The Robin 2, Bilston
I absolutely loved Midnight Mushrumps, me, rushing out to purchase it after hearing snippets on R4: first band to appear on all 4 BBC radio channels, they said, a bit of catnip pomposity for my indubitably then prog-pomp tastes. Bit of a Tubular Bells for mediaevalists would be a lazy way of putting it, or at least the side-long eponymous suite. (In truth I barely bothered with the other side.) So, when I got home for my lunch yesterday, and the yearly programme for this worldfamousinWolverhampton venue had dropped through the letterbox, and I spotted this band were playing there that same day. I was familiar they had reformed, and issued a new record, after a 41 year hiatus, surely a record in itself, so I duly felt it my duty to attend.
The Robin I have visited a couple of times. It seems now to be a little down on its luck, though I read it has been taken over and money invested. I suspect the same might be true of the audience, perhaps minus the investment. Uncertain whether it was the carpet or the punters, but there was a distinct whiff of eau de neglect, bodies perhaps washed less often now mummy has passed, barely disguised by the spanking new XXL T shirts stretched over generous frames. OK, I’m harsh, there were a few gentlemen of wealth and taste as well, one teenager and 5 women.
8.30 and on came the band, 6 nowadays, with 3 of the original line-up still present, Brian Gulland, Graeme Taylor and Dave Oberle, on bassoons/crumhorns/keyboards, guitars, mainly accoustic, and percussion respectively. Gulland and Oberle shared vocal duties, more of which later. Newbies were Graham Preskett on keyboards and fiddle, Andy Findon on all things reed and wood and an even newer bass player, I think, to the one most recently advertised. Preskett and Finding are basically to replace recorder virtuoso, Richard Harvey, clearly beyond the ken of any one individual, Findon having all sorts of gadgets to attach to his flutes and clarinets to mimic a recorder. Which worked. With a new album to promote much of the material was split between this and their debut, with odd snippets from the others. No Mushrumps tho. The new material picked roughly up from where they left off, prolonged numbers with awkward time signature changes, instrumentation changing near as fast, allowing a single 10 minute tune to cross all boundaries between elizabethan dance, jazz, folk-rock and prog bombast, interspersed with the sort of vocal interludes so beloved of english proggers circa 1970, sung in best sunday school style. Actually Oberle has a reasonable voice for the folkier fare, not entirely unremiss of Steve Winwood, one song being a very close neighbour to John Barleycorn wrt melody.(Probably earlier than Traffic, mind.) Gulland less so, clearly having as his motto that you might not have to be mad to work here, etc, so all Gilbert and Sullivan grand guignol, littered with excruciating puns, something the whole band seem to delight in. Instrumentally, when they were good they were transcendent, the counterpointed wind instruments a particular joy. Sadly there were also moments of just wishing they ‘d get a move on, roughly equating to half the time on stage. High point of the show was a medley from Red Queen to Gryphon Three, which was al the best bits from said album, they said, condensed into an enjoyable 12 or so minutes, all the more so as no singing. With a pause for refuelling, and for the manic Gulland to sign CDs and chat, a wild greybeard reminiscent of an older and wiser Brian Blessed, the band played for roughly 2 hours and seemed genuinely touched by the response, trooping back for an encore, the only featured track from Mushrumps, I think, Ethelion, which somehow managed to include the James Bond theme.
I’ve said, but bless ’em all. I felt more kindly as I drove home. Maybe it was the carpet that stank after all.
It made me think..
I wonder if King Crimson mentioned Gryphon were playing down the road?