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Gryphon’s ReInvention Reviewed

Gryphon — ReInvention

Reviewed by Richard Elen

The sto­ry of the band Gryphon goes back to the begin­nings of the 1970s and the Lon­don Col­lege of Music, when mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ists Richard Har­vey and Bri­an Gul­land — who were play­ing Renais­sance wood­winds in Ear­ly Music band Musi­ca Reser­va­ta — got a small group togeth­er under the name Spelthorne. Soon the orig­i­nal lutenist left, and Graeme Tay­lor (gui­tars and vocals), who had been at school with Har­vey, joined the group, swift­ly fol­lowed by David Ober­lé on drums, per­cus­sion and vocals. Almost at once the band changed their name to Gryphon after the beast in Lewis Car­rol­l’s Alice’s Adven­tures In Won­der­land. The band start­ed by play­ing authen­tic medi­ae­val and Renais­sance music but soon branched out and start­ed writ­ing their own mate­r­i­al. Lawrence Aston, A&R at not­ed folk label Transat­lantic Records, heard the band and signed them. Their first, epony­mous album was released in 1973.

The band went on to make three more albums for Transat­lantic: Mid­night Mushrumps, based around their music for Peter Hal­l’s Nation­al The­atre pro­duc­tion of The Tem­pest; Red Queen to Gryphon Three, and Rain­dance, the lat­ter which I had the plea­sure to record and co-pro­duce in the mid­sum­mer of 1975. Var­i­ous dis­agree­ments between the band and the record com­pa­ny result­ed in Gryphon mov­ing to EMI’s Har­vest label, where they released one album, Trea­son, in 1977. By this time the band was, as were many high-qual­i­ty acts of the time, being eclipsed by punk artists who could go out and gig for far less mon­ey per night than a com­plex out­fit like Gryphon.

Thus the band became dor­mant, and so it remained until 2009 when they got togeth­er for a reunion con­cert. By then there had been rumours of a new album in the works, but noth­ing emerged. Richard Har­vey left the band in 2016 to pur­sue his exten­sive solo inter­ests, and well-known music library com­pos­er and mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist Gra­ham Pres­kett joined. After a series of con­certs a new album, the first for 41 years, was announced: ReIn­ven­tion, released in Sep­tem­ber 2018.

The line­up on the album includes orig­i­nal mem­bers Gul­land, Ober­lé and Tay­lor, with the addi­tion of the afore­men­tioned Pres­kett, Rory McFar­lane on bass and Andy Find­on on a range of wood­winds. All the pieces on the album were writ­ten by band mem­bers: there are no arrange­ments of tra­di­tion­al pieces here as char­ac­terised the first two albums.

ReIn­ven­tion kicks off with Pipeup Downs­land Der­ry­Dell­Danko — a Gul­land title if I ever heard one, which fea­tures inter­weav­ing recorders with stac­ca­to gui­tar phras­es and chords, ulti­mate­ly joined by pipe organ and sax­o­phone. The piece wan­ders about lyri­cal­ly and extreme­ly pleas­ant­ly, and you nev­er quite know where it’s going to go next. Out of this North Kent child­hood idyll (for such it is), emerge Bri­an’s slight­ly avant-garde lyrics. “Stranger things than this have we passed / On our way to you today.” Indeed.

Next up is a piece from Pres­kett enti­tled Rhubarb Crumhorn. Yes, all the titles are fair­ly eso­teric, but this piece itself is less so: it’s a very acces­si­ble num­ber that builds gen­tly from flute and organ to bas­soon and into a fair­ly state­ly full band arrange­ment punc­tu­at­ed by warm Renais­sance-sound­ing chords, and even a lit­tle theme rem­i­nis­cent of some­thing that Richard Har­vey might have writ­ten. Then it’s off into a brisk gal­lop through a nat­ty chord pro­gres­sion. Despite being writ­ten by rel­a­tive “new boy” Pres­kett, this is a clas­sic self-penned (as opposed to trad) Gryphon piece: had it been me sequenc­ing this album, I would have opened the disc with it. There are, how­ev­er, no crumhorns in this piece.

With A Futur­is­tic Aun­tyquar­i­an we are back in Bri­an Gul­land ter­ri­to­ry, with an angu­lar harp­si­chord-like open­ing — but only for a moment, as a nice­ly extend­ed mock-Renais­sance wood­wind tune takes over, pranc­ing lyri­cal­ly over the under­ly­ing key­boards, to be joined by vio­lin before the track goes off on a pleas­ant Gul­lan­desque abstract wan­der with gen­tle exchanges between the instru­ments, ulti­mate­ly joined by drums before going some­what up-tem­po and final­ly return­ing to a more robust take on the open­ing. Nice.

Recall that the band is named Gryphon after the char­ac­ter in Car­rol­l’s Alice, and Graeme Tay­lor’s ten-minute set­ting of the poem Had­docks’ Eyes from Look­ing Glass becomes clear. Gen­tly wan­der­ing solo bas­soon opens, joined by clar­inet and vio­lin for a short trio until joined by acoustic gui­tar which brings struc­ture to the wan­der­ing — and a tune, albeit quite an eccen­tric one. The piece picks up on the entry of Bri­an’s vocal, play­ing the part of the White Knight, in a dia­logue with the voice of the Aged, Aged Man, played by Dave Ober­lé, with a back­ing that gen­tly rocks along, with occa­sion­al inter-verse returns to the lyri­cal wan­der­ing of the open­ing until we encounter a rougher solo sec­tion two-thirds of the way through, fea­tur­ing wild heav­i­ly dis­tort­ed and har­monised bas­soon. The vocal dia­logue gen­tly slows to an appar­ent end — but it’s not an end at all, it’s a lit­tle instru­men­tal romp that returns, final­ly, to the orig­i­nal gen­tle theme for the clos­ing lines.

Hamp­ton Caught is anoth­er Pres­kett num­ber, with one of sev­er­al pun­ning titles to boot. He notes, “It starts some­where near Sher­wood For­est, lurch­es through harp­si­chord in three four, a slight hint of boo­gie in three, then a prop­er bit of elec­tric gui­tar, before being inter­rupt­ed unac­count­ably by a church organ, some strange rhythms and a build up. It cul­mi­nates in the three four harp­si­chord sec­tion with addi­tion­al string as it were.” Could­n’t have put it bet­ter myself.

Hos­pi­tal­i­ty at A Price… (Den­nis) Any­one For? is, of course, anoth­er Gul­land num­ber. The sleeve notes describe this as a “genial evo­ca­tion of the 20s”, and it has some of that ulti­mate­ly, but in fact it sounds rather like anoth­er Car­roll poem with the excep­tion of a cou­ple of mod­ern ref­er­ences. And sud­den­ly: jazz crumhorns lead us off into a peri­od piece and a very strange ending.

Dumbe Dum Chit (Pres­kett) takes its strange name from a mnemon­ic for a drum pat­tern to resolve this “boun­cy bas­soon tune in a strange rhythm”. A neat lit­tle num­ber that fol­lolops along, with in fact two strange rhythms rather than just the one, fea­tur­ing not only bas­soon but clar­inet and gui­tar too.

Bathshe­ba is bass-play­er McFar­lane’s sole com­po­si­tion on the album. Gryphon fans will know Tay­lor’s style and cer­tain­ly Gul­land’s, and Pres­kett fits beau­ti­ful­ly into the Gryphon tra­di­tion, but McFar­lane’s is a new voice and a very pleas­ant one at that. We begin with inter­weav­ing frac­tured phras­es from bas­soon and clar­inet, joined by gui­tar and drums and, final­ly, a warm bass part that lasts only a few bars each time around before being joined by vio­lin and wood­winds. One is remind­ed just a lit­tle of the North Sea Radio Orches­tra or even the Muf­fin Men. The sleeve notes out­line the con­tro­ver­sial Bib­li­cal tale.

Sailor V, anoth­er by Gra­ham Pres­kett, begins with a respectably nau­ti­cal feel (you mean it’s not a pun?) fea­tur­ing pipes and fid­dle, joined by bas­soon and gui­tar. It moves gen­tly and lyri­cal­ly along until gain­ing a brash­er spring in its step, a touch of the Irish and some odd har­mon­i­ca flour­ish­es, as the piece moves through some live­ly changes in the course of its eight min­utes to cli­max with an elec­tric gui­tar sec­tion reca­pit­u­lat­ing the open­ing theme, dou­bled by oth­er instru­ments in a very Gryphon cul­mi­na­tion fol­lowed by a gen­tle wind-down. C’est la vie.

I have a par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for Graeme Tay­lor’s song Ash­es. One of my favourite Gryphon tracks, it was orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten for the 1975 Rain­dance album, which I engi­neered and co-pro­duced, but was exclud­ed from the release by the record com­pa­ny for some unknown rea­son. Its curi­ous tale of after­noon crick­et, King’s nephews and stal­lions, gen­tly and lyri­cal­ly sung by Bri­an, is a true joy. Sum­mer that year at Sawmills stu­dio near Fowey in Corn­wall was hot, and I decid­ed to record Bri­an’s vocal (twice), in the open, in stereo, with the mics a fair dis­tance away from him so I caught the birds singing in the back­ground. The ver­sion on ReIn­ven­tion does­n’t have that, but Bri­an’s per­for­mance, albeit not dou­ble-tracked, is vir­tu­al­ly iden­ti­cal to the orig­i­nal, as is much of the arrange­ment, though the solos are instru­ment­ed dif­fer­ent­ly. Of course I pre­fer my ver­sion, but this one is very, very good 🙂 (You can hear the orig­i­nal on the Col­lec­tion II album if you can find one.)

The album clos­es with The Euphrates Con­nec­tion by Gul­land, which begins with a low-pitched recorder theme, picked up by gui­tar and then a curi­ous, short and unex­pect­ed vocal, devel­op­ing into a com­plex inter­weav­ing mul­ti-part instru­men­tal, laced with Bri­an’s trade­mark angu­lar and unex­pect­ed fig­ures, a deli­cious rocky inter­change between gui­tar, pipe organ and oth­er instru­ments lead­ing to a repeat­ing sequence of short pipe organ chords, adorned only by reverb and the occa­sion­al sonor­i­ty, before being joined by solo flute, bass, vio­lin and gui­tar frag­ments and fad­ing grad­u­al­ly to an end.

