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Gryphon - Red Queen to Gryphon Three - 1974 - Transatlantic

An obscure but classic seventies prog rock album. Highly recommended by A.O.O.F.C

Side 1

1. Opening Move (9:42)
2. Second Spasm (8:15)

Side 2

3. Lament (10:45)
4. Checkmate (9:50)


- Richard Harvey / keyboards, recorders, Krumhörn
- Brian Gulland / bassoon, Krumhörns
- David Oberlé / drums, percussion, & tymps
- Graeme Taylor / guitars
- Philip Nestor / bass guitar
- Ernest Hart / organ
- Peter Redding / acoustic bass


Gryphon were a British progressive rock band of the 1970s, notable for their unusual sound and instrumentation. Multi-instrumentalist Richard Harvey and his fellow Royal Academy of Music graduate Brian Gulland, a woodwind player, began the group as an all-acoustic ensemble that mixed traditional English folk music with medieval and Renaissance influences. Shortly after this, the duo was joined by guitarist Graeme Taylor and Drummer/percussionist Dave Oberlé. After their self-titled debut, they expanded their sound to include electric guitars and keyboards as well as wind instruments, such as bassoons and krumhorns, not previously used in rock music. Gryphon's music often sounded as much like rural English folk or renaissance chansons as it did rock, at least on their early recordings. After their third album (Red Queen to Gryphon Three) and the subsequent tour as a supporting act for Yes, their instrumentation became more conventional and the use of non-standard instruments was reduced. Fans and critics generally regard Midnight Mushrumps and the all-instrumental Red Queen to Gryphon Three as their finest albums.
In 1974, the group's publicist Martin Lewis arranged for the band to be commissioned to write and record the music for a major stage production of Shakespeare's The Tempest at Britain's National Theatre directed by Sir Peter Hall. It opened at the historic Old Vic theatre in April 1974. The music the band wrote and recorded for the stage production inspired the 21-minute fantasia "Midnight Mushrumps" (named after a phrase mentioned in "The Tempest") which became the title track of their second album. Following the successful premiere of the play and acclaim for its music, Lewis arranged for Gryphon to give a Sunday evening concert at the Old Vic in July 1974 - the first-ever and up until now the only rock concert held at Britain's National Theatre. At the concert the band performed "Midnight Mushrumps". The concert was considered a major breakthrough for progressive rock music. Rumours abound that there are audio tapes of the fabled concert but none have yet surfaced. - (from Wikipedia).


