VENUE UNION CHAPEL, LONDON
“So who’s playing here tonight?” “it’s a band called Gryphon.”
“what do they sound like?”
“They’re folky, proggy, rocky… everything!”
This is an actual chat between a vaguely interested passer‑by and a security bloke on the door at the
Union Chapel tonight. and it sums up the Gryphon conundrum. Just what do they sound like? The best description is 16th‑century music, laced with Vaudevillian humour, wrapped in a package that’s astonishingly apposite for contemporary audiences.
Tonight, the venerable bards play two sets. The first begins with Kemp’s Jig, and immediately the coloured trousers being worn by the barefoot Brian Gulland catch Prog’s attention: he looks like a psychedelic Catweazle. He and andy Findon spend the night darting between a blur of wind instruments, with the fabled crumhorn to the fore.
Much of both sets comes from new album reinvention, and all of the band members, except new bassist rob levy, take it in turns to introduce each song. Just how relaxed everybody is onstage can be seen by the good‑natured ribbing that goes on throughout the set: at times, it feels like we’re looking in on a rehearsal.
Onstage, Graham Preskett butts in to tell us, “i was told i could only talk for 12 seconds, while the rest of these guys are talking for two minutes at a time!” to which Gulland responds,
“last time we played here two years ago, i apparently spent six‑and‑a‑half minutes talking about one song. i got told off by the rest of the band, so i’m keeping it a lot shorter tonight!”
Of the new tracks performed in the first set, rhubarb Crumhorn and Sailor V (“The sort of clever play on words we love doing,” quips Gulland) in particular catch the attention, but it’s the much older
The astrologer which is the high point, featuring a lyrical conversation between percussionist dave Oberlé and Gulland, the latter wearing a hat that would make arthur Brown proud.
The second set follows the same pattern as the first, with new material such as Haddock’s eyes – where Oberlé plays the role of an old man: “in this band i am either a young girl [referencing The astrologer] or an old man!” – as the fulcrum, while there’s a brilliant medley from the red Queen To Gryphon Three album. This is easily the high point of the night as it showcases what many regard as the band’s finest work. it would have been wonderful to hear tracks from red Queen… in their full state, but time constraints won’t allow for this.
it all finishes with estampie, which builds to a charismatically frenzied virtuoso crescendo, with Gulland and Findon reaching hyperspeed. who needs shredding guitarists when you’ve got the woodwind and violins going crazy?
Folking brilliant – the best way to sum up the night.