Gryphon – Gryphon
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…
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 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:)))))).
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 thoughts on “Lee Speaks About Music… #93”
A very good detailed review my friend.
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Cheers very much John my friend.
Stunning review Lee. Such detail. You surely are the master when it comes to album reviews,!
Cheers very much Gary mate and for me reviews is about how the music speaks to me, and my way of speaking back to it.