And so ends Gryphon’s first new album for over forty years. It’s beau­ti­ful­ly record­ed and pro­duced by Graeme Tay­lor in his “Mor­den Shoals” stu­dio: the over­all sound is excel­lent and well-cap­tured with a great deal of detail and care. The musi­cian­ship is of a uni­form­ly high stan­dard through­out and even the most com­plex angu­lar and avant-garde pas­sages are con­fi­dent, sure-foot­ed and exe­cut­ed with aplomb.

There are few artists who could return to the scene after four decades to such acclaim as Gryphon, as if their return has been await­ed by us all for the entire time they were away. ReIn­ven­tion pro­vides exact­ly what it says, the band rein­vent­ing itself with new mem­bers and new direc­tions. Unmis­take­ably Gryphon, it devel­ops musi­cal direc­tions that were hint­ed at in ear­li­er albums, takes them for­ward, and deliv­ers an ulti­mate­ly sat­is­fy­ing­ly and eclec­tic result. One can only hope that it is the first in a series as Gryphon moves for­ward to new musi­cal heights fol­low­ing its re-formation.

October 19, 2018   Comments Off on Gryphon’s ReInvention Reviewed

More Gryphon Restoration

As I not­ed pre­vi­ous­ly, there are some tech­ni­cal chal­lenges asso­ci­at­ed with recov­er­ing the record­ings of the band Gryphon that I made in July 1974 dur­ing their land­mark per­for­mance at the Old Vic.

A notable prob­lem was the fact that there was a bass DI in the main PA mix (which was the basis for the record­ing, with the addi­tion of a coin­ci­dent pair of ambi­ent mics) and this was often extreme­ly loud in the bal­ance — some­times enough to cause inter­mod­u­la­tion dis­tor­tion with the rest of the mix (it’s pos­si­ble that this was over­loaded on the recording).

To give you an insight into the results of this fac­tor, here’s anoth­er piece from the Old Vic tapes. This is Open­ing Num­ber, the band’s, er, open­ing num­ber. Note the effect of the bass entry about half-way through.

This is an exam­ple of why it may not be pos­si­ble to get an album’s worth of tunes out of this record­ing. How­ev­er it will be worth our try­ing to recov­er the stereo mas­ter tapes to see if the dis­tor­tion is on there too (these trans­fers are from a copy).

August 21, 2018   Comments Off on More Gryphon Restoration

Restoring an Ancient Gryphon

This month has seen the release of the new album by old friends of mine, Gryphon. The album, ReIn­ven­tion, is their first for 41 years: the band, re-formed and aug­ment­ed, though now with­out the pres­ence of co-founder Richard Har­vey, is poised, at the time of writ­ing, to per­form the new album in the Union Chapel.

In hon­our of the new release I thought it might be inter­est­ing to attempt to res­ur­rect what is the first record­ing I ever made of the band (I was their sound engi­neer in the stu­dio and on the road from 1974–5, cul­mi­nat­ing in the record­ing of the Rain­dance album across Mid­sum­mer 1975, which I engi­neered and co-pro­duced). This was a record­ing of the live per­for­mance giv­en at the Old Vic on 14 July 1974 – the first and, I believe the only, rock con­cert ever to have been held at the Old Vic or host­ed by the Nation­al The­atre. Gryphon had recent­ly been com­mis­sioned to write the music for Peter Hal­l’s Nation­al The­atre pro­duc­tion of The Tem­pest, which had pre­miered on March 5, and had record­ed their sec­ond album, Mid­night Mushrumps (a ref­er­ence to Pros­per­o’s speech, 5.1.39) includ­ing a suite based on the music for the play, with Dave Grin­st­ed at Chip­ping Nor­ton Stu­dios in the Cotswolds.

The Old Vic per­for­mance was right at the start of my involve­ment with the band and I was yet to be respon­si­ble for their sound live or in the stu­dio. How­ev­er for the occa­sion of the Old Vic per­for­mance I was able to obtain a Teac 3340 4‑track recorder and sit­u­at­ed it beside the mix­ing desk on the bal­cony. I had a pair of AKG D‑202s, excel­lent all-round dynam­ic mics, arranged in a coin­ci­dent pair as close to the cen­tre of the bal­cony as I could get, and record­ed these on one pair of tracks on the Teac; and in addi­tion I put a stereo feed from the board on the oth­er two tracks. The result­ing 4‑track tape gave me a clean feed of the PA mix, with the addi­tion of audi­ence reac­tion and ambi­ence from the room mics – par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive on the per­cus­sion. How­ev­er as we were on the bal­cony there was a delay between the PA feed and the room mics, so when I mixed-down the 4‑track to stereo I put a delay on the PA feed tracks to bring them into sync with the room mics. This also gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a lit­tle fun, as I could vary the delay slight­ly to give a slight flang­ing effect on tracks like Estampie, which Richard Har­vey refers to in the intro as “a mediæ­val one-bar blues”, an effect which had been used on the orig­i­nal album record­ing for a sim­i­lar purpose.

The dis­ad­van­tage of the PA feed was that it includ­ed a bass DI run at con­sid­er­able lev­el, and as a result, Philip Nestor’s bass-play­ing fea­tures promi­nent­ly in the feed. So much so, in fact, that the bass caus­es some inter­mod­u­la­tion dis­tor­tion with oth­er instru­ments, ren­der­ing some of the pieces sad­ly vir­tu­al­ly unus­able. How­ev­er with some judi­cious use of EQ around the 80–200Hz mark the bass can be qui­etened-down enough for a rea­son­able bal­ance to be achieved in many cases.

Sad­ly the orig­i­nal 15in/s mix­down mas­ter of this record­ing is lost, and believed to be in Los Ange­les. How­ev­er I made a cas­sette copy of the three reels which I hung on to. They were BASF Chrome cas­settes and I record­ed them with a Dol­by B char­ac­ter­is­tic on a machine that I had evi­dent­ly been able to set the Dol­by lev­el on cor­rect­ly as the results are quite respectable. For these exper­i­ments I tran­scribed the cas­settes from a Tech­nics M260 kind­ly pro­vid­ed by Dun­can God­dard, who is a high­ly tal­ent­ed restor­er of vin­tage ana­logue recorders, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly sup­plied my trusty ReVox PR99 and A77.

I digi­tised the audio via a Focus­rite Scar­lett inter­face and brought it into Adobe Audi­tion, my DAW of choice for stereo audio pro­duc­tion. I cleaned up the noise floor with Audi­tion’s built-in noise reduc­tion tools and a cou­ple of Wave Arts restora­tion plug-ins, using the Audi­tion para­met­ric EQ to restrain the bass end. Here’s an exam­ple of the results: the mix of Estampie referred to above. And I hope you like it.

August 20, 2018   Comments Off on Restoring an Ancient Gryphon

Inside a Telefunken S600 Belt-Drive Turntable

I had­n’t intend­ed to end up with more than one turntable, but I now have no less than four, all of which work. The most recent one I’ve been work­ing on is a Tele­funken S600, which turns out to be an excep­tion­al­ly well-designed turntable with a num­ber of inge­nious bells and whistles.

As I detailed pre­vi­ous­ly, I want­ed to replace the stan­dard tone arm on a Lenco L75 turntable with an Orto­fon AS-212. These are found (amongst oth­er places) on Tele­funken S600 belt-dri­ve turnta­bles, so I sourced one from Ger­many to steal the arm — but fel­low mem­bers of inter­net groups I belonged to were hor­ri­fied that I would do this to an actu­al­ly rather nice turntable. So I relent­ed, and one of my cor­re­spon­dents found a New Old Stock AS-212 that I duly installed on the Lenco.

Mean­while, the S600 arrived from Ger­many, in rather a sor­ry state. Despite being very well packed, the plas­tic cov­er was cracked almost in two and the back of the arm had gone miss­ing along with the coun­ter­weight. The well-known inter­na­tion­al ship­ping com­pa­ny had both dam­aged it and mis-deliv­ered it: the incor­rect recip­i­ent had opened it and lost some of the bits. So when it got here I would­n’t have been able to pinch the arm for the Lenco anyway.

But now I had learned that these decks were actu­al­ly quite good, I decid­ed to attempt to repair it. And if it was actu­al­ly a good deck, I might want to use it as my main deck — in which case it need­ed a mod­i­fi­ca­tion to run at 78rpm.

Fix­ing the arm


The big prob­lem was the arm itself. This con­sists of an S‑shaped arm tube with a bear­ing hous­ing on the end made of some mys­te­ri­ous hard rub­bery mate­r­i­al. A small tube con­tain­ing two sets of four 1.2mm ball bear­ings goes trans­verse­ly through the hous­ing and is held in place by two point­ed set-screws that have to be set up exact­ly right so that the arm sits cen­tral­ly in its hold­er with free­dom to move up and down but with no play. The hous­ing has an exten­sion stub on the back, and on to this mounts a thread­ed tube on to which the coun­ter­weight screws. In this case, the stub had snapped off the back of the bear­ing hous­ing and with it had gone the thread­ed tube and counterweight.

There were sev­er­al pos­si­ble solu­tions. Replace­ment bear­ing hous­ings are avail­able on eBay from time to time, made either of Del­rin or brass. The thread­ed tube is avail­able too. I could replace the bear­ing hous­ing (get the hous­ing off the arm tube, push the bear­ing tube through and put it into the new one, add the thread­ed tube and reat­tach the arm). I could con­sid­er get­ting a thread­ed tube and fit­ting some­thing inside it that I could push into the back of the bear­ing hous­ing and glue it in place. I got the bits to do the lat­ter, name­ly the thread­ed tube and some met­al-filled resin. But the pro­ce­dure seemed a bit dodgy, frankly. Would it stay stuck? Would the resin go where it should­n’t? Would it look decent? I looked for a new bear­ing hous­ing instead, but found only brass ones, which seemed like overkill to me — the black Del­rin ones did­n’t seem to to be avail­able at the time. But then a con­tact of mine kind­ly came up with a solu­tion: a com­plete replace­ment arm with the arm tube, bear­ing hous­ing (with bear­ings) and thread­ed tube — plus an orig­i­nal coun­ter­weight. Excel­lent. All I had to do was to fit the arm — and send the old one back to him.


