From The Library… The Mediævalists

in Daily Programme

by Elrik Merlin on Monday, 26 November, 2007

In today’s programme we look at modern artists playing mediæval and mediæval-inspired music – not in the classical environment but in the popular music world. We’ll be featuring the work of four artists in this broad genre: Gryphon, Circulus, Wolgemut and Corvus Corax.

Gryphon was formed in the early 1970s by Richard Harvey, Brian Gulland, Graeme Taylor and David Oberlé, all with exceptional musical ability and often classical training. Their first, eponymous album was completed in an attic four-track studio in South London and was an immediate hit: the record label, Transatlantic, sold out rapidly and it became quite hard to find. The second, Midnight Mushrumps, featured music written for Peter Hall’s Old Viv production of The Tempest. The third, Red Queen to Gryphon Three, was a four-part original work and the band toured the US and UK with it, supporting Yes in 1974–75. The fourth, Raindance, was recorded around Midsummer 1975. The band fell out with Transatlantic around this time and moved to Harvest: their final album, and only one on that label, was Treason. They were essentially killed off by the rise of punk music, where musical ability counted for little. We’ll hear all these albums plus some live session recordings and tracks that didn’t make it on to the original albums.

One could say that Circulus are the modern inheritors of the Gryphon mantle. Founded by British songwriter Michael Tyack and with two albums to date, The Lick on the Tip of an Envelope Yet to be Sent, and Clocks Are Like People, it’s evident that they embody not only a mediæval/Renaissance influence but also folk roots and a certain psychedelia into the bargain – well worth a listen if you have not heard them before.

One would be forgiven for thinking that Wolgemut are a German band: their name is an ancient Germanic word meaning “to be in a good mood” and their tracks are interspersed with commentary in German. However they are in fact based in the United States. The lineup and instrumentation of the band changes with time in a most organic fashion, but broadly speaking there are two concurrent incarnations of Wolgemut: a ‘loud band’ including bagpipes, shawms and rauschpfiefes, and a ‘soft band’ featuring string instruments, recorders and… more bagpipes – very much in the tradition.

Corvus Corax, on the other hand, actually are a German band. They are named after the Latin for the common raven, and have been performing in one form or another for over a decade. Having made particularly careful attempts to research original mediæval profane (as opposed to sacred) music – a difficult task at the best of times – they have also incorporated a number of elements into other, spinoff projects. Today we will hear a selection of their best-known tracks.

• This programme was produced by Radio Riel in conjunction with the Caledon Library in Second Life. Listen now at, or simply visit any Caledon Library branch in-world and press Play on your embedded music player.


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