Years: 1970 - 1980
Styles: Art Rock, Classic Rock, Pop Rock, Progressive Rock
Martin Smith - Drums, Gong , Percussion, Tambourine (in band: 1970 - 1971)
Phil Shulman - Backing vocals, Baritone saxophone, Clarinet, Claves, Keyboards, Lead vocals, Maracas, Percussion, Piano, Recorder, Saxophone, Tenor saxophone, Trumpet, Vocals (in band: 1970 - 1973)
Gary Green - 12 string guitar, Acoustic guitar , Backing vocals, Bass Guitar, Drums, Guitar, Mandolin, Percussion, Recorder, Slide guitar, Tambourine, Vocals, Xylophone (in band: 1970 - 1980)
Kerry Minnear - Backing vocals, Bass Guitar, Celesta, Cello, Clavinet, Electric piano, Glockenspiel, Guitar, Hammond organ, Harp, Harpsichord, Keyboards, Lead vocals, Maracas, Marimba, Mellotron, MiniMoog, Moog synthesizer, Percussion, Piano, Recorder, Synthesizer, Tambourine, Timpani, Vibraphone , Vocals, Wurlitzer Electric Piano, Xylophone (in band: 1970 - 1980)
Derek Shulman - Alto saxophone, Backing vocals, Bass Guitar, Cowbell, Drums, Keyboards, Lead vocals, Percussion, Recorder, Saxophone, Soprano saxophone, Ukelele, Vocals (in band: 1970 - 1980)
Ray Shulman - 12 string guitar, Acoustic guitar , Backing vocals, Bass Guitar, Classical guitar or Spanish guitar, Drums, Electric violin, Guitar, Percussion, Recorder, Tambourine, Trumpet, Viola, Violin, Vocals (in band: 1970 - 1980)
Malcolm Mortimore - Bass Drum, Drums, Percussion (in band: 1971 - 1972)
John "Pugwash" Weathers - Backing vocals, Bass Drum, Cabasa, Congas, Cowbell, Cymbal, Drums, Finger Cymbals, Guiro, Lead vocals, Percussion, Shaker, Tambourine, Tom Tom Drums, Triangle, Vibraphone , Vocals, Wood block, Xylophone (in band: 1972 - 1980)
Gentle Giant were a British progressive rock band active between 1970 and 1980. The band was known for the complexity and sophistication of its music and for the varied musical skills of its members. All of the band members, except Malcolm Mortimore, were multi-instrumentalists. Although not commercially successful, they did achieve a cult following.
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.
From the start, Gentle Giant was a particularly flexible band because of the exceptionally broad musical skills of its members. One Gentle Giant album would list a total of forty-six instruments in the musician credits — all of which had been played by group members — and five of the six members sang, enabling the band to write and perform detailed vocal harmony and counterpoint.
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. "Nothing at All" by itself is worth the price of purchase.
The band's second album "Acquiring the Taste" is a major advance on its first, featuring superior singing, playing, and songwriting, as well as a more unified sound, without sacrificing the element of surprise in the first record. Many of the melodies and even the riffs here (check out Gary Green's first guitar flourish on "Pantagruel's Nativity") have a pretty high haunt count, and all of the musicianship displays an elegance seldom heard even in progressive circles -- but the record also, amazingly enough, rocks really hard as well. Elements of hard rock and Gregorian chants mix freely and, amazingly enough, well throughout this album.
Gentle Giant's next recording was "Three Friends" (1972). This was the band's first concept album, and was based around the theme of three boys who are "inevitably separated by chance, skill, and fate" as they become men. Over the course of the album, the three friends travel on from being childhood schoolfriends to become, respectively, a road digger, an artist, and a white-collar worker. In the process, they lose their ability to relate to each other or understand each other's lifestyles. The development and fate of each character is musically represented by separate yet integrated styles from hard rhythm-and-blues-edged rock to symphonic classical stylings.
In March 1972, Malcolm Mortimore injured himself in a motorcycle accident. To fulfil tour obligations in April, Gentle Giant hired ex-Grease Band/Wild Turkey/Graham Bond's Magic member John "Pugwash" Weathers, the man who was to become the band's third and final drummer. Weathers was a harder-hitting player who also sang and played melodic percussion and guitar, further expanding Gentle Giant's multi-instrumental performance options. Because of Mortimore's extended convalescence, the band opted to formally replace him with Weathers at the end of the 1972 April tour.