The replace­ment arm assem­bly duly arrived, and is shown here. The sup­pli­er very kind­ly taped up the bear­ing hous­ing so the balls could­n’t fall out (I had obtained some spares in case they did, but I did­n’t need them). First I need­ed to de-sol­der the arm leads, which meant get­ting the turntable out of its plinth.

This sim­ply required undo­ing three screws. Tele­funken real­ly designed these turnta­bles thought­ful­ly. You lift up the turntable, turn it ver­ti­cal­ly and then you can slide it into grooves in the plinth where it stands safe­ly so you can work on it.

img_2143Here’s the innards of the turntable, and there are a lot of things to talk about here in due course. Click on the image to see it up close. I de-sol­dered the arm wires (they attach to a ter­mi­nal strip bot­tom right next to the mut­ing relay) and then put the deck back in the plinth. I had armed myself with a pair of tiny cir­clip pli­ers with 1mm prongs to fit the lock-nuts sur­round­ing the bear­ing set-screws (one set of both on either side — you can see them in the bro­ken orig­i­nal arm image above) and now attempt­ed to loosen them. Pleas­ing­ly they loos­ened sur­pris­ing­ly eas­i­ly and I was then able to unscrew the set-screws enough to care­ful­ly lift the arm out. Thank­ful­ly the lit­tle ball bear­ings stayed in there too. So I taped it up ready to send off. The new arm went in with sur­pris­ing­ly lit­tle trou­ble too. First I led the wires through the arm col­umn by putting them into a drink­ing straw and push­ing that down the hole in the cen­tre of the col­umn. Then, using a busi­ness card as a feel­er gauge to cen­tre the arm in the mount­ing, I held the arm in place and gen­tly tight­ened the screws. Then hold­ing the screw in posi­tion with a screw­driv­er I tight­ened the lock­nut, first on one side, then the oth­er. It took about three goes to cen­tre the arm suc­cess­ful­ly and lock the screws in place, but the result was an arm that exhib­it­ed neg­li­gi­ble resis­tance when mov­ing in its bear­ings. Exact­ly what was required. This pic shows the new arm in place minus the counterweight.

img_2188The turntable was now back more or less to its orig­i­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion, give or take. I ran it up and found that it reached 33 or 45 very quick­ly con­sid­er­ing the weight of the beau­ti­ful­ly-bal­anced plat­ter, and the speeds were rock sol­id. The touch but­tons for speed and stop all worked as intend­ed and the speed con­trol trim­mer knobs worked well. I had­n’t even had to replace the elec­trolyt­ic capac­i­tors. (If I had need­ed to, the infor­ma­tion required – along with lots more about these turnta­bles – is here.)

Bells and whistles

This turntable has sev­er­al bells and whis­tles. The main ones are to do with the arm lift. This can be actu­at­ed man­u­al­ly with the lever — there is a Bow­den-style cable from the lifter lever to a flu­id-damped dash­pot under the arm rest. There is a lock­ing arrange­ment that only lets the lever lock in the down posi­tion if the turntable is under pow­er, and if you hit Stop it lifts up the arm (and when the arm is lift­ed, inci­den­tal­ly, the relay men­tioned ear­li­er mutes the audio).

It is also intend­ed to lift the arm at the end of a side. This is accom­plished in a rather inge­nious way. Look at the pho­to of the under­side above and you’ll see that there is a slot­ted cop­per arc just to the left of the motor con­trol board. This is attached to a very light­weight arm that is linked to the ton­earm, and swings across under the turntable as the arm tracks a disc. Just next to the cop­per arc (which we’ll come to in a moment) is a V‑shaped cutout. This is the clever bit. When the arm reach­es the end of a side, that V pass­es between a big frost­ed bulb (just below the cen­tre of the image) and a light-depen­dent resis­tor, shad­ing it from the light. (Why the V I don’t know: it will mean that the illu­mi­na­tion drops slow­ly rather than at once. Why?) This is detect­ed and hits Stop on the turntable, which also pow­ers-down a sole­noid to release the arm-lifter to lift the arm. That is what is sup­posed to hap­pen, but unfor­tu­nate­ly it did­n’t work. In fact it is a lit­tle sur­pris­ing that the turntable would run with­out hold­ing a but­ton down. The bulb had expired. img_2144It looks very much like a W5W auto bulb but it’s only sup­posed to take 100mA. Luck­i­ly there are W5W replace­ment LED bulbs that run that kind of cur­rent so I popped one in. On pow­er-up this duly illu­mi­nat­ed, and now the arm lift­ed and the turntable stopped some­what before the arm reached the end of its trav­el, cor­re­spond­ing to just before the locked groove on a disc.

While we are look­ing under the turntable, let’s look at what that cop­per arc does. As the arm swings, it stops the light from anoth­er, small­er bulb, direct­ly to the right of the main bear­ing, from falling on the end of a light-pipe — that lit­tle clear tube going up to the top of the deck and past the orange string (which is the inter­lock between the pow­er switch and the arm lifter). It ends in a lit­tle bezel on top of the deck. The light is thus vis­i­ble from above the deck except when it’s obscured by that cop­per arc — which means the light is vis­i­ble when the arm is beyond the plat­ter and when the light can shine through the three slots in the arc, which cor­re­spond to the edges of a 7in, 10in and 12in disc. So basi­cal­ly it tells you where to put the arm for the start of a disc.

I thought the dri­ve belt a lit­tle stretched and worn so obtained a replace­ment from (for the S500, a sim­pler ver­sion of this turntable, but with the same motor/subplatter arrangement).

A speed mod

With the deck returned to its orig­i­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion, next came the mod­i­fi­ca­tion I want­ed to per­form — to get it to run at 78rpm as well as 33 and 45. I had asked about this in the Vinyl Engine online forum and a gen­tle­man had kind­ly looked at the cir­cuit dia­grams I had found and sug­gest­ed how to do it. It turns out that this design of turntable was actu­al­ly licensed from Philips, though Tele­funken made some exten­sive sub­se­quent mod­i­fi­ca­tions. It’s a DC ser­vo-con­trolled motor arrange­ment, and in some of the orig­i­nal Philips mod­els using the same motor and con­trol board design, the turntable can actu­al­ly do 78 rpm right out of the box — so there was no rea­son why this should­n’t work.

The answer, my respon­dent sug­gest­ed, was to put a resis­tor across the main 45rpm speed con­trol resis­tor (R133) to reduce its val­ue, then use the 45rpm speed knob to fine-tune the speed to 78. I decid­ed to go a lit­tle beyond that and put a trim­pot in series with the fixed resis­tor so that I could set the speed to 78 with the 45rpm speed con­trol knob in the cen­tre posi­tion as it was for 45, and not have to adjust any­thing unless I want­ed to run at a spe­cial speed like 80rpm for exam­ple. It took some exper­i­men­ta­tion to get the val­ues right: even­tu­al­ly I used a 47k? fixed resis­tor in series with a 10k? trim­mer. I sol­dered these to a minia­ture DPDT tog­gle switch that I mount­ed in the low­er right-hand side of the plinth, with a hole to access the trim­mer, and a LED and series resis­tor, pow­ered from the lamp sup­ply, on the oth­er poles of the switch so a red light comes up when you select 78. And it works beau­ti­ful­ly — here’s a Con­roy music library 10in 78 spin­ning at the right speed!


Final­ly, I replaced the audio out­put cable, adding a pair of Neu­trik phonos in place of the orig­i­nal 5‑pin DIN, and ran a chas­sis ground wire along the audio cable with a spade con­nec­tor on the end. In fact this is of lim­it­ed use as the mains on the turntable goes via a dou­ble-pole switch straight into a dou­ble-wound trans­former: the chas­sis and all the audio grounds are con­nect­ed togeth­er and have no con­nec­tion to the mains side. Untan­gling this to pro­vide sep­a­rate audio and chas­sis ground turned out to be a real pain — to retain the mut­ing relay func­tion would have required seri­ous rewiring — so I left well alone, and in fact it works fine, and the chas­sis can be con­nect­ed to mains earth if desired.

The turntable has a cast stro­bo­scope at the edge with its own neon lamp, but of course it does­n’t include 78, so I print­ed out an image of an old Gar­rard strobe for now and that works fine — maybe I’ll pick up one of the Lenco met­al ones at some point.

In oper­a­tion

img_2197So, now to try the turntable out. I mount­ed the Shure M97xE in a skele­ton head­shell orig­i­nal­ly acquired for my TT-100 and set it up for 16mm over­hang (tricky as you can’t move the arm to the cen­tre spin­dle: I cut a piece of wire to length as a mea­sure) and lined it up with a car­tridge pro­trac­tor: it lined up per­fect­ly. Set­ting the track­ing weight and anti-skate accord­ing­ly, I played a tone disc with the arm at dif­fer­ent posi­tions and the wave­form and sound were clear and undis­tort­ed through­out. I then played some music, and found this under-recog­nised turntable, believed by many to out-per­form many oth­er belt-dri­ve turnta­bles of the peri­od such as those by Thorens, was a mar­vel­lous per­former, deliv­er­ing an excel­lent, open and sta­ble sound just as I would like it.


The only prob­lem I have now is what to do with all these turnta­bles. I real­ly don’t want to get rid of either the Lenco or the Tele­funken and I think the for­mer will end up on the main sys­tem down­stairs while the Tele stays in my stu­dio for tran­scrip­tion (along­side the excel­lent Tech­nics SL‑7 lin­ear track­er, which does­n’t do 78).

November 3, 2016   Comments Off on Inside a Telefunken S600 Belt-Drive Turntable

Modifying an Idler Turntable

One of my activ­i­ties is trans­fer­ring archive music library mas­ter tapes to dig­i­tal, so they can be made more wide­ly avail­able again. This is not always straight­for­ward, and it’s some­times nec­es­sary to trans­fer excerpts from disc if the mas­ter tape is dam­aged in some way. To do this requires a decent vinyl play­back sys­tem. This arti­cle is about how I put one together.

Some­times there are prob­lems with the old tapes — such as oxide or back­ing shed­ding, and in par­tic­u­lar when the back­ing binder becomes sticky and stops the tape pass­ing through the machine. Anoth­er issue is the adhe­sive used in splic­ing tape becom­ing sticky (although it is specif­i­cal­ly sup­posed not to) and this can result in oxide frag­ments being pulled off the front of a track result­ing in dropouts. And unlike the solu­tions for sticky binder and shed­ding (such as bak­ing the tape or run­ning it through a white spir­it or iso­propyl alco­hol-soaked pad) sticky splic­ing tape caus­ing dam­age is dif­fi­cult to avoid, even if wind­ing very carefully.

