor of the British music company EMI who owned the studios right up till 2013 when Universal music took control of EMI. In 2009 the studio came under threat of being sold to property developers. However the British Government stepped into the rescue and protected the site by making it part of English Heritage and slapped a Grade II listed status on it in 2010. Thereby preserving any major alterations to the building.

They even done the same thing for Zebra Crossing oddly enough, so it shows just how important The Beatles history means to people. I am sure Gryphon made its own bit of personal history by getting to record 1 song out of its entire career at the famous studios. Though they certainly never went on to bigger things and the leaf was about to fall by the end of making their last album back in the 70’s.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced & Co-ordinated by Mike Thorpe. All songs recorded at The Manor Oxford. Except track 6 recorded at Abbey Road London 1977. Engineered by Mick Glossop & John Leckie. Album Cover & Artwork Illustrations by Pat Elliott Shircore. Photography by Pete Vernon & Alan Coleman. All lyrics written by Tim Sebastion.

Musicians.
Richard Harvery: Keyboards/Piano/Sax/Recorders.
Brian Gulland: Bassoon/English Horn/Recorders/Backing Vocals.
Dave Oberlé: Lead Vocals/Percussion.
Bob Foster: Guitars/Backing Vocals.
Jonathan Davie: Bass Guitars.
Alex Baird: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Gryphon’s album Treason is certainly different and no doubt the plan here with their new producer Mike Thorpe was to try an make the band a bit more commercial to gain a bit more popularity. However he perhaps could not of chose a more inconvenient time being that punk rock had raised its ugly head around the same time, and there was no way you could simply turn a band like Gryphon into a pop band.

No doubt over the years Dave Oberlé would of got a bit more stick from this album, even if he was not the man with the sticks on the drums. But this is the album where he would of been dubbed as the bands pop singer. There is no doubt that Oberlé was the guy with the sweet voice in this band, and that’s a quality of his I always admired since Gryphon launched it’s debut album back in 1973.

Every Gryphon album they released over the 4 years between 1973 – 1977 is different. But the one ingredient they kept throughout its entirety was their love for folk music, and it’s reminiscent on all 5 albums. I think for many fans of the band including myself, their first 3 albums contain the strongest material of the bands output. But both of the albums Raindance and Treason also contains some very strong well written material. But they do differ with some of the material that was written for both of those albums.

Both of those albums to some degree contain material that was written in a way of trying to break out with something more popular, and I think if anybody was to try and accuse the band of going pop with their album Treason. I could just as easily say they tried to do the same thing on Raindance as well. As an album I personally think that Treason is not so much of a mixed bag in relation to their previous album Raindance. The material that was written for it is better produced in the way of making all the tracks sound like they belong to an album and nothing is really out place.

I have always seen Treason very much as the album where Gryphon should of arrived at, coming off the back of their 3rd album Red Queen To Red Gryphon Three. Simply because if you look at how Gryphon started out with the first 3 albums they made, they was always advancing forwards and not going backwards. Raindance is the album that does take a step back. Whereas Treason is certainly more of a step forwards and I very much felt it worked to some degree as well.

So now let’s take a deeper look into the albums 7 tracks as I take you through them individually.

Track 1. Spring Song.

The album kicks off with a 10 minute classic that no doubt is perhaps more like Yes than Gryphon. But even though the band may have ditched the Crumhorns on this album in particular we still very much have the bassoon, flutes and harpsichord that very much put that Gryphon stamp on things here and makes even their own unique style stand out a bit more. Most of the Yes presence on this song is coming from the bands new guitarist Bob Foster. Who is very much more or less modelling the sound of his guitar to sound something more like Steve Howe.

Could Bob Foster be Steve Howe?. I personally do not think anybody could be Steve Howe or any other guitarist for that matter, but he’s doing a pretty good job of having a go I will say. I personally think any Yes fan would like “Spring Song” and even though the song may appear to have that Yes sound and presence about it. You could never accuse the band of plagiarism simply because it also injects Gryphon’s own uniqueness and stamp into the whole of the piece. I could also identify Gryphon on this song more than I ever could on the first 2 tracks of Raindance.

This song to me is prog rock heaven and my personal favourite track on the album. I am sure for many others it will be their favourite too. Richard Harvey’s keyboard work on this track is outstanding. Even Brian Gulland’s bassoon is on speed and it’s got this most gorgeous glistening melancholy section running through the piece like a river. The way the song builds up is pure magic, it contains bags of diversity and progression and the interplay between musicians is also quite magical.

I think in some ways “Spring Song” could be seen as a futuristic advance forward for a band like Gryphon. Just like the tracks “The Gates Of Delirium” and “Soundchaser” were for Yes on the album Relayer. Oddly enough I think both bands made a step backwards as well with the albums they put out after Yes made Relayer and Gryphon made Red Queen To Gryphon Three.

Spring Song” can very much be seen as the albums self titled track because it contains the word “Treason” and song is all about betrayal as well. There is no doubt that at times Gryphon put some pretty bizarre lyrics to their songs at times, and had a bit of fun along the way. The set of lyrics that Tim Sebastion wrote for this particular song may appear to look a bit silly, but these lyrics are very much far from the case, and are quite poetic in the way they have been written.

No doubt Sebastion knew his way with words and the lyrics we have here could very much put him in line to be some sort of a genius. The song is all about treason and the betrayal of sovereignty in one’s own country, the betrayal of a kiss and even down to how one season betrays and befriends one another as it changes from one to another. The lyrics may appear to like look Yes lyrics when starring them in the face. But there is much more sense that lies beneath, and once you delve deeper into them you will get to see how magical they are.

Spring Song” merits my top spot award of the album and it contains a good couple of well tasty solos from the guitar and keyboards too. David Oberlé does a grand job of projecting Sebastion’s GREAT! lyrics too and very much handles them with ease, with his more higher vocal range, and the other members do a grand job with the harmonies too.

Track 2. Round & Round.

The 2nd song on the album is more of an acoustic ballad of a song. This is perhaps not a song you would really identify a band like Gryphon with, and it’s not the only song on this album you will get something more along these lines either. I actually find some of the songs on this album I could quite easily associate more with the band Stackridge than Gryphon and this is certainly one of those songs as well.

No doubt the band are going more around the lines of popular music here, and this may not appeal to everyone and it depends on your taste as to how you will see a song like this. I for one very much like Stackridge and they was another band I was into back in the 70’s as well. I still play their albums even today. I also think like Gryphon they had some pretty darn good musicians as well and were a great band.

But even with a song like this Gryphon still try and put their stamp on it towards the end of the song between the 3:17 – 4:13 mark where Brian Gulland brings in the bassoon and they add a bit of a twist. They even take the title of the song literally as well by making it sound like the needle on the record got stuck and is going round and round :))))) for near  enough a minute, and they inject a bit of fun into the piece.

I quite like the song and I like how it’s been placed on the album too. I think because of the glistening melancholy we got on the opening track it helps to ease the track in with it’s pleasantness and for me it really works as well. Once again the song is credited to HarveySebastion.

Track 3. Flash in the Pantry.

This is my 2nd favourite track on the album and I also see this song as another piece of prog rock heaven. The song as a very quirky almost stab feel over its verse sections the way it projects and punctuates. It’s got more of a Yes funky groove and vibe about it as well, especially with the short burst quick melody lines on the electric guitar. The song is very tight and even the punctuating bass line is to die for.

One of the interesting features that sticks out so bold in this song comes into play around the 1:38 – 3:16 mark. It’s here that we get this massive percussion section with choral like vocal harmonies come into play. In many ways this is perhaps more like the band Gentle Giant than Gryphon but as much as I love Gentle Giant I actually think this is better than they could of done it. No doubt the band put it in for fun, but it’s quite amazing and a very well thought out part of the song.

The band then fall back into the groove to round the song off in fine style. The lyrics are about as mad as a butchers broom and honestly my mind boggles how on earth anyone could of come up with them. But when it comes to writing lyrics I do not even think they are missing Graeme Taylor at this point at all, and he was one for bizarre lyrics like this too. It’s the only track on the album that Brian Gulland wrote the music for. I only wish he wrote more :))))) cause this track is purely Fantastic.

Track 4. Falero Lady.

Another one of my favourite tracks on the album and this one is much more suited to Gryphon’s style. Once again we get this quirky funky groove only if I was to compare a track like “Falero Lady” to say both the funky tracks on the album Raindance such as “Down The Dog” and “Wallbanger“. This song as 10 times more things going for it and leaves both of those tracks in the dust.

There is never a dull moment throughout this song and the progression and diversity is much more like Gryphon themselves. Not only did they inject their usual bit of humour into the song, but also done that bit of magic of not holding onto a melody for too long before making a change. They also managed to do it over a much shorter distance too, and throw in bags of progression along the way.

It’s another one of the bands finer moments on the album and along with “Flash in the Pantry” both tracks are very much strong contenders for the top spot on the album and was once again penned by HarveySebastion.

Track 5. Snakes and Ladders.

Snakes and Ladders” oddly enough is the only instrumental track that’s on the album and was written by Richard Harvey. It’s perhaps very unusual for a Gryphon album to have more vocal tracks than instrumental tracks, and this has to be a first for them. It’s quite jazzy and starts off in an ambient dramatic way, that gives you the impression of being in the jungle, it’s like a call in the wild sort of thing.

The piece builds its way up slowly and breaks out into more of a great jazz style and its quite a very well arranged and structured piece that gives Harvey the chance to get out his saxophone, he also utilises the recorder and the odd bit of keyboard on the piece as well. Whilst Gulland gets on the English horn and bassoon. Oberlé works in some fine percussion in the intro section and the band do a great job here.

Track 6. Fall Of The Leaf.

A wonderful song about autumn penned by HarveySebastion. It’s another fine ballad of a song with some fine lyrics from Tim Sebastion and Dave Oberlé does a grand job in putting them over. The music is structured around the piano and Harvey does a fine job on it. Gulland’s bassoon works wonders on the quite long intro and features very well in the song.

Once again it’s perhaps not a song you would associate with Gryphon’s normal style of traditional folk, but it is more of a folk song than a pop song, and I think the last 2 songs on the album are perhaps something more along the lines of Stackridge than they are to Gryphon. This one may even have that Simon & Garfunkel flavour about it as well. But what you have here is a very well written song, and I personally cannot fault it at all. It even makes a great B’ Side too.

Track 7. Major Disaster.

The final song on the album is very much a pop song and is more of a love song that is more out of place in relation to Gryphon’s normal output. I dare say some may even see a song like this as a major disaster :))))). It’s a very well written song and is perhaps even more along the lines of a Stackridge song. The song was written by the new members in the band and was penned by Foster & Sebastion.

The band throw in a bit of a quirky lead section with the flutes and bassoon to give it that bit more of a familiar Gryphon presence and feel. However this another of those songs that would be hard to spot who the band was by hearing it for the first time on the radio. It’s a very pleasant and relaxing way to round off the album.

Summary

To sum up Gyphon’s 5th album Treason it’s an album that was without a doubt made in the way of trying to be a bit more commercial. You could say it was one more last stab or  ditch at trying to gain more recognition to be able survive. Making records costs money and if the record company or the band cannot generate enough of it to be able to pay for it all, it ends up costing them.

At the end of the day music is a viable product, and your product needs to be able to sell to continue to survive. Gryphon were not selling records at the rate that Coca Cola were selling cans of pop that’s for sure. They were perhaps more of an unknown brand and the very fact that punk rock had came out at the time, made it even more pointless to try and carry on.

From my research and as far as I can make out Gryphon played their very last gig at the Penthouse in Scarborough. The following list shows you the last gigs they played from the end of 1976 and into 1977.

01/10/76 76 Club, Burton-on-Trent
09/03/77 Marquee Club, Wardour Street, London
11/03/77 76 Club, Burton-on-Trent
12/03/77 Great Hall, Bradford
23/03/77 Marquee Club, Wardour Street, London
06/04/77 Marquee Club, Wardour Street, London
27/04/77 Marquee Club, Wardour Street, London
14/05/77 Barbarella’s, Birmingham
23/05/77 Music Hall, Shrewsbury
03/06/77 Penthouse, Scarborough

I noticed they even played at Barbarella’s in my home town of Birmingham. I went to the place a few times back then and remember seeing the Ian Gillan Band there. I was even amazed to see that Gryphon had played there and wished I would paid more attention to who was on at the place more often. But to be honest most of the time that was the kind of place that had more pop acts on than anything else, which is why I never bothered with the place that much.

I even remember seeing Paul Young there in the Streetband doing some silly song that was called “Toast” before it became a hit. The only time I ever really went to the place was when I was with an old friend of mine. He used to go there a lot, but having seen the Streetband it did not take me long to leave the place and shoot off to another pub, and I never went there again after seeing that crap :))))). The Ian Gillan Band was perhaps the only decent band I got to see at the place.

It was not that long after Gryphon had decided to call it a day and in the same year of 1977 both Richard Harvey and Jonathan Davie got together with Paul Aitken, Pete Airey and Peter Scathlock and formed a punk rock band and called themselves The Banned. Though none of them used their original names, which was most likely-to avoid the embarrassment :)))))). Harvey went under the name of Rik Manswoth and Davie called himself John Thomas.

To be honest I was not even aware of this bit of history but it really shows how popular punk rock was at the time, and how a band like Gryphon never really stood a chance of surviving. None of the members of The Banned were really into punk rock at all, they done the whole thing for laugh and as a bit of a scam.

I think the group only lasted about 6 months and both Harvey and Davie left well before that and not long after making their first record which was put out as a single. They done a cover version of a 1966 U.S. hit song entitled “Little Girl” which was originally done by  an American band called The Syndicate Of Sound.

Richard Harvey played the guitar on the song. To be honest I do not like posting original songs that other people have put on Youtube for copyright reasons. But I thought I would take a bit of a gamble by posting this one, and it’s not as if my blog site is going to attract that much attention, and even if it did I do not really have two pennies to rub together, so it would be pointless trying to sue me :)))))).

No doubt Gryphon would of been far more successful if they would of went down this road of making music just like punk rock. But Gryphon were a band that consisted of real quality musicians and not some idiots who could hardly string more than a couple of chords together and could not sing for toffee just like most punk bands were. I myself despised punk rock and hated it for what it did to the many great bands that were about at the time. I still cannot stand it today after all these years.

The strange coincidence is that the very guy who produced and co-ordinated Gryphon’s final album Treason. Who was Mike Thorne. Was the very guy who was responsible for signing The Sex Pistols to EMI. There is no telling what Gryphon would of sounded like if they went on to do another album back then. Richard Harvey was also certainly more interested in pursuing his solo career as well. In some ways I suppose he also became far more successful in doing so too.

