Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Gryphon - Reinvention

When a Band records its first new collection of new music in 41 years it poses questions for both the musicians and the audience.

To make it personal I am not the same person I was when I was 22 in 1977, when the Band last made what we used to call an album. I have similar thematic qualities but transactionally I am different. To keep it simple I still like music to be thought provoking and expansive but I do not need it to be precocious or clever. At our ages neither the musician or the listener has to make points to themselves about their extra ordinary wisdom and good taste as either player or listener. Cleverness was a big part of the 1970's post Beatles music and sometimes it paid off and sometimes it did not. 

So what do I want from music now. Charm, grace, humour, intelligence, emotion rather than cleverness, the latter sated my precocious youth, oh and something that clearly communicates a shared love of the band and its music rather than themselves. 

Re invention begins with one of four compositions from Brian Guilland. "Pipeup..." opens with a beautiful airy motif played on a wind instrument and takes flight in a vaguely Andalusian way, the band come in and interject with chops and licks before a delightful Mandolin (Harp like) phrase, nothing overstays its welcome and words like delicate and subtle come to mind. Then a jaunty section which gives way to more picking and just when you think the music might just be a rather charming instrumental it stops and in comes a vocalisation which interestingly takes me back to the Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band, delightfully whimsical. 

The next piece is by new comer Graham Preskett who has a furiously heavyweight pedigree in amongst other things film music. Bringing in Graham after Brian is very clever. His pieces are more straightforwardly memorable, still Gryphon but a more direct set of arrangements. These first two works are a blue print for the the rest of their music, both having clearly defined writing styles.

Graeme Taylor's first "tune" (Haddocks Eyes) is a kind of Gryphon signature piece. The longest work on the album but to these ears much more musical and atmospheric than several of the heavily convoluted pieces of "Red Queen." That's probably because its rooted in a simple literary device, its the Song the White Night sings in "Alice Through the Looking Glass" full of the quaintness of English Whimsy (sorry that word again) and the perfect antidote to the auto tuned cynicism of today's music, a minor masterpiece of music making and not because its clever but because of its charm and grace. 

The Preskett/Guilland compositional story continues before we arrive at Rory McFarlane's one contribution." Bathsheba." This is the tune with its repeating nagging introduction that gets you immediately, very straight forward as all the bands forces join in then stops for a delightful violin statement, then the two weave together creating simple musical magic. 

The final Prescott tune begins with the feel of a Scottish Aire, I go all "Braveheart" when I hear this piece and start walking the Munro's, and shed a tear or to. The piece evolves the tempo accelerates and the players all chip in. I love the sounds  of all the medieval instruments. It is beautifully orchestrated and it has a different kind of momentum to Brian's work giving the project a stylistic bandwidth.

Graeme's second piece "Ashes" mines the kind of territory that Genesis did at their beginning, a piece like "For Absent Friends" springs to mind celebrating Englishness on a Sunday and from the point of 1971 not 2018.

The CD completes with Brian's best work. A wonderful plaintiff introduction a delightful wistful vocal and then gorgeous stately wind playing. The second section is much heavier and a bit like Big Big Train, but in moderation, before taking off in all sorts of sparklingly interesting directions. For the third theme everything is reduced to a completely exposed keyboard figure very slowly, very deliberately (Yes you Yes fans you got it I Get Up I Get down) as various players flirt round the edges of the stabbing keyboard before it disappears, into the far distance, the whole enterprise having charmed us for a precious hour. 

The Gryphon returns to the cover and looks to the left its head held proudly and rightly so. A perfectly judged re invention.