On more than one occa­sion, prob­lems like this, or major dropouts, tape dam­age and oth­er issues, mean that a (usu­al­ly short) sec­tion of the mas­ter tape is unre­cov­er­able. The solu­tion, then, is to try and find a copy of the library disc pressed from the mas­ter, cap­ture the appro­pri­ate sec­tion, match it in lev­el and oth­er char­ac­ter­is­tics and then edit it into the ver­sion trans­ferred from tape.

A bet­ter vinyl play­back system

To do this effec­tive­ly requires a decent record deck, and while the unit I’ve had for some time — a Numark TT-100, essen­tial­ly a DJ turntable — does a good work­man­like job, and has the ben­e­fit of 78rpm (which is some­times nec­es­sary) as well as 33 1/3 and 45, I though it worth spend­ing a bit of time and mon­ey acquir­ing a supe­ri­or vinyl play­back system.

There are basi­cal­ly three types of ways in which the motor can dri­ve the plat­ter in a turntable: Idler Dri­ve, Belt Dri­ve and Direct Dri­ve. They’re illus­trat­ed in the  dia­gram above. It should be not­ed that there is often more than one way of imple­ment­ing all three of these meth­ods: Direct Dri­ve — often found in DJ turnta­bles — can involve the actu­al plat­ter being part of the motor, rather than requir­ing the “intri­cate gears” sug­gest­ed above; with Belt Dri­ve the belt may go round the entire plat­ter and not a sub-plat­ter; and in the case of idler dri­ve the idler may be hor­i­zon­tal (as shown — Gar­rard used this) or ver­ti­cal (as in the Lenco designs).

The Lenco L75

I decid­ed on an idler design as these are high­ly-regard­ed for their sound qual­i­ty. While it would have been nice to have, say, a Gar­rard 401 tran­scrip­tion turntable, this was well out of my price range and I set­tled instead for a Swiss-made Lenco L75. I found one for a good price and a rel­a­tive­ly short dri­ve to Nor­wich. I have nev­er actu­al­ly owned one of these before, though I remem­ber one from the school music room, many years ago (they were com­mon in edu­ca­tion­al institutions).

As soon as I got it home I reviewed it visu­al­ly, and all looked good, so I pow­ered it up and it ran fine, solid­ly at each speed. It had a rather cheap and nasty orig­i­nal plinth that (still) needs to be replaced with a prop­er, sol­id one. These decks per­form best with­out the ben­e­fit of the springs pro­vid­ed sup­port­ing it in the plinth, so I removed them.

Updates: V‑blocks and wiring

Then I looked at the so-called “V‑blocks” in the arm sus­pen­sion. NOTE that I did­n’t use the orig­i­nal Lenco arm in the end, but this info may be help­ful if you are. The arm has a knife-edge bear­ing that allows it to swing up and down. The knife edge, attached to the arm tube, rests in two V‑shaped blocks, one either side, and they are noto­ri­ous for degrad­ing. Sure enough, mine had decayed into sol­id lumps that looked like yel­lowed teeth. I care­ful­ly scraped them out, cleared the holes, and replaced them with a pair of “desmo” V‑blocks sourced from eBay. The whole oper­a­tion was remark­ably straightforward.

Next I reviewed the wiring. The audio cabling cen­tres around a ter­mi­nal block on the under­side of the deck plate and here the wires from the ton­earm head­shell meet the shield­ed cables going to the out­side world. The left and right sig­nals and their respec­tive ground leads need to by elec­tri­cal­ly sep­a­rate from the chas­sis ground (a yel­low wire also lead­ing out of the plinth): in my case they were, but I replaced the coax with mod­ern cable and the DIN plug on the end with two gold-plat­ed phonos. The met­al body of the arm is ground­ed to the chassis.

On the mains side, the cir­cuit is sim­ple: Live and Neu­tral come in, one leg goes via a switch to one side of the motor and the oth­er side goes to the motor. This might have been fine 40 years ago but today, with old elec­tri­cal sys­tems, we prob­a­bly want a bet­ter approach. The sug­ges­tion in the Lenco Heav­en forum — where all the experts on the sub­ject of these turnta­bles hang out — is to fol­low the wiring shown below, drawn by Stephen Clifford:


Not shown above is the fact that the yel­low (chas­sis ground) lead is extend­ed out of the plinth to be con­nect­ed to the appro­pri­ate con­nec­tor on a phono pre­amp if required.

Impos­si­ble hum

Hav­ing car­ried out all the re-wiring, I installed a car­tridge and ran it up. And it hummed, bad­ly. Now you do not need the yel­low lead con­nect­ed to ground on the phono pre­amp and the ground con­nect­ed in the mains plug as it will cause a hum loop, but in this case I could not get the hum to go away, what­ev­er I did. I tried clean­ing the head­shell and arm con­tacts, dif­fer­ent earth­ing schemes, dif­fer­ent car­tridges and even dif­fer­ent pre­amps, but to no avail.

It seemed like­ly to me that the prob­lem lay in the wiring to the head­shell con­nec­tor but this seemed fair­ly hard to address. In addi­tion (and no doubt purists will hate me for say­ing so), I found the orig­i­nal arm rather clunky. So, even though I had car­ried out the task of replac­ing the V‑blocks et al, I decid­ed to replace the tone arm.

The Orto­fon AS-212 as a replace­ment arm

as_212_vintage_page-2There are only a cou­ple of tone arms that will slot more or less straight into a Lenco, ie they are the right length etc to fit. The one that appealed to me was an arm made by Dan­ish man­u­fac­tur­er Orto­fon (famed for their pick­up car­tridges) the AS-212. But where to find one? Hunt­ing around net­ted me a gen­tle­man in Ger­many sell­ing a Tele­funken S600 deck — these were fit­ted with this arm — at a good price.

Sad­ly, when it arrived, the rear of the arm had dis­ap­peared and the lid of the turntable was cracked — a result of the ship­ping com­pa­ny mis-deliv­er­ing it and the erro­neous recip­i­ents open­ing it.

Not only that, when I men­tioned my inten­tions on a Face­book group I belong to spe­cial­is­ing in vin­tage equip­ment, they were hor­ri­fied. The Tele­funken S600 was an excel­lent belt-dri­ve deck, they said, prob­a­bly out-per­form­ing the Thorens decks of the time, and should not be van­dalised and left ‘arm­less’. So I decid­ed to repair it, and see if I could find a spare AS-212 arm for the Lenco, then keep the one I pre­ferred and sell the oth­er. The Tele­funken sto­ry is for anoth­er article.

Imme­di­ate­ly up came an offer on the Vinyl Engine forum of a com­plete AS-212 arm, boxed: a replace­ment arm for a Tele­funken. At the same time I received an offer of a replace­ment arm­tube, bear­ing and coun­ter­weight. I could use the for­mer on the Lenco and the lat­ter to repair the Telefunken.

Prepar­ing the arm for fitting

The new-old-stock com­plete AS-212 assem­bly duly arrived, and I acquired a mount­ing base for the new arm to fit the Lenco deck­plate hole — the Orto­fon is a dif­fer­ent diam­e­ter and thus needs a dif­fer­ent fit­ting. These are avail­able on eBay: I bought a sil­ver-coloured one.

Before fit­ting to the Lenco, the new arm need­ed some dis­man­tling. I decid­ed to use the Lenco arm lifter — pret­ty much oblig­a­tory, in fact, with an AS-212 designed for an S600, as the Orto­fon arm comes with an oil-damped lift­ing cylin­der with just a bot­tom pin that is sup­posed to fit into the S600 lifter mech­a­nism, a clever Bow­den-style cable arrange­ment: thus it does not include a com­plete lifter sys­tem. So I removed the lifter cylin­der and arm rest, leav­ing a 10mm hole in the body of the arm, which I decid­ed to fill with a suit­ably-sized cir­cu­lar bub­ble spir­it-lev­el, secured with the exist­ing set-screw. Adja­cent to it in this pic­ture is the AS-212’s nat­ty no-con­tact mag­net­ic anti-skate sys­tem. The lit­tle hole for­mer­ly took a pin on the lifter to stop it rotat­ing. I found a use for it later.


I also removed the arm clip from the AS-212 (the rod to the left of the above image is the back of it) so as to use the Lenco one, which is the cor­rect diam­e­ter to hold the arm securely.

Next step was to mount the arm col­umn in the new base. This was eas­i­ly done. I set the height up by attach­ing a car­tridge and adjust­ing the height so that the arm was hor­i­zon­tal with the sty­lus rest­ing on a disc. I lined up the body of the arm to be par­al­lel to the edge of the deck-plate and it looked great. I tight­ened the set-screw and there it was.

A few modifications

An ini­tial prob­lem was that the arm wiring was not as long as the orig­i­nal Lenco, so I moved the audio con­nec­tion tag strip to some­where near­er to the arm so it reached, and under the deck plate instead of on top.


This pic­ture also shows the revised pow­er wiring men­tioned ear­li­er. I made a new hole in the plinth for the audio cables to exit so that they did­n’t run par­al­lel to the pow­er cable.

The Lenco lifter actu­a­tor lever is quite long, and actu­al­ly fouled the arm when at rest, so I short­ened it. Actu­al­ly, I was going to bend it out­wards but the top bit snapped off. Ooops. It’s still easy to reach and use: a short piece of black heat­shrink tub­ing and it looks the same as the orig­i­nal, but shorter.


The biggest chal­lenge was get­ting the lifter to work. The Lenco lifter arm is quite deep, and when low­ered rest­ed on the top of the Orto­fon plat­form long before the sty­lus was able to reach the record. I thought this could be solved sim­ply by short­en­ing the lifter arm to avoid the edge of the plat­form, but this was a Bad Idea as the arm could drop down and hit the deck plate between rest and the start of a disc, and tend­ed to fall off the end of the lifter. The solu­tion instead was to file the under­side of the end of the lifter arm where it over­hung the plat­form to about half its depth. This allowed the lifter to drop far enough to allow the sty­lus to reach the record. All the ele­ments of the arm are able to be adjust­ed for height: the lifter arm, the arm rest, and of course the arm column.

