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Book Review

Mott’s CD review

Book Review:Thailand : A Short History

by Lang Reid

This is the second and revised edition of this seminal work, whose first edition came out over 20 years ago. Published by Silkworm Books (ISBN 974-9575-44-X) in 2004, it was printed in Bangkok.

In his introduction to the first edition, author David K. Wyatt describes the work as “..directed primarily to the general reader, those who develop some interest in Thailand, for whatever reason, and the beginning student.” With so much having happened in Thailand since the first edition in 1982, this was a volume of work that was crying out for updating. In fact, I am sure that in another 20 years, Wyatt could do it all again!

There is so much in this book, that every time you read a page, you will find something you did not know before. In my own case, for example, I had not realized that in Thailand there was the rule of declining descent for royalty, in which each successive generation moves one rung down the ladder, until the sixth generation are commoners. Or another - that Thais were forbidden to get on busses without wearing a hat in the early 1940’s.

The book follows Thailand’s history in an understandable, chronological manner from the very early days of the Tai speaking peoples, through to the Thaksin era of today’s mega-projects. Interestingly, history appears to be repeating itself, with the first Pibun government also promoters of mega-projects to keep the crowds happily employed. The second Pibun government, worried about the Chinese, clamped down on Chinese associations and schools and imposed new controls on the press. This government also repressed the Islamic population in the four southern states, by a large military presence and even aerial bombardment. (Almost 60 years later, it seems that there has been a historical lesson yet to be learned.)

The ceding of territories to the British (Burma/Malaya) and the French (Laos/Cambodia) in the late 1890’s are also interesting overviews of international power struggles and unashamed skullduggery!

In many ways, the later history, post WW II, is an even more fascinating read, with it becoming obvious, where the power really lies in the Thai society, and the incredible efforts taken by successive leaders to suppress any erosion of their own powers. “Wars against XXXX” appear to be a strong political characteristic.

The author David K. Wyatt has given the reader Appendices and Suggestions for further reading at the end of the book, though still claiming it to be a non-scholarly treatise (but which it is most definitely). However, it is a scholarly treatise that is readable, interesting and informative. It should be translated into Thai and made compulsory reading in Thai schools, since I find young Thais are lamentably ignorant of their own colorful history.

Wyatt shows no fear and honestly describes the self indulgences, cronyism and corruption that have been a blot on Thai politics for many, many decades. At B. 595 it is a wonderful book. My only criticism is that I would have preferred it to be in hardcover edition. This is a book to keep, until David K. Wyatt brings out the third edition!

Mott's CD Reviews: Gryphon - Crossing The Styles

mott the dog

5 Stars *****

Before we even start here, what a marvellous name for a group of musicians. Gryphon - it just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Plucking up interest before you have actually heard a note. There is no real translation for the word Gryphon (as there is really no such word as Beatles or Byrds). But there is an entry into the dictionary for the word Griffin, which would lead us to believe that our Gryphon is a mythical animal with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, a fearsome beast to be sure.

Perhaps therefore it is equally befitting that it is the name of this truly unique group who rose to have a fair degree of success in the mid-seventies, releasing along the way five albums. The self-titled Gryphon (1973) followed by what most fans recognize as their magnum opus “Midnight Mushrumps” (1974). Please do not ask me what a Mushrump is; I haven’t got the foggiest idea. Followed by the all instrumental “Red Queen to Gryphon Three” (1974) - a concept album based on a game of chess (now try saying that with a straight face), which also has some of the fastest recorder playing ever put down, perhaps the foregoer of Thrash Metal! And finally to complete their four album deal with Transatlantic, “Raindance” (1975).

There was one more release, “Treason” (1977). By this time the band had fragmented with both Taylor and Bennett being replaced and Obersle moving Collinseque from behind the drum kit to front stage, but by then the band seemed to have lost heart, and were an obvious victim of the broad swathe that Punk Rock was cutting across the musical spectrum.

But in their day Gryphon were a joy to behold, always keeping a huge sense of fun whilst showing off their musical skills. During the golden years of the mid-seventies there were so many bands pulling in different directions that the whole concept of progressive music seemed to become very confusing. Yet, what held the genre together was a general strand running through all the bands of a respect for music. Each one might have had their own policy and approach, but they all fundamentally understood that what they were attempting to do was bring a sense of artistry to rock ‘n’ roll. None perhaps was better at achieving this blend of traditional and modern music and gel it all together better then the boys in Gryphon, certainly none were more prepared to go out on a limb. How many other bands can claim to have a song composed by the English King Henry VIII which was recorded on their debut album?

When Gryphon first came together, theirs was not the normal route of other bands playing clubs, pubs, and colleges. Gryphon spent most of their time playing at reconstructed medieval eating establishments. But soon after the release of the first album they were invited to play in such diverse atmospheres as St Paul’s Cathedral, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and to write some music for a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at the National Theatre. (Which inspired them to write the twenty-minute title track to their second album.) They were also the first band to be played on Britain’s Radio 1, 2, 3, and 4 all in one week, something quite unheard of in its day for the stuffily run government radio stations.

By 1974 the band had expanded to a five piece with the traditional power trio axis of lead guitar, bass, and drums, leaving the two founders of the band, Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland, to flit from instrument to instrument at the front of the stage. At this period of their career they were invited for a groundbreaking tour of America in support of progressive rock giants “Yes”. This then brought them worldwide attention, which saw Gryphon’s style reaching its zenith, the combination of 16th Century orchestration and rock musicianship receiving huge acclaim.

The sound of mandolin, crumhorns, bassoons, recorders, and various timpani, being woven into a rock structure is simply a joy to behold. It is true to say that the further down the road Gryphon went the more they reverted to the conventional side of progressive rock but they never lost their individual sound. Those wonderful people at Transatlantic Records have now put all of Gryphon’s first four albums on this double CD, very aptly titled “Crossing the Styles”. The music does not run in chronological order, which actually adds to your enjoyment, as the styles within styles change from one track to another.

After Gryphon came to its natural conclusion, all the members of the band went onto further success in their own fields, Graeme Taylor, Malcolm Bennett and Philip Nestor became successful session musicians. After a varied career, David Oberle now runs his own record label Communique, whilst both Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland work in the film and television soundtrack industry.
Gryphon produced some timeless music, each track destined to lift your soul.

Richard Harvey: Recorders, Crumhorns, Keyboards, Mandolin, Harmonium, and Vocals
Brian Gulland: Bassoon, Crumhorn, Recorders, Keyboards
David Obersle: Drums, Timpani, Percussion, Lead Vocals
Graeme Taylor: Guitars, and Vocals
Philip Nester, who was replaced by Malcolm Bennett: Bass Guitar

Disc One
Sir Gavin Grimbold
Pastime With Good Company
The Unquiet Grave
Opening Move
Second Spasm
Gulland Rock
Dubbel Dutch
(Ein Klien) Heldenleben
Mother Nature’s Son
The Devil And The Farmer’s Wife
The Ploughman’s Dream
Don’ Say Go
Crossing The Styles

Disc Two
Midnight Mushrumps
Fontinental Version
Juniper Suite
Tea Wrecks
The Last Flash Of Gaberdine Taylor
Down The Dog
Le Cambrioleur Est Dans La Mouchoir
The Astrologer
Three Jolly Butchers. Kemp’s Jig

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