Author Topic: The Gentle Giant Discography: Civilian (1980)  (Read 5510 times)

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Online Orbert

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The Gentle Giant Discography: Civilian (1980)
« on: June 21, 2016, 07:52:37 PM »
Before Gentle Giant, the three Shulman brothers - Phil, Derek, and Ray - were in Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, an English R&B / Soul group which ventured into pop as well as psychedelia and early prog.

Gentle Giant was originally the three Shulman brothers plus Kerry Minnear on keyboards and vocals, Gary Green on guitar, and Martin Smith on drums.



Gentle Giant (1970)
(Note: The album starts with a very long fade up)

Gary Green: Guitars
Kerry Minnear: Keyboards, Some Bass, Cello, Vocals, Tuned Percussion
Derek Shulman: Vocals, Some Bass
Phil Shulman: Sax, Trumpet, Recorder, Vocals
Ray Shulman: Most Bass, Violin, Guitar, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Martin Smith: Drums, Percussion



Giant (6:22)
Funny Ways (4:21)
Alucard (6:00)
Isn't It Quiet And Cold? (3:51)
Nothing At All (9:08)
Why Not (5:31)
The Queen (1:40)

Paul Cosh: Tenor Horn on Giant
Claire Deniz: Cello on Isn't It Quiet And Cold?

----------

Giant (6:22) takes a long time to build, but when it finally lets loose, it doesn't hold back.  Derek Shulman's unusually harsh tenor is, for some, an acquired taste.  The initial hook is an angular mix of about five different styles in ten notes.  The production, you notice right away, isn't great.  A bit stuffy.  But not completely horrible, and the performance shines through.  A great album opener, and of course the closest we get to a title track.

Funny Ways (4:21) is one of my favorite Gentle Giant songs.  Kerry Minnear's soft, almost too-weak voice is in total contrast to Derek's bombastic roar.  The intentionally dissonant harmony is jarring, challenging.  The instrumentation is where they really shine.  Ray's violin and Kerry's cello and their strange, open harmony, are great.  The horns (multitracked by Phil) add another dimension.  Every member of Gentle Giant was a virtuoso musician on at least one or two instruments, and they took full advantage of that both on record and live.  The live version of "Funny Ways" adds a vibes solo by Kerry that is truly transcendant.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Alucard (6:00) brings the horns back, adds some keyboards (including the first appearance of a Moog), some rocking guitar, and a dash of weirdness, and this is the result.

Isn't It Quiet And Cold? (3:51) is a typical whimsical, perfectly English song, done Gentle Giant style.  Which is to say, a bit demented.  But lots of fun.  Nice tuned percussion solo by Kerry.

Nothing At All (9:08) is a GG mini-epic.  There are a few in the catalogue.  Typically they feature three and four part vocals, challenging lyrics, brilliant interplay between instruments, and at least a few unexpected things tossed in, just in case that wasn't enough.  Actually, that describes every Gentle Giant song, pretty much.  But seriously, it's hard to beat Gentle Giant when they go for it.  Like it's nothing at all.

Why Not (5:31) brings back the R&B roots, although by now you've noticed that they've always been here.  But it's easy to lose track, with a different influence hitting you every time you think you knew what was coming next.  Ha!

The Queen (1:40) is not the only Rock and Roll setting of "God Save the Queen" but it is one of the earliest, if not the earliest.  It's also one of the best.  A great album closer.

----------

Oh man.  Gentle Giant.  Quite simply one of the most unique bands in the history of Rock and Roll.  I've never heard of another band that played so many different instruments, combined so many different styles and genres, and still produced something so clearly Rock and Roll.  But just as clearly something more.  Gentle Giant were as prog as you could get.  Their vocal and instrumental arrangements are all amazing.  Every one of these guys was a top-shelf musician, an amalgam of styles and influences.  Combined...  well, a challenge to combine, to be sure.  There's times when they go a bit too far for some.  But if you're willing to hang on for the entire ride, it's worth it.

The original gatefold jacket opens vertically, which is also pretty cool.


