Gryphon: ‘Red Queen to Gryphon Three’ – 5 stars

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What a strange creature a Gryphon is, a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle.  What’s more, what a strange but wonderful group Gryphon were.  Just like a shooting star they burned brightly and then crashed; forming in 1973 they recorded five albums and were gone by 1977.

The first album was basically some traditional style music recorded with the aid of medieval instruments, interesting, but hardly ground breaking.

Oh how things can change in a year though.  At the beginning of 1974 Gryphon released “Midnight Mushrumps”, and by now the band had all but discarded acoustic instruments and wired up.  Vocals for a while were also used more sparingly.

The first side of the vinyl LP was taken up by Richard Harvey’s Gryphon magnum opus, the title track “Midnight Mushrumps”, a truly epic number with the use of all acoustic instruments apart from the bass guitar.  So we had the pleasure of listening to crumhorns, bassoons, pipe organs, grand piano, harpsichord, toy piano, keyboard glockenspiel, acoustic guitars, bass guitars, drums and percussion (you can almost hear John Cleese reading out the list of instruments with a growing sense of disbelief.)

With this musical performance Gryphon had gone from novel medieval group to a proper, if somewhat unusual, progressive rock band.  The second side of the album showed off the talents of the other members of the band whilst also including one small group masterpiece, “Ethelion”.

Later that same year came “Red Queen to Gryphon Three”, a concept album based on a game of chess.  For this album vocals were completely dispensed with and the band recorded as a more conventional hard rock outfit, with flourishes from the crumhorns and bassoons etc.  The music is laid out in four different pieces and although they have a recurring theme they are all completely different in feeling.

First of all we have the “Opening Move” where we have the excitement of getting the board out, setting up the pieces and making the initial moves.  “Second Spasm” starts with the pipes, leading us into the chess battle itself where the players joust for position and the more into the piece you become involved the heavier the music gets, with at some points Dave Oberle and Philip Nestor on drums and bass respectively sounding as if they are auditioning for Black Sabbath.

The mood is soon brought back to some serious thinking by the fine bassoon and crumhorn work, augmented by a whoopee-cushion.  As the music weaves in and out you can imagine the chess exchanges going on, until at the end there is a triumphant roar from the band as a decisive move is made.

Sadly, as in all games, there has to be a loser as well as a winner and the third piece “Lament” is the loser’s tale. The player has by nature got to play on to the end, but knows that he is only a few moves away from catastrophe.  This piece is more reminiscent of the older Gryphon sound.

Finally we have the last piece of the story, “Check Mate”, where the winner takes the glory and celebrates and the music reflects this.  This is a wonderful album by some fine musicians.

Gryphon went on to record two more albums, “Raindance” in 1975 and “Treason” in 1977 before disbanding.  After they were gone, they were sorely missed by their hardcore following and after many rumors the original members, plus a couple of extras, did a reunion show in 2009 (thirty-two years after their last live performance) at a sold out Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

After further rumors a six date tour was put together in 2015.  Then, a year later, the unthinkable happened and Richard Harvey laid down his Gryphon crumhorn for the last time and left the band.  The others have limped on doing concerts wherever they can, but would you really want to go and see the Beatles without John, George, Paul or George Martin?  Ringo is a splendid gentleman but…

Your move!

Gryphon:

Richard Harvey – keyboards, crumhorn, and recorders

Brian Gulland – bassoon and crumhorn

Graeme Taylor – guitars.

Dave Oberle – drums and percussion

Philip Nestor – bass guitar

Track List:

Opening Move

Second Spasm

Lament

Check Mate

Written by Mott The Dog and Hells Bells. Mott The Dog and cronies are often to be found supping a few ales amongst frivolous conversation in Jameson’s Bar Nova Park Hotel, Soi AR, North Pattaya.