Tuesday, 20 January 2015
Gryphon: Blowing through the Ages
ACKET... Rauschfeiffex... Shawn... Cornemuse . . . Hocket Hocket . . Crumhorn - what the hell are they? Some new kind of ice cream confection, or perhaps names or the conspirators against Hitler in the bomb plot?
No, they are all early music wind instruments.
Thanks to a number of musicians who have made them more and more popular in recent years, notably David Munrow and the medieval-style rock band, Gryphon, they have all been added to the repertoire of available sounds in pop in the past year or so.
It was hearing early music played by John Renbourn on his "Sir Johnalotof" album, and two recorded broadcasts by David Munrow, that turned Gryphon multi-instrumentalist Richard Harvey back on to his first instrument the recorder, and then on to all the rest of them.
"To get started on the recorder, you can use a tutor until you get the stage where you can think of a simple tune end then play it That's a sign that you need a really good teacher.
"Unfortunately proper teachers aren't all that easy to find. There are only about 100 to 150 in the land but you can find them all in the Register of the Early Music, which also includes players and makers of any note".
From the recorder, Richard graduated to the clarinet.
"It was a natural progression, and as I say the fingerings are much the same. To anyone starting on it, I would advise them to make sure the instrument is to the Bohem fingering system."
After the clarinet, Richard played percussion at school for a while, but he "got bored with not having any tunes to play." And then he heard John Renbourn.
"I started playing with Graeme Taylor - who plays guitar with Gryphon now - and we worked out quite a lot of Renbourn things for guitar and recorder.
"Frankly I never saw much of a future for that side of things. I felt that the recorder would be laughed off the stage if we tried to introduce it into a pop context, though I don't think that's true now.
"We foremed a group called Willow basked, which did three or four gigs, and I remember at one gig someone shouted out that he'd come to hear some bloody music, not to be in the church.
"But through David Munrow I was' beginning to get interested in the other early instruments, especially if it was low and farted like the rackets and bass crumhorns.
"I bought my first crumhorn which was a soprano from Musica Rara in Great Marlborough Street. Basically, there are two shops specialising in this kind of instrument in Britain. Musica Rara and Richard Woods of Bradford.
"The first thing to remember is that, largely because of bad workmanship, good crumhorns are very rare.
"One way you can judge a good instrument is that it ought to be virtually impossible to play out of tune as long as you keep yow wind pressure constant. With the crumhorn, the note changes according to how hard you blow, but with some modern instruments you have to blow the top. This should not be.
"The other thing about crumhorn is that you have to consider is as raw material which you'll have to work upon to get it right for playing. To tune it, you have a little washer by which you adjust the reed. You can also push the whole thing in, if it's still flat, or pull it out, if it's sharp.
Finally, a cry from the heart of Richard's Gryphon mate, bassoon player Brian Gulland. Although the bassoon is a modern instrument, they are finding it virtually impossible to mike up.
"The bassoon has got a lot of potential in pop if someone can devise a good way of miking it We'll solve it four next album which we'll be recording soon, but if anyone has any bright ideas we'd be glad to hear 'em," he says.
(Melody Maker ?, 197?)