« Last Edit: December 20, 2016, 10:13:39 PM by Orbert »

Offline The Letter M

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2016, 08:48:05 PM »
This thread might finally be the reason I try to get into GG. Of all of the "big" classic 70's prog bands, GG was always one I never quite got into, even after Crimson, Tull and VdGG as being some of the odder ones (well, more out there than say, Yes or Genesis, Kansas or Rush, and even Pink Floyd). I shall be following this one, and, whenever I have time, giving these songs a spin or two.

Looking forward to another in-depth Discography thread! :tup

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Offline splent

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2016, 09:19:30 PM »
I'm fairly familiar with their discography ;)

This is a GREAT album.
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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2016, 11:16:53 PM »
I know you're familiar with most if not all of their songs, but I wasn't sure if you considered yourself an expert on the band, more of a fan, or what.  But I do know that I'm a lot older than you, and thus have been a GG fan for a lot longer, so I have that going for me.

Of all of the "big" classic 70's prog bands, GG was always one I never quite got into

Gentle Giant never quite seemed to reach the same heights as the big guys, in terms of popularity.  Now, that's popularity within the prog world.  Outside of the prog world, you won't find anyone who's ever heard of them, and a lot of that has to do with them being "odder" than most, as you say.  They've been compared to early King Crimson, a comparison I never really understood until listening critically to the first few albums.  There's a fair amount of mellotron, thus inviting the comparison.  In terms of overall sound, no, nothing similar at all.

Yes, Genesis, and the other big guys, part of their "bigness" was due to also having some commercial success, while keeping one foot firmly planted in prog.  Gentle Giant clearly did not give a damn whether they achieved any commercial success.  They were in it for the music.  I always thought that that was pretty obvious, and that's one of the things I love about them.  It was always on their terms, popularity be damned.


I'm trying something new this time, which I hope people have noticed.  The album title and the song titles are all links to YouTube videos.  I couldn't possibly describe in words the brilliance of Gentle Giant; they really do have to be heard, so I wanted to make it as easy as possible.

Offline splent

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2016, 11:56:40 PM »
I think they are honestly one of the most underrated groups of the prog era. They never achieved that mainstream success but have a devoted following nonetheless. Their music is so complex in more ways than one... One of my favorite things about being in the cover band was the complexity of the music and the challenge it gave me to learn it, and then the success in actually playing it (at least fairly well).
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Offline Cyclopssss

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2016, 01:43:03 AM »
Not famillair with this band at all, but I kept seeing their album covers in the record shop I frequented. Always excited to explore new (old) music, so count me in for the ride!
From the ocean comes the notion that the realise lies in rhythm. The rhythm of vision is dancer, and when you dance you´re always on the one. From the looking comes to see, wondrous realise real eyes....

Offline Kwyjibo

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #6 on: June 22, 2016, 02:45:56 AM »
I'm following this but will probably not participate often (if at all, sorry).

I've heard a lot of this band over time, the Spock's Beard multi harmony parts where always referenced to Gentle Giant and then there's the DT connction through Derek Shulman, but I've never heard the music, but all of this got me interested.

Recently I bought Octopus and listened to it four or five times. Not sure what to make of it yet. It's not bad and it sure is interesting. There's a lot going on although the songs are all in the four to five minute range. Pretty short for prog  ;D. Sometimes it just seems a bit much, so this isn't easy listening, but then I wasn't expecting that.

As of now I'm not sure if I want to go deeper into their discography, so I will read this thread with anticipation and listen to Octopus some more.

And it's an Orbert discography thread, they are always an entertaining and informing read, even if the band in question is not my cup of tea.

Offline Mladen

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #7 on: June 22, 2016, 06:59:59 AM »
Good album, but not one of my favorites. Giant, Isn't it quiet and cold and Funny ways are my favorites. I'm slightly busy these days, but I'll try to read about the albums and contribute as much as I can, since Orbert always does a tremendous job.

