From The Library… The Mediævalists

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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