Friday, 6 April 2018

"Red Queen To Gryphon Three" by GRYPHON (May 2007 and January 2016 Sanctuary/Talking Elephant CD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...





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"...Board Game In The Cotswolds..."

What you've got here is a reissue of a reissue.

I first saw the CD variant of Gryphon's third studio album "Red Queen To Gryphon Three" (a 1974 four-piece instrumental work loosely based on the game of chess) on one of those fab and natty Japanese Mini LP 'Paper Sleeve' Reissues in November 2003 - a Remaster on Archangelo ARC-7031 (Barcode 4988044370319). It was an expensive little import sucker but a beautiful looking AND sounding release nonetheless - complete with Obi and White Booklet rammed with Japanese wording you can't read.

Next up was Sanctuary's Talking Elephant Label in May 2007 - a UK release in a standard jewel case with a picture CD and a gatefold inlay (Talking Elephant TECD112 - Barcode 5028479011223).

What you've got here is a January 2016 reissue of that 2007 CD "Red Queen To Gryphon Three" by GRYPHON with a new catalogue number - Sanctuary/Talking Elephant TECD313 (Barcode 5028479031320). None of the three reissues list the Remaster Engineer - but all have truly gorgeous and vibrant audio reflecting Gryphon/Dave Grinstead's fantastic Production values back when they recorded the album at Chipping Norton Studios in the Cotswolds back in August of 1974.

Coming on like a giddy child of Amazing Blondel, Greenslade and Genesis circa 1971 to 1973 – Gryphon Music consists of English Medieval Folk Instruments like the woodwind Krumhorn combined with Prog Rock and a little keyboard Symphonia thrown in. The November 1974 album had in fact followed only months after their second platter – the equally-praised "Midnight Mushrumps" from May 1974 on Transatlantic TRA 282 and is the only one of their five studio sets to be issued in the USA and Canada (their self-titled debut "Gryphon" appeared June 1973 on Transatlantic TRA 262). LP No. 3 breaks down as follows (38:47 minutes):

1. Opening Move (9:48 minutes) [Side 1]
2. Second Spasm (8:21 minutes)
3. Lament (10:50 minutes) [Side 2]
4. Checkmate (9:48 minutes)
Tracks 1 to 4 are their 3rd studio album "Red Queen To Gryphon Three" - released November 1974 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 287 and December 1974 in the USA on Bell Records BELL 1316. Produced by GRYPHON and DAVE GRINSTEAD - it didn't chart in either country.

GRYPHON was:
RICHARD HARVEY - Keyboards, Recorders and Krumhorn
BRIAN GULLAND - Bassoon and Krumhorn
GRAEME TAYLOR - Guitars
PHILIP NESTOR - Bass
DAVID OBERLE - Drums, Percussion and Tympanies

The gatefold slip of paper that acts as an inlay has simply had the words 'April 2007' edited out of Graeme Taylor's liner notes for this 2016 reissue. The picture CD is the same and the rear inlay tells you precious little. The Black Border variant of the original US and Canadian Bell Records album is pictured on Page 3 and there's a credit to DAN PEARCE who did the beautiful cover design and illustration. And as I said earlier - there is no Mastering Credits of any kind but the Audio is superb throughout. Let's get to the music...

As recently as August 2017 - Esoteric Recordings (part of Cherry Red) used Gryphon's Track 1 gambit here "Opening Move" as a representative song on their superb 3CD Box Set "Let The Electric Children Play: The Underground Story Of Transatlantic Records 1968-1976" (see separate review). And it's easy to hear why. Accomplished, polished and musically adventurous in a nuts-way that only British Prog Rock can be - "Opening Moves" harbours all their trademark sounds - long tracks filled with ye-olde rhythms mashed up with new Prog Rock Jazz Fusion flourishes on a Yamaha DX7 keyboard - all of it sounding like Elizabeth I has dropped acid and suddenly wants to expressive herself via the Clavinet, Bassoon, Recorder and Krumhorn (a bent Renaissance woodwind instrument). Nice you say - and it is my merry minstrel traveller.

Sounding not unlike a bad egg-and-spoon-race injury – the 8-minute "Second Spasm" begins in just such a jolly mood – all hop-skippity-hop before a Bass Guitar that means business bursts in and really speeds things up. The soothing acoustic guitars of "Lament" follow – pretty Prog Rock as lovely chunky chords and deep Bassoon notes slip in like a warm breeze on Kent's Walpole Bay (probably my fave track on the LP). Ten minutes of "Checkmate" is very Greenslade in its keyboard rhythms - brilliant playing surrounded by crashing high-hats, dense structures and a drummer-boy musical jaunt that brings the piece romping home. It won't be for everyone for sure - but I love it.

Gryphon would go on to release two further studio sets - "Raindance" in September 1975 on Transatlantic TRA 302 and "Treason" in April 1977 on Harvest SHSP 4063 - neither of which were particularly well-received and given Punk and New Wave's dominance of the mid to late Seventies - wildly out of place on a musical map changed forever. Founder member Richard Harvey popped out a solo set called "Divisions On A Ground" in 1975 (Transatlantic TRA 292) and would later pen music for TV and Cinema including Alan Bleasdale's much-loved "G.B.H." from 1991, along with "Animal Farm" and "Arabian Nights" in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Supporting Prog-Rock Supergroup YES on their US Tour of 1975 - Guitarist Steve Howe was so impressed with the band's instrumental dexterity that three Gryphonites - Graeme Taylor, David Oberle and Malcolm Bennett (he’d played on "Raindance") turned up on Howe’s debut solo LP "Beginnings" released November 1975 in the UK on Atlantic K 50151.

But even by Taylor’s own admission in the liner notes he penned in 2007 - "Red Queen To Gryphon Three" remains probably their best work – an album that grows on you and continues to impress 44 years after the frumpy-frocks event.

And I’m sure that’s Gentle Giant’s older brother Nigel Giant playing Russia's Boris Spassky on the front cover at a particularly gruelling chess match. Prepare for defeat Boris - because I know who my money's on...

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