Brian Gulland went on to do the odd bit of session work here and there for the likes of The Nolan Sisters. Ian Dury and classical guitarist John Williams. He also done some composition work, working in television, films and advertising as well as producing and arranging for other artists. Dave Oberlé also done the odd bit of session work over many years and went on to help launch the heavy rock magazine Kerrang.

It took some 32 years for all 4 original members of Gryphon to get back together again, and even then it was for 1 gig only that took place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Jonathan Davie who was also with them that night along with a new band member who goes by the name of Graham Preskett.

Since then the band started to play a few more concerts from 2015 onwards, and in 2016 Richard Harvey quit the band to go back into his work in film and classical music. The remaining 3 members along with Graham Preskett have kept the band going, and today Gryphon have very much reinvented themselves and after some 42 years. They have added a 6th album to their discography.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Gryphon’s 5th album Treason. It may be a bit of a different breed regarding the band and material that was written for it, No doubt for the majority of the bands fans they will have their own opinions of how the album spoke to them. It may not be the bands best album but I personally think it’s still a good album that does contain at least 3 classic songs.

My personal highlights from the album are “Spring Song“. “Flash in the Pantry” and “Falero Lady“. I also would say that all 3 of these songs are the most progmatic songs on the album and for me they are up there with some of the finest songs Gryphon have ever made. No way should the band be ignoring these songs like they tend to do at their live shows. I know Graeme Taylor was not part of the making of these songs, but that is no excuse not to play them. These 3 songs in reality very much represent were the band should of been at the end of their 3rd album.

Just like the bands 4th album Raindance. I do not see Treason as a solid album. But as an album I personally think it flows and works better with the material that’s on it. It’s also a very well produced album and I certainly do not think Gryphon were finished when Graeme Taylor made that statement in an interview after he had left the band. I myself was certainly glad the band went on to make this album, and I very much like all 5 albums the band made back in the 70’s.

That concludes my review of this series of of the bands 5 albums that came out of that golden decade of the 70’s. But Gryphon are not quite finished yet, and they have very much ReInvented themselves and the review of the bands 6th studio album will be coming up next.

The Vicar, Skips Quicker Cassacks In The Wind. I Have Never Sinned Says He…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Spring Song. 10:00.
02. Round & Round. 4:30.
03. Flash in the Pantry. 4:57.
04. Falero Lady. 4:08.
05. Snakes and Ladders. 5:15.
06. Fall of the Leaf. 4:22.
07. Major Disaster. 4:04.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 07/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #96

Raindance – Gryphon

Raindance

Introduction…

Having come off the back of their North American Tour with Yes in 1974. Gryphon and it’s new bass player Malcolm Bennett embarked on their UK tour with Yes in 1975 on their final leg of their Relayer tour in 1975. But just before they embarked on the tour Steve Howe invited Graeme Taylor, Dave Oberlé and Malcolm Bennett to play on a track on his first solo album Beginnings.

The UK Tour kicked it off at the Newcastle Civic Hall and they played 3 nights there from the 15th – 17th April.

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Over the following 2 nights on the 18th & 19th they was back at Greens the Glasgow Apollo again where they had played the previous year with Steeleye Span followed up by 2 nights in Edinburgh at the Usher Hall. The tour finished on the 17th May in Stoke On Trent at the Victoria Ground. The band had played 24 shows between April & May that year in various cities including Preston. Leicester. Liverpool. Manchester. Cardiff. Bristol. Southampton and they even played the Queens Park Rangers Football stadium, London on the 10th May.

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Although Gryphon’s name was not on the ticket Yes were supported by 3 bands on that day and it was Seals & Crofts who was the first of the support acts up that day and they were followed by Gryphon who hit the stage around 2:30 pm on that afternoon. Then Ace followed them and the main act of the night Yes hit the stage at around 7:30 in the evening.

In the following month of June after their tour supporting Yes. Gryphon decided to head back to the studios to work on their next album, only this time they where heading down to Cornwall and not Oxford where they recorded their previous 2 albums at the Chipping Norton Recording Studios. Once again the band had nothing prepared or written down before heading to the studios, though they did have “Wallbanger” to which they had already recorded in October 1974. To which they decided to use on this album.

There was no doubt that Gryphon were making progress and moving forward with the material they wrote for their previous album Red Queen To Gryphon Three. However the bands 4th album Raindance was perhaps taking a step backwards with quite a bit of the material they wrote for it. But before I go any further, let’s take a look at the artwork and packaging.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case which no doubt protects the disc very well. It also comes with a 2 page booklet which contains the usual linear production notes and credits, but does not include the lyrics.

Speaking of an old remasters this album had not been remastered that many times at all, and even when Talking Elephant remastered Gryphon’s first 3 albums in 2016 for some reason they decided not do a new remaster of Raindance. However I did discover that Talking Elephant did remaster it back in 2010 and has my older CD was released in Japan on Canyon International label back in the 90’s I still decided to buy this new remaster.

It only cost me £5.49 as well, which proves my point that older remasters in jewel cases can be picked up for around £5. Talking Elephant have certainly done a fine job with all these newer remasters and I cannot complain with the quality of the recording either. I did also notice that in 2016 this same release had been reissued in Russia. Though it was a reissue of this 2010 remaster and not a new remaster.

The Artwork.

The art work was done by Tony Wright and the art direction by Philip Warr. I was quite surprised they never used Dan Pearce again, but I guess they fancied a bit of a change. I quite like the artwork and like Dan Pearce’s work it’s also quite colourful. However for the life of me I cannot see how some Geezer sitting down naked in a chair relates to the title of Raindance. The fact that he is also sitting down may give the impression that the record on the old wind up Gramophone is not going make you want to get up and dance either :))))).

The Album In Review…

Gryphon’s 4th album Raindance was released on the 17th October 1975. The album contained 9 tracks, most of which are instrumental pieces and has an overall playing time of 41 minutes, 45 seconds. The band had spent some time between June and July recording the album at Sawmills Studios down in Cornwall. Judging by its location its perhaps a bit more understandable why they spent a bit more time there :)))).

sawmills-studio-cornwall-1

The studio was founded by Tony Cox in 1974 and has been a studio since. The main building is a 17th century water mill and the site itself has been documented in history stretching back as far as the 11th century. Because of its unusual location it can only be reached by boat and by a footpath. Over the years many other artists have recorded their albums here including Oasis. The Verve. Robert Plant. Muse and many others.

There is no doubt that out of all the 5 albums Gryphon made in the 70’s that they was all quite different from one another. I also felt that there was no real way forward for them to go after their 3rd magnificent album Red Queen To Gryphon Three. They had to take a step back, and no doubt this album is quite a step back in some ways, and here they are going back to their debut album in some respects, particularly in the way that once again they are combining instrumental pieces with songs that come with words.

But there is a difference between the more folky side that Gryphon had applied to their debut album and this particular album. The album Raindance certainly contains quite a bit of the jazz element in some of the material we have on this particular album. It’s a bit  more evident on this album than any other Gryphon album. It also has more of a funky modern vibe on a couple of the tracks.

To be honest this was not the type of album that one would of expected to arrive coming off the back of their 3rd album. I also found it quite disappointing hearing the album for the first time as well.

I did mention in my first review in this Gryphon series of the bands debut album that I had a lesser favourite album out of the 5 albums the band made back in the 70’s, and this is very much the one. I did also mention that out of the 5 albums Gryphon made they never let me down as well, and that is true. But for me personally there is not a lot on this album that measures up to the strength of the material that was written for the  bands first 3 albums, and it does contain some weaker written material.

There was also some disappointment brewing up within the bands camp after they made this album which led to Graeme Taylor leaving the band and Malcolm Bennett joining him as well. His reasons for leaving were down to musical differences, he also felt that Gryphon at this point had, had its day.

I can see Graeme Taylor’s point in making that statement about Gryphon had. had it’s day, and these guys were working their socks off and got very little for it. Gryphon were hardly making any money from making albums, and it was costing them money to make them. Even when they made their debut album in 1973 they was in debt for a grand with Transatlantic Records, and it was only by some of the members doing session work for other artists that they was able to pay them back.

Raindance was the last of Gryphon’s albums to be released on Transatlantic Records apart from the odd compilation albums that surfaced after the band had ceased to be in 1977. The album never did very well on it’s release either, so it may have been the case that Transatlantic Records either dropped them, or Gryphon decided to leave them after what little promotion the company gave to their new album at the time.

All of this, plus not being happy with how the collaborative material got dished out on the album could of led to Taylor’s departure from the band. But despite both his and Bennett’s decision to leave, it was not quite the end of Gryphon yet.

Musicians & Credits…

Dave_at_Sawmills.-1a

Produced by Gryphon. Co-produced and engineered by Richard Elen. “Down At The Dog” co-produced by Ritchie Gold. All tracks recorded at Sawmill Studios Cornwall England between June & July 1975. Except for “Wallbanger” which recorded on the Manor Mobile at Brian Goodman’s PLS Studios London. England October 1974. Phil Newall Engineer. Remasterd by M. Artwork by Tony Wright. Art Direction by Philip Warr.

Musicians.
Richard Harvery: Grand Piano/Rhodes/RMI & Crumar Pianos/Minimoog/Copeman Hart Organ/Mellotron/Clavinet/Keyboard Glockenspiel/Recorders/Crumhorns/Clarinet/Penny Whistle.
Brian Gulland: Bassoon/Backing & Lead Vocals (Track 6).
Graeme Taylor: Guitars & Backing Vocals.
Malcolm Bennett: Bass Guitar/Flute.
Dave Oberlé: Drums/Percussion/Lead Vocals (Tracks 3,6,8).

The Album Tracks In Review…

Finding out any information regarding just how many concerts Gryphon had played to promote their 4th album Raindance is like trying to find a needle in an haystack. To be honest I am quite surprised how a most unusual band like this never got to appear on The Old Grey Whistle Test. You will not even find any film footage of the band playing live back in the 70’s either, which is most unusual.

There does not even seem to exist a picture of the band with Malcolm Bennett in it, and I had to use the only photo I could find of the band in 1975 for my musicians & credits section, which was of Dave Oberlé and was taken at the Sawmill Studios whilst they was recording the album. They did however play at the Kings College in London the night before Raindance was released.

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I also know they played at the Paris Theatre in London on the 13th November 1975. Which was recorded by the BBC and produced by Jeff Griffin for their Radio 1 series of concerts to which the live recordings can be found on the About As Curious As It Can Be CD released on Hux Records in 2002. I cannot find any information regarding the time both Taylor & Bennett left the band, but I would expected it to sometime in 1976 and not long after they played at Friars in Aylesbury on the 10th January.

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That night was the 3rd time Gryphon had played at the venue and it was a popular place for many major artists. Both Taylor & Bennett went off to form their own band, but it never worked out, and Taylor ended up joining The Albion Band.

Richard Harvey’s first solo album Divisions On A Ground also got released in 1975. The material for the album was recorded in the previous year between July and August at St. Paul’s Church London with a bunch of other musicians. It features Harvey playing the music of Vivaldi, Matthysz, Handel, Finger, Van Eyck & Loeillet on treble and descant recorders only, accompanied by 3 violinists, a cello player and harpsichord player. Adam Skeaping who co-produced and co-recorded Gryphon’s debut album, recorded and also played a violone on the album which is an early form of a double bass.

Harvery Album

The album is based on an introduction to the recorder and its music and interestingly enough Dan Pearce also done the artwork and illustration for the album. It also has a chessboard but no Griffins on it :)))))). Well that about wraps up all that was happening in 1975 with Gryphon. So let’s take a deeper look at the 9 individual tracks that featured on the bands 4th album Raindance.

Track 1. Down The Dog.

The album kicks off with a funky little stomper of a jig penned by Richard Harvey and it features him mainly on the clavinet which along with Malcolm Bennett’s bass line gives it that funky presence and feel. It’s perhaps in some ways a bit reminiscent to something that Dave Pegg occasionally wrote a bit later on for Fairport Convention. It’s certainly more along the lines of folk rock rather than prog rock, even though the band may be  throwing in a few more elements with the instrumentation.

Gryphon are no doubt going back to their folk roots only with a more popular vane and more modern approach. It’s perhaps a piece that does not leave a lot of room for Brian Gulland. But amazingly his bassoon does not sound out of place in the track and fits in quite well. The title they gave to the piece is most likely referring to down at the pub, which I dare say they was on a few occasions whilst they were down in Cornwall.

It’s certainly different in relation to what we got from the bands previous albums, and it’s also perhaps not got that unique overall style one could easily identify the band with. But never the less it’s got a good upbeat to it and is not a bad track at all.

Track 2, Raindance.

Up next is the albums self titled track to which was also written by Richard Harvey. It’s a lovely ambient instrumental piece that features an array of keyboards and even has a sequencer running throughout the whole track. It’s perhaps something more along the lines of Camel’s Snow Goose and once again it leaves very little scope for the rest of the members of the band to do anything with. I can also see why Graeme Taylor would not of been so happy making this album and wanted to leave as well.

To be honest this is the sort of thing Harvey could of done on his Jack Jones and I would have no problem doing it myself. The whole piece is structured and driven around the sequence, and that would of inspired what we have here. The sound of the river, rain and thunderstorm would most likely have been added afterwards, rather than being the inspiration for the actual piece. Though it may have been the other way around.

The thunderstorm was recorded by the recording engineer Richard Elen whilst the guys were down at the pub, they phoned him up and asked him to stick a couple of mics in the porch to record it. It’s a simple and effective piece of work that is once again different. I also like how it flows and runs into the next track, which happens to be something more constructive.

Track 3. Mother Natures Son.

Well who would of thought that it would of took a Lennon & McCartney song to get a band like Gryphon to sound something more like themselves, and that is precisely what this song does in relation to the opening two tracks on the album. This to me is much more like it, and the arrangement is absolutely Gorgeous. It also allows all the members of the band to work in unison with one another too, to which I felt was missing on the opening couple of  tracks.

It’s perhaps most unusual for Gryphon to choose a song like this to cover and they are more known for covering something more accustomed to English traditional folk songs. But they even make this song feel more like one of those great folk songs with how well they have arranged it. The original song was included on The Beatles White Album. It’s one of the better songs from that album too.

Dave Oberlé takes on the lead vocals and it really suits his voice to be honest and I have always admired his voice and singing duties he contributes to the band as well. I love how the acoustic guitar, flutes and bassoon slot into the arrangement, and they fit in like a glove too, and this is one of my contenders for the top spot on the album.

Track 4. Le Cambrioleur Est Dans Le Mouchoir.

This next piece I suppose could be seen as a bit more humour from the band. It’s very much got a European Jazzy flavour about it, and is like a slow waltz. It’s French title translates to “The Cabrioler Is In The Handkerchief” in English and not what the band will quite often tell you it is such as “The Burglar Is In The Handkerchief” which is them having a bit of fun as ever. The word “Cabrioler” is very much a form of entertainment, and in this case I would of thought it would be a magician doing some trick with an handkerchief. The music is also well suited to the magicians antics with how he paces out his trick in a theatrical way on the stage.

