Gentle Giant -  Gentle Giant were a band blessed with talent, from vocal harmonies to musicianship to songwriting. The band was formed by the Shulman brothers, Phil on sax and vocals, Derek on vocals, guitars and bass and Ray on vocals, bass and violin, all of whom had been in "Simon Dupree and The Big Sound " in the sixties. Keyboard player Kerry Minnear, guitarist Gary Green and drummer Martin Smith, completed the line up of this immensely gifted British progressive rock band. Listen to modern bands like Spock's Beard - you'll hear a strong Gentle Giant influence. Their brand of thinking man's music was sometimes difficult to get into at times because it seemed as if so many things were happening in the music, all at the same time, and it would require a few listens before you understood what they were doing. Stunning! Do yourself a favour next time you're in a CD store - buy a Gentle Giant CD. All thirteen or so albums are recommended, but you may spot the odd compilation. They are as important and influential to the progressive rock movement as were ELP, Genesis, Camel and King Crimson.

Gentle Giant 
Gentle Giant - In a Glass House, the title track from their 5th album, released in 1973. This stunning album, like the Spring album which you can read up on in this week's playlist, is essential listening for anybody who professes to be into progressive rock, and should occupy a spot in the CD (or lp) collection of everyone who understands and admires the complex chord changes, expert musicianship and stunning vocal harmonies that was the essence of this highly respected British band. This is undoubtedly one of the best albums ever released by Gentle Giant, and it's recently been re-released on CD in a cardboard sleeve, complete with it's embossed "window" cover and a few extra tracks. We've featured them many times before and they are documented on these pages, but just to remind you: They were formed by the Shulman brothers, Derek on bass/violin, Phil on sax and Ray on vocals, together with Kerry Minnear on keyboards. They'd basically evolved out of Simon Dupree (Derek Shulman) and the Big Sound in the late sixties. Joining the four were guitarist Gary Green and drummer Martin Smith. The were signed to the Vertigo label and released their debut, self titled album in 1970. Although musically excellent, encompassing elements of rock, jazz and classical, the album failed to make any commercial impact. Two further albums, "Acquiring the Taste" and "Three Friends", both also musically excellent, were released for the label. It was just before "Three Friends", an amazing conceptual album, that Martin Smith left the band to be replaced by Malcolm Mortimer. Mortimer was unfortunately badly injured in a motorcycle accident during a tour to promote "Three Friends" and his place was taken by ex-Ancient Grease/Graham Bond drummer John Weathers. The band's 4th album, "Octopus", released in 1973, was their last album to be released on Vertigo, and was their most successful album to date. Our featured album saw the band trimmed down to a five-piece, Phil Shulman deciding that he'd had enough with being on the road for so long. It was also the band's first album for new label WWA (World Wide Artists). They released a final album for the label, "The Power and the Glory" in 1974 before moving to Chrysalis Records. They went on to release a number of excellent albums before calling it a day in 1980. John Weathers joined Welsh rockers, Man. Gentle Giant's music may be a tad difficult to get into at times, but they were without doubt one of progressive rock's best and most influential bands around - ask Spock's Beard and others - they'll tell you! There are one or two very good compilations which give a detailed history of this most interesting band, doing the rounds in you favourite CD store. Better still, why not buy each album individually, starting with the immortal "In a Glass House"!  
  
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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. Minnear, who had been playing an ever-more central role since the mid-'70s, had already left the group when 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. 

 

Gary Green
Kerry Minnear
Derek Shulman
Phil Shulman
Ray Shulman
John Weathers
Malcolm Mortimore
Martin Smith

Yes
The Strawbs
Renaissance
King Crimson
Jethro Tull
Happy the Man
Gryphon
Camel
Pink Floyd
Heldon
Colosseum
Focus
Latte e Miele
Amazing Blondel
Caravan
Kevin Ayers

If you have any contribution to make to this band or something to add, email me - Japie Marais.

 

 

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Gentle Giant - 1970 - Gentle Giant - 4/5

Gentle Giant - 1971 - Acquiring the Taste - 4.5/5

Gentle Giant - 1972 - Octopus - 4.5/5

Gentle Giant - 1972 - Three Friends - 4.5/5

Gentle Giant - 1973 - In a Glass House - 4.5/5

Gentle Giant - 1974 - The Power and the Glory - 2/5

Gentle Giant - 1975 - Free Hand - 4.5/5

Gentle Giant - 1975 - Live in Santa Monica 1975 - 4/5

Gentle Giant - 1976 - Interview - 2.5/5

Gentle Giant - 1977 - Playing the Fool, The Official Live - 3/5

Gentle Giant - 1977 - The Missing Piece - 2/5

Gentle Giant - 1978 - Giant for a Day - 1.5/5

Gentle Giant - 1980 - Civilian - 2/5

Gentle Giant - 1998 - King Biscuit flower Hour - 4.5/5

Gentle Giant - 2000 - Live in Rome 1974 - 2.5/5

Gentle Giant - 2001 - In a Palesport House - 2/5

Gentle Giant - 2002 - Experience - 2/5

Gentle Giant - 2003 - Artistically Cryme - 1.5/5

Gentle Giant - 2003 - Endless Life - 1.5/5

Gentle Giant - 2003 - The Missing Face - 2/5

Gentle Giant - 2004 - Playing the Cleveland - 2.5/5

Gentle Giant - 2004 - Prologue - 3/5

Rating

 

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