Transatlantic Records, 1975




If you have never heard of Gryphon, the music of Camel overlaps some of the territory Gryphon covers, should you need a point of reference from a slightly better-known group.

Raindance was Gryphon's fourth album, released after a triumphant tour of the United States in 1974, in which they opened for Yes during the Relayer Tour that year. The success and critical acclaim of Gryphon's third release, Red Queen To Gryphon Three, created a platform for the band to expand their horizons and led to the lucrative 1974 tour.

Raindance represents just such an expansion, but many "purists" will claim it is an inferior album - it compromises the progressive credentials they band had established up until then. It's the old problem though - to please a wider audience, you sometimes need to alienate an audience you already have.

Au contraire, I say, or I would if I were French. There are many good ideas and some exceptional music to be heard here. Gryphon's Trad Folk roots, the traditional (and archaic) wind instruments, and the progressive direction commenced with Midnight Mushrumps (the second album) are all much in evidence, but these sounds and styles are fused and imbued with rock and pop themes that lead to an interesting, if sometimes uneven, listen.

For me, the strongest tracks on the album are penned by Richard Harvey, the nucleus of the band. His versatility with a bewildering array of musical instruments both modern and ancient is matched by his compositional skills. The album kicks off with one of his, a tightly plotted instrumental called "Down The Dog". I first heard this track in 1975, and only caught up with it again this year - but I remember it like it was yesterday. The mix of synth and bassoon is distinctive and effective, the beat and rhythm completely arresting. My only serious complaint is the song could have been developed further - it could stand to be twice as long, I don't really want it to end.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Another Harvey track follows, "Raindance". An atmospheric piece which builds upon itself to a very satisfying resolution. Various synths overlaid over a repeating motif, the music suggests that special stillness before a rain shower, complete with sound effects. A soothing experience, and somehow evocative of the effect that some Camel songs have on me.

A Lennon/McCartney cover features next, "Mother Nature's Son". This gives me opportunity to ask, "Why did many progressive bands of the late sixties and early seventies feel it was necessary to tug their forelock in that direction?". Was it some sort of obligation, an acknowledgement of one's roots or the result of an inferiority complex? I may never know. The track itself is well orchestrated, and breaks the ice a little, as far as vocal input is concerned.

Things get a little quirky next, with "Le Cambrioleur Est Dans Le Mouchoir". A total change of pace, and not without a certain charm, I don't begrudge the band taking time out to have a little fun for itself. Hard on its heels is "Ormolu" (another Harvey tune), which as its name suggests is full of clockwork imagery, chimes and tick-tock movement. Briefly diverting (in that it is a short track).

We resume the normal programme with "Fontinental Version". A multi-faceted piece, interwoven with several varied themes reprised throughout. Parts are pure progressive, reminiscent of "Caravan" to my ears, but with frequent halts for jokey, over-the-top, shiver-me-timbers folk-like theatrics. The track is made uneven as a result, but with some passages that threaten to carry you away if only the band had kept it up longer.

Harvey is allowed another outing with "Wallbanger" - a pocket-sized guide to the striations of musical styles running through it the whole album. Rock intro segues to classical, thence to progressive and then back to rock. A rather pop-oriented song follows by the name of "Don't Say Go". I am reminded of the Camel album I Can See Your House From Here when listening to this track. Not too challenging, but a pleasant enough song.

The album closes with a longish piece by Harvey, "(Ein Klein) Heldenleben". A rare electric guitar lead graces this track towards the end, but this only serves to highlight the overall inconsistency of meandering content and style. Many listenings have still left me with no strong feelings for this track, other than the thought, "Noodles". This track "noodles". I get the impression that there is no real direction or cohesion to be found here, only short passages that hold the interest, followed by sections seemingly unrelated to the whole. I admit that more work may be required on my part, but in my defence, I will say that I am quite used to, and not at all adverse to, longer tracks, so I don't think it's an "attention span" thing. Could be the track simply fails in its intent.

On balance, an uneven effort, but one with much immediate appeal and still with a good deal to reward repeated listenings.

Rating: B

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