Offline Podaar

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2016, 09:13:40 AM »
My introduction to Gentle Giant was through the art teacher (jewelry design) during my sophomore year in High School. Mr. Nalder was an odd duck. Young compared to the rest of the faculty, he was balding with long hair past his shoulders and a bushy beard that JP would envy. He always wore tailored three-piece suits (usually in earth tones), a wide neck tie, and expensive Ferragamo shoes. I assumed he dressed so impeccably to avoid censure for his otherwise hippy appearance but he always claimed that, "Good taste is necessary for a happy life."

I'll try and find a photo of him from my year book when I get home.

Anyway, he would allow students to bring in LPs to listen to during class. Everyone had a turn to share their records including himself. He almost always put on Gentle Giant when it was his turn. During that year he played all of the first seven albums at one point or another. The first album is the one I remember the most and it's great fun listening to it again right now.

There is so much to love about GG but biggest thing that's always stood out to me are the vocals. So good!

[edit] Oh, and "Nothing At All" is my favorite.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2016, 09:19:31 AM by Podaar »

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #9 on: June 22, 2016, 11:04:03 AM »
Some more background stuff, trivia, and whatnot.

Reginald Dwight played keyboards for Simon Dupree and the Big Sound for a short time, and reportedly also auditioned for Gentle Giant.  He later became better known by his stage name, Elton John.

The eldest Shulman, Phil, is ten years older than Derek and 12 years older than Ray.  It was Derek and Ray who started the band which eventually became Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, and at their father's "suggestion", Phil was the band's manager, essentially so that he could keep an eye on his younger brothers.  They were originally The Howling Wolves, then The Road Runners, before becoming Simon Dupree and the Big Sound.  Phil eventually joined the band, adding his talents on trumpet, saxophones, and vocals.  The Shulmans' father was a jazz trumpeter who encouraged all three sons to become multi-instrumentalists.

Watching an early Gentle Giant show was an exercise in keeping track of who plays what.  Phil would add trumpet or saxophone as needed.  Kerry would switch from keyboards to cello at times, often along with Ray on violin.  Derek would play bass while Ray played violin.  Ray was also an excellent guitarist, and he and Gary would engage in some amazing acoustic guitar duets.

At one time, the band stated that their goal was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular".

If the names Derek Shulman and/or "The Road Runners" sound familiar, it may be because Derek later went on to become an executive for Atco.  During that time, he signed such groups as Dream Theater, Pantera, and others.  (In other words, we would not all be here reading this if it were not for Derek.)  Before that, he was with Polygram, signing Bon Jovi, Cinderalla, and others.  He later became president of Roadrunner Records.

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #10 on: June 22, 2016, 11:14:01 AM »
Thanks for the insights!  :tup
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Offline splent

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #11 on: June 24, 2016, 10:51:52 AM »
That would have been kick ass if Elton John was in GG. Then again as talented as Elton is his tastes went in a completely different direction and GG wouldn't be GG.
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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2016, 11:18:56 AM »
Yeah, as great as Elton is, I don't see him fitting into the band which Gentle Giant was, or wanted to be.  So ultimately it's a good thing that it didn't work out.  Elton teamed up with Bernie Taupin, and Gentle Giant got Kerry Minnear, whose skills and musical leanings were a much better fit.

Offline Cyclopssss

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #13 on: June 25, 2016, 04:48:19 AM »
Listened to the debut album and the verdict is that I like it. A lot. Very Brittish, very Genesis-y. But I also hear a lot of Zappa-esque influences.  Love the vocal harmonies.   :tup
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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2016, 01:52:52 PM »
 :metal

I just finished my yearly run through of the Yes discography while reading Orbert's thread to go along with it, so I'm very excited for a new one. I've never gotten too much into Gentle Giant, but I'll give them another shot for this.