Red Queen To Gryphon Three was the third release by the English band Gryphon. Gryphon began as a medieval/folk/progressive band, and released their self-titled debut in 1973. They released two recordings in 1974, the much ballyhooed Midnight Mushrumps and their third album, reviewed here, Red Queen To Gryphon Three. The group initially produced fairly faithful adaptations of renaissance pieces and re-arranged early English folk music. An all acoustic band, they had a couple of full blown instrumental virtuosos on their hands, Richard Harvey on recorders and keyboard instruments, and Brian Gulland, who excelled on the early reed instrument the crumhorn, and its modern cousin, the bassoon. Initially, the two were joined by guitarist Graeme Taylor and percussionist/vocalist David Oberle. The release of Midnight Mushrumps would see the addition of bassist Philip Nestor, and a move toward electric, and quite eclectic progressive rock music, still heavily influenced by the ancient styles, but now incorporating elements of more standard English symphonic progressive rock, similar to Gentle Giant and Yes, and classical music, using influences of the late Romantic period composers
This release is an all instrumental concept album of sorts, a musical representation of a chess game, laid out in four compositions. The pieces are all fairly lengthy, and provide the band ample time to fully explore the themes laid out This is intelligent art rock, with the group producing a work that is absent most of the clichés of the genre. Their affinity for the electric sound they had only recently added is nothing short of amazing, and their sound is exciting and blends their previous acoustic focus well with their new synthesizers and electric guitars
The first track "Opening Move" starts with a Yes like barrage of Moog and speedy, Howe like licks on electric guitar. It morphs into a section reminiscent of "Starship Trooper" and just as quickly becomes a solo piano interlude, and then back to true progressive bombast. We will get a series of gentle interludes contrasted with electric generated pomp, and well developed themes that carry us through this number. Bassoon and crumhorn are used as well as some mind blowing lines on the recorder. Where many people can perform nice melodic work on the recorder, Richard Harvey really rips on this instrument. This tune ends with penetrating cathedral organ and rich lines from the bassoon.
"Second Spasm" opens as a medieval dance on recorders and acoustic guitar, and is contrasted with another passage of Yes like material, a section that might be looked at as similar to the single note lines played Howe and Squire in the beginning of "Heart Of The Sunrise." This tune again goes back and forth between passages of subdued acoustic dances and full on progressive instrumental firepower. David Oberle’s drumming is spare but full of pep and energy when called for.
"Lament," the third track begins with acoustic guitar and lovely bassoon and flute, eventually joined by tasteful, melodic electric guitar. The lush guitar sound leads into the second theme, with the vibrant bassoon taking the lead role. This work reminds me quite a bit of the early days of The Paul Winter Consort. We then get a reprise of the first theme as a bouncing rocking dance, and several more contrasts in dynamics, acoustic, electric, and contrasts in mood, studied and precise, and joyful. This work ends with a final triumphant theme graced with a restrained moog solo.
Track four, "Checkmate," begins sounding quite a bit like Gentle Giant with a busy, complicated flourish of keyboards and guitar, and a difficult counterpoint. This leads to a traditional Celtic sounding section contrasting the early musical melee. The playing on the pipes is especially noteworthy in this section, which segues into an acoustic piece featuring the bassoon and piano. Many changes of tone and tempo occur within the finale to this awesome CD, and the last few minutes of "Checkmate" allow Harvey to show some serious ability on his bank of keyboards, with impressive work on the clavinet and his Moog.
This album is an essential addition to any good collection of English progressive, and it is the best example of this odd, eclectic style of mid 70s British folk/prog.. Bands like The Strawbs and Steeleye Span produced some interesting blends of early English music and rock, but no one came anywhere close to the mastery of Gryphon, and Gryphon made their premiere musical statement with this release. Rating: 5/5 Review © Tom Karr, May 2004 © Copyright 2004 ProgressiveWorld.net/Tom Karr

Looking at the cover, one might assume this is yet another cheesy power metal album based on sub-Tolkien fantasy. But in fact, it is one of the greatest progressive rock albums ever. Anyone who claims to enjoy good music (that isn't pretentious) should be state-issued this album. This album is so cool it should be illegal to dislike it. That it exists in such an obscure state, is truly a travesty. I'm not sure if there will ever be another album like it. But let's disregard the hype and delve deeper- explanations are clearly in order.
With Red Queen to the Gryphon Three, the Medieval music (minus the vocals) that characterized the debut is successfully infused with a rock rhythm section and some wild prog rock keyboard jamming. The result? Total sonic bliss. The vocals are absent, and four epic (ten minute range) instrumentals dominate the album. The music is so varied and complex, that vocal layering would be nearly futile and awkward at best. The woodwind polyphony still dominates the music, but is now complimented and strengthened by drums, bass, and ever-present acoustic guitars. This album is very complex; not so much rhythmically as harmonically, with layers of melody lines sailing over rapidly changing rock structures. The music attacks from all sides, symphonic is scope and brilliantly executed.
The four songs that make up the album are expansive, but never redundant or boring. When I first heard this album, I was totally glued to my seat eagerly anticipating each new turn in the music. Despite the music's relative sophistication, it is never alienating or cold; it is warm and vital, positive and inspiring. Red Queen to the Gryphon Three is one of those albums that simply doesn't get old; like any fine vintage, the taste improves with age. Find at all costs. Review © James Slone 04/2000 www.ssmt-reviews.com/db/searchrev.php?artistID=511


A.O.O.F.C said...


zappahead said...

Having just listened to some soundbites of this album...its got me hooked....some parts sound like yes....but a bit more complex?....and can hear zappa in there somewhere as well.....thanks for letting me hear this fully....I wont take too much advantage of your blog so hopefully i can come back again and visit...all the very best to you...long may you reign.

A.O.O.F.C said...

Thanks a million, Zappahead. You give a good description of Gryphons sound. Some of these "obscure" bands produced some truly worthwhile music, and it's a pity so many people have not heard of bands like "Gryphon". Any, I'm glad you like the album. I very much appreciate your comment, and look forward to more communications with you. TTU soon