The piece is credited to Taylor & Bennett although it’s certainly more composed and structured around Taylor’s acoustic guitar, and my guess is that Taylor got along well with Bennett and was being kind by giving him a writing credit here. According to the musician credits Bennett also plays flute as well as bass on this track. Though I have to say if he is, it’s hardly noticeable at all, unlike Harvey on the clarinet to which is more noticeable. It’s not as if they needed another flute player anyway, especially when they already have a couple of very well accomplished woodwind players in the band.

I quite like the arrangement and Brian Gulland gets to fart his way along with a bit of Um Pah on the bassoon every now and then, and the voice you can hear is Taylor doing his best French impression ;)))). Oberlé’s timely job on the percussion sets the pace very well and it’s one of the more frequent tunes Gryphon play live from this album.

Track 5. Ormolu.

The shortest little ditty on the album and this is more of a jingle that would be used for radio & television, its perhaps a bit more reminiscent to the jingle used on channel 4’s TV program Countdown. The piece was written by Richard Harvey who is more noted for his work with Television and Films these days, and it’s title is once again derived from the French language.

Ormolu is the term that’s been used since the 18th century to describe gilt brass on decorative art objects, such as what you might find on ornaments and furniture. The gilding was applied using the mercury amalgam process, sometimes also called fire gilding. The Copper corrosion products can form on the gold surface through minute gaps in the gilding. And from this mantle clock I have pictured below, you can plainly  see that all that glitters is not Gold :))))).

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This fine piece can be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and dates back to 1860. The only thing I can find wrong with it, is that it would of looked better if that chap was on a Griffin and not an Horse :)))))). I also think Harvey’s little jingle here is also more fitting to Gryphon’s music than the first two pieces he wrote to kick off the album with, and it’s a great little ditty.

Track 6. Fontinental Version.

This is another one of Graeme Taylor’s very well written GEMS and for me this is my personal favourite track on the album, and merits my top spot on the album award. To be honest you could of quite easily of slotted a song like this on the bands 2nd album Midnight Mushrumps and it would of fitted like a glove. This is certainly a step back to that album as well. The song wreaks of great progression and features both Dave Oberlé and Brian Gulland on lead vocals.

This is Gryphon doing what they do the best when it comes to songs like this and the arrangement is purely fantastic. But what is also so good about this song is the lyrics Taylor wrote for it. There is no doubt that Gryphon liked to have a lot of fun and these may look like the most bizarre set of lyrics on the planet and there is no doubt he has incorporated some fun into them. There is no doubt there is a French theme that runs throughout a good few of the tracks on this album, and the songs title is merely written in the way that this is a version of something by all accounts.

Now I am perhaps well off the mark with how these weird lyrics pertain to my way of thinking, especially as the word “Turdion” relates to dance and I am not sure what the Clint Eastwood connection is. But how I look at it, is that it could pertain to a version of the continental system or rather the continental blockade that Napoleon put on Great Britain during the Napoleon wars. Which prevented the French and English from trading with each other. But then again Graeme may have just had a few too many down at the dog :))))))))).

No matter what the lyrics are all about the song features some great musicianship from all the band, and it also contains a great lead section in the middle where they go off on a mad frenzy. Gryphon are in fine prog rock mode on this magical song.

Track 7. Wallbanger.

Another one of Harvey’s instrumental pieces and this more or less along the same lines as the opening track “Down The Dog” with it’s funky bass line and it’s upbeat only minus the clavinet. It’s perhaps more domineered by the keyboards as well but works its way along with some fine melody lines which allow the bassoon and flutes to play a feature in the piece to give that bit more of a renascence feel. It’s another fine little piece.

Track 8. Don’t Say Go.

This is perhaps Gryphon’s shortest song and once again it features Dave Oberlé on lead vocals. It’s another song written by Graeme Taylor only here the words are more easier to understand and simple enough. It’s a very pleasant song and once again done in folk rock style, I also like how bassoon features in the song too. The band do a great little job here.

Track 9. (Ein Klein) Heldenleben.

The final track on the album is written in German and translates too “A Small Hero Life” or “A Small Heroes Life”. It’s the longest track on the album and weighs in at whopping 16 minutes. In many ways this piece written by Richard Harvey is perhaps going back once again to the Midnight Mushrumps album with its 19 minute epic self titled track. However unlike that epic 19 minute masterpiece, I do not really see this track like a symphony or a masterpiece for that matter.

Even though “(Ein Klein) Heldenleben” is some 16 minutes long and is the 2nd longest track in Gryphon history, I personally would associate it more with the 5 minute track “Ethelion” from that album. I also think “Ethelion” is better constructed musically even though it has nowhere near the progression, but it does have the power and strength to hold its head up over its shorter distance. Whereas I certainly feel that “(Ein Klein) Heldenleben” tends to lose its way a bit over its longer time slot.

I am sure for many Gryphon fans this particular piece will be there favourite track on the album, and even I myself would put it as a very strong contender for the top spot. There is no doubt it has some magic moments along it’s lengthy duration. But I do also think it does have some weaker points.

I also think the more heavier section that runs from the 6:19 mark right up to the end, the band tend to embark over the same thing for too long, and it does not offer enough variety with the other instrumentation. You get the odd bits with the flute and bassoon sections where you think you are going to get something a bit more different with the melody lines they play. But all too often it falls back into the same thing.

For example you get this gorgeous bassoon section that runs from 9:50 – 10:44 playing such a beautiful melody, and this is actually my favourite section throughout the whole piece. Then it spirals back into all the bizarre frenzyness which is crazy. In some ways there are parts in this piece that actually remind me more of Focus than Gryphon. They may have been still influenced by Yes also.

No doubt Graeme Taylor is perhaps having the time of his life on the electric guitar on this piece. But I would of loved to have seen a few more acoustic sections along the the path we have here. It’s a bit too overblown I feel and they are trying to inject too much into the piece. I still very much like it, and it’s great to hear live too. It’s certainly a piece that harks back to their Midnight Mushrumps album, but I do not think it’s on par with the material on that album. But on an album like this, I am sure many would of been grateful for it.

Summary

To sum up Gryphon’s 4th album Raindance. There is no doubt that the band have made a step backwards and tried to do something a bit more different in the way of adding a bit more of a modern approach with the funk and even thrown in a bit more jazz here and there. No doubt the folk side of things is still here along with the odd bit of prog rock. In some respect it could also be seen as a bit of a mixed bag with how the material differs on the album and presents itself to you too.

Coming off the back of Red Queen To Gryphon Three I think it was always going to be hard to compete with that album, and Raindance is an album that does not really say where Gryphon should of been at this point. I personally think that the bands 5th album Treason is much more like where they should of been.

But that’s not to say it’s a bad album and just like any Gryphon album they are all more or less give you something different in all respects. But I do also feel that some of the tracks on the album are not so distinguishable enough for you to identity the band with, especially if you was to hear them for the first time on the radio. My personal highlights from the album are “Fontinental Version“. “(Ein Klein) Heldenleben” and “Mother Natures Son“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Raindance by Gryphon. I would not say it was a solid album, but if like myself you are into the band, it’s still very much an album one would want in their collection, especially as they only ever made 5 albums all those years ago. I do not think it could ever be my Go-To album, and it’s perhaps not one I would recommend as a starting point for new listeners either.

For me personally I have always seen this album as the weakest Gryphon album, but no doubt it does contain some really excellent tracks and its still an enjoyable album that does not really disappoint overall.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to hear what the bands new album will sound like after some 41 years, and I am about to find out pretty soon as well as it’s just been released earlier than expected. So no doubt that will be coming up soon for review as well in this series. But coming up next for review will be the bands 5th album Treason.

Tidy The Turdion Watch For The Fontanel…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Down The Dog. 2:45.
02. Raindance. 5:33.
03. Mother Nature’s Son. 3:08.
04. ‘Le Cambrioleur Est Dans Le Mouchoir’. 2:13.
05. Ormolu. 1:03.
06. Fontinental Version. 5:34.
07. Wallbanger. 3:35.
08. Don’t Say Go. 1:51.
09. (Ein Klein) Heldenleben. 16:03.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 07/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #95

Red Queen To Gryphon Three – Gryphon

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Introduction…

Gryphon were on a roll in 1974 and things were about to change even more so when the band once again returned to the Chipping Norton Recording Studios in Oxford just a few months later in August 1974 to record their 3rd album Red Queen To Gryphon Three. By this time the band were going even more progressive and even more electric with Graeme Taylor using electric guitars as well as acoustic.

Things were changing and happening that fast that the band never had no time to stop. It was a very busy year for them, and by the end of the year they would play in America for the first time. Though despite all their hard work Gryphon were not much more popular than many support acts, and the biggest venues they played at where only as a support act, and they was certainly not known or popular enough to go and play America in the first place. But it was not about what you know? And rather more like who you know?.

On 27th of July 1974 Gryphon played a support gig at the Crystal Palace Garden Party in London. A couple of months earlier they played support to Steeleye Span at Greens the Glasgow Apollo on the 17th May. They had played and supported that band quite a few times even earlier on. But the main act and attraction on the night they played at the Crystal Palace Garden Party was Rick Wakeman who at the time was touring his Journey To Centre Of The Earth album. The poster below shows the acts who was on that day.

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Both Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland had already met Rick Wakeman at The Royal College of Music and it was when Wakeman joined Yes he introduced the band to the Yes’s manager Brian Lane. Besides being a manager Lane had promoted many well known artists in the 60’s and 70’s, and it was at this time that Lane had an office in Notting Hill, London. It was also he who got them their first record contract in America with Bell Records the very record label that started the birth of Arista Records founded by Clive Davis.

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The American release on Bell records came with a black border instead of blue like the UK release. Red Queen To Gryphon Three was the only album of Gryphon’s that got released in the USA back in the 70’s. Because of its lack of sales the record company had to drop them from their books. But the other thing Brian Lane did for the band was suggest to Clive Davis the MD of the American label that they should support Yes on their winter tour later in the same year of 1974.

Considering the band were already fans of Yes. This could only have been a dream to come true. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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As with all these new remasters done by Talking Elephant they come in a standard jewel case, just like all Gryphon albums that have been put on CD over all these years. Who knows one day they may discover that these days there are such things as DigiPaks and Digisleeves that give the album more of a mini vinyl representation and makes the package look a lot better.

In some ways I think the artist is better off with his own independent label these days, and nearly all those who sell their own records these days do happen to do the right thing by using such things to give their albums a better presentation. The trouble is with many major record labels is that they are only in it for the money, and the Jewel Case is their way of saving themselves a few pennies.

No doubt the Jewel Case does and adequate job and protects the disc very well, but like I have said so many times, they are becoming a bit outdated now. But I did get this 2016 remaster cheaper from Amazon and I got it for £10.33p. It’s also an excellent quality recording as well and I have no complaints at all regarding the quality of the recording.

The Artwork.

The albums cover design and illustration was once again done by Dan Pearce and I have to say I certainly missed his artwork on the bands previous album. Just like the bands debut album we get this gorgeous colourful picture and in this case it’s of an old man playing a game of chess, and the pieces on the board are very much Griffin’s. The Griffin is also most likely his opponent and he can be seen in the garden fighting the battle that’s going on in the game.

There is also plenty of things in the background of this gorgeous landscape. Medieval cities and sea vessels bearing red crosses suggestive of the emblem of the Knights Templar and also a few little animals such as the horse and rider, an owl, bird, cat and even a butterfly. Although has you can see by the cover on my CD. They did not do a very good job capturing all the original artwork, and the 1 pillar is lopsided and I appear to be missing the cat who sat on the ledge on the right hand side :)))))).

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No doubt the vinyl album does a lot more justice to the artwork and Pearce done a super job here. The art direction was done by Ann Sullivan & Vanessa East. Both Robert Ellis & Roger Perry provided the band photographs.

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The Album In Review…

Gryphon’s 3rd studio album Red Queen To Gryphon Three was released in December 1974. The album contains 4 tracks all of which were instrumental pieces that spanned over an overall time of 38 minutes, 39 seconds. By now the Yes influence had grown larger on the band and they was certainly heading more down the road of progressive rock with the musical concept they had in mind for this album.

I must admit to walk into a studio with absolutely nothing and come out with an album like this is quite a remarkable achievement. Once again the band were booked into the Chipping Norton Recording Studios in Oxford to start work on the new album. They came out of the studios in the same month with an album that has always been regarded as their most finest prog rock album they ever made.

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It was during the winter of 1974 that Gryphon went to America to support Yes who where touring their latest album Relayer to which Patrick Moraz had joined the band to replace Rick Wakeman on keyboards earlier on in the same year. If it was not for the fact that Gryphon were supporting Yes the chances are that they may of never of got to have toured in America, and they certainly could not fill the stadiums and many of the larger venues Yes had no problem filling either.

Yes kicked off their Northern American Tour on the 8th November 1974 at the St. John Arena in Columbus. Gryphon got to support the band on their very first show. Although Gryphon did not get to support Yes at every show on this tour, they did on a good few occasions though, and even got to play at Madison Square Gardens with them on the 20th November in front of 20,000 Yes fans.

I am not entirely sure but Red Queen To Gryphon Three may have been released a month earlier and actually released in November in America to coincide with this tour they was doing with Yes. They got to play more shows in December and even got to meet the Mahavishnu Orchestra who also supported Yes.

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And on the 11th December they supported Yes at Boston Gardens in Massachusetts in front of a crowd of 15,000. Even though Gryphon were only supporting Yes at the time it must of been quite an experience and they was most likely having the time of their lives. I am pretty sure from my research the only track from Gryphon’s album Red Queen To Gryphon Three they played on this tour, was the final track on the album “Checkmate“.

Gryphon’s medieval prog rock did not go down particularly that well at every show they played with Yes, and for the American audience it may have been too much of a new experience for them to take it in. I also find the problem being a support act is that most of the people in general are only mainly interested in the main event on the night.

The trouble is with a lot of people is that they are not willing to give most support artists the time of day, and I find that a shame. Though no doubt you will get the odd few who certainly would of appreciated them, and they even got a standing ovation at some of those shows. Both the members of Yes and Gryphon got along very well and became quite close friends during their tour of USA. Yes even invited them to support them in the following year on their UK tour as well.

I myself never went to a great deal of concerts in the 70’s and I never got to see Gryphon either back then. Though I did get to see Yes in 1977 who were touring their Going For The One album which was part of their Yesshows Tour at the Stafford Bingley Hall. I had been to quite a few prog rock concerts before that as well more locally at the Odeon in the New Street in my own town of Birmingham.