Returning to Gentle Giant's fourth album after any kind of lengthy absence, it's astonishing just how little "Octopus" has dated. Often written off at the time as a pale reflection of the truly gargantuan steps being taken by the likes of Jethro Tull and Barclay James Harvest, the band's closest relatives in the tangled skein of period prog, Gentle Giant often seemed more notable for its album art than its music. " Octopus", however, marries the two seamlessly, with the cover speaking for itself, of course. And the mood continues within, the deliciously convoluted opening "The Advent of Panurge" itself riding waves of sonic tentacles as Gary Green's guitar shrieks short but so effective bursts around the thundering bass and, occasionally, churchy organ.
Following the tour, Gentle Giant underwent their most significant line-up change when a burnt-out and discouraged Phil Shulman left the band following disagreements with his brothers. Derek Shulman took over all lead vocals for live concerts and consequently became Gentle Giant's de facto lead singer (although Kerry Minnear continued to sing his own share of lead vocals on records).
The remaining quintet regrouped to record the harder-rocking "In a Glass House", which was released in 1973. They played their first gig as a five-piece at King Alfred's College, Winchester. "In a Glass House" is a complex and determined concept album - named for the aphorism that "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" - it was the band's most directly psychological effort to date.
"The Power and the Glory" is also a fairly dissonant album, yet it made the charts, albeit pretty low. There seems to be a unifying theme having to do with one's place in the social order, but it's very vague in contrast to Pink Floyd's re-creations of the post-'60s drug experience, Yes' sweeping album-length suites, and ELP's sci-fi epics. "No God's a Man" is an infinitely more challenging piece of music than anything on Jethro Tull's "Aqualung", but that wasn't a commercial virtue; nor could the electric violin break on "The Face" or the rippling electric guitar passages throughout cover the effort involved in absorbing these songs. "The Power and the Glory" vaguely resembled Genesis' early art-rock albums, but without any presence as charismatic as Peter Gabriel. "Playing the Game" and "So Sincere" were the most accessible tracks and ended up as key parts of their concert set.
Dissatisfied with their deal with WWA, Gentle Giant signed a new deal with Chrysalis Records, with whom they'd stay for the rest of their career. Although the band were still writing and performing some of the most complex rock music of the period, it was at this point that they began to polish and slightly simplify their songs for accessibility, in order to reach a wider audience (in particular an American one). Their efforts seemed successful enough to get 1975's "Free Hand" into the Top 50 album chart in the USA. Strongly influenced by the music of the Renaissance and Middle Ages (as well as by the then-current vogue for jazz-rock), the album's songs reflected on lost love and damaged relationships, including the breakdown of the band's relationship with their former manager. It became one of the band's most popular and accessible releases.
Gentle Giant's next release was 1976's "Interview" - another concept album, this time based around an imaginary interview with the band. The music pointedly poked fun at the state of the music industry and at the silly questions that rock stars are repeatedly asked in order to construct an image for marketing. Ironically, this more satirical and subversive approach ultimately proved to be a symptom of the undermining of the band's work and artistic integrity. Despite this approach, the album did not repeat its predecessor's American chart success, peaking at No. 137.
"The Missing Piece" (recorded in the Netherlands and released in 1977) was a transitional album reflecting this new approach. While the second side featured longer and more eclectic songs reminiscent of the band's earlier work, the first side featured outright examples of pop-rock, blue-eyed soul and even an attempt at punk. Three singles ("Two Weeks in Spain", "Mountain Time" and "I'm Turning Around") were released from the album, but failed to become hits: the album itself performed disappointingly in the marketplace, failing to win new fans or find favour with the band's existing fanbase.
Despite this setback, the band pursued their course to its conclusion on 1978's "Giant for a Day!". All progressive rock stylings were purged in favour of radio-friendly soft rock and further unsuccessful attempts at hit singles: in order to present a more straightforward group identity, Derek Shulman handled all lead vocals and the band abandoned their usual battery of string instruments, wind instruments, tuned percussion and vocal interplay in favour of a straightforward guitar/bass/keyboards/drums/lead singer arrangement. "Giant for a Day!" was another poor seller, later recognised by the band as a creative mistake.
In 1979, Gentle Giant relocated their centre of operations to Los Angeles in order to record their eleventh album, "Civilian". This was a record of short rock songs with a strong New Wave influence. While keeping the reduced instrumental approach of "Giant for a Day!", the band allowed themselves far more freedom of arrangement and vocal work than they had for the previous album, and despite its relative simplicity the songwriting and execution were more reminiscent of earlier Gentle Giant work.
In the summer of 1980, the group quietly disbanded. Gentle Giant played their last gig at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, California on 16 June 1980.
1. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentle_Giant#Discography
2. All Music Guide to Rock. The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop and Soul. 3rd Edition 2002. Edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Published by Backbeat Books, page 458 - Bruce Eder
3. Source: http://www.allmusic.com/album/octopus-mw0000203971
4. Source: http://www.allmusic.com/album/the-power-and-the-glory-mw0000653352
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