I really dig their use of different instruments. You can tell they've had extensive musical training by the arrangements. When they switch instruments, the entire arrangement shifts to fit the new group. The blending of styles is really cool too. I really like the xylophone solo in Isn't It Quiet and Cold. The drums are doing a jazz waltz sort of beat, yet the xylophone's phrasing is much more reminiscent of a classical composition, not an improvised Jazz solo.
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Offline Nihil-Morari

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #15 on: June 26, 2016, 12:50:13 PM »
Just posting here to check this out when I finally have more time on my hands. Love this band, and my love is getting deeper every year.
The FZ Discography Thread! http://www.dreamtheaterforums.org/boards/index.php?topic=44650.0
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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #16 on: June 26, 2016, 03:24:26 PM »
Every trip to the CD store lately....I just stare longingly at the new re-release of Octopus remixed by Steven Wilson in 5.1.   But it's $35.   I swear, I think I'll pick it up next time. 

I hate buying online, but I often do break down once in awhile when I absolutely cannot find it anywhere else.  I just love the visceral experience of finding something in a CD store....buying on impulse, and then having the immediate fulfillment of owning a physical product only minutes after seeing it. 
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Offline NoseofNicko

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #17 on: June 26, 2016, 05:02:17 PM »
Great band. Love Octopus. Need to listen to their self-titled more.

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #18 on: June 26, 2016, 05:43:57 PM »
I just may get on in this. I used to love GG when I was 18/19.

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #19 on: June 27, 2016, 08:24:31 AM »
I listened to the debut album last night, and man, I realized I probably only listened to this once or twice, like 9-10 years ago. This album is really good, and they only got better from here.

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The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #20 on: June 28, 2016, 05:12:28 PM »
Gentle Giant's second album does everything you would expect the second album from an excellent band to do.  It takes whatever made the debut album great and goes a bit further with it, it refines some of the "rough edges" which are excusable on a debut album but unacceptable later, and it shows a marked increase in the quality of both writing and playing.

Kerry Minnear's classical training and flair for composition and arrangement really shine here.  Already one of the main writers, he quickly assumed the role of primary arranger as well.  His ability to blend Jazz, R&B, Medieval, Country, Baroque, and possibly a few other genres into something recognizable as Rock is unmatched.  Whereas the first album blended many styles but stayed pretty much in the R&B area, things are definitely more diverse here.

As with the first album, Acquiring the Taste was produced by Tony Visconti, later known for his work with David Bowie, The Moody Blues, Wings, and many others.  He does a remarkable job of reining in Gentle Giant's seeming obsession with playing as many instruments and as many styles as possible, and producing something that, for all of its weirdness and outrageousness, and still (relatively) accessible.  In other words, this is another classic prog rock album.

Acquiring the Taste (1971)



Gary Green: 6-string Electric Guitar, 12-string Electric Guitar, Mandolin, Bass, Donkey's Jawbone, Cat Calls, Voice
Kerry Minnear: Minimoog, Piano, Hammond Organ, Mellotron, Harpsichord, Electric Piano, Celeste, Clavichord, Xylophone, Vibraphone, Tympani, Cello, Maracas, Tambourine, Vocals
Derek Shulman: Alto Saxophone, Clavichord, Cowbell, Vocals
Phil Shulman: Clarinet, Trumpet, Alto & Tenor Saxophone, Piano, Claves, Maracas, Vocals
Ray Shulman: Bass, Violin, Viola, Electric Violin, Spanish Guitar, 12-string Guitars, Tambourine, Skulls, Organ Bass Pedals, Vocals
Martin Smith: Drums, Tambourine, Gong, Side Drum

----------

1 Pantagruel's Nativity (6:53)
2 Edge of Twilight (3:51)
3 The House, the Street, the Room (6:05)
4 Acquiring the Taste (1:39)
5 Wreck (4:39)
6 The Moon is Down (4:49)
7 Black Cat (3:54)
8 Plain Truth (7:36)

Paul Cosh: Trumpet (track 3), Organ (track 3)
Tony Visconti: Descant Recorders (track 5), Treble Recorder (tracks 3, 5), Tenor Recorder (track 5), Bass Drum (track 7), Triangle (track 7)

----------

Pantagruel's Nativity opens the album with a mini-epic based on characters from the Gargantua and Pantagruel books by French author François Rabelais.  In some ways, Pantagruel, son of Gargantua, is "the gentle giant", something like a title character for the band.  He would return in other tracks on later albums.  The track itself wastes no time in weaving electronic keyboards and electric guitars with flutes, trumpet, saxophones, and tuned percussion.  You wanted more instrumental insanity from Gentle Giant?  You got it.  Still, this is somehow a relatively mellow tune.

