Not long after I took up residence in my first home alone (late starter, but that’s another story); as I say, soon after moving into a modest workingman’s cottage in inner city Kensington with a collection of gifted and thrift shop furniture and some of my mother’s cast off kitchen kit, I was listening to public radio station 3PBS through the newly connected stereo. It was their Progressive Rock program and the long instrumental piece dancing out of the speakers was unlike anything I’d heard in the early 80s. It was Gryphon’s third album and wasn’t modern at all, either by dint of release date (1974) or by style; Renaissance influences, British folk, medieval instruments, all wrapped up in a symphonic rock cape. Gadzooks!
Immediately adding the band name to my mental ‘must find’ list, I was soon rewarded by capturing the previous LP, released the same year.
This sophomore offering by UK medieval rockers Gryphon was released on the marvellous Transatlantic label. The first side is a suite in the baroque-rock style (one which never quite caught on, despite Barrockrock being an instant classic as a new genre). Instruments include recorders, bassoon, krümhorn and assorted orchestral percussion. This sounds stuffy and highbrow, but it’s not. There is humour, whimsy and delight. The music has light and shade, pastoral reverie and crenellated rocking. And wonderful clothes. One wonders what it would sound like after a goodly serve of the titular mushrumps.
The association is rock music influenced by Western Art music (aka ‘Classical’). Keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson springs to mind. I’ve always had a soft spot for their ironed-out, politely funky thrashing of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man” though I usually skip “Pirates”, the other group composition. Listening today, “Pirates” has some good bits (more “Karn Evil” than Gilbert and Sullivan), as do the other one-per-member solo sides. Emerson’s concerto, though a bit pretentious, has flashes of brilliance, and while Greg Lake may sound like the Brian Blessed of rock, his songs are very solid (particularly the Pete Sinfield co-write, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”). One enduring struggle for ELP was the challenge to produce something as marvellous, dynamic and cohesive as the first side of Tarkus.
Listening to ELP had me thinking of their early days and how Greg Lake left King Crimson to join the new ‘supergroup’. King Crimson, eh?
When Ms Connection and I were in the UK in 2000, we drove down to Brighton to visit one of Ms’s oldest friends. I, wanting to give the buddies some time together, nobly offered to go hunting for record shops. Brighton being a very pleasant place, I found one almost immediately; an olde worlde place with a panelled window where boys could press their noses to the cold glass and dream of owing everything inside. In this window, was a curious metal box; large, silver, intriguingly bedecked with a half-familiar symbol. A tiny hand-written card (it was that sort of shop) informed those of 20:20 vision that this was a ‘Collector’s Item’ for the King Crimson fan. In I went.
The slightly sad looking bearded gentleman behind the counter agreed to remove it from the window display so I could determine what treasures lay within. There had to be treasure, the thing was priced at about six million Australian dollars (or so my calculation suggested). My crest fell vertiginously on opening the tin. Inside was the Cd in a plastic mini-sleeve printed (with near total illegibility) white on clear. There was also a booklet of few pages but many pictures.
Oh, I said. Not much in here, is there? And it’s fifteen pounds?
Yes, he said.
I can make it cheaper, he said, but I can’t make it more interesting.
I burst out laughing and he smiled faintly. British currency was exchanged and we parted as friends.
Twenty years later, I sprang for the vinyl re-issue of that King Crimson album, Thrak. It’s playing now, as jagged and varied as ever. This one took a while to grow on me, but, like all KC releases, is worth the effort.
Gryphon — Midnight Mushrumps [Transatlantic 1974]
Emerson Lake & Palmer — Works [Atlantic 1977]
King Crimson — Thrak [Discipline Global Mobile 1995 / Panegeric Re-issue 2019]
These, then, are the records that hit the Vinyl Connection turntable today.
Comment and curiosity welcome, as always.