TURNTABLING THRU TIME

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.

Pause.

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.

25 comments

  1. Random thoughts/comments: Wow, that Transatlantic label really is marvelous! Did Side 2 have the same label, or were there subtle variations of some sort? Crenellated rocking! The one ELP album I owned was Trilogy (with its own Aaron Copland homage). Thrak sounds like a sound effect in a comic strip, i.e. as someone is getting bashed on the head with some sort of implement, the word *THRAK!* appears in bold lettering! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Trilogy’ is strong, for sure. I also like the onomatopoeia of THRAK (which is, indeed, in upper case). Some people would say, and Dave A appears to be one, that this is an album that (in parts) feels like a cranial attack.
      Transatlantic were primarily (though not exclusively) a UK folk label, releasing music by Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Pentangle, amongst others. The other side of the label is much less beautiful, but substantially more helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Bruce, I enjoyed this post very much. I love the swimming in the vast classic progressive rock ocean from the poppy Pavlov’s Dog/Supertramp/Renaissance shoreline to the VdG/Crimson depths, and there’s still excellent music in the same mould being released today.

    I’m with you, Gryphon are a lot of fun as well as being seriously good at what they do. But, even though I really rate several KC albums and at least a couple of ELP’s, both bands can give me a headache. Thrak makes me want to lie down in a dark room, and not in a good way.

    Cheers, Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dave, for the positives and also the comment itself! Really like the oceanic metaphor – it helps me see why I’m not a fan of the first three artists (especially Renaissance, who I know are beloved of many prog fans, but bore me witless). It must be that my Aussie surfing has made me more a deep water progger rather than a paddler. My loss, I fear.
      As for THRAK, I really can see that. ‘The ConstruKction Of Light’ has me wanting to hide under the couch.
      Cheers
      Bruce

      Like

  3. Gadzooks feels like the perfect description of the challenge in trying to pinpoint what specific year/genre/sound to which that Gryphon album belonged!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a wonderful word, yes? I really look forward to you working it into one of your 1001 reviews, Geoff. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Like that exchange with the sad-looking man in Brighton. “Not much in here really, is there?” Killer bargaining there Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Years of Record Fairs, Bill. Work out what you willing to pay, and smile either way.

      Like

  5. ‘Twas awfully noble of you to boot. 😉 – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for drawing attention to that act of sacrifice, Marty. I feel myself getting taller by the moment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Gryphon, Gentle Giant, and Gong are the big three of old prog I’ve wondered about but am yet to experience.

    I spent a lot of time with Tarkus this past week after being reminded of it by some Steven Wilson comments on a podcast. I have always rated it highly; might have been my first ELP way back when. Immediately grabbed a second (pre-owned) copy at my local shop on Friday to pass to my son who will be visiting later today. Realizing from your post that Works and Love Beach are two ELP albums I’ve never checked out, one inadvertently and one with intention.

    As for the King Crimson, I had never engaged with either Lizard or Islands until recently. I was clearly missing out, especially with regard to the former. I spent a little time with THRAK and VROOOM many moons ago and recall no negatives but little beyond that. Time for some revisiting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those three ‘G’s are so different, yet each offers much. Gentle Giant are clever, complex, and do have some parallels with Gryphon in that they use counterpoint and other compositional devices. It’s no accident an early album was entitled ‘Acquiring the Taste’. 😉

      That’s cool with Tarkus; good decision with the dreadful Love Beach. (Incidentally, the Emerson Lake and Powell album is much better than one imagines.)

      Those two Crimso LPs are amongst my favourites (and amongst the most often overlooked). Interestingly, I’ve been returning to Islands a lot recently – it has a different feel to any of the others; more jazz influenced perhaps.

      Thanks for the fulsome response, Vic.

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  7. Gryphon sounds like something I’d enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s a link for Midnight Mushrumps, Graham.

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  8. Ace post Bruce. I love that Transatlantic label (object, not necessarily company) – one of the prettiest, I think I may have some folk, or a Man LP on them.

    Plus I do particularly enjoy medieval dudes wearing glasses on LP covers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent point re the spectacles. Nothing odd about the mushrooms, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not at all, mushrooms are normal. Move along, nothing to see here.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Now I have to go Gryphon a spin just because of your “thrak” record.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ho! A King Crimson pun scores double points, CD. And a complimentary Krumhorn lesson.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Looking for a soundscape for writing a piece for an OHS newsletter tomorrow – THRAK? Doubt a cranial attack will help. But Barrockrock? Yes, might give that a go.
    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. (chuckle) I think you’re right, DD. Give “Red Queen to Gryphon Three” a try. That’s my personal fave.

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      1. Thanks Bruce, will do.

        Cheers

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Did the ohs article while Z watched the covid update. Then Gryphon’s Red Queen… for a stretch on the floor. It must have been fun to make and it sets me to daydreaming.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Check, mate. 🙂

            Like

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