It’s worth not­ing that there is a small caveat here. The Lenco arm rest, which I’m using, allows the arm to be unclipped by mov­ing it ver­ti­cal­ly. It is pos­si­ble, once unclipped, for the arm to swing out­ward, where­upon it will fall off the lifter arm and could drop down and clout the car­tridge on the pow­er switch or the deck plate itself. I made this impos­si­ble by insert­ing a thin rod into a hole left by part of the orig­i­nal AS-212 lifter mech­a­nism and bend­ing it over and above the arm to stop this from hap­pen­ing. You can see the hole in the close-up of the bub­ble lev­el a cou­ple of images up. While I was at it, I added a cut-down self-adhe­sive foot to the right-hand front of the plat­form so that the arm could­n’t drop if it went back­wards. Anoth­er approach would have been to rein­stall the Orto­fon arm clip, which opens towards the turntable and is thus less like­ly to allow the arm to go back­wards. How­ev­er this would require remov­ing the Lenco arm-rest, leav­ing a hole in the deck plate.

Next I need­ed to mount the car­tridge more accu­rate­ly. The AS-212 needs a 16mm over­hang — ie if you swing the arm across to be over the cen­tral spin­dle, the sty­lus should be 16mm to the left of its cen­tre. This proved to be quite dif­fi­cult to do: the slots in the head­shell only just allowed it with the car­tridge as far back as it would go. But it worked, and I was also able to set up the null points suc­cess­ful­ly with a pro­trac­tor, with the car­tridge par­al­lel to the groove at both points. The cor­rect way of fit­ting the car­tridge is to use the two thread­ed rods on the under­side of the man­u­al lifter prong, but in my case, although I have sev­er­al Orto­fon head­shells, none of them would actu­al­ly hold the Shure M97xE, either because they were too long, too short or there was­n’t room for the nuts. So I mount­ed the car­tridge with a pair of bolts and fit­ted the man­u­al lifter sep­a­rate­ly (see below).

Play­ing some records

giWith that done, I car­ried out a final check of the set­tings, includ­ing: check­ing that the arm real­ly was hor­i­zon­tal while play­ing and thus the Sty­lus Rake Angle was cor­rect (I think this is a bet­ter way of look­ing at it than by address­ing the Ver­ti­cal Track­ing Angle, and I don’t have a micro­scope); set­ting up the track­ing weight for my Shure M97xE; and adjust­ing the AS-212’s ele­gant mag­net­ic anti-skat­ing setting.

And then I played a record for the first time — but not a ter­ri­bly excit­ing one. It was the B‑side of a KPM Music Library test press­ing of pieces by Richard Har­vey, con­sist­ing sole­ly of a 1kHz tone. I was able to lis­ten to the tone qual­i­ty at var­i­ous points across the disc and was very pleased with how pure the tone was at all points.

Then to play some actu­al music: the con­tent side of the same disc. I was imme­di­ate­ly very impressed with the wide fre­quen­cy range appar­ent on play­back, and a good tight feel­ing to the bass end. The over­all sound was very clear, clean and detailed, and the stereo imag­ing nice and sta­ble. Excellent.

My view is that this is an excep­tion­al com­bi­na­tion of arm and deck and I am very pleased with the results so far, though I need to give it a lot more crit­i­cal lis­tens. But in the­o­ry, all that’s need­ed now is a new plinth that does the deck justice.

I have, inci­den­tal­ly, kept all the Lenco bits I’ve removed, includ­ed spares of items I mod­i­fied (eg the lifter actu­a­tor lever and the lifter arm) so that if it ever needs to be restored to its orig­i­nal spec, this can be done.


October 11, 2016   Comments Off on Modifying an Idler Turntable

Gryphon At Bilston

Just over a year after see­ing the re-formed Gryphon at The Sta­bles near Mil­ton Keynes, I was lucky enough to catch them live at the Robin 2, a cav­ernous West Mid­lands venue some­what rem­i­nis­cent of some­where like the Sta­tion Inn in Nashville, in one of a short series of live gigs cul­mi­nat­ing in a per­for­mance at the gor­geous Union Chapel. Sad­ly I could­n’t make the lat­ter, but it is being pro­fes­sion­al­ly video-record­ed so hope­ful­ly we’ll all be able to see it at some point.

A Brief Historie

For those of you who don’t know the band — and if you do, you can skip to the sec­tion head­ed Robin 2 below — Gryphon was formed in the ear­ly 1970s and was a kind of crossover act merg­ing medi­ae­val and Renais­sance music and instru­ments, with bas­soon, flute, gui­tars, per­cus­sion (and ulti­mate­ly drums) and bass for an effect that var­ied from folk music to rocked-up Ear­ly Music to some­thing approach­ing Prog Rock. A tru­ly mar­vel­lous com­bi­na­tion, I assure you, as any of the five albums pro­duced in the 1970s (and all still avail­able, along with var­i­ous col­lec­tions of pre­vi­ous­ly unre­leased tracks and broad­cast per­for­mances) will attest.

At the heart of the band were two peo­ple I went to school with (albeit two years below me), mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist Richard Har­vey and gui­tarist Graeme Tay­lor, one or oth­er or both of whom, often with Bri­an Gul­land, penned much of the orig­i­nal mate­r­i­al that appeared on the albums such as the char­ac­ter­is­tic intri­cate instru­men­tal suites (Juniper Suite on their epony­mous first album, for exam­ple, being cred­it­ed Tay­lor-Har­vey-Gul­land) and longer works while Tay­lor wrote often del­i­cate, fine­ly-wrought instru­men­tals and songs with wild­ly pun­ning and semi-obscure lyrics. The oth­er band mem­bers con­tributed their own mate­r­i­al too, to great effect, and com­bined with their set­tings of tra­di­tion­al songs and dances, Gryphon was entire­ly unique. I was lucky enough to tour with the band for a year as their sound engi­neer, live and in the stu­dio (1974–5, includ­ing US and UK tours sup­port­ing Yes as well as col­lege gigs, cul­mi­nat­ing with the record­ing of their fourth album, Rain­dance, which I also co-produced).

The band was effec­tive­ly wiped out by the changes in British pop­u­lar music in the mid-70s that result­ed in instru­men­tal vir­tu­os­i­ty — or indeed almost any lev­el of musi­cal abil­i­ty above that of a mem­ber of the audi­ence — being dep­re­cat­ed. Thank­ful­ly the albums nev­er real­ly went away, and even the unre­leased tracks appeared on Col­lec­tion CDs in due course (includ­ing sev­er­al from Rain­dance, which was essen­tial­ly cut to rib­bons by the record com­pa­ny, omit­ting a few gems).


Every­thing seems to come around again these days, and over 30 years after their final live appear­ance, the band re-formed in June 2009 for a sold-out reunion con­cert at the Queen Eliz­a­beth Hall on Lon­don’s South Bank fea­tur­ing the orig­i­nal core mem­ber­ship of Richard Har­vey (wood­winds, key­boards), Bri­an Gul­land (wood­winds, key­boards, vocals), Graeme Tay­lor (gui­tars, vocals), and Dave Ober­lé (per­cus­sion and vocals). They were joined by Jon Davie — the bass-play­er from the band’s fifth album, Trea­son — and new arrival, tal­ent­ed mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist and vet­er­an music library/film com­pos­er Gra­ham Pres­kett on a var­ied col­lec­tion of key­board and stringed instruments.

Every­one hoped that the one-off reunion would be fol­lowed by a tour, but it was not until 2015 that this actu­al­ly got off the ground with a rel­a­tive­ly short series of gigs — all of which were extreme­ly well attend­ed and showed that the band had lost none of its vigour and orig­i­nal­i­ty. Indeed, the pres­ence of Pres­kett at last made it pos­si­ble to per­form works that had been imprac­ti­cal to play live pre­vi­ous­ly, such as Juniper Suite.

The hope was that there would be addi­tion­al dates in 2016 and this indeed came to be, but, it tran­spired, with­out the pres­ence of Richard Har­vey, who announced in the Spring that he would be leav­ing the band due to a cramped sched­ule and to pur­sue his own mul­ti-faceted career. And indeed it is, with a major tour with Hans Zim­mer and many oth­er activ­i­ties on the horizon.

Robin 2

Gryphon at Bilston, August 14 2016. Photo by Paul Lucas

(Most of) Gryphon at Bil­ston, August 14 2016. L to R: Kei­th Thomp­son, Dave Ober­le, Graeme Tay­lor, Rory McFar­lane, Bri­an Gul­land. Where’s Pres­kett? Pho­to by Paul Lucas

As a result, the band that has been tour­ing in 2016 has some changes in line­up. Pres­kett is in there — he is a major asset — and on bass we find Rory McFar­lane, a tal­ent­ed ses­sion musi­cian and com­pos­er who has also plen­ty of band expe­ri­ence with Richard Thomp­son. It would be sil­ly to say that “Richard Har­vey’s place in Gryphon has been tak­en by Kei­th Thomp­son”, because Kei­th is an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly tal­ent­ed Ear­ly Music wood­wind spe­cial­ist in his own right with a his­to­ry going back to the 1970s and includ­ing the excep­tion­al City Wait­es: he brings to the band a lev­el of tal­ent and exper­tise that is extreme­ly impres­sive. The com­bi­na­tion of musi­cal skills rep­re­sent­ed by this incar­na­tion of the band is unsur­passed and deliv­ers the instru­men­tal fire­works we might expect from a group of musi­cians who are all at the peak of their powers.

And thus, final­ly, to the Robin 2 gig. The per­for­mance fell into two sets and fol­lowed a sim­i­lar struc­ture to the gigs of 2015, with pri­mar­i­ly pieces from the first album in the first half — Open­ing Num­ber to begin with, fol­lowed by Kem­p’s Jig, The Astrologer (with an amus­ing con­test of vocals between Gul­land and Ober­lé), and the afore­men­tioned Juniper Suite. Next up was The Unqui­et Grave, to which Bri­an Gul­land gave an inter­est­ing intro­duc­tion, men­tion­ing Vaugh­an Williams’ Five Vari­a­tions on Dives and Lazarus, which employs the same tune, while The Unqui­et Grave itself is often heard with a dif­fer­ent melody. I always won­dered about that… The set was round­ed off by Dubbel Dutch from the Mid­night Mushrumps (sec­ond) album and Estampie from the first.

