The clich? goes that in the early seventies a student at the Royal College of Music in London started to grow his hair long, wear flared trousers and go on to become the key creative force behind a classic progressive rock group. Where the story diverges for Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland is that the progressive rock group they formed was originally a folk group who occasionally performed pieces of early music on medi?val instruments.
The debut album for Gryphon sees the group performing a series of folk songs with a couple of early music standards and two original compositions thrown in. Being a fan of both early music and English folk, it was therefore a bit of a surprise to me that I took so long to appreciate this album. The reason is that they don't sit in either world comfortably. Of their contemporaries, Steeleye Span performed popular folk better and David Munrow's contributions to early music were far more impressive. However, Gryphon is not really trying to fit into either category; Gryphon were primarily entertainers.
This is not an album for pleasing purists. "Estampie" is a common piece for most groups who play music of the Middle Ages, but it is not common for the melody to drift into "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow" towards the end. The atmospheric section in the middle of "The Unquiet Grave" would throw folk purists into a whirl because Child certainly doesn't document it.
While these devices work quite well for me, if not the purist, what do not work for me are the silly voices. The West Country accents on "Three Jolly Butchers" are just plain annoying, making it very hard for me to appreciate as a piece of music. This sort of thing probably works very well in concert, however. Indeed, most of the repertoire on this album sounds as if it would play better live than in the studio.
The highlight of this album is "The Unquiet Grave", a truly beautiful traditional tune with a marvelous crumhorn introduction and a guitar backing that is reminiscent of Planxty. The early music pieces, especially Henry VIII's "Pastime With Good Company", are nicely played and arranged. Progressive rock fans will also find joy in the two original compositions, "Touch and Go" with its queer time signatures and "Juniper Suite" which Gryphon called their Magnum Opus at that time.
While not everything on this album hits the mark, it is still a good first up effort. Gryphon are a group of fine musicians who treat their music with a sense of humour. Progressive metal fans should probably avoid this album, but those who don't mind their music accoustic should find a fair bit to like on this album once they get used to Gryphon's approach.
review by Conrad