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- Crossing The Styles
Review No: 245
Graeme Taylor: Guitars, and Vocals
Before we even start here, what a marvellous name for a group of musicians. Gryphon - it just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Plucking up interest before you have actually heard a note. There is no real translation for the word Gryphon (as there is really no such word as Beatles or Byrds). But there is an entry into the dictionary for the word Griffin, which would lead us to believe that our Gryphon is a mythical animal with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, a fearsome beast to be sure.
Perhaps therefore it is equally befitting that it is the name of this truly unique group who rose to have a fair degree of success in the mid-seventies, releasing along the way five albums. The self-titled Gryphon (1973) followed by what most fans recognize as their magnum opus “Midnight Mushrumps” (1974). Please do not ask me what a Mushrump is; I haven’t got the foggiest idea. Followed by the all instrumental “Red Queen to Gryphon Three” (1974) - a concept album based on a game of chess (now try saying that with a straight face), which also has some of the fastest recorder playing ever put down, perhaps the foregoer of Thrash Metal! And finally to complete their four album deal with Transatlantic, “Raindance” (1975).
There was one more release, “Treason” (1977). By this time the band had fragmented with both Taylor and Bennett being replaced and Obersle moving Collinseque from behind the drum kit to front stage, but by then the band seemed to have lost heart, and were an obvious victim of the broad swathe that Punk Rock was cutting across the musical spectrum.
But in their day Gryphon were a joy to behold, always
keeping a huge sense of fun whilst showing off their musical skills. During
the golden years of the mid-seventies there were so many bands pulling
in different directions that the whole concept of progressive music seemed
to become very confusing. Yet, what held the genre together was a general
strand running through all the bands of a respect for music. Each one
might have had their own policy and approach, but they all fundamentally
understood that what they were attempting to do was bring a sense of artistry
to rock ‘n’ roll. None perhaps was better at achieving this
blend of traditional and modern music and gel it all together better then
the boys in Gryphon, certainly none were more prepared to go out on a
limb. How many other bands can claim to have a song composed by the English
King Henry VIII which was recorded on their debut album?
When Gryphon first came together, theirs was not the normal route of other bands playing clubs, pubs, and colleges. Gryphon spent most of their time playing at reconstructed medieval eating establishments. But soon after the release of the first album they were invited to play in such diverse atmospheres as St Paul’s Cathedral, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and to write some music for a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at the National Theatre. (Which inspired them to write the twenty-minute title track to their second album.) They were also the first band to be played on Britain’s Radio 1, 2, 3, and 4 all in one week, something quite unheard of in its day for the stuffily run government radio stations.
By 1974 the band had expanded to a five piece with the traditional power trio axis of lead guitar, bass, and drums, leaving the two founders of the band, Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland, to flit from instrument to instrument at the front of the stage. At this period of their career they were invited for a groundbreaking tour of America in support of progressive rock giants “Yes”. This then brought them worldwide attention, which saw Gryphon’s style reaching its zenith, the combination of 16th Century orchestration and rock musicianship receiving huge acclaim.
The sound of mandolin, crumhorns, bassoons, recorders, and various timpani, being woven into a rock structure is simply a joy to behold. It is true to say that the further down the road Gryphon went the more they reverted to the conventional side of progressive rock but they never lost their individual sound. Those wonderful people at Transatlantic Records have now put all of Gryphon’s first four albums on this double CD, very aptly titled “Crossing the Styles”. The music does not run in chronological order, which actually adds to your enjoyment, as the styles within styles change from one track to another.
After Gryphon came to its natural conclusion, all the members of the band went onto further success in their own fields, Graeme Taylor, Malcolm Bennett and Philip Nestor became successful session musicians. After a varied career, David Oberle now runs his own record label Communique, whilst both Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland work in the film and television soundtrack industry.
Gryphon produced some timeless music, each track destined to lift your soul.