Acquiring the Taste is Gentle Giant's most introspective, impressionistic album, sometimes downright dark, and Edge of Twilight continues the theme.  Ray Shulman provides the acoustic guitar, and there is no electric guitar.  In fact, the album has individual track credits and includes the amusing "Gary Green – Didn't play on this one."

The House, the Street, the Room  Gary gets his chance cut loose here, though we are first treated to an incredible break featuring horns, flutes, keyboards, pretty much everything.  I know I'm starting to repeat myself, but really, that was "business as usual" for early Gentle Giant.  Another spooky, creepy tune.

Acquiring the Taste is an instrumental composed, arranged, and performed by keyboardist Kerry Minnear.  It is a quartet in the Baroque style, with a modern, demented twist, performed on Moog synthesizers.  Some of that intentional dissonance from the first album is back.  Not a bad track by any means, but has something of an experimental feel (which admittedly it was) or maybe something like a compositional exercise.

Wreck divides many Gentle Giant fans.  On this album, it's the closest thing to a "regular" song.  Pretty standard instrumentation (guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, with a little violin thrown in for flavor), and the song itself is in a basic A-A-B-A structure.  It's about a shipwreck, with the crew's chant of "Hey-yey-yey hold on!" serving as a refrain.  Derek's boistrous shout-singing is contrasted to Kerry's quiet tenor during the break, singing sweetly about how everyone dies and their loved ones will never see them again.  I did mention that this album could get rather dark.

The Moon is Down features Phil and Derek on saxophones in a jazzy, noirish tune.  Again, a great buildup, moody lyrics, and a challenging instrumental break are all packed into a five-minute song that somehow seems longer.

Black Cat features Phil Shuman on lead vocals, and I was surprised to learn that because I always thought it was Kerry Minnear.  This is another Minnear showpiece, with a string quartet (Ray and Kerry multitracked) woven with vibes and sparse percussion.  Phil's voice is somewhere between Derek's and Kerry's, probably closer to Kerry's with the lightness, but with some of the depth and strength normally associated with Derek.

Plain Truth is the rocker to close out the album, much as "Why Not?" closed out the first album.  It's another more-or-less straight-on rocker, except that it's also a showcase for Ray Shulman's electric violin madness, with a couple of extended breaks, just to keep you on your toes.  His improvisational style is... an acquired taste.  But this is Gentle Giant.  Each of these guys gets their time to show us what they've got, and this is Ray's.

----------

The full quote, referenced earlier in this thread, is from the liner notes for this, their second album:

"It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular. We have recorded each composition with the one thought - that it should be unique, adventurous and fascinating. It has taken every shred of our combined musical and technical knowledge to achieve this. From the outset we have abandoned all preconceived thoughts of blatant commercialism. Instead we hope to give you something far more substantial and fulfilling. All you need to do is sit back, and acquire the taste."

At only 39:26, this was Gentle Giant's longest album.  But that was average for the time and Gentle Giant, unlike most other prog bands, was always about "quality over quantity".  As has been pointed out upthread already, they don't have any side-long epics.  Most of their songs don't break the five- or six-minute mark.  Gentle Giant instead seemed to focus on packing as much as possible into "normal-length" songs.  This is not to say that they wouldn't extend a section for effect, as with the electric violin solos in "Plain Truth".  But while with other prog bands, you sometimes think that they could've shortened up a section here or there, Gentle Giant pushed things in a different direction, combining as many different influences and instruments as possible.

The cover.  Ugh.  In 2005, it made Pitchfork Media's list of "The Worst Record Covers of All Time" and I can see why.  I think it's supposed to look like... well, you can see what it's supposed to look like, but as with the first album, the original gatefold opened vertically, and you can see that what we're actually "acquiring the taste" for is a peach or some other tasty fruit.  Okay.


