This week we witnessed the first of six concerts from the 1970’s progressive folk/rock band Gryphon. Opening night took place at The Robin, a small club in Wolverhampton, on 12 May, 2015. The show was absolutely fantastic! There are more gigs planned through May, all taking place in England. If you can get to one it’s highly recommended!
Gryphon recorded 5 albums from 1971-1977, each with a slightly different contemporary take on traditional English folk music including medieval and Renaissance era sounds, and original compositions, which blended instruments like bassoon, crumhorn, recorders and mandolin, with modern electric bass, guitar, and keyboards. Their landmark work was a unique mix of influences that introduced generations of open-minded music lovers to the rich musical heritage of their past, seasoned with a bit of rock for the times.
Back in the golden age of progressive rock there was an amazing array of artwork that graced record album covers, and I was originally drawn to Gryphon by the cover art for their third album Red Queen to Gryphon Three (1973). The music was as fantastic as implied by the sumptuous cover painting by Dan Pearce – an older man contemplating his chessboard in a pastoral scene recalling the Renaissance era.
Being from California, I never had the chance to see the group ply their trade live, though I was well aware they opened for Yes in Britain and on the east coast in 1975. They haven’t played live since then save for a one-off show in London 2009. Therefore, the shows this spring are a special chance to see these musicians perform their masterworks.
It was absolutely well worth the wait. The band played their set in two halves, the first covering a number of their early tracks with an emphasis on their self-titled debut, which includes a number of more traditional pieces. The second half of the show added the title track from Midnight Mushrumps, a good portion of crowd-favorite Red Queen to Gryphon Three, and a fun encore with some unexpected deviations from their normal fare.
From the moment the guys first took the stage it was striking to hear how effective they were going to be in a live setting. There was a consistent display of virtuosity from each of the skilled multi-instrumentalists. Drummer Dave Oberle and Brian Gulland occasionally sang in rich bass and baritone voices undiminished by their long absence from the stage. Dave’s work on drums and percussion, along with bass player Jon Davie anchored the songs with rumbling toms, and a thick and varied bottom end. Guitarist Graeme Taylor spent the evening seated with his acoustic guitar front and center, adding shimmering rhythms and leads to the music. Relative newcomer Graham Preskett filled in on all sorts of instruments including the only electronic keyboard, along with guitar, violin and winds. Founder Richard Harvey and Brian led with solo and dueling winds and traditional keyboards, each thrilling the audience with their display of talent. Richard’s lightening fast leads on recorders bring honor to a sometimes-maligned instrument. Brian’s skill on the bassoon is a fun listen – certainly something you won’t often hear elsewhere. And, you haven’t seen anything in progressive folk/rock until you witness two expert krumhorn players duel with rapid-fire counterpoint! There was good humor on display from all, particularly Richard who introduced most of the selections.
It was an exciting evening, long anticipated, and all we hoped for. Earlier this year, of these shows drummer Dave Oberle remarked: “The last proper tour was 39 years ago. Some of the people who will come to this concert weren’t even born when we started. We know a lot of the audience are “silver surfers” that are our age, but if you look at the web stats, there are guys 15-24 years olds telling us they found our records in their dad’s collection and are looking forward to seeing us. It’s medieval meets the 20th century!” In fact, attending with us was a young bass player studying music at Leeds who to Dave’s point, very much enjoyed the experience. Here’s hoping the group take this music to the public again – it’s best served up live by this important band.
Richard Harvey – Keyboards, Recorders & Krumhorn
Brian Gulland – Vocals, Harmonium, Bassoon & Krumhorn
Graeme Taylor – Guitars
Dave Oberle – Vocals, Drums & Percussion
Jon Davie – Bass and Guitar
Graham Preskett – Keyboards, Winds, Violin, Enthusiasm
By the time this hits Gonzo Weekly, there will only be three chances left to catch Gryphon on this short tour. These are the last dates for now:
17th May – Hertford Corn Exchange (Gryphon special guests to Fairport Convention)
– Website: http://www.reallylivemusic.com
– Tel: 07904 333923 (Enquiries:10am-6pm, Mon-Sat)
20th May – Southampton Talking Heads
– Tel: 02380 678 446
29th May – London Union Chapel
If I might make a recommendation to anyone who is interested in progressive rock, medieval and Renaissance sounds and instrumentation I would say, hop off that couch and catch one of these shows!