Tuesday, September 25, 2018

ReInvention - Gryphon

For a few years in the Seventies I was a member of a would-be progressive rock band called Ruins, named after the crumbling, mist-wreathed towers and wheel-houses of the old tin mine workings in the far west of Cornwall, where the group of us took holidays. We had a badge made depicting these. Unfortunately we only mastered two tunes: 'Set Your Controls for the Heart of the Sun' and the theme to the TV police show Z Cars, souped up with Hawkwind-ish sound effects and called by us 'Z Cars in Space'. The reason in both cases was that they were easy to play. We did, however, compile a tape recording of a Cornish foghorn, 'The Sound of Pendeen Watch', which proved slightly more interesting to intrepid listeners then anything else we ever did.

Nevertheless, progressive rock seemed to me then to be all of a piece with my pursuit of fantasy fiction, largely through the Pan Ballantine paperback series. The imagery, lyrics and ambience often seemed similar, and the penchant for very long tracks seemed to match the epic grandeur of the novels.

Gryphon were one of the more unusual and fantastical progressive rock bands of the Nineties Seventies, with a sound mingling folk, jazz, parlour music and rock, and the use of historic instruments that sometimes led them to be described as “medieval rock”. On their self-titled first album (1973), 'The Unquiet Grave' is one of the most eerie renditions of that ghostly song, particularly enhanced by the mournful winding crumhorn.

Their songs, and the titles and flavour of their instrumental pieces, often draw on the tradition of English whimsy, complete with self-consciously awful puns. If you can imagine Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, William Morris and Henry Newbolt selecting sundry semi-forgotten instruments from the abandoned summer-house and playing together under the light of the moon, you’ll have some idea of Gryphon’s sound.

I was delighted to learn that the band have just released their first album for over forty years, featuring three original members together with others new to the ensemble.

ReInvention is a great treat, nicely representative of their various styles, and still peculiar enough to keep up their reputation for off-centre originality. It includes ‘Haddocks’ Eyes’, based on Alice’s encounter with the White Knight; ‘Rhubarb Crumhorn’, a pastoral instrumental that is both jolly and wistful; and ‘Hampton Caught’, a Tudoresque fancy; while the meandering, slightly whoozy ‘Ashes’ has oblique lyrics alluding to cricket, summer afternoons, plums and crystal streams; and ‘The Euphrates Connection’ is a brief triptych that begins with a lovely haunting melody and then goes off on several strange tangents.

Now, where did I put that Ruins badge and that foghorn tape?

Mark V

Image - Cover of ReInvention sleeve notes by John Hurford.


  1. Interesting. In the Americas the song mutated into "Cold Blows the Wind". We used to do it in our sets. Ween does a great version. https://youtu.be/nh3_SFVYAAw On a sidenote have you ever read 'The Old, Weird America' by Greil Marcus? Wonderful book.

  2. Thanks, Acep. I don't know the Greil Marcus book - great title though. Mark

  3. Thanks for sharing this, I'm a big Gryphon fan. Prog rock definitely influenced my studio engineering work and reading of fantasy. I'd love to get Roger Dean to do some artwork for a Pegana Press release.

  4. Thanks for turning me onto this band. It's always great to have some new old music. And newer music made with older instruments. Great stuff. I was able to get the "Gryphon" album & "Midnight Mushrumps" via interlibrary loan. Gotta love the Archives.