« Last Edit: June 28, 2016, 08:15:53 PM by Orbert »

Offline splent

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #21 on: June 28, 2016, 09:03:44 PM »
THat was the one album that we didn't do anything from. We did something from all the other albums...  and as a result this is the album I'm least familiar with. I'll have to give it a spin soon.
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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #22 on: June 28, 2016, 10:55:17 PM »
Dude, this is my favorite from the early stuff!  It's consistent and weird and spooky and experimental and awesome.

By the way, for those who don't know, Splent sings (or did sing at one time) in a Gentle Giant tribute band, Gende's Giant (named for leader Mike Gende), who I've had the pleasure of seeing live.  That's kinda what we've been talking about, though a bit obliquely.  They're pretty damned good, considering that they've decided to cover one of the most challenging bands in the known universe.  They are even mentioned on the official Gentle Giant website.



Gende's Giant with Gary Green.  I was at this gig.  :biggrin:
« Last Edit: June 28, 2016, 11:00:24 PM by Orbert »

Offline Mladen

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #23 on: June 29, 2016, 01:50:06 AM »
Their best album.  :hefdaddy

Offline splent

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #24 on: June 29, 2016, 06:04:32 PM »
Yep we are still technically on hiatus. Three Friends kinda bogarted everything. We do talk from time to time on fb, but the love of the music is still there and we still plan on starting things up again.
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Offline Mosh

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #25 on: June 29, 2016, 07:29:03 PM »
The first track, wow! This is pretty much what I expected a band like Gentle Giant to sound like when I had first heard of them and saw a description of what they sound like. The blending of different genres, the sudden shifts in instrumentation, and of course the vocal harmonies (though it is a bit understated on this track). Really cool tune.

Listening to this album, I keep thinking of a quote from Frank Zappa's book. The one where he talks about how you could put a simple straight 8th note beat (you know the one) under any style of music and it'll automatically be considered rock music, even if nothing else about it is stylistically rock. I could be totally off here, as this is the first time I've ever heard this album and I'm not listening too intently, but it sounds like the quote applies here. Aside from the (almost infrequent) rock beats and some bluesy guitar licks, this barely seems like rock music. I'm thinking of the harmony in particular, which is clearly drawing from classical music. It's like chamber music arranged for a (mostly) rock instrumentation. Two things in particular made me notice this:

1: It seems like there's almost no unison playing on this album. If a part is being doubled, it's usually doubled in octaves, which is typical for chamber music. There are never unisons in chamber music.


2: They seem to avoid power chord movements. In classical harmony it's called parallel fifths and is generally frowned upon, but pretty common in rock music.

Really enjoyed this album.
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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #26 on: June 30, 2016, 07:26:03 AM »
It's like chamber music arranged for a (mostly) rock instrumentation.

That's exactly what I think of when I think of early Gentle Giant.  It's as you said, grounded with the Rock/R&B backbeat, but Minnear's training and background is all Classical.  Throw in some trumpet, flute, and saxophones, and I don't even know what you'd call it.  What they do here feels like they're still "learning how to rock".  Or maybe that's not even the point, rocking that is.  They're really blending all these styles together just because they can, and it's cool to do.

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Gentle Giant (1970)
« Reply #27 on: July 01, 2016, 02:17:24 PM »
...Gentle Giant clearly did not give a damn whether they achieved any commercial success.  They were in it for the music.  I always thought that that was pretty obvious, and that's one of the things I love about them.  It was always on their terms, popularity be damned...

I was attempting to get into GG a year+ ago, and went through the GG thread on the forum here...I thought there was some consensus that they derailed a bit on the last two albums(?) and were trying to breakthrough with some mainer streamer success, despite their mission statement that they were in it to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular".

anywho, i'm happy this thread has come into existence  :corn

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #28 on: July 01, 2016, 02:39:20 PM »
The mission statement was written by a young band just starting out, naive and idealistic.  It's the type of thing I would've eaten up when I was that age.  Now... it's seems naive and idealistic.  The goal of recording your music is still to hopefully sell some of it.  You cannot change the face of anything if no one even knows you exist.  As time went on, it became clear to them that they could stick to their guns and do whatever the hell they wanted, and continue to never play for more than a few hundred people at a time, or maybe channel some of their considerable talent into music that they were still proud of, but which was more accessible, and achieve something like success.  The last few albums were practically by a different band, but with the same personnel.

