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Gentle Giant — Gentle Giant

Gentle Giant — Gentle Giant (November 27, 1970)

     Gentle Giant — Gentle Giant (November 27, 1970)
•  Acclaimed British progressive rock band noted for its heavy classical influence and unique use of vocal counterpoint.
•  “(We grew up in a) house full of musicians and instruments... I started learning trumpet when I was five just because it was there and then took up violin when I was seven. We were made to practice for an hour a day at least, when we really wanted to go out and play. I suppose it was a good thing we were really, and eventually I wanted to do it anyway... I wasn’t formally taught at all.”  — Ray Shulman on the musical upbringing of the Shulman brothers.
Location: United Kingdom
Album release: November 27, 1970
Recorded: August 1970, Trident Studios, London
Record Label: Vertigo
Duration:      36:58  
01. Giant      6:25
02. Funny Ways      4:23
03. Alucard      6:04
04. Isn't It Quiet And Cold?      3:47
05. Nothing At All      9:07
06. Why Not?      5:31
07. The Queen      1:41
≡   Written by Kerry Minnear / Derek Shulman / Phil Shulman / Ray Shulman
•♦•  Ron Baker Engineer
•♦•  Paul Cosh Horn
•♦•  Claire Deniz Cello
•♦•  Gary Green Guitar, Guitar (12 String), Vocals
•♦•  Kerry Minnear Arranger, Bass, Cello, Composer, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
•♦•  Derek Shulman Arranger, Bass, Composer, Guitar, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
•♦•  Phil Shulman Composer, Recorder, Saxophone, Trumpet, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
•♦•  Ray Shulman Arranger, Bass, Composer, Guitar, Percussion, Violin, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
•♦•  Martin Smith Drums, Percussion
•♦•  George Underwood Cover Art
•♦•  Tony Visconti Liner Notes, Producer
•♦•  Hamilton K. Wilson Artwork
•♦•  Bass [Most], Violin, Guitar [Some], Percussion, Backing Vocals — Ray Shulman
•♦•  Cello — Claire Deniz (tracks: A4)
•♦•  Cello, Keyboards, Bass [Some], Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Percussion [Tuned] — Kerry Minnear
•♦•  Design [Cover Artiste Extraordinaire] — George Underwood
•♦•  Drums, Percussion — Martin Smith (12)
•♦•  Engineer — Roy Baker*
•♦•  Horn [Tenor] — Paul Cosh
•♦•  Lead Guitar, Twelve–String Guitar — Gary Green
•♦•  Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Bass [Some] — Derek Shulman
•♦•  Liner Notes — Tony Visconti
•♦•  Producer — Tony Visconti
•♦•  Saxophone, Trumpet, Recorder, Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals — Phil Shulman*
•♦•  Written–By — Shulman*, Minnear*, Shulman*, Shulman*
Review by Bruce Eder; Score: ****
•  Astonishingly daring debut album, not as focused or overpowering as King Crimson’s first but still crashing down barriers and steamrolling expectations. The mix of medieval harmonies and electric rock got stronger on subsequent albums, but the music here is still pretty jarring. Kerry Minnear was probably the only prog rock keyboard player of the era who allowed his synthesizers to sound like themselves and not mimic orchestras; Gary Green’s guitars are alternately loud and brittle or soft and lyrical, and always surprising; and the presence of saxes and trumpets (courtesy of Phil Shulman) was unusual in any rock band of the era — all of which explains how Gentle Giant managed to attract a cult following but hadn’t a prayer of moving up from that level of recognition. “Funny Ways” was the softest prog rock song this side of Crimson’s “I Talk to the Wind,” but a lot of the rest is pretty intense in volume and tempo changes.
Companies etc
•  Manufactured By — Nippon Phonogram Co., Ltd.
•  Distributed By — Nippon Phonogram Co., Ltd.
•  Phonographic Copyright (p) — PolyGram Records, Inc.
Artist Biography by Bruce Eder
•♦•  Formed at the dawn of the progressive rock era in 1969, Gentle Giant seemed poised for a time in the mid–'70s to break out of its cult–band status, but somehow never made the jump. Somewhat closer in spirit to Yes and King Crimson than to Emerson, Lake & Palmer or the Nice, their unique sound melded hard rock and classical music, with an almost medieval approach to singing.
•♦•  Gentle Giant was born out of the ruins of Simon Dupree & the Big Sound, an R&B–based outfit led by brothers Derek, Ray, and Phil Shulman. After switching to psychedelia in 1967 and scoring their only major hit that year with "Kites," as Gentle Giant the group abandoned both the R&B and psychedelic orientations of the previous band; Derek sang and played guitar and bass, Ray sang and played bass and violin, and Phil handled the saxophone, augmented by Kerry Minnear on keyboards, and Gary Green on guitar. Their original lineup also featured Martin Smith on drums, but they went through several percussionists in the first three years of their existence.
