Gryphon’s singer/per­cus­sion­ist dis­cusses the band’s re­turn to the pro­gres­sive world…

Prog - - Contents - Words: Mal­colm Dome

Gryphon drum­mer Dave Oberlé re­veals that the me­dieval mu­sic mak­ers have re­turned with their first new al­bum for 41 years.

Even in the eclec­tic, di­verse era of the 1970s, Gryphon were un­usual. Their me­dieval mu­si­cal fas­ci­na­tions gave al­bums such as Mid­night Mushrumps and Red Queen To Gryphon Three a unique artis­tic out­look. The band also made his­tory by be­ing the first to ap­pear on BBC Ra­dios 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the same week. How­ever, Gryphon split up in 1977, af­ter re­leas­ing five al­bums. In 2009, orig­i­nal mem­bers Richard Har­vey, Graeme Tay­lor, Dave Oberlé and Brian Gul­land re­u­nited. Sub­se­quently, they per­formed spas­modic con­certs to great ac­claim. But in 2016, Har­vey (an award-win­ning com­poser of mu­sic for films and TV) left the band. Un­de­terred, Gryphon brought in Gra­ham Pres­kett, Andy Fin­don and Rory McFar­lane (since re­placed by Rob Levy) and have just re­leased Rein­ven­tion, their first al­bum in 41 years. As drum­mer Dave Oberlé ex­plains, it’s a new start for an old beast.

How tough was it to record a new al­bum af­ter so long?

It was def­i­nitely hard, which is why it took ages to get go­ing. We’d been dis­cussing do­ing an al­bum for a while, but only started to take it se­ri­ously about 18 months ago. That’s when the com­posers in the band be­gan to write and col­late ideas. Once we had that type of mo­men­tum, ev­ery­thing clicked into gear and the green light was pressed. Things went from there.

Did you try to main­tain the style of your 70s al­bums?

We were very aware of the im­por­tance of re­main­ing true to our roots. Gryphon were al­ways pretty unique, and we never wanted to lose that spirit. How­ever there was also an in­ten­tion to make us rel­e­vant to what’s hap­pen­ing in the mod­ern era. Strik­ing the bal­ance be­tween our 1970s sound and the need to be con­tem­po­rary was vi­tal.

You called the al­bum Rein­ven­tion. Is that the way you view Gryphon in 2018?

It cer­tainly is. Af­ter 41 years away, we didn’t want to come back and sound like we be­longed in the past. There was a need to rein­vent Gryphon. It’s dif­fer­ent for our peers who kept go­ing, be­cause they had con­ti­nu­ity. But we were com­ing back from the grave af­ter a long ab­sence. That’s why the new al­bum was cru­cial for us to estab­lish our­selves. What I think we’ve done is make our­selves a lot prog­gier, but never for­got what had worked in the 1970s.

Do you re­gard the new mem­bers of the band as equal part­ners, or hired hands?

There’s no hi­er­ar­chy, and the new guys are very much a part of what we are do­ing. Ev­ery­one has an equal say in de­ci­sions. And most of the time we all agree on where things should be head­ing. Some­times there are dis­agree­ments, but in that case we go with the ma­jor­ity. This is a democ­racy. And I have to say that I re­gard what we have now as the best line-up the band have ever had. I think that sense of ev­ery­body be­long­ing is re­flected in what you hear on the al­bum.

What prompted you to re­form in 2009 af­ter such a lengthy ab­sence?

Well, the prompt­ing came from Jonathan Davie, who had been our bas­sist when we split up in 1997. So we all got to­gether for three or four weeks’ re­hearsal just to do one gig, to see whether there was any in­ter­est in the band. But we did very lit­tle af­ter that for sev­eral years. You see, we all had other stuff go­ing on in our lives. In 2015, things fi­nally be­came more crys­tallised and we’ve be­come a real band again.

Do you re­gret split­ting up in 1977?

Not at all. You see, in 1977 the whole punk thing came along and the mu­sic busi­ness changed. Un­less you were a very well es­tab­lished band, sur­vival was very dif­fi­cult. We never had the level of suc­cess of, say, Yes or Gen­e­sis. Be­sides, we had switched la­bels to Har­vest for the Trea­son al­bum [1977], and what they pushed to do was to get a more com­mer­cial sound, but we were never that sort of band. We could never have hit sin­gles. So, even if we hadn’t de­cided to split up when we did, I be­lieve Gryphon would have ended up back at square one, and the end was nigh any­way.

How much of a loss was it when Richard Har­vey quit?

It was a mas­sive blow. Any band los­ing their main in­stru­men­tal­ist would face a sim­i­larly huge prob­lem. But we had to ac­cept that Richard had other pri­or­i­ties. He does a lot of work with Hans Zim­mer, one of the most fa­mous com­posers in the world, as well as his own mu­sic. Be­sides, he also lives six months a year in Thai­land, which made things dif­fi­cult. But we were so lucky to find Andy Fin­don as his re­place­ment. He is a bril­liant mu­si­cian in his own right.

Do you feel that you are ap­peal­ing to a young au­di­ence as well as the orig­i­nal fans?

That’s the great thing. We seem to have picked up a lot of male fans in the 15-24 year old bracket, which is very en­cour­ag­ing. Of course, we have the sil­ver surfers, but these young fans have got­ten into us through dis­cov­er­ing our al­bums in their dad’s record col­lec­tion. That comes from vinyl be­ing so pop­u­lar again. We had one com­ment on our Face­book page which just said: “Best Dad Band ever!” I love it. These young peo­ple are help­ing to drive the sales of Rein­ven­tion. Hon­estly, it’s out­stripped any­thing we could have dreamt of do­ing. And we’re look­ing for­ward to tour­ing across the UK in 2019.

What would say was the high point for the band back in the 1970s?

That’s easy. It was when we played Madi­son Square Gar­den in 1974 sup­port­ing Yes. We came back on­stage to take a bow af­ter our set had fin­ished, and as I looked up, I could see this neon sign flash­ing around the venue which said ‘New York Wel­comes Gryphon.’ At that point, I felt that we’d made it!

Rein­ven­tion is out now. See www.the­gryphon­pages.com for more in­for­ma­tion.


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