But as we'll see, it wasn't as abrupt a change as some would make it out to be, accessibility is not a dirty word, and they kept the intensity and high level of musicianship, writing, and arranging all the way to the end.  Most bands, especially prog bands, change over the course of their careers, some quite drastically.  Gentle Giant is one of those bands.

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #29 on: July 02, 2016, 12:52:01 AM »
Listened to the self-titled and Acquiring the Taste a lot this week and now I think they're really great. I might like Acquiring the Taste even more than Octopus.

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #30 on: July 02, 2016, 06:59:10 AM »
I had some trouble with the first two albums for a long time.  I came to Gentle Giant in the middle.  The Free Hand, Power and the Glory era.  So these early albums which were so much more adventurous, more challenging to the listener, I wasn't ready for them.  They were just too "out there".  But after giving them each several critical listens, I've gotten to really like them.  That tends to happen when I do these discographies.

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #31 on: July 02, 2016, 11:06:25 PM »
I listened to AtT on You Tube today and I LOVED it.   It inspired me to finally pick up that Steven Wilson remix of Octopus today on my CD haul.    That will give me a chance to spin it (and maybe even find time to listen to the 5.1) before the discussion.
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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Acquiring the Taste (1971)
« Reply #32 on: July 03, 2016, 02:33:35 AM »
Not to run ahead of things, but Octopus is really good.
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The Gentle Giant Discography: Three Friends (1972)
« Reply #33 on: July 04, 2016, 12:11:40 PM »
After Acquiring the Taste, drummer Martin Smith, who had been with the Shulman brothers since the days of Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, got into a argument with them which resulted in him leaving the band.  Malcolm Mortimore, who had played with Arthur Brown and Ian Dury, was brought in to play drums on Three Friends.  He had the perhaps unenviable role of having to bring some sense of order to Gentle Giant's unique brand of instrumental insanity, but as it happens, his job was made somewhat easier by the particular material on this, the third album.

Three Friends is a concept album, but a very basic one.  Whereas most "story" concept albums have a greater-than-average number of tracks, fleshing out the story in various scenes and often with instrumental links, Three Friends is a relatively simple concept.  Three boys, friends since schooldays, grow up and head into the world and into three very different careers.  After a prologue and a look at their schooldays, each gets his own song, then there is an epilogue.  Where most concept albums are longer, often double LP or even double CD, this is a single disk, actually one of Gentle Giant's shorter albums.

The six tracks are generally more straightforward structurally than material on previous Gentle Giant albums.  They pare away some of the excess, some of the sense of "doing it because we can", and the ideas are condensed into more fully realized songs, often with more standard instrumentation, but still with occassional appearances of the brass, winds, strings, and tuned percussion.

Three Friends (1972)


Front Cover


Back Cover


Inner Gatefold


Gary Green: Guitars, Percussion
Kerry Minnear: Keyboards, Vibraphones, Percussion, Vocals
Malcolm Mortimore: Drums
Derek Shulman: Vocals
Phil Shulman: Saxophone, Vocals
Ray Shulman: Bass, Violin, 12-string Guitar, Vocals

----------

1 Prologue (6:14)
2 Schooldays (7:37)
3 Working All Day (5:11)
4 Peel the Paint (7:30)
5 Mister Class and Quality? (5:50)
6 Three Friends (3:02)

----------

The first album started with a very slow fade up, which finally let loose in a blazing, stop-time opening song.  The second album started with a whimsical synthesizer lick which eventually gave way to the opening track proper. Prologue opens the third album with a driving unison riff.  There's a sense of building, a sense of anticipation.  It eventually yields to a bridge section, then returns to the main theme before fading out.  It feels a bit inconclusive and you're left unsatisfied, wanting more, but as this is the Prologue, perhaps that's the whole point.