Concert tickets were quite cheap in those days, but as I paid for the ticket, I always made a point of watching the support act to get full value from the ticket and enjoyed quite a few artists and bands I had never heard of before. Donovan was making a comeback when I got to see Yes and he was supporting them that night at the Stafford Bingley Hall. At this time Donovan was very much going all electric to which I never thought really suited him, not in comparison to the acoustic material he wrote and played in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

To be honest Donovan never really impressed me one bit that night, but I still watched the whole of his set and showed my appreciation by applauding at the end of his songs. I am pretty sure if Gryphon was supporting Yes that night they would of blew my brains out, especially if they performed their material back then live as well as they do today.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced & Arranged by Gryphon. Recorded at Chipping Norton Recording Studio in August 1974. Engineered & Co-Produced by Dave Grimsted. Cover Design & Illustration by Dan Pearce. Photography by Robert Ellis & Roger Perry. Art direction by Ann Sullivan & Vanessa East.

Musicians.
Richard Harvery: Keyboards/Recorders/Krumhorns.
Brian Gulland: Bassoon/Krumhorns.
Graeme Taylor: Guitars.
Phillip Nestor: Bass Guitar.
Dave Oberlé: Drums/Percussion/Tymps.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The bands 3rd album is an instrumental album that contains 4 very well worked out pieces and have been titled in the way of the movements you will find throughout a game of Chess. It’s perhaps not an album one would want to stick on the turntable to play whilst playing a game of chess. Well not for any serious game of chess because that takes up a lot of one’s concentration and is best played without any distractions.

Chess is very much a strategic game that takes a lot of skill to play it at a professional level, just as the 4 pieces we have here on Gryphon’s 3rd album have been skilfully crafted, it requires a great deal of skill to play as well. It’s also interesting that during the time the band made this album back in 1974 the American world champion chess player Bobby Fischer was creating a bit of a popular stir during 1972 – 1975 and it may have just inspired the band to base the music for this album around the game.

However skilful the game of chess was, the bands bass player Phillip Nestor was not going to be playing the game much longer. I do not know the reason behind Nestor’s departure from the band, though he had been replaced by Malcolm Bennett before the album was released and the band went on tour with Yes in America in November. I find it quite strange how many musicians either choose to leave or are no longer required at the most pivotal point of a bands career.

Phillip Nestor had only joined the band in January of the same year, and even though he was only with the band from around 8 to 10 months he got to feature on two really great albums. In October 1974 the band got to record a new song that they entitled “Wallbanger” with their new bass player which eventually found its way on the bands 4th album Raindance in 1975.

One of the many spoofs that have confused countless reviews of this album, even some of Gryphon’s other albums since the birth of the internet. Is of the couple of additional musicians that was printed on the back of this albums original vinyl album cover. It credits both Ernest Hart on organ and Peter Redding on acoustic bass.

The fact of the matter is, that the members of Gryphon always liked a good laugh and often added some silly bits of humour printed in the linear notes and credits. These were in fact the names of the manufacturers who made their instruments. For example Ernest Hart is of Copeman Hart Organs and made the organ Richard Harvey was playing. Just the same as Peter Redding made the acoustic bass Phillip Nestor was playing.

This was the 2nd and only other vinyl album I brought of Gryphon in the 70’s and I stumbled across it brand new in one of my favourite record shops in Bristol Street in the Birmingham City Centre. The shop was called the Diskery and was run by a couple of guys who knew their music. I had left school by now and had been in full time work for over a year and it would of been in 1977 that I landed on this album, and it was the artwork that immediately drew my attention to it.

To be honest when I seen the name Gryphon as large as life printed at the top, it never surprised me that is was their album, and on the vinyl sleeve it was a lot easier to see the Griffin in the garden. It was the only Gryphon album I noticed in the shop at the time and I dare say if Midnight Mushrumps was there I would never of noticed it at all. There is quite a massive contrast in between the album covers of their debut and their 3rd album Red Queen To Gryphon Three.

But I was well chuffed to see this album at the time and I am sure it was priced at around £2.75 and I snapped it up straight away, cause it was the only one in the shop. To be honest even if the bands 4th album Raindance was in that shop at the time, I doubt if I would of recognized it as a Gryphon album. I think the artwork is good what they did with it, but it was missing a Griffin :)))))). But there was one on the back of the cover.

I think it was down to the artwork and the time span of only a year in between the release of Gryphon’s debut album and Red Queen To Gryphon Three that led me to believe that Gryphon had only made 2 albums in the 70’s and had quit after them. I was so glad to discover it was not the case later on, but I was also disappointed to find out they had done in the same year I stumbled across their 3rd album.

So let’s take a closer look at this album and its 4 tracks as I go through them individually in my review.

Track 1. Opening Move.

The opening move in a game of chess can be a very important and decisive one, and I suppose one of the most popular choices would be along the lines of the Sicilian Defence. But Gryphon very much have their own grand opening which is perhaps set out on a grandeur scale of things. Once again the band are composing classical symphonies, only this one comes with 4 movements that sum up the game as an whole with every move, and this opening move is credited to Harvey/Taylor/Gulland/Oberlé.

The “Opening Move” opens up with a bit of strength and the bass plays a domineering part on this opening, supported very well by the keyboards, guitar and drums. The piece meanders it’s way along and settles down nicely to some fine flourishes on the piano at first and the piano then settles down to a fine melody line that soon gets supported by the other members and builds up to the next melody line.

Gryphon are the type of band that never really hold on to a melody too long before making a change, and this like many other of their pieces on this album is constructed out of many short melody lines that are often brought into play with all the other instrumentation and the arrangement. No doubt all their instruments make quite bold statements, and whilst they are meandering along through these short spasms and transitional changes there instruments also get to make individual statements in parts too.

Though a piece like this is perhaps domineered by the keyboards and guitar, it’s actually the bassoon that makes the most majestic statement in the piece, and that’s were the real beauty of a piece like this lies. Though no doubt the arrangement behind it all is also quite breathtaking. A couple of the real beauty spots on this particular piece follow each other, and around the 3:52 – 4:32 mark we get this delightful Krumhorn and flute section which is supported by the acoustic guitar, which is followed by this lovely sweet bassoon section from 4:32 – 5:05.

We also get some reversed effects thrown in along the way which were most likely inspired by Yes or even The Beatles to which makes quite an effective drone. Back in those days even synthesizers were hard work given that they was mono and you could not play chords on them, and Richard Harvey spent many late hours overdubbing the sounds from them to create chords with them on this album in particular.

Whether the “Opening Move” speaks the same language as a game of chess or not, there is no doubt it tries to dramatise it’s way through each movement of the opening game. It’s like playing chess in the 16th century and progressive rock was even born then by the sounds of it all. I love how the piece ends off with organ and bassoon too, as if to say we have not finished yet, and it’s an excellent well crafted well thought out piece of work, and along with every track on this album is so unique, and has never been done before.

Track 2. Second Spasm.

The “Second Spasm” is a piece written by Taylor & Gulland. it’s actually the shortest piece on the album, though they are all around the 8 to 10 minute mark. Considering this piece is only 8 minutes 19 seconds long, it’s perhaps got more transitional changes along it’s path that what you will hear in the entire discography of Yes music. It’s very much a piece that takes on quite a few styles as it progresses along and not only has tremendous power, but can be quite comically quirky as well.

I quite often find my mind boggling has to how anyone could of come up with an idea like this in the first place, and this piece, or pieces must of been done in sections and glued together, cause for the life of me I cannot see anybody just playing this in one go. To be honest I am not sure if Gryphon have ever played this piece live. My guess would be that they never have. I know when I seen them live in 2016 they played a medley of the album, and when I seen them in the following year they played the 3rd track from the album “Lament“.

What we have here is quite a range of contrasting musical styles that have all been thrown into one big melting pot and it purely cooks on gas and works. The way piece kicks off is quite jolly with the flute playing along a fine little melody along to the chords on the acoustic guitar for the first minute. Then it bursts into something that is perhaps more familiar with the prog rock styles of Genesis and Yes and no doubt the band was heavily influenced by both bands to some degree but were also much more classically minded with how they went about things.

This is an album that we get to hear Graeme Taylor on electric guitar for a change, and no doubt the fact the he is even fleshing out the electric guitar on this particular track, it also gives Phillip Nestor the chance to work his ass off on the bass to which is something he does extremely well on this track. This section no doubt lifts the piece up and is soon followed by some pretty awesome keyboard work by Richard Harvey and things start to get a bit heavier.

Then all of a sudden we get this quite comical section on the Krumhorns come into play which at this point is certainly most intriguing and no doubt will have many thinking well that’s something completely different :))))). Who on earth could think of such thing, yet even though Gryphon are well known for using krumhorns they perhaps would not of been expected to appear here, yet it’s quite magical how they slotted it in out of the blue almost. The a drum roll leads us into another quite quirky section that sounds like they brought in the salvation army :)))))).

Even more interesting is the next section that comes into play around the 3:44 mark. Where we get this military roll on the drums which allows the band to play in some continental European sort of  style that is also skilfully masterly played and executed with fine precision. Even though the band do not have a violin player, Richard Harvey makes it sound like they have one with whatever keyboards he’s using. The band then go into a sort of medieval European style before heading back into the heavier bass and guitar section to end it all off.

There is never a dull moment in the piece and its quite amazing how they fitted it all together. Listening to a piece like this in some ways reminds me how much the artist John Miles crammed into his 1976 UK hit “Music“. Most people may have took that as pop song, but the fact the he fused and blended so many styles into 6 minutes it was far from the case at all, and spoke just as much about progressive rock as many artists did back then.

I thought that was an excellent piece of work, but unfortunately was a one off for him, and I remember buying the album when I first heard that song back then and it never really had a lot more to say about it, apart from that song of his. But there is no doubt John Miles did fuse more modern day pop and reggae music along with classical and rock into his piece, unlike how Gyrphon did here. But in reality Gryphon crammed just as many styles into this masterpiece and done a terrific job of it.

Track 3. Lament.

This for me is my personal favourite on the album and merits my top spot on the album award. But if the truth be told, all 4 pieces on this album very much have equal measures in reality and are all masterpieces. There is a lot of beauty in this particular piece and it’s the acoustics that very much ring out on it, which is perhaps why I favour this piece in the first place.

The piece opens up nice and simple enough with Taylor strumming away on the acoustic guitar who is accompanied by Gulland on bassoon and Harvey on the flute. These 3 instruments alone play in beautiful unison with one another throughout the intro which builds up nicely enough with other instruments coming into play, and it simmers down after 3 minutes to take us into the next transitional change.

This is actually the longest track on the album at some 10 minutes and 48 seconds, and to be honest it’s perhaps the least constructive and difficult piece on the album to play as well. It also centres itself around one particular melody line or theme. But it’s the way it builds up that really makes it shine. The only real changes come into play over the next couple of transitions after the 3 minute mark to which changes to a darker mood.

The first of which is still using the acoustic guitar leading it’s way and the bassoon gives it the darker mood which is now accompanied by the bass and drums. The next change comes in around the 5:28 mark and is brought in with the cymbals, and for the next couple of minutes we get a bit of a frenzy which features some delightful interplay with band.

Around half way through the frenzy we get this gorgeous acoustic guitar section from Taylor which is accompanied by Nestor on the bass. It’s perhaps the most intricate part of the piece and it builds back up to a bit of a frenzy to which the main theme comes back into play at around the 7:37 mark. The main theme being played by Harvey on the synth instead of Gulland on the bassoon this time around and it drives the piece home and frizzles it’s way out with the guitar, bassoon, flute, piano and the odd bit of vibes.

I suppose “Lament” could be seen as that part in chess where one has to comprehend his next move and takes more time dwelling over it. It’s coming up to the end game so his move has to be precise. It’s such a lovely piece that was written by Taylor, Gulland and Nestor and I may just have a soft spot for it. especially with what the last piece really has to offer. Which in reality is so much more.

Track 4. Checkmate.

The final movement just like the opening track on the album is also credited to Harvey, Taylor, Gulland and Oberlé. It’s the most powerful piece on the album and is a very well constructed masterpiece. Here we are into the end game and pieces are moving in at a menacing pace with quite some force to break through the castles walls to bring an end to the kings reign so to speak.

Each move is a well devised one, and this piece paces out each move on the chessboard with how it runs along through its stages leading up to its final kill. Sometimes at pace and others times more cunningly and graciously. It’s one of those pieces that weaves it’s way in and out along the way as it moves in for the final kill and unleashes its mighty power at the end as it delivers its final blow. Which happens to come from striking one of the keys on the lower regions of the piano :))))).

The piece goes through as many changes as a stock broker on wall street and is mostly constructed around Richard Harvey’s keyboards which play a more domineering part on this particular track. But however the keyboards may appear to be dominating the piece, the rest of the band work in their own personal bit of magic along the way.

There is some well tasty lead lines coming from Graeme Taylor’s electric guitar, and once again Phillip Nestor has plenty to do on the bass and works his ass off. Sir Brian Gulland meanders his majestic magic on the bassoon as ever, whilst David Oberlé provides all the crash bang wallop to bring down the walls of Jericho.

Checkmate” could easily be seen as the most progmatic track on the album and for that reason its also going to merit my top spot award of the album along with “Lament“. I suppose the best way I can describe both tracks is to pair them up as “Beauty And The Beast”. Because this final track is a Monster.

I also think like the first track on the album “Opening Move” it was also more worked out without having to stop so much to piece all the parts together. It’s also most likely after the band had finished the album, why they most likely chose this piece first to learn and play first to take it on the road with them in America on the Yes tour.

This particular track contains bags of progression and diversity along its path with its many splendiferous changes, it intertwines and interlocks one melody after another and you need to be some sort of wizard to work your way along and play a piece as complex as this. Like I have said before Gryphon are not the type of band that will hang onto one particular melody line for long, and there are some fine melodic intervals that have been woven in between the the lines of this masterpiece.

The piece opens up menacingly enough as if the chess player as already worked out his next 4 to 5 moves and planned his route to move in and launch his attack. The opening 1 minute and 54 seconds may reflect his plan as the band meander along, but of course each move he makes his opponent can always put the mockers on it, by blocking his path and forcing him to go down another route and make another plan of action. So more strategic planning has to be made and the real battle begins at the 1:55 mark with the fife and drum so to speak.

This short 33 second change features Oberlé playing a military roll on the snare drum accompanied by Harvey on the flute. It’s quite interesting in that the recording has not only captured the sound of the snare drum, but also the springs vibrating underneath it. No doubt the piece goes through many routes and reoccurring melody lines as it builds up to it’s final powerful climax to reach it’s final goal and win the game.

The band were not only playing the game but very much won it in the unique style only a band like Gryphon could present it all to you, and it puts an end to yet another brilliant album.

Summary

Gryphon’s 3rd album Red Queen To Gryphon Three was quite well received on its release back in 1974. No doubt over the years it has gained even more recognition. It’s always been regarded as the bands finest album. I think for the many who have never heard this album and have recently stumbled across it. They will get to see that this is one of those unique GEMS that came out of that Golden decade of prog rock.

