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Book Review

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Book Review: Restless Souls

Restless Souls (ISBN 974-8303-91-8, published by Asia Books in 2006 and written by Phil Thornton) promises that it is an extraordinary book. Between its covers is where “refugees, mercenary adventurers, migrant workers, gem dealers, prostitutes, scavengers, rebel soldiers, corrupt officials and drug dealers inhabit the shadows.” And while this could easily be describing the goings on in the nation’s capital, it is actually set amongst the Karen minority in Burma and the goings on are in and around the small town of Mae Sot, on our side of the Thai-Burma border.

To write this book, author Thornton crossed over into Burma several times, and not always legally, so he took many chances in compiling the material for this publication. He investigates the schism between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), and does pose the obvious question since Buddhism does not allow for the killing of any creature, just how can you have a “Buddhist” army?

He visited many Karen groups and interviews several of their leaders. He does show very quickly why some low order KNLA army personnel would leave to join the ‘other side’ (DKBA) to become a high ranking military man, even though the DKBA sides with the Burmese regime.

There are several photographs inserted in the book, but most are just portraits of people mentioned in the book, and do not show the true suffering of the Karen peoples. People who are making a difference are also interviewed, such as Dr.Cynthia Maung, who runs a clinic in Mae Sot, staffed by volunteers, mopping up the carnage caused by land mines laid out around Karen villages. The epilogue, however, shows the hopelessness of the total situation in one of the least democratic nations on earth. A hopelessness for all Burmese, not just the ethnic Karen.

In a world where we are insulated from the ‘real’ situations and seduced by tales of 73 billion baht tax-free share transactions, this book makes you stop and think just how well have we, as a society, progressed. It would seem not very far. The basic ‘bash them into submission’ from the caveman days is alive and well and after reading this book, it seems as though it is honed to perfection in Burma. A very well written and gripping series of tales, and ones that should make us all feel embarrassed by our ability not to see what is under our noses.

Minorities in all societies seem to become oppressed, no matter what democratic principles are encouraged (or legislated). America, the UK and Europe still actively
disadvantage their minority groups, however, according to Phil Thornton in this book, Burma (and to a lesser extent Thailand), actively suppresses the Karen people and atrocities are being committed regularly. Murder, rape, torture and genocide are continuing, but the NGO’s have no real answer and become lackeys to the regimes in power. In many ways this is depressing, but on the other hand, could be seen as a ‘call to arms’, but I doubt it. Thornton’s book will be the eulogy recording the passing of a once proud ethnic group.


Mott's CD Reviews:  Gryphon

Glastonbury Carol

Mott the Dog
Krumblehorned by Meow the Cat

5 Stars *****

Gryphon is one of the bands that epitomised the early seventies; the life of a Gryphon was not long, five years to be exact. But as the Gryphon grew up it changed like a chameleon, integrating into its scenery whilst becoming a powerful and influential beast.

Gryphon was always a band impossible to categorize, they were sort of labelled progressive rock, but if anything they could have been called retro rock. (Albeit with a progressive slant!) No instrument was too obscure to be used by one of the Gryphons, although a fancy for crumhorns must be acknowledged.

I personally cannot resist just running a thumb over what instruments were used in the studio and the live stage. Beside various crumhorns (apparently they come in a wide range from high to low and resemble something like an early wooden six iron, can be spelt with a C or a K, and make a very jolly if rather rude noise. Rude as in school playground humour). Other instruments that were turned over in the Gryphon hands that were perhaps not considered run of the mill to your average rock band in the early seventies
were recorders, bassoons, glockenspiels and yamaha-rmoniums, along with ordinary items such as pianos, organs, drums, guitars, and bass guitars.

Whatever the band used in the studio was also taken along for live concerts, often creating great hilarity, as musicians desperately stumbled around looking for the next instrument they were supposed to play, usually finding it just in the nick of time.

Over the course of the Gryphon’s life, they started out as a sort of trio, Richard Harvey, Brian Gulland and David Obersle, developed into a bit of a four piece with the addition of a lead guitarist in the shape of Graeme Taylor, and then blossomed into the more traditional five piece rock band with the addition of Philip Nester on bass. This gave them a proper rock trio, whilst the other two could rush around at the front of the stage (Gryphons did not exactly rush, but a bit of mottistic license here). They of course went backwards becoming a four piece then a trio before disbanding in the wash of Punk rock in 1977.

Four albums were cut for the progressive record label Transatlantic, and everyone a little gem, too. Firstly, the self titled ‘Gryphon’ (1973) - now how many rock albums can claim to have a track written by the English King Henry VIII? Well Gryphon can. Then there was ‘Midnight Mushrumps’, with its twenty-two minute instrumental title track, inspired from when Gryphon were asked to play along to a production of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ at the National Theatre.