Brian Gulland at Bilston, August 14 2016. Photo by Paul Lucas

Bri­an Gul­land at Bil­ston, August 14 2016. Pho­to by Paul Lucas

Lat­er mate­r­i­al per­me­at­ed the sec­ond set, lead­ing off with a med­ley from the third album, Red Queen to Gryphon Three with its chess ref­er­ences. Sec­ond up was the Graeme Tay­lor-penned and atmos­pher­ic Ash­es, orig­i­nal­ly removed from the fourth album, Rain­dance, to my dis­tinct annoy­ance, and one of my favourites of the band’s songs. And they very kind­ly gave me a shout-out for the track, which was most kind! The per­for­mance was com­plete with bird­song: when we record­ed the track orig­i­nal­ly, in the hot mid­sum­mer of 1975, I record­ed Bri­an Gul­land’s vocals out­side in the open with a stereo pair of mics, with him stand­ing far enough away that I could crank up the gain and cap­ture the nat­ur­al bird­song. Fur­ther pieces in the set includ­ed more from the first album, some dances orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten by High Renais­sance Ger­man com­pos­er Michael Prae­to­rius for his enor­mous set of dances known as Terp­si­chore (and which, we should note, are yet to be record­ed, hint hint..), Lament from the third album and round­ing off with the thun­der­ous romp that is Ethe­lion from the sec­ond album. An encore con­sist­ed of a very amus­ing com­bi­na­tion of tunes lead­ing off with Le Cam­bri­oleur est dans le Mou­choir, (a strange lit­tle piece from Rain­dance, co-writ­ten by Tay­lor and bass play­er of the time Mal­colm Ben­nett) fol­lowed by a touch of Pres­ket­tised Gersh­win and then Tiger Rag.

The over­all per­for­mance was excel­lent and par­tic­u­lar cred­it needs to be giv­en to Kei­th Thomp­son, new to the band and with only one pre­vi­ous live per­for­mance with the band under his belt at this point. Gryphon has an unusu­al, if not actu­al­ly unique, com­bi­na­tion of what would tra­di­tion­al­ly have been called “loud” and “soft” instru­ments. In addi­tion to being dif­fi­cult to get a live sound bal­ance on, as I know from my own expe­ri­ence, the stage mon­i­tor­ing is par­tic­u­lar­ly tricky, and Kei­th was sand­wiched between Gra­ham Pres­kett on one side and Graeme Tay­lor on the oth­er, nei­ther of whom are like­ly to have been par­tic­u­lar­ly qui­et in the mon­i­tors. Despite this, and a cav­ernous hall with a huge and ven­er­a­ble PA that was real­ly designed for out-and-out rock bands that swal­lowed him a lit­tle from time to time, Kei­th’s per­for­mance came across as live­ly and excit­ing and full of virtuosity.

Graeme Taylor at Bilston, August 14 2016. Photo by Paul Lucas

Graeme Tay­lor at Bil­ston, August 14 2016. Pho­to by Paul Lucas

Kei­th and Bri­an Gul­land there­fore han­dled the wood­winds ancient and mod­ern, in the same way as Har­vey and Gul­land would have done in ear­li­er times; but in addi­tion the key­board axis was between Bri­an and Gra­ham Pres­kett, with Pres­kett also con­tribut­ing fid­dle and oth­er stringed instru­ments. The mul­ti-instru­men­tal inter­play between the three of them was one of the most inter­est­ing aspects of this new line­up and I am sure that they will only become even tighter and more daz­zling as they work longer togeth­er. Mean­while, Graeme Tay­lor’s gui­tar exper­tise seems only to increase every time I hear him — and while we’re on the sub­ject of Graeme, don’t miss the lat­est release from his ‘oth­er’ band, Home Ser­vice, whose new album A New Ground is def­i­nite­ly worth a lis­ten. Bri­an Gul­land, mean­while, con­tin­ues his endear­ing hir­sute antics on stage, and on this occa­sion han­dled a good deal of the intro­duc­tions, and in some cas­es — The Unqui­et Grave referred to above for exam­ple — we learn more about the num­bers, which is a good thing in my view, as long as it’s not too exten­sive (which it wasn’t).

Dave Ober­lé was excel­lent through­out, not only on drums/percussion but on vocals too, where his style suits the mate­r­i­al down to the ground. From where I was sit­ting, I could­n’t actu­al­ly see bassist Rory McFar­lane but I could cer­tain­ly hear him, pro­vid­ing a sol­id bot­tom end to the sound and always spot-on with tim­ing. You can’t real­ly think of Gryphon as hav­ing a “rhythm sec­tion” as such, as Ober­lé’s role is gen­er­al­ly more per­cus­sion than drums, but McFar­lane under­lines the impor­tance of good live­ly yet sol­id bass play­ing with this material.

Over­all, then, an excep­tion­al per­for­mance and one that bodes very well for the future, as the band evi­dent­ly intend to stick around. As I not­ed at the top, the Union Chapel gig is being video record­ed, and I hope to see that released at some point. And there is even talk of an album in the works — 40 years after the last one. Excel­lent going.


September 12, 2016   Comments Off on Gryphon At Bilston

Gryphon at The Stables

Wednes­day May 13th saw a per­for­mance by Gryphon at the Sta­bles near Mil­ton Keynes. The gig was one of a rel­a­tive­ly brief series of per­for­mances under the ban­ner “None the Wis­er” that the band, orig­i­nal­ly active in the 1970s, re-formed to give.

The per­son­nel on the tour rep­re­sent­ed a fair approx­i­ma­tion to the orig­i­nal line­up of Bri­an Gul­land (bas­soon, Renais­sance wood­winds, vocals and a touch of key­board), Jon Davie (bass), Dave Ober­lé (per­cus­sion and vocals), Graeme Tay­lor (gui­tars), and Richard Har­vey (key­boards, wood­winds, man­dolin, clar­inet, Renais­sance wood­winds, dul­cimer, ukulele, flute), aug­ment­ed by an addi­tion­al tal­ent­ed mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist and com­pos­er in the form of Gra­ham Pres­kett (key­boards, vio­lin, 12-string gui­tar, viola).

The tour cul­mi­nat­ed with a per­for­mance at the Union Chapel in Lon­don, which I would love to have attend­ed: the pic­ture above (by Julian Bajz­ert, used by per­mis­sion) was tak­en there (the band appears almost in the order list­ed above, but with Richard Har­vey far right).

The Sta­bles, not a loca­tion I’ve vis­it­ed before, is an impres­sive venue, although per­haps best suit­ed to the­atri­cal work. The stage lay­out required the PA to be placed per­ilous­ly close to the band – and to Richard Har­vey in par­tic­u­lar – which mean that a num­ber of high-gain mics were point­ing more or less direct­ly at the PA. Speak­ing from expe­ri­ence as Gryphon’s sound engi­neer (live and in the stu­dio, dur­ing 1974–75) the band is tricky to mix at the best of times, with its unique com­bi­na­tion of “soft” and “loud” instru­ments (as they would have been called in the Renais­sance peri­od) and a near­by PA no doubt made the mix at the Sta­bles dif­fi­cult in the extreme.

For those who have not encoun­tered Gryphon pre­vi­ous­ly, the band began in the ear­ly 1970s when Roy­al Col­lege of Music grad­u­ates Richard Har­vey and Bri­an Gul­land start­ed as a duo play­ing tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish folk with Renais­sance and medi­ae­val ten­den­cies. They were soon joined by gui­tarist Graeme Tay­lor and per­cus­sion­ist Dave Ober­lé, and then by bass-play­ers Philip Nestor, Mal­colm Markovich, for­mer­ly Ben­nett, and final­ly (1975–77) Jonathan Davie.

GryphonTheir first (epony­mous) album, record­ed in 1973 by Adam Skeap­ing on 4‑track in a tiny stu­dio in Barnes, com­bined live­ly approach­es to tra­di­tion­al songs flavoured with recorders and crumhorns — earn­ing the band a “Medi­ae­val Rock” label — with some orig­i­nal mate­r­i­al by Harvey. mushrumps
The sec­ond album, Mid­night Mushrumps (1974), fea­tured a side-long suite based on the band’s music for Sir Peter Hall’s The Tem­pest at the Old Vic. The third, Red Queen to Gryphon Three (also 1974) fea­tured a 4‑part suite the­o­ret­i­cal­ly based on a game of chess. This was fol­lowed by Rain­dance in 1975 and final­ly, fol­low­ing a move from Transat­lantic Records to EMI/Harvest, Trea­son in 1977 – after which the band was sad­ly eclipsed, as were many tal­ent­ed British artists at the time, by so-called “new wave” artists who eschewed instru­men­tal virtuosity.

Gryphon_RaindanceI was lucky enough to work with the band as their sound engi­neer on the road and often in the stu­dio, cov­er­ing a col­lege tour in mid-1974, the US 1974 and UK 1975 tours as sup­port band to Yes, and cul­mi­nat­ing in record­ing and co-pro­duc­ing Rain­dance at Sawmills stu­dios in Golant, Corn­wall, across mid­sum­mer 1975.

There had always been hopes in sev­er­al quar­ters that some incar­na­tion of the band would get back togeth­er at some point, and the out­fit has always had a loy­al and exten­sive inter­net fol­low­ing. The albums are all avail­able, along with addi­tion­al albums cov­er­ing BBC ses­sions and “lost tracks” (such as those we record­ed for Rain­dance but were not allowed by the record com­pa­ny to include on the album — yes, it still annoys me). Hopes for a reunion were grant­ed in 2009 with a one-off con­cern at the Queen Eliz­a­beth Hall in Lon­don which was excep­tion­al­ly well-received, and saw the addi­tion to the line­up of com­pos­er and mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist Gra­ham Pres­kett for the first time.

The May 2015 tour, in prepa­ra­tion for some time, was rel­a­tive­ly lim­it­ed in extent but did enable a good many peo­ple to get to one of the very well-attend­ed performances.