Once again Gryphon had managed to churn out yet another solid album, and all 4 tracks on it are masterpieces. Once again they also came up with something different, and yet still managed to use their unusual instrumentation to achieve it as well. 1974 had proved to be a very good year for the band, and one would of thought by now they would be the main attraction for a change. No doubt they deserved to be far more successful, but these guys were happy just to get out there and play, and play they certainly could.

I may have my personal favourite tracks on this album, but my personal highlights from this album are pretty easy enough to make. Just stick the album on and play it from start to finish. It does not disappoint at all and makes a very exciting experience.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Gryphon’s magnificent album Red Queen To Gryphon Three. For me personally all 3 of the bands first albums have always been amongst my personal favourite Gryphon albums. But this one is certainly the most unique album in same way that the band Yes had created their own unique style and their own music. There is simply nothing out there quite like it whatsoever, and that is something that is very, very hard to achieve.

The band had created an album that was going to be very difficult to follow up, and I also feel they had also created an album that was going to be very difficult to take to the stage and perform live. There was no way forward at this point, and the only way they could really go, was to take a step backwards. Which is something I personally felt they did on their next album that was to follow up. And you can find out just what they did in my next review of the bands 4th album Raindance.

The Red Strategic Gryphon Takes The Progmatic Game…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Opening Move. 9:45.
02. Second Spasm. 8:19.
03. Lament. 10:48.
04. Checkmate. 9:47.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 07/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #94

Midnight Mushrumps – Gryphon

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Introduction…

Continuing with a bit of history it was in the autumn of 1973 Gryphon embarked on a European tour and at the end decided to write the music for “The Tempest” that Peter Hall had commissioned them to do, they also set to work on the music for their 2nd album. It was the bands publicist from Transatlantic Records Martin Lewis who had originally set up the commission for them to write the music for the Shakespeare play and he also set up the studio for them to record the music.

Because the band had intentions of slightly changing their style of music, they felt that they needed a bass player to provide a bit more of an anchor, and in January 1974 they recruited a new member to help out with recording the new material. They did not have too look very far for the man for the job either and he used to play in a band called the Juggernaut with Dave Oberlé. It was he who recommended bass guitarist Philip Nestor to the band.

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This allowed the other musicians more scope to broaden their musical abilities. The music they wrote for “The Tempest” inspired them to write a lengthy separate piece of work which would not only be the title of their new album, but was to fill up the space of the entire first side of the vinyl album.

The band was also by now stocking up with more instruments which certainly helped the band to be a bit more diverse with their music. It also helped them to be a bit more creative and write more of their own original material. It was not long before the bands leader Richard Harvey had surrounded himself with an array of keyboards, though he still had no intention of ditching the crumhorns and recorders.

Even David Oberlé expanded his mini kit with more orchestral percussion and even added a drum kit and a timpani. Brian Gulland added more crumhorns and recorders and Graeme Taylor expanded his guitar collection. The band Gryphon were going all out BIG!. By now they was composing symphonies by implementing classical music, and fusing it with medieval folk renaissance music. Gryphon were now entering the realms of progressive rock.

I have to confess that whilst all this was going on back in 1974. This is an album that completely bypassed my radar, and did do so for a couple of decades as well. It was one of 3 Gryphon albums I never brought on vinyl and I never even knew this album even existed till around 1998 and I was stunned when I brought it on CD then as well.

I was only 14 by the time Midnight Mushrumps came out and a lot of things were happening around this time. The fact that I had missed the first 3 years of my senior school by playing truant meant the law was on my back and I had done enough running away from them. And by September 1974 I felt it was time to hand myself over to the authorities and was put into care until I left school in April 1976.

However I was aware that Gryphon had made quite a change to their music in 1977 when I stumbled upon another one of their albums and brought it. I even thought it was their 2nd album at that time, and it was not until 1998 that I discovered the band had made more than two albums, and all of a sudden 1998 became a very good year indeed.

Before we go deeper into my review of the album, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as ever.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case which no doubt protects the disc very well. However these days I think it’s about time that they got around to presenting the CD in either a DigiPak or DigiSleeve which I personally think looks a lot better and they may even entice people to re-buy an older album like this as well. These days Jewel cases are becoming a thing of the past and it’s about time more people realised that.

The Jewel Case is only really used these days to save on money on packaging a product like this. The fact that they are charging you between £10 – £12 for a new remaster is not really going to add much of an incentive to buy it, especially when in most cases you can still buy the older remaster or reissue in a Jewel Case for £5 or even less.

It also only comes with a 2 page booklet which contains the usual linear production notes and credits, but does not include the lyrics. It does however contain a short piece of information written by Graeme Taylor expressing his thanks to Taking Elephant for remastering and re-issuing the album again and a bit about its monumental epic 19 minute piece. Overall the package is adequate but could of been better.

I managed to get the 2016 Talking Elephant remaster from Amazon this time. It was overpriced and I paid £12.13p for it but I had less hassle waiting for it being a Prime Member. The recording however is quality and I am well pleased with it.

The Artwork.

The albums front cover is a picture of all 5 band members posing in some theatrical clothing that dates back a few hundred years which may have been inspired from the work they had done for Peter Hall’s Shakespeare play of “The Tempest”. However judging by the background setting in the woods and also the rather large mushrooms and their eyes. These mushrooms may have been a bit magical :)))))).

To be honest if you glance at this photograph from a distance, it’s looks as if they was standing in front of some dark brown curtains in a theatre. It even looks like the curtains are pleated. It’s only when you look closer you can see the woods through the tress so to speak. The photography was done by Clive Boursnell. The design by Richard Rockford and once again the art direction was by Ann Sullivan.

The Album In Review…

Midnight Mushrumps was released in April 1974. The album contains 6 tracks and comes with an overall playing time of 42 minutes, 11 seconds. The album features more instrumental pieces and only 1 of the tracks comes with vocals. The band decided to produce their own album and Martin Lewis sent them to record it at Chipping Norton Recording Studios in Oxfordshire, England. The studio was residential studio with living quarters with 15 bedrooms and on-site catering for visiting musicians. It operated as studio back in 1971 until it’s closure in October 1999.

The studio is now a Dentist, but over the 28 years it ran as a studio, many well known artists have recorded their albums and hit records there. Gerry Rafferty recorded his smash hit “Baker Street” and also Focus recorded their classic “Hocus Pocus” there as well along with many major rock and pop artists like Status Quo. Duran Duran. Dexys Midnight Runners. Radiohead and the Bay City Rollers even recorded their first number 1 record “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)” there too.

Although the studio closed back in 1999 last year on the 15th June 2017. The BBC announced that day as a music day broadcast throughout the UK and awarded the studios with a Blue Plaque for its part in the musical heritage of England. Both the brothers Richard & Mike Vernon who co-founded the studios were also present to receive the honorary award and although this video clip does not show you inside the building, you do get to see them talk about its history.

Unfortunately Gryphon never made enough impact to get a mention, but they was not there to make pop records although they did churn out a few masterpieces whilst they was there. So their time there was not really wasted at all. These next couple of photo’s show a bit of the interior of the studios.

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The bands debut album was the only time that Gryphon had gone into a studio with material they had written down and worked on before hand. Though no doubt on this particular album they did get some inspiration for their 19 minute epic masterpiece “Midnight Mushrumps” from the music they had been commissioned to do for Peter Hall’s Shakespeare’s play of “The Tempest”.

Though the band had nothing written down at this point and went into Chipping Norton Recording Studios in January 1974 to start work on it. Gryphon not only pre-recorded the music for Hall’s theatrical play, but in March 1974 they played it live at the National Theatre The Old Vic in London whilst the actors were playing their roles on the stage.

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To be honest I have no idea if they played the whole of “Midnight Mushrumps” in one sitting during the theatrical performance whilst the actors were on the stage. My guess is that it would of been played in sections to allow the actors do their speaking parts. They may of also played some of the material from their debut album given the time period that Shakespeare’s play was set in was of the renaissance era.

Following the success of the premier of the play Martin Lewis arranged for Gryphon to give a Sunday evening concert a few months later back at the Old Vic in July 1974. They were not only the first band to play at Britain’s National Theatre, but they was the only ones to play that venue, and no other band has played it since. The band performed their epic “Midnight Mushrumps” that night and the concert was considered to be a major breakthrough for progressive rock.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Gryphon. Recorded at Chipping Norton Recording Studio in January 1974. Engineered by Dave Grimsted. Photography by Clive Boursnell. Design by Richard Rockwood. Art direction by Ann Sullivan.

Musicians.
Richard Harvery: Recorders (Soprannino,Descant,Treble & Tenor) – Crumhorns (Soprano, Alto & Tenor) – Harmonium – Pipe Organ – Grand Piano – Harpsichord – Elecric Pianos – Toy Piano – Keyboard Glockenspiel – Mandolin – Vocals.
Brian Gulland: Bassoon – Bass Crumhorn – Tenor Recorder – All Keyboards On “Gulland Rock” – Vocals – Laughter & Candlestick Rotation.
Graeme Taylor: Guitars (Acoustic, Semi Acoustic, Electric & 12 String) – Vocals & Raincoat.
Phillip Nestor: Bass – Vocals.
Dave Oberlé: Drums – Timpani – Percussion – Headache & Candlestick.

The Album Tracks In Review…

There is no doubt that the members of the band Gryphon were into the prog rock band Yes. They was even fans of the band. I also think the very thing they took notice of about Yes was that they not only had quite a unique style of their own and were very talented musicians, but they also created their own music known as Yes Music.

The band Yes were making waves in the field of progressive rock by doing something that had never been heard of before. They was as popular in the world of progressive rock as much as what Led Zeppelin were to rock music. You could not even mention the name prog rock without their name popping up.

Gryphon were already quite unique with what they did on their debut album with the use of their unusual instrumentation. I think they already knew that as well with the reaction from their audiences and all those who had took note of them. But the music they presented you with on that debut album was not entirely a new form of music like what Yes had somehow had managed to achieve.

They would also be tied and tagged to the world of folk music if they continued on in the same direction as well. By 1974 English traditional folk was also on its way out, whilst progressive rock was still very much alive and was making more of an impact.

The only way forward for Gryphon at this point, was to experiment and make a bit of change. The bands 2nd album Midnight Mushrumps is very much the starting point of a new musical journey that no doubt made this band far more unique than they already were. The very fact that the band also kept it’s unique unusual instrumentation made it more of an acceptable change to make as well. From this point onwards, the band were writing their own masterpieces, and more was about to come.

So let’s take a deeper look into just what changes Gryphon had made at this point as I go through the album tracks.

Track 1. Midnight Mushrumps.

I suppose the best way I can describe this 19 minute piece of work is that its very much like a classical symphony composed by one of the classical GREATS!. Only here it is the band Gryphon who are the GREATS! and they composed a MASTERPIECE!. Listening to a piece of music like “Midnight Mushrumps” is not really that much different to listening to a classical symphony at all. It’s a lengthy piece of music that even contains much of the instrumentation that is used in a classical orchestra. It also contains the same diversity and progression to go somewhere else too.

The piece is also skilfully arranged in the same way its arranged for an orchestra to play. The only real difference between this small orchestra who go by the name Gryphon and a 90 piece orchestra. Is that this 5 piece band are all soloists where as an orchestra only has one or two soloists, and this 5 piece orchestra have a lot more to say individually throughout the piece of music.

Unlike 15 violin players doing the same thing and waiting for the the part where it comes down for the solo violinist to say something more than the other 15 violin players are saying in a individual way. I find a lot of classical music the same with how a large orchestra presents the music to you. Don’t get me wrong I still say till this day listening to an orchestra live is quite an amazing experience that cannot really be beaten. But that simply cannot be captured on a recording.

Not even with today’s technology of 5.1 surround sound can do any more justice to a 90 piece orchestra, it’s much better suited for a smaller group of musicians or something like a quartet. This is why a lot of classical music mostly bores me listening to it on a record. On any recording most of the time the orchestra is speaking the same language.

It lacks variety in it’s instrumentation and the only time you will hear something stick out more is when the soloist comes in on whatever instrument he’s playing, and when another section of instruments come into play like the woodwind section for example. My favourite instruments in a classical orchestra are the piano, bassoon, oboe, flutes and the cello. I have always preferred a violin in folk music or even country music where it is used as a fiddle. That’s where you will really hear a violin played by 1 guy that makes the notes come out and play, not 15 guys playing the same bloody thing on one.

No doubt the violin soloist will speak more as well on that instrument in classical music. I have always enjoyed something more around the lines of a quartet when it comes to classical music and quite often the music as been just as skilfully arranged for a quartet and perhaps even more so as well.

For me personally Gryphon’sMidnight Mushrumps” offers the listener more variety than any 90 piece classical orchestra is ever gonna give you on a recording. It’s quite a remarkable composition that contains real beauty for the ears, and even on a stereo recording it sounds a lot better than any 90 piece orchestra. Now I would love a 5.1 recording of this and it will simply blow your brains out as well, if they got a good 5.1 mixing engineer to do the job as well.

This piece was composed by Richard Harvey who plays a wide variety of instruments and this is a piece that actually starts off with the harmonium to which is used quite a lot throughout the piece mixed in with the organ he’s also playing on this intro, and is also accompanied by Brain Gulland on the bassoon. Then around the 1:15 mark Harvey jumps on the piano and Gulland brings in a beautiful theme on the bassoon.

These few notes that make up this theme Gulland plays have always stuck in my head just like a good song can do over the years and it’s the sort of thing one often can burst out singing without even thinking of it from time to time, and I am sure we have all done that on several occasions. His bassoon gives the impression of someone calling out to you and it beckons you into it’s path. Although at this stage this beautiful theme only lasts a short while, but it is in fact the main theme that reoccurs throughout the piece and the band play many counterparts around the piece as well, and bring it back at the end to end it all off.

The next section that runs from 2:06 – 3:00 starts with the organ and bassoon dropping out to leave the harmonium only and this allows Graeme Taylor at first to come in with his acoustic guitar quickly followed by Phil Nestor’s bass lending support. Then in comes Dave Oberlé on drums and percussion, whilst Gulland comes back with the bassoon. Both of which add further strength to the build. The harmonium, guitar and bass drops out around the 3 minute mark and the organ, bassoon and percussion with a trickle of harpsichord stomp in at first and changes it’s melody slightly over this short little section that runs for about 48 seconds.

At 3:48 we get translational change and we get to hear the first bit of flute which is accompanied by the harpsichord and acoustic guitar and later the bassoon comes back in with more flutes and percussion. Then at the 5:05 mark we get another change that starts of with vamping on the electric piano which gets accompanied by flute followed by guitar, harpsichord, bass, timpani, percussion and a bit of organ too. This section lifts it up more and plays over some of melody lines we have already heard with a different arrangement that gives it more of a jolly presence and feel over the next minute and 10 seconds.