Quickly on the heels of Mushrumps came ‘Red Queen to Gryphon Three’ - a concept album based on a game of chess, I kid you not. This was an all instrumental album featuring some of the fastest recorder and crumhorn or even krumhorn playing you are ever likely to hear, perhaps paving the way for thrash metal, but perhaps not.

The following year was the turn of ‘Raindance’ (1975) which was Gryphon’s attempt at more contemporary rock, which really kind of ruined the original effect. After this Transatlantic rather gave up on Gryphon and to be fair I think Gryphon was a bit on the tired side too, certainly its feathers had been ruffled when sent out on the road with big name progressive rock band Yes all across America, leaving the American audience very bemused by what they saw as a bunch of medieval wandering minstrels setting up on stage. One more album was released, ‘Treason’ (1977) and to be quite frank the title is pretty apt.

But in their day Gryphon was a joy to behold, always giving off a great vibe of fun, whilst showing off their musical skills. Transatlantic have now put together a double CD ‘Crossing The Styles’ which collects together nearly everything that was released by Gryphon, and at over two and a half hours of wonderfully cheerful music is an absolute joy to listen to. Out of all the bands that came and went during the early and mid seventies ‘Gryphon’ stands out as one of the most unique.

In 2003 Hux records put out one more CD, a collection of two B.B.C. In Concert sets, one from 1972 recorded before anything from Gryphon had actually been released officially, giving us a very interesting insiders listen to the original concept of the band. This first session has five songs on it, four of which are traditional laments rearranged by the band, and one original, not that you notice much listening to the five of them in order. But it is crumhorns both high and low to the fore and a merry jig do they make; it is almost impossible not to tap your foot along to the rhythms, especially when the crumhorns break into snippets from ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ and ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’.

The second set recorded two years later shows the fully developed beast in all its five piece glory. Starting off with a bit of a jam between all the band members they then break into all three movements of ‘Midnight Mushrumps’ written solely by Richard Harvey. There is still the unmistakable sound of the Gryphon there, but certainly a few tricks have been taken on board from other progressive rock bands of the time. At times they could almost be mistaken for early Genesis, not that this is a bad thing, everything has to progress, and when the recorders break back in again it is all refreshingly Gryphon again. ‘Midnight Mushrumps’ must be considered Gryphon’s finest piece a quite magical twenty minutes journey.

When I say that Transatlantic collected up nearly everything that was recorded for their
label by this wonderfully unique band, there was one track missing - a single called ‘Glastonbury Carol’, a song commissioned by the people who made the Glastonbury film, but as the film was never released the song was obviously not used on the soundtrack and only released as a single. The single received no promotional push from Transatlantic, not really seeing Gryphon as ‘Top Of The Pop’s’ material. To make matters worse the little hole that you had to have in the middle of vinyl records, LP’s as well as singles, was slightly off centre, so by the time the song came towards the end, it made an awful seasick inducing pitching and tossing, not conducive to massive sales. Fortunately the original tapes were found and the single has been tacked onto the end of these sessions as well as lending its name to the album. A great bonus as it remains one of Gryphon’s most atmospheric tunes.

Alas all good things must come to an end and by 1977 Gryphon was no more, but they leave behind a fine legacy of music, all available from the wonderful www.amazon.com

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 (who replaced Philip Nestor on bass guitar towards the end), and Philip Nestor became successful session musicians. After a varied career David Oberie now owns his own record label, Communique. Whilst both Richard Harvey and Brian Gullard work in the film and television soundtrack industry, with Richard Harvey at present in Hollywood putting the final touches to the soundtrack to this year’s blockbuster starring Tom Hanks ‘The Davinci Code’.

If anyone has any idea what a Gryphon or a Mushrump is please write to Mott at the address listed at the end of this review.

Gryphons on this album:

Richard Harvey / High Recorders, High Crumhorns, Keyboards, Yamaharmoniums, and Vocals
Dave Oberle / Drums, Percussion, and Vocals
Graeme Taylor / Acoustic and Electric Guitar, and Vocals
Brian Gulland / Low Recorders, Low Krumhorns, Bassoon, and vocals
Phil Nester / Bass Guitar

Songs

Kemp’s Jig
Sir Gavin Grimbold
Touch and Go
Astrologer
Estampie
Opening Number
Mushrumps 1st Movement
Mushrumps 2nd Movement
Mushrumps 3rd Movement
Glastonbury Carol

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.mott-the-dog.com