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Book Review: by Lang Reid

Chart Throb

If you have been a fan of the Blackadder comedy TV series, you will recognize the name Ben Elton, one of the script writers for that incredibly funny and clever British comedy series. He has also written many books, so is no stranger on the bookshelves.
His latest is Chart Throb (ISBN 0-593-05750-3, 2006, Bantam Press) a weighty paperback dealing with the television industry and the so-called stars of the medium.
The plot is based around a television series called Chart Throb, which is touted as being a talent spotting program, where hopefuls appear in front of three judges and are torn apart by their rapier-like ad libs, which have been practiced. However, one lucky one gets to the end, wins, and becomes a ‘star’.
The book is written as a farce, but in the grand manner. The principal character is Calvin, the promoter of the show and one of the judges. Calvin is the archetypal ‘user’ and ultimate control freak who humiliates anyone who does not follow his ‘rules’, which he can change at any time. This includes the other two judges on the three man panel. And it is a three man panel. Other than the fact that one is a post-op transsexual, wishing to be thought of as everyone’s “Mum”.
The Calvin persona is almost too much over the top for those who have not experienced media ‘stars’, but the character sketch was so reminiscent of the Australian TV personality featured in Rob Astbury’s book “King and I” that it could have easily been the same person.
To add to the farcical nature of the book, Calvin decides that he has to get HRH, the Prince of Wales, to be in the show, and with pressure on him from two sides (his about-to-be ex-wife and his current wanting-to-be girlfriend) needs the Prince to win. This is the megalomaniac Calvin who says he can promote anything successfully, even “Celebrity Morris Dancing”!
The black humor runs non-stop through the book. Contestants being described as “Damaged, hopelessly inadequate, almost certainly drug addicted borderline mental case who had lived an appalling life of deprivation and abuse.” And the judges coming forth with their description of one performer as “Enduring a hedgehog enema rather than singing a song.” Or the transsexual judge describing her step-daughter as “wanting the tits of a sperm whale”.
And while it is humor, and black at that, it still accurately shows what goes on behind the scenes in television. The continuity girl who has to make sure the brief cut-aways show the stars in different jackets, to make it look like another day. While all the time they are in the same location and have not gone anywhere. The item on “virtual Dublin” showing this extremely well, where it was easier to fly the fans from Ireland to England, and pretend it was the stars who had gone the other way.
At B. 750 this is not a cheap chuckle, but it is a brilliant book. A masterful piece of writing from a masterful writer. One of the best I’ve read all year. Buy it.


Mott's CD Reviews:  Mott the Dog

Gryphon

Crossing The Styles

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 equalling 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, as 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), but 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.
In their day Gryphon was 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 gelling it all together 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 English King Henry VIII recorded on their debut album?
When Gryphon first came together, their’s 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 ground breaking 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 sounds of mandolin, crumhorns, bassoons, recorders, and various timpani, were woven into a rock structure that 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 Gryphons 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.
Gryphon
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
Ethelion
Dubbel Dutch
Raindance
(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
Lament
Checkmate
Fontinental Version
Estampie
Juniper Suite
Tea Wrecks
The Last Flash Of Gaberdine Taylor
Down The Dog
Le Cambrioleur Est Dans La Mouchoir
The Astrologer
Ormolu
Three Jolly Butchers. Kemp’s Jig

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