The joyful section comes down at the 6:15 mark and the organ takes command on this next more subtle section, it even feels like there is an accordion in there as well though it’s not listed in the instruments the band play. This section runs up to the 8:33 mark and gradually gets accompanied by the bass guitar and the acoustic guitar. Then we get this lovely little solo acoustic guitar section from Graeme Taylor that runs along for around 28 seconds and at 8:58 the organ and bassoon and flute come back into play supported by the bass and percussion, and it builds up in march like fashion with a bit of power before falling back into a more sombre section on the guitar that comes into play at the 10:57 mark, which is accompanied by the pipe organ only.

25 seconds later the pipe organ takes over once again on its own and at 11:57 we get to hear the first crumhorn though it’s only used for a short intro to take us into the next section and you only get a few notes from it :))))). This next section contains quite a few melody changes with the use of the bassoon, heavy percussion, organ, harpsichord, bass, guitar and flute and is quite a powerful section and takes us up to the 14:22 mark. Where once again the harmonium comes back into play and starts to build its way back up and features a lovely section on the harpsichord, the rest of the guys back it up very well too.

It all simmers down with the organ and the organ brings in the backing section for the main theme to come back and features the flute at first around the 16:40 mark that plays so beautifully in this section. This is the section that brings tears of joy streaming down my face knowing that this most beautiful theme or melody is coming back and the flute  flourishes and flutters around it’s melody it’s sheer joy to listen too. The flourishes and flutters trickle their way out at the 18 minute mark allowing the flute to play its main theme in a more surreal and subtle manor, and it get accompanied by the pipe organ and glockenspiel to bring it all to a lovely end.

Midnight Mushrumps” is one of the two masterpieces that are on this album. This most beautiful symphony merits my top spot award of the album and is my personal favourite track. It’s quite different from anything that was on their debut album and I could even perhaps imagine those who brought their debut album first, would be wondering what’s going on when they first heard this piece. The piece only uses a crumhorn for all of a few seconds throughout its entire journey, though it still contains plenty of variety with the other instrumentation. No doubt the piece has mainly been constructed around the keyboard and that’s how Harvey would of initially composed the piece. But it’s a truly magnificent piece of work.

This video is what the band posted on their Youtube channel and here they are playing the 3rd and final movement of the piece at the Union Chapel in London on the 29th May 2015. It features the bands original line-up apart from Phil Nestor on bass. Though they do have Jon Davie on bass who played on Gryphon’s 5th album Treason and they also had Graham Preskett who was helping them out.

Track 2. The Ploughboy’s Dream.

Well the crumhorn may not of featured much on the opening masterpiece but they have certainly got them back out for this song.”The Ploughboy’s Dream” is the only song on the album that the band never wrote and is another arrangement of a traditional folk song that the band have arranged. it’s also the only song to feature on the album as the rest of the material are very much instrumental pieces.

The song dates back to around 1545 and like many of these songs the lyrics have changed over the years, and today there are many versions of how it’s put across. But basically they all tell the same story of a dreadful dream or nightmare a young boy had about driving a couple of horses near enough to their death with the land they had to plough being baked and hard in the hot sun sort of thing. It’s very much about cruelty.

It’s common for most artists in traditional folk to look back on the history of folk music and resurrect a song like this from the dead, even today. And this is a song that is mostly done by your regular folkies. I also think that Gryphon was right to include a song like this on the album too, simply because with the change they made with opening track may have been too much of a change for the fans of the band that brought their debut album and they just may of been expecting something more along the same lines.

So this is something to cushion the blow sort of thing, by giving perhaps those fans who was more into the traditional folk side of things something that related more to their debut album, and showing them that they had not entirely turned their back on folk music. Gryphon do quite a magical job of the song too and give it a lot more drama than most folkies I have heard play this song.

The introduction they give to the song is very much played on the keyboards and it’s got quite a feeling of rain and also reminds me a bit like the sound that can be heard on “Spring Song” on their 5th album Treason. Dave Oberlé takes on the lead vocals with his golden voice and throughout the song the others join in very well with the backing and harmonies. The interplay on the crumhorns with Gulland and Harvey on the 2nd verse is quite magical.

Each verse builds up more powerfully especially with the vocals, percussion and drums and it really raises the game with it’s tremendous power and ends off with a bit of more subtlety with the keyboards at the very end. The band do it superbly and the vocals even remind of Fairport Convention when they all come in on them.

Track 3. The Last Flash Of Gaberdine Tailor.

This next instrumental piece written by Graeme Taylor is another very well structured piece of music that features a plethora of wonderful instrumentation besides Taylor’s great work on the acoustic guitar. The masterful interplay and arrangement is gorgeous with the band and the instruments they so skilfully play. The title he gave the piece may reflect why he added a raincoat to the instrumentation list for a bit of fun.

To play a piece like this it has to be precise and even Dave Oberlé’s job on the timely percussion plays a major role in a piece like this. The piece also features flute and bassoon solos and features harpsichord, piano, organ and bass and is a contender for the top spot on the album even though it’s already been taken.

Track 4. Gulland Rock.

This next instrumental piece was composed by Brian Gulland and the title reflects that as well. This track is only 5 minutes and 19 seconds and is what I consider to be another MASTERPIECE! on this album. To be quite honest this particular piece may not be as well constructed as the previous track written by Taylor. But it’s got an element of beauty about it and is built up around some lovely melodies and counter melodies. This is the kind of piece that will take you somewhere else listening to how it all progresses along.

Gulland takes over Harvey’s duties on the keyboards on this track and plays all the keyboards. The piece starts off with with the piano and organ and even plays a few bars that are very familiar with the Christmas Carol “Away In Manger” I think it’s something he picked up from Graeme Taylor adding a few bars from the Fry’s Turkish Delight TV advert and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” to a couple of the tracks he wrote on their previous debut album :))))).

After its rather pleasant intro, we get quite a darker mood and sense of danger with the drama coming from the pipe organ which brightens up a bit when the harpsichord and percussion come into play. But only for a short spasm and falls back into the dark dungeon with the pipe organ and sustains its way out and Harvey comes in on the recorder which changes the mood to a more lighter and airy feel it really is beautiful.

The next section of the piece features both Taylor on acoustic guitar and Harvey on flute and this is another fabulous section that tags off with Taylor on his own who builds the piece up over this next little spasm. The other guys come in with the percussion, bass, and mandolin adding that bit more power to the build and comes to a short stop. Then Gulland comes back in to round it all off on the keyboards supported by Nestor’s bass and a bit of percussion from Oberlé.

Gulland Rock” is a dramatic piece of work that captures the spirit of the sea crashing it’s waves amongst a rock (or rocks) without needing to add the sound of the sea to it. It’s quite majestic in parts and is really excellent composition that is very well portrayed with the instrumentation that has been used throughout the whole piece. It’s very much quite a masterpiece and another contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 5. Dubbel Dutch.

Another one of Graeme Taylor’s compositions and one where he would of had another bit of fun giving its title with how its spelt. The term “Double Dutch” is a language game primarily used in England where one could not understand what the other person was saying. I suppose it could also be referred to as “It’s all just Greek to me”. I also expect he gave it this title because the music does present itself with a European flavour as well.

It’s another very well structured piece that would of been composed primarily on the acoustic guitar and once again the arrangement is very clever in the way all the other instrumentation moulds, wraps and works its way around the piece. There is a bags of progression and transnational changes throughout the piece, and I love the way it falls back into its main melody or theme every now and then, and also how the other great melody lines take you somewhere else. It’s another stunning piece and contender for the top spot on the album and features at a lot of the bands live shows.

Track 6. Ethelion.

The album ends off with another masterful and majestic piece of work which is credited to the band. Its title most likely came from The Lord Of The Rings and from early drafts of the book by JRR. Tolkien from around the 1940’s. “Ethelion” was very much one of the many rejected names that Tolkien had in mind for the character that was eventually to be known as Aragorn. He was also nicknamed Strider hence the pace that Gryphon’s piece is travelling along at throughout its journey.

Brain Gulland’s hilarious laugh which is overacted by the way :)))))) that you hear at the  beginning was said to be captured and recorded behind the curtains of the Old Vic when they first premièred there in March 1974 a month before the release of the album. It’s the heaviest track on the album and besides all the marvellous instrumentation with all the crumhorns, bassoon, flutes, guitars, bass, keyboards, and vibes. Dave Oberlé’s excellent powerful drums and percussion drives the piece along.

Overall its perhaps not a piece that is going to go in many directions, but it has a very powerful build up and is superbly arranged with how it builds up over its main melody that runs along with Taylor’s strumming on the guitar after the powerful intro. No doubt the piece is heading in one direction as it strides along the fields and hills and does so in great medieval style. It rounds off the album superbly.

Summary

Gryphon’s 2nd album Midnight Mushrumps is very much an album that sees the band heading in a new direction and more things was about to happen for the band in 1974 to keep them very busy. At this stage of the bands career they focused their attention more on instrumental pieces and the changes they made were more along the lines of injecting a bit more of classical music into their repertoire so to speak. Though no doubt because of their unusual instrumentation the element of folk music was still also apparent but not quite as strong as it was on their debut album.

It’s perhaps an album one needs to delve deeper into to get the full benefit out of it, to really appreciate it and accept the change they made in relation to their debut album. There is no doubt that this album took me a lot more spins when I first heard it to really accept it, because on my first several listens from when I brought it back in the 90’s I honestly found it quite an hard album to get into.

But there is much more to this album than meets the eye, or the ears in this case, and once this album sank in, I honestly feel that it is in every way just as good as their debut album, and like that album its very much a solid album. The band at this point were still very much more an acoustic outfit, and Graeme Taylor in particular was not quite ready to make the change to adding an electric guitar to bands output of music. But that was to come very soon.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Gryphon’s 2nd album Midnight Mushrumps. Personally I think that even if you are more into classical music this album would appeal to classical listeners as well. Especially with its 2 wonderful masterpieces “Midnight Mushrumps” and “Gulland Rock“. These could even be seen as symphonies and contain less medieval or traditional folk elements in them. The only bit of crumhorn you get is on the first of those couple of tracks, and that is only a few seconds.

The Ploughboy’s Dream” is the only traditional folk song in sight on this album, but the fact that the other 3 instrumental pieces do have more folk elements to them, will most likely appeal more to the folkies, and in some ways help to cushion the shock some may have had from the change the band had made in relation to their previous debut album. But these pieces are also very well constructed and lean towards progressive rock with the progression and diversity they contain.

My personal highlights from the album are “Midnight Mushrumps“. “Gulland Rock” and “The Last Flash Of Gaberdine Tailor” but to be honest I could quite easily throw in the whole album because it’s another GEM.

Gryphon were branching out and soon were going to other places, but did their change in direction bring in more fans and create more of a stir. There is no doubt they planned a strategic move with their next album, but was the game they was playing a winner?. It should also be noted that the band also had a bit of fun with the sleeve notes on some of their albums in particular with the additional musician credits. You can find out in my next review of the bands 3rd album as I go deeper into this bands great music and their history.

Be Not Heard; The Isle Is Full Of Noises…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Midnight Mushrumps. 18:58.
02. The Ploughboy’s Dream. 3:02.
03. The Last Flash Of Gaberdine Tailor. 3:58.
04. Gulland Rock. 5:21.
05. Dubbel Dutch. 5:36.
06. Ethelion. 5:15.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 07/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #93

Gryphon – Gryphon

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Introduction…

Well I have just been updating my Gryphon collection with more up to date remasters, and this gives me the perfect opportunity to do a review of this fine bands masterful pieces of work. Over this next series of reviews I shall be shedding a bit more light on the band Gryphon and I shall be reviewing all 5 of the bands albums from 1973 – 1977. I will also be giving you a bit of brief history of the band, and discussing why I buy music like this all over again sometimes and how I first stumbled upon the band all those years ago.

I am sure for some people out there they will already know that Gryphon are a band who not only emerged in the 70’s but also disappeared in that decade too. Some will not be aware that the band even got back together around 2009 and played their first gig in 32 years in 2009. Since 2015 they have played further live concerts and are currently in the process of releasing a new album this year after some 41 years. But I dare say that the biggest majority will of never even heard of the band or any of their great music.

But for those like myself, who did get to hear Gryphon’s great music all those decades ago. I am pretty sure it stayed with them, even after all these years. But before I go any further and see what’s in this mythical creatures pot of gold. Let’s first take a look at that packaging and artwork as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case which no doubt protects the disc very well. However these days I think it’s about time that they got around to presenting the CD in either a DigiPak or DigiSleeve which I personally think looks a lot better and they may even entice people to re-buy an older album like this as well. These days Jewel cases are becoming a thing of the past and it’s about time more people realised that.

The Jewel Case is only really used these days to save on money on packaging a product like this. The fact that they are charging you between £10 – £12 for a new remaster is not really going to add much of an incentive to buy it, especially when in most cases you can still buy the older remaster or reissue in a Jewel Case for £5 or even less.

It comes with a 2 page booklet which contains the usual linear production notes and credits, but does not include the lyrics or any informal information or an essay around the time the album was made. Overall the package is adequate but could of been better.

The Artwork.

The albums artwork cover and cartoon illustrations of the band members was done by Dan Pearce with art direction from Ann Sullivan. The photography was done by Roger Perry. Pearce done a great job on the album cover with the mythical Griffin creature and his pot of gold. The cartoon illustrations of band members he drew look well funny too:)))))).

Band Members

Gryphon (A Brief Bit Of History)

The band Gryphon came about when multi-instrumentalist Richard Harvey bumped into the woodwind player Brian Gulland whilst they was both studying classical music at the Royal College of music in London. Both had strong interests in other musical spheres and Harvey was fascinated at an early age by medieval and pre-classical music and was  playing renaissance recorders and crumhorns with the early music ensemble, Musica Reservata. Gulland on the other hand was a talented bassoonist and had a passion for everything from Church music to contemporary folk and progressive rock.

It was the diversity and tastes they had in music that encouraged them both to get together to form a group. Harvey had an old school friend of his in mind to join them who played guitar, namely Graeme Taylor. Both Harvey and Taylor would play some of the music John Renbourn was coming out with back then and they was also influenced by the Incredible String Band. For a short while they played as a trio in medieval eating houses and in 1972 they came across a former rock drummer who had a drum kit larger than life. His name was David Oberlé and it was at this point the group started to take more shape.

The band set about creating and developing their own distinctive style and focused their attention on renaissance pieces and re-arranged traditional folk songs. In order to make it work, Oberlé had to dispense of around 70% of his drum kit and started to work at becoming more of a percussionist. It was quite a challenge for him but by doing so he was soon to become very much an integral part of the band. The one thing Oberlé also had was such a great voice, and he could also mould it around some of the more traditional folk music the band had intended to re-arrange. His voice was that good that the rest of the guys often referred to him as being the pop singer of the band :)))))).