The concept for Three Friends came from eldest brother Phil Shulman, and he provides the brief lead vocals.

Three friends are made, three lives are laughs and tears
Through years of school and play they share
As time stands still the days change into years
And future comes without a care.
But fate and skill and chances play their part
The wind of change leaves no good-bye
Three boys are men their ways have drawn apart
They tell their tales to justify.


Schooldays features Phil and Kerry (the "soft voices") in what would become a Gentle Giant trademark: an intricate vocal arrangement.  The whimsical melody on the vibes and guitar reflects the carefree exhuberence of youth, and eventually it leads into an instrumental representing the growing complexities of life.  Acoustic piano also features heavily here, so this is something of a showcase for keyboardist/vibraphonist Kerry Minnear.

Working All Day is the story of one of the three friends, who becomes a manual laborer, "digging up the roads".  He works hard, but he makes a decent living and has no regrets.  Musically, the main hook is doubled on saxophones, eventually laying a "bed" over which the Hammond organ takes an extended solo.

The second of the three friends becomes an artist, a painter whose story is told in Peel the Paint.  It's something of a two-part song, with the first, lighter part sung by Phil, and the second, more rocking part sung by Derek.  The main riff of the second part is one of Gentle Giant's heaviest riffs, and Gary Green finally gets his chance to cut loose on the guitar, breaking into an extended solo accompanied only by drummer Malcolm Mortimore, who does an excellent job somehow keeping time and himself soloing at the same time (although it's not really a solo as it's a duet between guitar and drums.  Trust me, it works better than it sounds like it should).

Our third friend becomes a successful businessman, with the nice house, nice car, and pretty wife, but is he truly Mister Class and Quality?  The instrumental break here is of the type which is my favorite from Gentle Giant.  It's an extended jam, often with complex rhythmic interplay between the instruments, and some but not necessarily a lot of soloing.  The focus is on the band, the ensemble, rocking out and laying it down as only Gentle Giant can.

Three Friends isn't really the "conclusion", it's more of an epilogue.  There's no reunion where they get together and discuss their lives, their differences, and what they still might have in common.  It's the shortest track on the album (the tracking is wrong on some LP and CD pressings, incorrectly having "Three Friends" start partway through "Mister Class and Quality?"), merely a statement that three friends have gone onto their disparate lives, each with their own happiness and, sometimes, sadness.  But it's done via a multipart choral section, sounding like a choir.  A rock choir.  Still, if they were going for a "big ending", it doesn't quite come across here.  The shortest song on such a short album, it feels like it could have, should have done more.

----------

Musically, this is the most accessible Gentle Giant album yet.  That's neither good nor bad; it's just how it is.  With fewer tracks and a deliberate choice to tell a story, often through the music, it's the easiest one to put on and just let it play.  While there is plenty of the trademark Gentle Giant odd instrumentation, it's used much more organically, and while all very impressive, there aren't as many "wait... what was that?" moments as on the first two albums.

Again, this is neither good nor bad.  I like a good challenge, hearing how far you can take things and still call it Rock and Roll, but sometimes it's nice to just put on some tunes and let them rock you.  The saxes double key riffs, providing strength and color.  The vibes show up often enough to not feel out of place, but rather a part of the band's sound.  When the strings come in, it's dramatic and perfect for the moment; the difference is that most bands don't play their own violins and cellos on their albums.  Gentle Giant does.  Sometimes you'll hear a choir on a prog album, but it's usually not the band itself.  With Gentle Giant, it is.  They're still unique in what they play, what they put on their albums, they've just found a way to make things a bit more "normal".  At least on this album.

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Re: The Gentle Giant Discography: Three Friends (1972)
« Reply #34 on: July 04, 2016, 01:05:17 PM »
Oh Yeah, the Cover

This was the first Gentle Giant originally released in the U.S. as well as the U.K., and the U.S. pressings re-used the cover of the first album rather than the original artwork.  Some CDs also use this.



At least they took the concept all the way and did the foldout properly.