The first half of the Sta­bles per­for­mance con­sist­ed pri­mar­i­ly of pieces from the first album – kick­ing off, appro­pri­ate­ly enough, with Open­ing Num­ber, fol­lowed by the cau­tion­ary tale of The Astrologer with vocals by Ober­lé in fine form, then an instru­men­tal mélange of the tra­di­tion­al Kemp’s Jig and a medi­ae­val Estampie. This was fol­lowed by the band’s ren­der­ing of a per­son­al favourite, also with vocals by Ober­lé , The Unqui­et Grave, an Eng­lish folk song (Child Bal­lad 78) dat­ing back to around 1400 in which a young man mourns his dead lover to a some­what exces­sive degree, to which Gryphon add a par­tic­u­lar­ly eerie mid­dle sec­tion. Lis­ten­ers to this piece with a clas­si­cal back­ground may note that the tune Gryphon use for this song (sev­er­al tunes have been used tra­di­tion­al­ly) is also com­mon­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Dives & Lazarus (Child Bal­lad 56 – see Vaugh­an Williams’ vari­a­tions on this theme).

Next up was a ren­der­ing by Graeme of his solo piece, Cross­ing the Stiles. All Graeme’s pieces for the band were tricky in one way or anoth­er and often com­plex, and hear­ing him per­form this, one can only con­clude that his gui­tar vir­tu­os­i­ty has some­how increased over the years: his play­ing was exceed­ing­ly impressive.

It was fol­lowed by what I believe was the first live per­for­mance of Richard Harvey’s orig­i­nal com­po­si­tion from the first album, and the track that turned me on to the band all those years ago, when a friend played me this unknown track he had record­ed from a John Peel pro­gramme: Juniper Suite. If it hadn’t been notice­able ear­li­er in the set, it rapid­ly became clear here how ben­e­fi­cial the addi­tion of Gra­ham Pres­kett to the orig­i­nal line­up has been: the pres­ence of extra key­board resources, for exam­ple, freed Richard Har­vey to focus more on his world-lead­ing wood­wind exper­tise, and made doing pieces like Juniper Suite live pos­si­ble. Pres­kett, like Har­vey, is also an excel­lent mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist, and the addi­tion of vio­lin and vio­la, for exam­ple, made quite an impres­sive dif­fer­ence at times, adding tex­tures that were not pre­vi­ous­ly part of the Gryphon sound but that fit­ted in excep­tion­al­ly well.

gryphon_tour_adDur­ing the course of the first set we also enjoyed some sur­pris­ing­ly ‘bas­so pro­fun­do’ vocals from Bri­an Gul­land as well as his wood­winds and organ work. The ensem­ble piece Dubbel Dutch – a minia­ture suite in itself – from the sec­ond album closed the first half.

The sec­ond half opened with a ver­sion of Mid­night Mushrumps in all its album-side length glo­ry, that often sound­ed pret­ty much exact­ly as it did when I mixed it live myself over 40 years ago.

The band then played one of my favourite ‘lost’ tracks, Ash­es, which we orig­i­nal­ly record­ed at Sawmills in 1975 for the Rain­dance album but which nev­er made it on to the disc – and to my great sur­prise and plea­sure, Bri­an very kind­ly ded­i­cat­ed it to me, which was extreme­ly heart-warm­ing. Thanks, guys! (The orig­i­nal record­ing is on the sec­ond Col­lec­tions disc if you want to check it out.)

redqueen2gryphon3 The set con­tin­ued with a cou­ple of excerpts from Red Queen to Gryphon Three – one based on Lament and then a med­ley of oth­er themes from the album, all of which were expert­ly per­formed through­out, with plen­ty of Har­vey recorder twid­dly bits and some great bass-play­ing from Jon Davie, while Dave Ober­lé fired off impres­sive rounds of per­cus­sion as appro­pri­ate. Indeed, the phrase ‘vir­tu­ouso per­for­mances’ can hap­pi­ly be applied to every­one in the band and to the whole set.

Encores includ­ed a mar­vel­lous new suite of rocked-up Renais­sance dances of the kind for which Gryphon are per­haps tra­di­tion­al­ly best-known, out­class­ing even the likes of The Bones Of All Men and in this case rely­ing quite a bit on Michael Prae­to­rius’s Terp­si­chore, fol­lowed by a remark­able piece that, start­ing off from a cer­tain Cam­bri­oleur (Le Cam­bri­oleur est Dans le Mou­choir, from Rain­dance), wove togeth­er sev­er­al dis­parate threads includ­ing George Gershwin’s Prom­e­nade (Walk­ing the Dog), and fea­tured some exquis­ite clar­inet work from Har­vey, exchang­ing rapid-fire lines with Pres­kett, to end with a spir­it­ed inter­pre­ta­tion of the very ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry jazz stan­dard Tiger Rag.

Over­all, I found it a mag­nif­i­cent and quite mag­i­cal per­for­mance from every­body concerned.

Main image: Gryphon at Union Chapel, Lon­don, May 2015, by Julian Bajz­ert, used by per­mis­sion. L to R: Bri­an Gul­land, Jon Davie, Dave Ober­le, Graeme Tay­lor, Gra­ham Pres­kett, Richard Harvey

August 3, 2015   Comments Off on Gryphon at The Stables

An Electric Car (at least part of the time…)

There is a time when old­er vehi­cles start to become rather expen­sive to keep run­ning, and with both our main vehi­cle, a 2001 Free­lander, and our sec­ond car, a 2001 Focus that was a gift from friends, hav­ing had expen­sive or poten­tial­ly expen­sive prob­lems recent­ly (and the Free­lander has very near­ly done the equiv­a­lent of going to the Moon), we thought it was time to con­sid­er some­thing rather newer.

As we are try­ing to become rather green­er in our lifestyles, an elec­tric vehi­cle would be the ide­al. But frankly, as it stands today, we can’t get the range from a ‘pure’ elec­tric vehi­cle to do the sort of things we need to do (which includes a 200-mile round-trip once a week in my case, and more occa­sion­al long-dis­tance trips, for exam­ple to Scot­land). So the obvi­ous thing to do was to look at hybrids. There is no way I could con­sid­er buy­ing one new (and in fact I haven’t bought a new car since the 1970s, when some­one wrote it off for me a few weeks after I bought it. I have this fun­ny idea about not adding any new cars to the road…).

But what kind of hybrid? The obvi­ous was one of the Toy­ota mod­els. They’re built in the UK as far as I know, and they have a rep­u­ta­tion for excel­lent build qual­i­ty. But again, even a sec­ond-hand Prius was rather more than I had in mind price­wise. The next one down was a used Auris hybrid, and a very nice-look­ing car it is. A friend who knows the car said it behaved very well and was actu­al­ly rather nippy.

How­ev­er, although the Auris deliv­ers good fuel effi­cien­cy – some­where in the 75 mpg range I believe – it, like its bed­fel­lows, is nev­er a strict­ly “elec­tric vehi­cle” – the wheels are dri­ven by a com­bi­na­tion of inter­nal com­bus­tion engine (ICE) and elec­tric motors. So you can nev­er turn the ICE off. But while we need­ed a car that could do longer jour­neys (I would like ulti­mate­ly to get us down to one car if at all pos­si­ble), a lot of our dri­ving is around Cam­bridgeshire and envi­rons. That meant that anoth­er type of hybrid was actu­al­ly more suit­ed to our require­ments: a PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Elec­tric Vehicle).

In a PHEV, the wheels are always dri­ven by elec­tric motors. This is a Good Thing as the dri­ve train is much sim­pler (and thus, one hopes, more reli­able) and much more effi­cient than all that engine-and-gear­box stuff. And you just put your foot down and go. The vehi­cle is pow­ered by bat­ter­ies, and you recharge them by plug­ging it in. But, and it’s an impor­tant and pos­i­tive ‘but’, when the bat­ter­ies are exhaust­ed, an on-board ICE kicks in, dri­ving a gen­er­a­tor to con­tin­ue pow­er­ing the dri­ve for as long as there is fuel avail­able, essen­tial­ly turn­ing it into the equiv­a­lent of a diesel-elec­tric loco­mo­tive – a ‘series-hybrid’ if you like (though by some def­i­n­i­tions, a ‘hybrid’ has to have both sys­tems able to dri­ve the wheels). And because the ICE is only run­ning a gen­er­a­tor, it can always run at the most effi­cient speed, which saves an enor­mous amount of fuel to begin with. Over­all, you get the ben­e­fits of an elec­tric vehi­cle – no fos­sil fuels are used as long as you don’t exceed the elec­tric-only range; and it’s qui­et, pow­er­ful and extreme­ly eff­i­cent – with­out the range anx­i­ety. And when you are dri­ving on the ICE, you get superb fuel efficiency.

There are not very many of these kinds of vehi­cles around in the UK. Dis­count­ing the new Mit­subishi Out­lander PHEV ver­sion and the BMW i3, both of which are well out­side our price range, you’re left with two: the Chevro­let Volt and the Vaux­hall Ampera. Chevro­let and Vaux­hall are, of course, both Gen­er­al Motors, and these are basi­cal­ly the same vehi­cle, the Volt being the orig­i­nal, released in MY 2011. The Ampera is the Euro­peanised ver­sion of the Volt. GM don’t use the term ‘hybrid’ for the vehi­cle: they pre­fer E‑REV, or ‘Extend­ed Range Elec­tric Vehicle’.

Chevy is being wound down in the UK. And while Volts have been very suc­cess­ful in the US (and remain so – a new ver­sion comes out next year), nei­ther vari­ant did tremen­dous­ly well in Europe, despite the Ampera win­ning a bunch of awards includ­ing Car of the Year in 2012, the year it came out here: there are about 6,000 on the road. It seems like­ly that this is because they were rather expen­sive when new – up in the fair­ly-large-BMW brack­et while being a mid-sized rea­son­ably lux­u­ri­ous hatch­back. So I was expect­ing this to be out of range too… but not so! Although they have held their val­ue pret­ty well, I was able to find a cou­ple of 2012 Amperas – one not too far away – that we could actu­al­ly afford. And fol­low­ing a test dri­ve, we went for it. Pre­vi­ous­ly owned by the deal­er­ship own­er’s wife, it has been very well looked after; and it’s a very cool-look­ing Sum­mit White.