The band started to play some local gigs in small colleges and folk clubs and it was not that long before they was soon spotted and signed to Transatlantic Records. It was no surprise they got signed up to a record label due to the use of the unusual instruments with the use of crumhorns and bassoon and the complex arrangements they had applied to a lot of the English traditional folk music. They was also playing some of their original material and arranged material in 1972 that would eventually appear on their debut album in the following year.

At the beginning of 1973 the band started recording the material for their self titled debut album. Upon its release it was received very well and all of a sudden a certain interest in the band soon became more apparent. Before long they was playing to a complete cross-section of audiences playing in folk clubs, rock concerts, formal recitals, Cathedrals (St. Paul’s and Southwark), prisons, universities and schools. In July they gave a very successful series of concert/lectures at the Victoria and Albert Museum, for young people, at which they played, and then explained the making of their music.

In the following month of August they appeared at the Edinburgh Festival which sparked off even further interest in a variety of newspapers and they also appeared on several television programs such as Magpie and Jim’ll Fix It. They appeared on BBC Radio 1,2,3 and 4 all in one week. About the only thing they never appeared on was Top Of The Pops but that was perhaps more understandable because their music was more suited to the listener who had more of an eclectic taste and not really aimed at the teenyboppers.

Though the band did cut a single back in 1973 entitled “Glastonbury Carol“. But it was only a single sided promo meant for radio stations to air. But unfortunately they never had any luck with that either because the hole was off centred to the left by quite a long margin and made it sound more like a wind up :)))))). The original recording was thought to be lost and was eventually recovered and included on a compiled album of the BBC Sessions from 1972 & 1974 that was released on CD only on Hux Records in 2003. It was even titled Glastonbury Carol and included linear notes from the bands woodwind player Brian Gulland.

It was during September of 1973 that the band were personally approached and commissioned by Peter Hall the director of the National Theatre to write and pre-record the music for his new production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. They had previously provided the theme music for the film “Glastonbury Fayre”, and individual members had contributed to the sound tracks of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”, “Mary Queen of Scots”, “Pope Joan” and various other television plays.

(To be continued).

Why Buy It All Again?…

There are quite a few reasons why I still buy something I already have over again. I suppose my number one choice as to why I would do such a thing is when they release the album with a 5.1 mix. That is without a doubt my personal biggest incentive to buy music these days. For me it’s always been about getting the best quality recording you can get of the albums I love so much.

Even today I am still finding better quality remasters of older albums, and to be honest most of the music I love the best does come from the older albums I have in my record collection that mostly came out of my personal golden decade of the 70’s. Especially for progressive rock. But of course that decade is only golden to me because it was down to the time I was approaching my teens and music had much more of an effect on me to want to go out and buy it. I do not think I have changed ever since either.

Music plays a major role in my life and I can still get a lot pleasure from some of the music that is being made these days too. I actually love the fact that there are tons of bands out there still creating the music I love the most. But as much as I can get pleasure from those bands still churning out great prog rock. Many of those albums that came out in the 70’s are real stayers, music that as never or will ever leave my heart, and for the life of me, even after all these years they are never that far away from my turntable so to speak. Only these days my turntable happens to be a CD Player :))))))).

When it comes to buying music I already have, the music Gryphon made back in the 70’s had one of the biggest influences on me, and to be honest I do not think I could ever stop even buying more up to date releases of their albums either, simply because I personally do not think the band Gryphon never once let me down with the 5 albums this band produced between 1973 – 1977.

However I do have to draw the line now and then regarding buying the bands albums over and over at times, so that’s not entirely true and to be honest I only ever had 2 of the albums of the band on vinyl back in the 70’s as well. Even when I went to see them play live in 2015 & 2016 I noticed the band were selling the first 4 of their albums and they was in cardboard wallets or sleeves.

Had they have been in DigiPaks or even a DigiSleeves I would of most certainly have brought them. But these were just like the cardboard wallets or sleeves you will find in most cheap box sets. Which are all fine in a nice presentation box and I would of brought one of those if they made one with all 5 albums in, and not just the 4 the band are selling even on their own website.

The bands 5th album Treason was the only album that was on a different record label which was Harvest EMI. The other 4 were released on Transatlantic Records. It’s a shame that even in this day and age there are still contractual circumstances that can prevent all this from happening in the way of presenting the whole package in a box set.

I would not say you will always get what you are after with every new remaster of an album. Especially if you are buying older recordings that came out many moons ago. A lot of it depends on how many times they have actually remastered an album over the many decades, and no doubt every time they pull out the original master tape to do such a thing with, it’s bound to eventually wear down and the recording at some point will start to deteriorate. So eventually you will end up with something that is nowhere near as good as the first pressing you got on the vinyl record all those years ago.

Regarding the overall sound quality of any recording really benefiting today from being remastered, is really down to how well and good the recording was in the first place. But even today’s newer technology can make an improvement in most circumstances and technology and sound quality as come on in leaps and bounds since the 60’s and 70’s.

Improvements have developed quite a lot over the years and just by listening to the sound quality of the VST Patches that I had for my keyboards back in 2001. Since 2010 upwards the sound quality has vastly improved. These days you can get even great quality sampled pianos for your keyboards which was not even possible a decade earlier. The very fact that even new mastering tools and studio plugins have improved over all these years can make that extra bit of a difference in improving even the sound quality of a vinyl album from all those years ago.

But in general remastering any recording will not make that much of difference in comparison to doing a new remix of an album. Many purists will be put off by new remixes and to be honest if the engineer who is doing the remixing is adding anything to a recording, that is something I am dead set against myself.

But if the engineer is using the same stems of the original master recordings and placing the instruments in other places of the stereo field and in the mix to achieve more depth and clarity from the original recording. These type of new remixes will make a big difference, and can even improve on the dynamics as well as the clarity. But in general a good engineer will only do this if he feels the original mix was not right in the first place, and he thinks it can be improved upon by his production skills.

In either case of a remaster or a new mix I always like to hold on to my old recordings for a good while before I sell them on. Just in case the newer edition is not an overall improvement and is even worse off from the engineer using too much compression to achieve what he thinks sounds better. And no doubt I have come across a few of those in past as well.

In general most albums only get re-issued or remastered and remixed for 3 reasons. 1. To let you know that the artists music is still available to buy. 2. To make more money especially in the case of an album getting this treatment every odd year. Bands like Led Zeppelin are a perfect example when you look at how many remasters and re-issues their albums have had over the years. Number 3 is perhaps the more of the rarity of the other 2, and that is when both the artist and the mixing engineer feel they have made a significant overall improvement.

Over the last few weeks I have even noticed that Esoteric Recordings will be releasing the bands first 4 albums of the Transatlantic years from 1973 – 1975 in a 2 CD Set entitled Raindances. No doubt this is a complete bargain and it will be released on Cherry Red Records at a price of £11.99. This is scheduled to be released next month on the 24th August and according to their website the albums have all been digitally remastered from the original master tapes.

Whoever is responsible for this release has not been too clever in how they have gone about presenting it. I mean just look at the album cover below and you can see why.

Raindances

Considering you are getting the 4 albums Gryphon. Midnight Mushrumps. Red Queen To Gryphon Three and Raindance. Why on earth did they add an “S” to the bands 4th album Raindance and give it this title. Also why on earth did they use the exact cover that was on the bands 2nd album Midnight Mushrumps. Surely somebody could of came up with a better title and album cover. This is really idle and sloppy work with what they have done here with this presentation.

From my experience with Esoteric Recordings there is no doubt the recordings you get are genuine quality. However they appear to be a company who like to grab hold of those older records we loved all those years back, and not necessary do the right thing with how they go about presenting their releases. Honestly very little work if any at all as gone into this presentation and this could be seen like taking water from a ducks back for god’s sake.

Now what I would love to see is 5.1 releases of these albums. Surely that would be a damn site better thing to do these days and would give people more incentive to go out and buy these recordings all over again. No doubt the price point of this 2 CD Set may even entice me to buy it even though I have the albums, but I would like it to come in a DigiPak and not a standard Jewel Case. But my guessing is that they will not even do that, so I may not bother with this one.

The Album In Review…

Gryphon’s self titled debut album was released sometime in June 1973. The band had spent much of March & April recording and re-arranging a lot of the material they was playing live in the previous year along with a few other new pieces. The album consisted of 12 tracks in total and had an overall playing time of 37 minutes, 27 seconds.

A very reasonable time slot for an album back in those days, especially for vinyl which did have time restrictions of how much you could fit on it before the material would start to deteriorate at the end of both sides of an LP. So you was getting a great sound quality recording with this album.

This is actually 1 of the 2 albums of Gryphon I did have on vinyl back in the 70’s. I still have them too, but for the past decade and more I very much relegated my turntable and vinyl to the loft, where they have been since just before we hit the millennium.

I also brought it on CD back in 1992 to which it was a Japanese release on the Canyon International Label, and have just updated it with the 2016 remaster done by Talking Elephant. I had to order it from Badlands UK via Ebay due to Amazon only having the 2008 remaster to which was also done by Talking Elephant. It took a bit longer than Amazon to arrive and I ended up paying £11.99 for it.

To be honest the Japanese release I already had from 1992 sounds very good. But this new remaster I feel is better, not by a large margin by any means but I am happy with it. I do however feel that it’s overpriced by £2. Simply because it came in a jewel case and not a DigiPak. But of course the quality of the music is the most important thing, and I cannot complain about this release.

My Introduction to Gryphon…

My personal introduction to Gryphon came in the very same year that the album was released in 1973. Though it would of been around the autumn of that year and not in the summer when this album got released. At the time I was only 13 years old and it was about 18 months earlier that a good friend of the family first introduced me to folk music and the world of traditional folk rock with the band known as Fairport Convention.

By the time I was 13. I was quite into English traditional folk music and progressive rock. Especially the band Yes which was the very first band that got me into prog rock. This friend of the family I knew so well was around 4 years older than myself, and we would often speak about music when we was around each other. There where times when I would pop around his families house and listen to the albums he had in his record collection at the time too.

He had quite a record collection that ranged from all sorts of folk music, prog rock, pop and even classical music. Occasionally he would also pop around to my mother’s house and bring along a bag of vinyl albums he had just brought and we would listen to them on my oldest brother’s HiFi. On the odd occasion he would also be a bit hard up, and sometimes he would pop round and see if I was interested in buying a few albums off him.

Bear in mind I was only 13 and I never had a lot of pocket money. But I did save my money and make money from doing errands for my 2 older brothers who had left school and were in full time work. I also did the odd bob a job to make a few pennies as well by cutting peoples hedges. Back in those days I done a lot of things to make some extra money, including dressing up as the Guy on bonfire night and I always made a good few quid carol singing at Christmas time.

It was around the autumn of 1973 that this good friend of mine and the family was a bit hard up, and he popped around to see me and had 3 albums in a bag for sale all at £1 each. He was like myself regarding vinyl records and always took extra special care of them, and just like myself every time he brought a new album, he also would buy a PVC cover to protect the album cover.

I brought all 3 albums off him on that day. One of them was this very album by Gryphon and other 2 were Iain Matthews first debut album from 1971 If You Saw Thru My Eyes and Pentangle’s 1970 album Cruel Sister. All 3 albums I can honestly tell you are spectacular and still massive favourites in my record collection.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Lawrence Aston & Adam Skeaping. Recorded at Riverside Recordings and Livingston Studios between March & April 1973. Engineered by Adam Skeaping & Nick Glennie-Smith. Album Cover & Artwork Illustrations by Dan Pearce.

Musicians.
Richard Harvery: Recorders/Crumhorns/Organ/Harmonium/Harpsichord/Classical Guitar/Mandolin.
Brian Gulland: Bassoon/Crumhorns/Recorders/Harpsichord/Vocals.
Graeme Taylor: Guitars/Harpsichord/Organ/Recorder/Vocals.
Dave Oberlé: Drums/Percussion/Teapot/Vocals.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Most of the tracks on Gryphon’s debut album are very much arrangements rather than original written material. At this point of their earlier career they wrote very little of their own material and that was something they would of been working on improving on as they went along. The material we have on this album is also more associated with traditional and medieval folk, and an album like this would also be found in the folk section of a record shop rather than in a pile with the prog rock albums.

Though no doubt the music we have here is still very complex and sophisticated to play and this was a band that consisted of highly talented musicians just like the many other bands were in prog rock, and no doubt that even though both Gryphon and Fairport Convention may have been more of your traditional folkies, both bands had elements of prog rock within their music. The album is a mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks and contains half a dozen of each spread out over it’s duration.

Some of the material for Gryphon’s album was recorded at Adam Skeaping’s house at the Riverside in Barnes. It was recorded on a made up 8 track system that consisted of 4 Revox machines synchronised together with a Bill’s Box. The more larger scale pieces were recorded at Livingston Studios which was a converted chapel in Barnet, London. The studio is still very much an active one today and here is a picture of the outside of it.

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No doubt the interior would of changed since those dark distant days of the 70’s as well, and I bet the guys never had quite the luxury of how it is looks today as you can see from the pictures below.

Studio Collage

So now let’s get down to taking a further insight to the bands great music as I go through all the 12 tracks that make up this truly magnificent album.

Track 1. Kemp’s Jig.

The album opens up with the first of the 6 instrumental pieces on the album to which they have entitled “Kemp’s Jig“. This particular piece is an arrangement of anonymous Galician musical piece from the renaissance era way back in the 16th century. It’s original title is “Pase el Agoa, ma Julieta” which roughly translates in English to “Come Across the Water to Me My Lady Juliet”.

The original piece was also a song with words, and the band have played around the structure of the vocal line that can be heard in this video clip I found on Youtube.

The band arrangement we have here is manly structured around the woodwind section, and the band have two very well accomplished woodwind players with the likes of Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland. Crumhorn’s, flutes, recorders and the bassoon plays a very integral part in Gryphon’s music, along with the percussion, especially on a piece like this. All its members are multi instrumentalists to some degree.

On this track Richard Harvey plays soprano recorder whilst Brian Gulland plays a bass crumhorn, and along with Dave Oberlé‘s percussion which is also playing in a pattern play around the main melody line, it forms the basis of songs main structure and is played along at quite a joyful pace on the intro & outro. Meanwhile Graeme Taylor’s acoustic guitar lightly embellishes the piece by strumming along in the background.

The piece also contains a come down section which kicks into play after the opening 50 seconds. During this section Harvey comes off the soprano recorder and steps on the organ and harpsichord adding a bit more variety and flavour to the piece. it gradually builds its way back up with more heavier drum like percussion from Oberlé lending to giving the piece a bit of extra power and strength, and eventually falls back into it’s main melody section we got at the beginning and ends it all off in fine style.

Kemp’s Jig” goes down very well at any Gryphon concert, it’s one of the few estampie’s on this album which are aimed at getting your feet to stomp along and dance too, just like people did do all those centuries ago to medieval music. The way Gryphon do it as well has certainly got more chance of doing just that to it as well, unlike the vocal version of it in the video I posted here.

