Published on August 7th, 2018 | by Mike Ainscoe0
GRYPHON: ‘RAINDANCES – THE TRANSATLANTIC RECORDINGS 1973-1975’
‘RAINDANCES – THE TRANSATLANTIC RECORDINGS 1973-1975’
Esoteric Recordings ECLEC22639
release date 24 August 2018
Newly remastered 2CD anthology by the legendary progressive folk rock band Gryphon taken from the original Transatlantic master tapes.
Not only that but Gryphon are still a going concern. While their early seventies heydays came to an end in 1977, a renaissance in 2009 has seen them tap into the heritage market. I recall being slightly speechless when they appeared at the Great British Folk Festival a couple of years back. My last ‘encounter’ of sorts was when they played as support to Yes on some 1975 football stadium dates (at QPR and Stokes City no less). Not that I was there mind, but as a Yes fan, grabbing the QPR gig on a couple of DVDs some years later was quite a treat.
But back to Gryphon, their presence summed up by being the archetypally idiosyncratic British band of the seventies. Quirky and unique and with the focal figure of Brian Gulland and his fascinating woodwind selection, they crossed boundaries which saw them ‘progressive’ in the way they merged folk with their mediaeval and renaissance sound. With the core of the Royal College of Music graduates Gulland and Richard Harvey, Gryphon could easily tap into the sort of market that Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull would explore with some of their more organic and rustic musings.
‘Raindances’ then gathers everything they recorded for their four albums that appeared from 1973-1977. The self-titled debut ticked the boxes that included those marked ‘unique’ and ‘original’ as well as evoking visions of being transported to a Tudor court. A series of short vignettes and glimpses into the Gryphon psyche follow, with a lengthier Gryphonised version of ‘The Unquiet Grave’. Fleet fingered wind and percussion work is showcased on ‘Estampie’ while parts of ‘Juniper’ almost evoke the paper + comb instrumental combo; you wouldn’t put it past them. Dated it may be when listening back today in the days of streaming and throwaway snippets but for sure a period piece.
‘Midnight Mushrumps’ added a new entry to the annals of quirky album titles whilst also providing the image for this new colelction and expands upon the sound established on the first album to include more electric instruments as well as more organic wind instruments. The album is dominated by the near 20 minute title track, inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ for which the band recorded music for a stage production at the National Theatre. In hindsight, it’s an almost Oldfield-like composition and whilst the music may follow a serious path, there’s more than enough light heartedness, in for example the likes of the wonderfully titled ‘The Last Flash Of Gaberdine Taylor’ and having scratched the mediaeval/renaissance itch, there’s a greater emphasis on looking down paths less well defined. Oh, and how about a dash of ‘Ethelion’ for a seasonal Christmas tune?
Third album, ‘Red Queen To Gryphon Three’ sees the band developing their extended format work and delving into a ever widening palette where some buzzing synths proudly announce during the opening few minutes of ‘Opening Move’. It’s a gambit that sees what’s become possibly their definitive work, the quirkiness and idiosyncratic early work now in more bite sized chunks and part of a bigger picture rather than filling the frame. The rather fine ‘Checkmate’ sees the band channelling some of the more progressive rock leanings that were of the time that rounds off an album that sees Gryphon at their most inventive.
Perhaps not as inventive but challenging in its diversity is the fourth album ‘Raindance’ that in hindsight seems like one that encompasses all that’s gone before. The dancing sequencer of the title track sees explorations in electronics – Oldfield and Vangelis influences maybe? The stereotypical Gryphon pieces are all there – tick tocking in ‘Ormolu’ and the same yet refined ‘Wallbanger’ and ‘Don’t Say Go’ that takes them more towards the mainstream. Almost a different band from what you hear on the debut, whilst the ‘(Ein Klein) Heldenleben’ hits the fifteen minute mark packed with passages and interludes that verge on the classical yet remain distinctly Gryphon.
Ultimately, what comes to light in embracing four albums worth of music on two discs is the breadth along with the progression and development that happened over those albums in such a short space of time. Consider The Beatles going from ‘She Loves You’ to ‘Revolver’ in a similar timeframe and you get the picture. A chance to reveal and revel in something that could so easily be long lost.
Listen to ‘Sir Gavin Grimbold’ here: