Esoteric [Release date: 24.08.18]
Folk rock sipped at diverse sources in its late 60s evolution; the traditional ale-house song was most prominent, probably because it was relatively simple to repurpose, while the music of the medieval court was less so, for precisely the opposite reason.
Transatlantic Records must have recollected favourably its release of Pentangle guitarist John Renbourne’s 1968 contribution to the revival of Early Music, ‘Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte’ when Gryphon hove into view, as they duly signed the ensemble and put out a self-titled debut popping with crumhorns and bassoons, and larkish takes on old English traditional songs (one such attributed to Henry VIII no less).
Royal College of Music graduates lay at the core of a project that faced challenges in shifting line-ups, a love hate label relationship, while moderating the purity of their vision in order to commercialise its output and thereby survive.
This 2CD set tracks four albums that in just two years measure ascension, acclaim, decline and all along the way asserts the band’s unique appeal.
The novelty inherent in Gryphon’s music opened the doors to tour dates even if they struggled at times to translate in the live environment the structurally complex compositions brewed up in the studio.
For by album two, Gryphon were on track to going ‘full prog’: with half the number of tracks of its predecessor, ‘Midnight Mushrumps’ title track, clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, saw the band performing at London’s National Theatre (to this day, the only rock concert ever to be).
A chess-themed concept album, ‘Red Queen To Gryphon Three’ yielded just four tracks, the overarching ‘Lament’ condensing the characteristics of what made the band click to memorable effect on what was to be their most popular release.
The last of the four Transatlantic titles, ‘Raindance’ halters, as if sensing a change in the air, returning to shorter track times but for closer, Harvey’s ‘(Ein Klein) Heldenleben’, a splendid revision of earlier form and harbinger of the film and TV work he was to move on to.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing; perhaps Gryphon would have survived punk were they to have stuck to the crumhorn. That said, with a swish of its cloak, the genre is back, punching hard and fast: and so are Gryphon, new album ‘Reinvention’ coincides with autumn 2018 UK dates. ****
Review by Peter Muir
Album review (Reinvention, and interview)
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