Track 2. Sir Gavin Grimbold.

A traditional folk song about a gallant knight who rode out one day and never returned, although his horse did so it appears :))). I have to confess I am a bit confused as to where this song came from and over the years, the linear credit notes that were put on many of the re-issues, remsasters and complied albums add to all the confusion.

On the original 1973 LP  it was credited as Anonymous: Arranged by Gryphon. This 2016 Talking Elephant remaster states the same too. Whereas other releases have credited it as Anonymous: Arranged by Gulland and some have even credited the song to Gulland alone. Some articles even point out that it was he who wrote the lyrics.

I am pretty sure that this song was more of an arrangement and not composed by Brian Gulland. But my guess is that he had a lot to do with the arrangement and just may have even re-arranged the lyrics or even wrote them. I must make a point of asking him when I go and see them again later on this year. But I have heard them mention as to where the song came from when I seen them live before, but for the life of me I cannot no longer remember ;))))).

Gryphon have always put humour into a lot of the songs they have done over the years, and there is a good couple of hilarious songs on this album too. Though “Sir Gavin Grimbold” is perhaps more of a serious story line, rather than meant to be a comical one. Besides the bassoon Gulland takes on the vocals on this song and sings it in more of baritone range rather than his very deep bass vocal range to which he uses in other songs.

To be honest every time I heard this song I find it quite hard to believe that Gulland sang this song, because it’s certainly more around Oberlé’s vocal range. Both have great voices for traditional folk music and contribute more to the vocals than any of the other members of the band.

Sir Gavin Grimbold” is a great song and besides Gulland’s contribution on the vocals and bassoon, it features Harvey on soprano crumhorn & organ. Taylor on acoustic guitar and Oberlé on drums according to the booklet. But it’s much more like percussion.

Track 3. Touch And Go.

The first of a few acoustic little ditties that appear throughout the album and this one features the acoustic guitar talents of Graeme Taylor and Richard Harvey on tenor recorder, though no doubt these things do cost a lot more than a tenner :)))))). It’s another fine piece and beautiful well constructed piece of music that is credited to both Harvey & Taylor.

Track 4. Three Jolly Butchers.

When it comes to injecting a bit of comedy into a song this one is an absolute classic. The song was actually penned by the guitarist of the band Graeme Taylor and no doubt he came up with a piece of magic here. There is no doubt that over the few years Gryphon were together Harvey, Taylor and Gulland wrote some masterpieces and they all came with superb arrangements.

The song tells a story of 3 butchers who go by the name of Johnson, Jipson and Rhyde. Johnson was very much the valiant one who stops to rescue some damsel in distress as all 3 were riding to the market. Upon rescuing the damsel and attempting to take her home safely on his horse, he gets encountered by 10 highway men to which he stands up to and takes 9 of them down. He met his fate to a woman who was standing by and stabbed him from behind. Johnson was known afterwards as the finest butcher as ever the sun shone on.

Besides playing bassoon, drums and guitar on the song, all 3 Gulland, Oberlé and Taylor take on the vocal duties, whilst Harvey plays harpsichord, harmonium and glockenspiel. “Three Jolly Butchers” is one of my contenders for the top spot on the album it’s an excellent well written song that may have even borrowed a bar or two from the Fry’s Turkish Delight television advert that was being widely circulated back then in its middle section.

Track 5. Pastime With Good Company.

Another of the little musical ditties on the album and this one was allegedly a piece written by King Henry VIII at the beginning of the 16th century to which Gryphon have so very well arranged and with their instrumentation it perhaps more fitting than any of the other arrangements I have heard of this piece done by other artists such as Jethro Tull and Blackmore’s Night for example. Though I quite like them all.

It’s perhaps the most popular of Henry VIII’s compositions and is also known as “The King’s Ballad”. It was also believed to be have been written for his first wife Catherine of Aragon. It features Harvey on soprano recorders, tenor and soprano crumhorns. Gulland on bass crumhorn. Oberlé on drums and Taylor on the harpsichord.

Track 6. The Unquiet Grave.

When it comes to raising the dead, nobody and I repeat nobody! does it as well as what Gryphon have done with their own magical arrangement of this traditional folk song that is believed to go back as far as the year 1400. The song was later collected by Francis James Child around 1868. Child was an American scholar, educator, and folklorist, best known today for his collection of English and Scottish ballads now known as the Child Ballads. This particular song was catalogued as Child Ballad number 78 and is more commonly played in countries like Ireland who are also well known for their traditional Irish folk music.

Over the years I have heard many people take on this song, and trust me they are all drab and lifeless in comparison to what Gryphon have done with it. On this album they have captured the true spirit of the song especially on the middle eerie section. Another strong feature on their version is Dave Oberlé’s voice which is purely golden on this song. The song also benefits for him alone singing it as well, and not like they do it live with Brian Gulland singing some of the verses with his deep voice like they do today.

Not that I have anything against Gulland’s vocal duties and no doubt when they play this song live they like do things a bit different sometimes to keep the songs fresh, and I have nothing against that either, but his magical attribute to this song is his bassoon. Not only does the bassoon work it’s splendours on the introduction and outroduction of the song, but the atmosphere they captured in the old chapel that was converted into Livingstone studios, done the business on the eerie section along with Oberlé’s percussion and the drone coming from the harmonium played by Harvey.

Harvey also plays both tenor and soprano crumhorns and harpsichord. Taylor’s job on the acoustic guitar on this song is pure magic. I’ve been trying to play it on the guitar for years, and still cannot play it :))))). “The Unquiet Grave” may not be the most powerful track on the album, but it has the power to bring tears of joy to my eyes when I hear it. It’s always been one of the best songs Gryphon ever played, it’s a pure classic and my personal favourite track on the album. It also the longest track on the album and merits my top spot of the album award.

Track 7. Estampie.

Another medieval dance that dates back centuries and an anonymous piece that back then would of most likely been done vocally with words or played in the form of an instrumental piece just like the opening track on the album “Kemp’s Jig“. According to form on album cover this was arranged by Gryphon and Taylor. This perhaps meant that Taylor had a bit more to do with the arrangement and considering he is only playing a drone on his acoustic guitar on the piece, I find it hard to believe that he had more to do with the arrangement.

But to be honest I was surprised that Taylor actually wrote “Three Jolly Butchers” and the funny thing about this particular piece is that once again we do get a bar or two of that Fry’s Turkish Delight Ad again, and even a bit of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and I wonder if they tagged Taylor’s name on the end of the writing credits just in case they got done for plagiarism LOL…

Estampie” (Pronounced “Estompee” is another magical track on the album and features Dave Oberlé on flying percussion, he’s playing the bongo’s with sticks like the clappers. Harvey’s job on the soprano recorder is also flying along like the clappers, he also plays harmonium and glockenspiel whilst Gulland is making great use of the bass crumhorn and bassoon. This is another contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 8. Crossing The Stiles.

Crossing The Stiles” is another of Graeme Taylor’s compositions and it’s a very well structured little instrumental ditty and features Taylor on his own playing such a wonderful guitar solo. Pieces like this make me want to throw my guitar in the bin :))))) and I would not even attempt to try and play such a complex piece like this either.

However I did come across another very talented guitar player on Youtube some 3 years ago now, who played both “Crossing The Stiles” and “Touch And Go” and I am sure he will not mind me posting his video here.

I am not sure if he’s playing it the exact way how Graeme Taylor plays it, but no doubt it shows how complex the piece is to play, and just how well structured a piece of music like this is to be able to compose the piece in the first place. “Crossing The Stiles” is another piece of magic and another contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 9. The Astrologer.

This is another pure classic traditional folk song once again features Dave Oberlé’s golden voice. The song dates back to around 1598 and later was collected in the form of a written manuscript by H.E.D. Hammond who got it from J. Penny of Poole, Dorset. England in 1906. This arrangement by Gryphon uses the same lyrics from that original manuscript and the band do the business on the arrangement.

The astrologer in this case is a fortune teller who uses his so called magic to try and get pretty young maids into his bed so to speak. It gives the cunning man a certain glamour, even while it humorously makes the point that he specialises in telling young women’s fortunes, with all that it implies. The song also reflects the fact that many young women were interested in divination, and out she pulls the crown piece at the end out of her purse and bids him good morning sir :))))).

This is yet another contender for the top spot on the album and Brian Gulland plays the harpsichord on this one, whilst Richard Harvey takes care of the woodwind with the use of descant, treble and tenor recorders. Graeme Taylor is on guitar duties as usual and Dave Oberlé uses minimal percussion with the gong cymbal.

Track 10. Tea Wrecks.

Another old anonymous tune and little instrumental ditty arranged by the band, and this has quite a Christmas feel about it. It’s the shortest track on the album and is just over a minute long and features Harvey on soprano recorder. Taylor on descant recorder. Gulland on tenor recorder and Oberlé on glockenspiel. They all sound wonderful and its very well arranged too.

Track 11. Juniper Suite.

Just like “Kemp’s Jig” and “Estampie” the “Juniper Suite” is another master class piece of work that shows how skilful the band can be by writing and arranging their own compositions. Unlike the other two pieces this one was penned by all 4 band members and is yet another classic instrumental piece that’s very much another contender for the top spot on the album.

This is perhaps the most powerful and heaviest track on the album and it crashes into action with the cymbals and the crumhorns, backed up by the organ. It then goes into  quite a short fast paced flute section which is accompanied some speedy percussion (like we got on “Estampie” earlier) and the harpsichord. By now we are only 50 seconds into the piece and the next section features both Taylor on stringed guitar and Harvey on classical guitar accompanied by Gulland on bassoon.

The section from 1:37 – 2:26 features a beautiful melody on the bassoon accompanied by the organ. Then from 2:28 – 3:20 Harvey gets out his mandolin and we get this lovely bit of interplay with him on the mandolin and Taylor on the guitar, with Gulland joining in on the bassoon. The next 25 seconds we get both Harvey and Gulland giving us a bit of crumhorn heaven as if you do not get enough of them from this band :))))) and then it crashes back into where we started for a final encore and ends off perfectly.

Juniper Suite” is without doubt a magical track on the album that features Richard Harvey on descant recorder, alto crumhorn, classical guitar, mandolin and organ. Brian Gulland on bass and tenor crumhorns and bassoon. Graeme Taylor on harpsichord, organ and steel stringed guitar. Dave Oberlé on drums and percussion. It even has Dave’s wife credited for playing the triangle on this track. Though knowing this funny bunch of capers they was having a bit of fun with the linear notes :))))))).

Track 12. The Devil And The Farmer’s Wife.

The album closes off with one of the most hilarious songs on the album. It’s another old traditional folk song that dates back somewhat and just like “The Unquiet Grave” it was collected by Francis James Child and was catalogued as Child Ballad 278. The original song was said to be titled ‘The Farmer’s Curst Wife” and over the years not only as it’s titles changed but also the words have done so on several occasions. Many artists have covered the song over the years and done in all styles too, such as country and bluegrass besides your normal folkies.

Gryphon’s version of the song has been arranged by Brian Gulland and no doubt he as also changed the words we have here I have to say they are superb. He also takes on all vocal duties in presenting this song as well and uses his voice in 4 different counterparts of mezzo soprano, counter tenor, baritone and bass. He also plays bassoon on this song as well. Richard Harvey plays harpsichord and organ. Graeme Taylor guitar and Dave Oberlé plays percussion and rounds it all off by banging on a teapot :)))).

The song itself tells a story about the devil running off with the farmer’s wife. Only to find out that she is more trouble than she is worth, and he cannot cope with her being in hell. So he decides to boot her back out again. Only it’s much funnier with how Brian portrays it and the band present it :))))). It ends the album off superbly.

Summary

To sum up Gryphon’s self titled debut album I would say that it’s perhaps one of the most prolific traditional folk albums that was ever made. It’s up there with the very best albums of the likes of Fairport Convention. Steeleye Span. Pentangle. Jethro Tull and any other folkies have graced our ears with. It’s just as complex and sophisticated as anything out there you will find in the world of progressive rock music. Gryphon are a band who have highly skilled masterclass musicians in their outfit and are one of the finest bands that I ever stumbled upon.

I have nothing less than 100% praise for this band and Gryphon are in my top 3 along with early Yes and Genesis when it comes to progressive rock. These 3 bands have brought me the most joy and made music to last forever. They touched my heart with their music back in the 70’s and they still do today.

Gryphon could never be an underrated band even though they was less known in relation to many other bands. They are far to skilful to be underrated. Their music later on just like Yes opened me up to another world of classical music. A form of classical music that appeals to me more than the so called Greats who composed classical music.

Simply because they made music that was more accessible to my ears. Music that had more variety in its instrumentation rather than hearing an orchestra all the time that sounded the same. even though they may have 90 musicians on the stage. Gryphon are an orchestra within themselves, and they can even arrange music just as skilfully as anybody can in the world of classical music. To put in a nutshell they are outstanding.

For many prog rockers Gryphon’s debut album may not appeal to them like the other albums they went onto make. Unless you was brought up with traditional folk music like myself. I can perhaps understand why as well. But for me personally traditional folk music especially English traditional folk rock music and progressive rock have always been my preferred choices of music. But of course I am open to any music that is played and composed as well, and my record collection contains quite a wide variety.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of this opening chapter into the world of Gryphon’s music that I shall be presenting over the end of this month and next month. I would say that it’s very hard for me to choose a personal favourite album of the band. Though I do have a lesser favourite album that the band made, to which you will discover later on in this series.

But even though the band did make a bit of a change and head more along the lines of prog rock as you will discover in my next review. This is an album that still very much contains all those great elements you will find in progressive rock, even though it would be filed under folk in a record shop. It’s also the most featured album that the band play live at their shows, and that can be even more incredible to see played live as well.

For a debut album this is quite a remarkable piece of work and a very solid album. There is not a track on it that can put a blemish on it. My personal highlights from the album areas follows: “The Unquiet Grave“. “Juniper Suite“. “The Astrologer“. “Kemp’s Jig“. “Three Jolly Butchers” and “Crossing The Stiles“. The band even went on to create a symphony with their next album Midnight Mushrumps to which I go into on my next review.

The Finest Flower That Ever I Saw Is Withered To A Stalk…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Kemp’s Jig. 3:10.
02. Sir Gavin Grimbold. 2:50.
03. Touch And Go. 1:35.
04. Three Jolly Butchers. 3:56.
05. Pastime With Good Company. 1:35.
06. The Unquiet Grave. 5:46.
07. Estampie. 4:55.
08. Crossing The Stiles. 2:29.
09. The Astrologer. 3:15.
10. Tea Wrecks. 1:12.
11. Juniper Suite. 4:46.
12. The Devil And The Farmer’s Wife. 1:58.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 07/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.