•♦•  In 1970, Gentle Giant signed to the Vertigo label, and their self–titled first album — a shockingly daring work mixing hard rock and full electric playing with classical elements — came out later that year. Their second effort, 1971's Acquiring the Taste, was slightly more accessible and their third, Three Friends, featuring Malcolm Mortimore on drums, was their first record to get released in the U.S. (on Columbia). •♦•  Their fourth album, 1973's Octopus, looked poised for a breakthrough; it seemed as though they had found the mix of hard rock and classical sounds that the critics and the public could accept, and they finally had a permanent drummer in the person of John Weathers, an ex–member of the Graham Bond Organisation.
•♦•  In 1974, however, Gentle Giant began coming apart. Phil Shulman decided to give up music after the Octopus tour, and became a teacher. Then the group recorded the album In a Glass House, their hardest–rocking record yet, which Columbia's U.S. arm rejected as too uncommercial. The two–year gap in their American release schedule hurt their momentum, and they weren't heard from again until the Capitol release of The Power and the Glory in 1975.
•♦•  Gentle Giant released Free Hand, their most commercial album, in 1976, but then followed it up with the jarringly experimental Interview. After the 1978 double–album Playing the Fool, the group went through a seeming change of heart and issued a series of albums aimed at mainstream audiences, even approaching disco, but by the end of the 1970s their popularity was in free–fall. Gentle Giant called it quits in 1980. •♦•  Ray Shulman later became a producer and had considerable success in England working with bands like the Sundays and the Sugarcubes, while Derek Shulman became a New York–based record company executive.
Musical style:
•      Gentle Giant's music was mostly composed by Kerry Minnear and Ray Shulman, with additional musical ideas contributed by Derek Shulman (who was also known to contribute entire songs). Lyrics were mostly written by Phil Shulman and Derek Shulman (Kerry Minnear wrote some lyrics) up until Phil's departure following the release of Octopus — subsequent lyrics were mostly written by Derek Shulman, with help from Kerry Minnear. By the standards of progressive rock, Gentle Giant’s music is generally considered to be particularly complex and demanding. It shares several aspects with that of other progressive rock bands, including:
♦♦   multi–part vocal harmonies
♦♦   complex lyrics
♦♦   organisation into concept album form (on occasion)
♦♦   frequent changes in tempo
♦♦   frequent use of syncopation and non–standard time signatures, including polymeters (two or more time signatures played simultaneously)
♦♦   use of complex melodies, frequently contrasting harmonies with dissonance
♦♦   extensive use of instrumental and vocal counterpoint
♦♦   use of musical structures typically associated with classical music (for example, madrigal form on "Knots", fugal exposition in "On Reflection" and the consistent use of stated, exchanged and recapitulated musical themes exchanged between instruments)
♦♦   use of classical and medieval instrumentation not generally associated with rock music
•      However, it has been noted that in spite of the comparatively complex initial sound, Gentle Giant’s music is in fact fairly traditional in terms of harmony and features relatively few complex chords. In common with most 1970s progressive rock, Gentle Giant compositions are closer to early 20th century neoclassicism than to contemporary classical music. (Some Gentle Giant songs, such as "Black Cat", "Experience" and "So Sincere", do utilise more complicated modernist harmonics.) In general, the band relied on sudden and unexpected compositional twists and turns to stimulate their audience, including:
♦♦   polyphony
♦♦   hocketing
♦♦   unusual chord progressions
♦♦   breaking up and tonally re–voicing patterns of initially simple chords (with the chords subtly altering from repetition to repetition)
♦♦   accelerating and decelerating duration of musical themes
♦♦   rapid and frequent key changes (sometimes within a single bar)
♦♦   division of vocal lines between different singers (including staggered rhythms)
♦♦   clever handling of transitions between sections (such as a hard–rock guitar riff being immediately substituted by a medieval choral)
Studio albums:
♦   Gentle Giant (1970), Vertigo
♦   Acquiring the Taste (1971), Vertigo
♦   Three Friends (1972) (#197 US), Vertigo, Columbia
♦   Octopus (1972) (#170 US) Vertigo, Columbia
♦   In a Glass House (1973), Vertigo/WWA
♦   The Power and the Glory (1974) (#78 US), Vertigo/WWA, Capitol
♦   Free Hand (1975) (#48 US), Chrysalis, Capitol
♦♦   Playing the Fool — The Official Live (1977) (#89 US), Chrysalis, Capitol; recorded (au naturel) on European tour, September to October 1976
   Interview (1976) (#137 US), Chrysalis, Capitol
♦   The Missing Piece (1977) (#81 US), Chrysalis, Capitol
♦   Giant for a Day! (1978), Chrysalis, Capitol
♦   Civilian (1980), Chrysalis, Capitol
Website: http://www.blazemonger.com/
Three Friends official: https://threefriendsmusic.wordpress.com/
Interview, Background Magazine with Kerry Minnear: http://www.backgroundmagazine.nl/Specials/InterviewGentleGiant.html

Gentle Giant — Gentle Giant