I stud­ied the forums and oth­er infor­ma­tion sources thor­ough­ly before pur­chase, and as far as I could dis­cov­er, it is one of the most reli­able vehi­cles GM has ever pro­duced: a known small risk of bat­tery fire was fixed before the vehi­cles were even made for Europe; and while there is a known issue with a rather impor­tant bear­ing, only about 1–2% of vehi­cles have it fail and the prob­lem and its solu­tion are well-doc­u­ment­ed. Accord­ing to a clean­tech-ori­ent­ed friend in the US, the Volt own­ers she knows are very pleased with their purchase.

amperaThe vehi­cle is extreme­ly pleas­ant to dri­ve, smooth and qui­et, and even when the petrol engine final­ly kicks in, it’s still smooth and qui­et and the per­for­mance (which includes its rather impres­sive accel­er­a­tion) vir­tu­al­ly unim­paired. The lit­er­a­ture quotes the pure-elec­tric range as “25–50 miles” – and that’s exact­ly what you get, depend­ing on dri­ving style and whether you have the heat­ing on or not. On my first dri­ve I got 48.8 miles out of the bat­tery. The next day, leav­ing ear­ly on a cold morn­ing, it went down to a mere 36 (tip: ‘pre-con­di­tion’ the dri­ving com­part­ment before leav­ing, while it’s still plugged in, which you can set it to do automatically).

The vehi­cle keeps a record of life­time fuel effi­cien­cy. When I bought it, it was 110mpg (with 35,000 miles on the clock). I now have it up to 111. And indeed, as I expect­ed, trips around Cam­bridgeshire can be made entire­ly on bat­tery pow­er – and if I can charge the car while the solar pan­els are out­putting sig­nif­i­cant­ly more than we’re using, that oper­a­tion is essen­tial­ly free. Even on my week­ly 200-mile round trip I man­aged over 90 mpg, thanks to being able to charge the car at my des­ti­na­tion (where the Direc­tor of Mar­ket­ing has a Tes­la and is hap­py to share his charg­er) as well as at home. This knocks spots off a con­ven­tion­al Hybrid Syn­er­gy sys­tem. The car is learn­ing what mileage I get from the bat­ter­ies. When I first charged it, it esti­mat­ed my bat­tery range as 26 miles. It now thinks I’ll get 46. And that’s pret­ty much what I get.

chargerIt made sense to have a car charg­er fit­ted to the wall next to the dri­ve­way, rather than stick a cable out of the win­dow, and there is a Gov­ern­ment OLEV sub­sidy scheme that pays for a good chunk of the instal­la­tion of a charg­er. I got mine (left) from Charge­Mas­ter PLC in Luton, who were great to deal with – and hav­ing pro­posed a date, they actu­al­ly came a cou­ple of weeks ear­ly thanks to a can­cel­la­tion. Charg­ing the car from flat using the sup­plied EVSE (Elec­tric Vehi­cle Sup­ply Equip­ment), which plugs into a stan­dard domes­tic sock­et, takes about 6 hours at around 11A charg­ing cur­rent. How­ev­er if you have a charg­er installed, you can charge in about 4 hours at 16A.

220px-SAE_J1772_7058855567The Volt/Ampera has what is called a Type 1 (or J1772) con­nec­tor (right), a fair­ly com­pact latch­ing plug that goes into the left front of the vehi­cle. 220px-VDE-AR-E_2623-2-2-plugHow­ev­er most of the charg­ers you find in the wild in Europe are equipped with what are called Type 2, or Men­nekes con­nec­tors (left). It made sense, there­fore, to get a cable from one to the oth­er so I can charge the vehi­cle at a pub­lic charg­ing point at the des­ti­na­tion (there is rather less point charg­ing ‘on the road’ as the charg­ing rate is only about 16 miles an hour, and that’s what the ICE is for!). Hav­ing this cable in the back of the car, it made sense to have a Type 2 sock­et on the home charg­er instead of the more usu­al teth­ered Type 1; and while I was at it, I future-proofed myself by get­ting a 30A charg­er in case friends with a Tes­la call round or we upgrade down the line.

I would note when it comes to pub­lic charg­ing sites, although there are quite a lot of them (more all the time, and many will take a Type 2 plug), they all belong to dif­fer­ent net­works that gen­er­al­ly don’t have exchange agree­ments. As a result you may find you need a pack of RFID cards from the com­mon net­works and wave the right one over the charg­er to unlock it. In fact 85% of charg­ing is car­ried out at home, and as I note, I won’t nor­mal­ly be plug­ging-in at motor­way ser­vices, but I still want to be able to use a pub­lic charg­er at the end of a long jour­ney, so hav­ing those cards (sev­er­al of which are free) is prob­a­bly worth doing.

(Main pho­to: Gen­er­al Motors/Vauxhall)

April 26, 2015   Comments Off on An Electric Car (at least part of the time…)

Solar panels — a year on

We want­ed to install solar pan­els for years — in my case decades, since I was involved in the “Alter­na­tive Tech­nol­o­gy” mag­a­zine Under­cur­rents in the 1970s. In the past, the idea of a solar PV sys­tem has just been too expen­sive (friends down the street paid £15,000 for their sys­tem just a few years ago), but we’d been watch­ing prices fall until, by the mid­dle of 2014, it looked as if prices had fall­en to an afford­able level.

We inter­viewed four com­pa­nies and it quick­ly became evi­dent that the height of the roof would­n’t allow the con­ven­tion­al 16 pan­els in two rows “por­trait” style that is com­mon for a 4kWp sys­tem – they would have to be mount­ed too close to the top and bot­tom of the roof (you need 500mm clear­ance all round — oth­er­wise you can risk less sta­bil­i­ty in high winds). We could, how­ev­er, man­age two rows of six, “land­scape” style. The com­pa­nies we talked to var­ied in the amount of work they did spec­i­fy­ing the instal­la­tion, and I regard actu­al­ly get­ting up into the loft and tak­ing real mea­sure­ments as an indi­ca­tor that the installer is worth considering.

The lim­i­ta­tion of 12 pan­els imme­di­ate­ly made the choice a rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple one. We need­ed high effi­cien­cy pan­els, and the Sun­Pow­er design, it was easy to see from the data sheets, was not only supe­ri­or in engi­neer­ing terms (they are not only more effi­cient, but they have a stur­dy back­plane sys­tem with no bus­es run­ning down the front of the pan­els, mak­ing them less prone to dam­age; and if a cell does get dam­aged, it does­n’t take the whole row out or worse), it also enabled us to install a sys­tem that would deliv­er a lit­tle under 4kWp from just 12 pan­els. Per­fect! Two com­pa­nies out of the four had offered us Sun­Pow­er pan­els. One was an enor­mous sup­pli­er in the Mid­lands that in fact I would rec­om­mend for any­one look­ing for a com­mer­cial instal­la­tion, but they were rather expen­sive — sig­nif­i­cant­ly more than any of the others.

inverterWe select­ed our sup­pli­er, Solar­works of Laven­ham in Suf­folk, who have been installing renew­able sys­tems since 1983. Just a cou­ple of weeks lat­er the scaf­fold­ing arrived and while it was set up, Solar­works fit­ted the invert­er – an ABB “Uno” sin­gle-phase mod­el – and asso­ci­at­ed switchgear in the clos­et under the stairs (see pic­ture left — note the black rotary switch bot­tom right, which is a prop­er DC iso­la­tor on the input path from the pan­els — which were still to be hooked up when this pic­ture was tak­en). Above the AC iso­la­tor on the left is the Gen­er­a­tion Meter. The next day, they installed the mount­ing rails on the roof. Because our pan­els were to be mount­ed hor­i­zon­tal­ly, the rails were ver­ti­cal and each of the 12 was attached to a dif­fer­ent rafter, giv­ing excep­tion­al strength.

The fol­low­ing day, the pan­els went up, and as soon as they were con­nect­ed, by mid-late after­noon – in two strings of six each – the invert­er was indi­cat­ing that we were gen­er­at­ing 3.6kW of elec­tric­i­ty. And the sto­ry has con­tin­ued, with the sys­tem reg­u­lar­ly gen­er­at­ing more kWh than we use in an aver­age day. This year, we saw the out­put exceed 3.7kW as ear­ly as March! (Which sur­prised me in fact, as you would have thought there would be loss­es between the 3.9kWp nom­i­nal pan­els and the invert­er.) The instal­la­tion, just after com­ple­tion, is shown above.

We’re very pleased with the results and would rec­om­mend both Sun­Pow­er pan­els and Solar­works as an installer.

We sub­se­quent­ly had our old Fer­ran­ti rotat­ing-disc import meter replaced so that it would­n’t go back­wards. The lat­ter sounds like a cool thing but actu­al­ly isn’t, because you are already being paid for the elec­tric­i­ty you are export­ing and the elec­tric­i­ty sup­pli­er can claim it back ret­ro­spec­tive­ly; plus I want­ed a mod­ern meter with an LED indi­ca­tor on to which I could strap a counter for metering.

geo2The meter­ing sys­tem I installed came from Geo (Green Ener­gy Options) in Cam­bridge. It mea­sures the pow­er out­put from the pan­els (via the flash­ing light on the Gen­er­a­tion Meter), the amount import­ed from the Grid (via the flash­ing light on the new Import Meter), and the raw cur­rent flow in or out of the build­ing (from a clip around the main pow­er input cable), and cal­cu­lates a range of data from those raw inputs. Very nice. On the dis­play shown here, the blue curve rep­re­sents the out­put from the pan­els (quite good for an over­cast day, I think) and the orange is the amount of ener­gy we’re using – these val­ues are shown numer­i­cal­ly in the cen­tre left of the dis­play. The lit­tle blue arrows at the bot­tom show we are export­ing elec­tric­i­ty, and the lit­tle green wave­form above the wattage dis­plays indi­cates that we have enough “free” pow­er to run a major appli­ance such as a wash­ing machine or dish­wash­er, with­out effec­tive­ly pay­ing for it; and on the right is our elec­tric­i­ty usage so far today and how much our income from gen­er­a­tion and our spend have been. The sys­tem is con­nect­ed to the Inter­net so you can remote­ly mon­i­tor sys­tem per­for­mance via the Web.

Our elec­tric­i­ty sup­pli­er is Ecotric­i­ty, and set­ting up for their Microtric­i­ty scheme to receive the Feed-in Tar­iff (FiT) was sim­ple to do. Now they are often bank­ing with me, and have had to revise my elec­tric­i­ty pay­ments down sig­nif­i­cant­ly as a result.

Hav­ing had the pan­els installed for almost a year, it looks as if we are run­ning some­what ahead of sched­ule as far as these pan­els pay­ing for them­selves is concerned.

April 25, 2015   Comments Off on Solar panels — a year on

Compliments of the season!

December 18, 2014   Comments Off on Compliments of the season!