I was hanging with a mate the other day who’d just acquired a pile of vinyl from a friend who was emigrating to the US. You could tell by the content of this record collection that the former owner had been born in the 1950s. I’d never heard Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and by listening to it I discovered I hadn’t missed anything at all. I had heard Mountain at some point in the seventies and one track of their generic blues rock was enough to remind me of why it was instantly forgettable. Moving on, when I was about twelve me and my mates at secondary school used to wind up older kids from a nearby grammar school by telling them that bands like Gentle Giant and Pink Floyd were commercial cop-outs, and if they were hip they’d have been groovin’ to Greenslade. Actually we preferred old soul records but one kid in my class shared a bedroom with an older brother who listened to both northern soul and Greenslade, so we not only knew about this latter act, we’d even heard their records.
One prog band whose name eluded me until later in the seventies was Gryphon, and then I only came across them because I knew they had an association with ‘new wave’ act The Banned. Viz, The Banned emerged from a combo called Precious Little which featured two ex-Gryphon members Graeme Taylor and Malcolm Bennett, while another Gryphon member Richard Harvey got Banned drummer Paul Aitken work doing jingles, which led to Gryphon’s last label Harvest (they were on Transatlantic Records for most of their career) signing this musician as a ‘new wave group’. The Banned turned out to be a one-hit wonder with their cover of Syndicate of Sound’s mid-sixties single Little Girl (the recording features Gryphon members Richard Harvey and Jonathan Davie). That release wasn’t bad, although it wasn’t nearly as good as The Dead Boys simultaneous cover of the tune. When Cherry Red released a Banned retrospective CD five or so years ago, it revealed just how shit The Banned really were, due to the fact that any attempt to ditch their prog roots was purely cosmetic – an ‘image’ far more than a ‘musical’ make-over!
The Banned Little Girl CD in Cherry Red’s Best In New Wave series actually kicks off with four Precious Little tracks, the first being a prog style cover of The Olympics Good Lovin’, a tune that is unfortunately better known in the form of an inferior cover by The Young Rascals. With a constantly changing line-up, The Banned even managed to incorporate the two ex-Gryphon members who’d been in Precious Little before they finally broke up, which makes you wonder why Cherry Red didn’t promote their Little Girl CD as a Best In Prog Rock effort. Beyond the cover of Little Girl there is nothing on the CD to appeal to anyone with a taste for power pop, let alone punk rock. Which isn’t to say that all prog musicians proved incapable of making decent records in the late-seventies; personally I’m rather fond of the smutty pop issued by The Pork Dukes, with a line-up featuring two former members of Gnidrolog.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, a few days ago I finally got to hear Gryphon’s eponymous first album from 1973, well not all of it, since two tracks of their pseudo-medieval folk crap was more than enough for me! I absolutely hated it! On their later recordings I understand there is more electric instrumentation and so these are less folk and more prog sounding. That said, if The Banned CD is anything to judge by, I will be happy if I never hear anything else by Gryphon. I guess The Banned’s cover of Little Girl is the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is: ex-Royal College of Music students can’t rock! Gryphon even wrote and recorded the music for a 1974 Sir Peter Hall National Theatre production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and it would seem lacking any kind of pop sensibility would be a prerequisite for being entrusted with this sort of task….
And to kick away the cobwebs after listening to Procol Harum, Mountain and Gryphon, we put on Slade Alive! That was from my mate’s own collection, not the one he’d inherited from the older emigrating friend… The first side of Slade Alive! is what 1970s rock and roll oughta sound like!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!