Midnight Mushrumps – Gryphon
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.
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…
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 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.
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.
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…
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.
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’s “Midnight 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.
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.
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.