Talking Elephant/Gryphon [Release date 20.11.20]
Gryphon will always occupy a small but significant place in my musical heritage. Coinciding with my interest in (and performance of) early music, in the early 1970s they became a cross-genre novelty act. And with the distinction of appearing on all four main BBC radio networks in one week.
Fast forward to 2018 and they made a comeback album of sorts, which gently brought them kicking and screaming into the millennium.
There were really two aspects to the early band. An erudite enthusiasm for medieval and folk tunes and a subsequent steer towards prog, evidently influenced by a support slot with Yes in 1974/5. There was also a strand of humour throughout: they never took themselves too seriously especially when wearing doublet and hose.
The modern incarnation of Gryphon has therefore to reconcile these three facets or, alternatively, leave them behind and forge something new. This is an aspect I highlighted when reviewing ‘Reinvention’ in 2018 which went in a more folky direction and perhaps reflected the more recent activities of the band members – with three of them also members of folk-rockers Home Service.
So on to ‘Get Out Of My Father’s Car!’. The title track reminds me of the cross-fertilisation achieved by the Early Music Consort in 1969 when they fused with funk in a cult album called ‘Spinning Wheel’.
It’s like Blood Sweat And Tears c.1350. Or, alternatively, a folked up version of the ‘Only Connect’ TV theme.
So it’s a good start and enhanced by violinist Clare Taylor. But it’s Brian Guilland who takes us back to the band’s heyday with his distinctive bassoon (the bass crumhorn sadly absent on this latest offering).
The reflective instrumental ‘A Bit Of Music And Me’ showcases flautist Andy Findon resurrecting a piece of music originally written by his late brother whilst ‘Suite For ’68′ is a similar revival.
‘Percy The Defective Perspective Detective’ is a joyous romp which combines folk and medieval influences and the anticipated folkie vibe arrives with the Clare Taylor-fronted ‘Christina’s Song’ and the whimsical and somewhat throwaway ”The Brief History Of A Bassoon’.
‘A Stranger Kiss’ again fronted by Clare is not really Gryphon as we know them (but a good enough vehicle for their new violinist) and ditto ‘Parting Shot’ which revives a song already performed by some jazz/folk stalwarts albeit with new lyrics.
But it’s another instrumental – Rob Levy’s ‘Forth Sahara’ – that shows the direction the band could have gone, melding jazzy, eastern influences with a funky electric guitar and bass undertow. This trick is almost repeated on ‘Normal Wisdom From The Swamp’ but the effect spoilt by unnecessary vocals.
This is a beautifully constructed and executed album but there’s a lack of real consistency due to an element of reworking older material where maybe a more ground-up approach would have been more authentic and original. This means that ‘Krum Dancing’ – in tune with an earlier incarnation of the band as it references long remembered medieval riffs – stands proud, if somewhat isolated.
The main thing we can be grateful for is that Messrs G.Taylor, Oberle and Gulland are still active but I have to say Richard Harvey is still sorely missed.
The album liner is nicely annotated and you’ll at least discover the background to the rather strange album title. Time to get out the cream cakes again, but preferably in an oak-panelled room as previously. ***
Review by David Randall
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