Gentle Giant

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This article is about the progressive rock band. For the moving company, see Gentle Giant Moving Company.
Gentle Giant
Gentlegiantchrysalis.jpg
Left to right: Derek Shulman, Ray Shulman, John Weathers, Gary Green and Kerry Minnear, in 1977.
Background information
Origin United Kingdom
Genres Progressive rock, symphonic rock, jazz fusion, experimental rock, hard rock, folk rock, art rock, avant-garde
Years active 1970–1980
Labels Chrysalis (UK), Vertigo (UK,US), Columbia (US), Capitol (US), One Way, Alucard Music, DRT Entertainment, Major League Productions (MLP)
Associated acts Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, Man, Three Friends
Website www.blazemonger.com/GG/
Past members Derek Shulman
Ray Shulman
Kerry Minnear
Gary Green
Phil Shulman
Martin Smith
Malcolm Mortimore
John Weathers

Gentle Giant were a British progressive rock band active between 1970 and 1980. The band was known for its extreme 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.[1]

The band's onetime stated aim was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular",[2] although this stance was to alter significantly with time. While never achieving the commercial heights of progressive rock contemporaries such as Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Gentle Giant was considered to be one of the most experimental bands in the genre (as well as one of the most experimental rock bands of the 1970s).[3]

Gentle Giant's music was considered complex even by progressive rock standards, drawing on a broad swath of music including folk, soul, jazz, and classical music. Unlike many of their progressive rock contemporaries, their "classical" influences ranged beyond the Romantic and incorporated medieval, baroque, and modernist chamber music elements. The band also had a taste for broad themes for their lyrics, drawing inspiration not only from personal experiences but from philosophy and the works of both François Rabelais and R. D. Laing.

Band history[edit]

Prehistory (including Simon Dupree and the Big Sound)[edit]

The core of what was to become Gentle Giant comprised three brothers: Phil Shulman (born 1937), Derek Shulman (born 1947) and Ray Shulman (born 1949). The brothers were of Scottish-Jewish descent. Phil and Derek were born in Glasgow, Scotland, in The Gorbals, which was then a notorious slum. The family moved to Portsmouth, England, where Ray was born. Their father was an army musician turned jazz trumpeter, who continued his musical work in Portsmouth. He encouraged his sons to learn various instruments; and Phil, Derek, and Ray all became multi-instrumentalists. During the early 1960s, Derek and Ray became interested in playing rhythm-and-blues and formed a band in order to do so. Phil — originally acting as a manager figure in order to look after his much younger brothers — eventually became a band member himself.

(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[4]

By 1966, the Shulmans' band — initially called The Howling Wolves, then The Road Runners — had taken on the name of Simon Dupree and the Big Sound and was pursuing more of a soul/pop direction. As lead singer and frontman, Derek Shulman took on the "Simon Dupree" pseudonym while Phil played saxophone and trumpet, and youngest brother Ray played guitar and violin. (Both Ray and Phil also played trumpet and sang backing vocals for the group which, during its lifetime, briefly featured the future Elton John as pianist as well as recording a single with Dudley Moore as guest). Signing to the EMI record label, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound produced several non-charting singles before being pushed by their management and label in the direction of psychedelia. This resulted in the UK Top 10 hit "Kites" in the autumn of 1967 (and the release of the Without Reservation album later in the year).

Success only served to frustrate the Shulman brothers, who considered themselves to be blue-eyed soul singers and felt that their change of style was insincere and insubstantial. Derek Shulman was later to describe 'Kites' as "utter shit."[4] The Shulmans' opinion was confirmed, in their eyes, by the successive failure of follow-up singles to 'Kites'. Attempting to escape their new image, they released a pseudonymous double A-side single in late 1968 as The Moles - 'We Are The Moles (parts 1 & 2)'. This compounded their identity crisis as the single was subsequently caught up in a rumour that The Moles were, in fact, The Beatles recording under a different name and with Ringo Starr as lead singer. The rumour was eventually debunked by Pink Floyd leader Syd Barrett, who outed Simon Dupree and the Big Sound as the band behind the record.

In 1969, the Shulman brothers finally dissolved the group in order to escape the pop music environment that had frustrated them. Surprisingly, they did not return directly to rhythm and blues or soul, but chose to pursue a more complicated direction. Ray Shulman later stated "We knew we couldn't continue with the musicians we'd had before. We weren't interested in the other musicians in the band — they couldn't contribute anything. We had to teach them what to do. It got rather heavy when we could play drums better than the drummer, and even on record we were doing more and more of it with overdubs. It got stupid having a band like (that). The first thing was to get some musicians of a higher standard."[4]

Formation of Gentle Giant[edit]

Gentle Giant was formed in 1970 when the Shulman brothers teamed up with two other multi-instrumentalists, Gary Green (guitar, mandolin, recorder etc.) and Kerry Minnear (keyboards, vibraphone, cello etc.), plus drummer Martin Smith, who had previously drummed for Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. The classically trained Minnear had recently graduated from the Royal College of Music with a degree in composition, and had played with the band Rust. Green was essentially a blues player and had never worked with a band above the semi-professional level, but adapted readily to the demanding music of the new band. The Shulman brothers, meanwhile, settled into typically multi-instrumental roles of their own: Derek on saxophone and recorder; Ray on bass and violin; Phil on saxophone, trumpet, and clarinet.

It was like this big funnel, really. We all had these varied influences, whether it be pop, classical, rock, jazz, or whatever, and we just came together and created what we did. A lot of the bands who were doing prog rock back then were doing long songs that in many cases were just filler, but we never tried to impress anyone with our talents, maybe we were just trying to impress each other! What to us just seemed like some clever songs really touched a lot of people it seems, which never fails to amaze me.

Derek Shulman on Gentle Giant's writing approach[5]

The new band also featured three lead vocalists. Derek Shulman sang in a tough rhythm-and-blues style and generally handled the more rock-oriented vocals; Phil Shulman handled the more folk-or-jazz-influenced songs; and Kerry Minnear (who had a particularly delicate voice) sang the lighter folk and chamber-classical lead vocals. Minnear did not sing lead vocals at live concerts, because of his inability to support and project his voice at a level suitable for live amplification (Derek and Phil Shulman handled Minnear's lead vocal parts when the band played live). It has been reported that Elton John unsuccessfully auditioned for lead vocalist with the newly formed group.[6]

According to a booklet that was included in their first album, the band's name was a reference to a fictional character, a "gentle giant" that happens upon a band of musicians and is enthralled with their music. The character is reminiscent of those from the Renaissance tales of Francois Rabelais.[7]

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. The band's approach to songwriting was equally diverse, blending a wide variety of ideas and influences whether they were considered commercial or otherwise.

The first two albums: Gentle Giant and Acquiring the Taste[edit]

Acquiring the taste is the second phase of sensory pleasure. If you've gorged yourself on our first album, then relish the finer flavours (we hope) of this, our second offering. It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary 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 on 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.

Liner notes for Gentle Giant's Acquiring the Taste album

The band's first album was the self-titled Gentle Giant in 1970. Combining the collective band members' influences of rock, blues, classical, and 1960s British soul, it was an immediately challenging effort, though sometimes criticised for a slightly disappointing recording quality.

Gentle Giant was followed in 1971 by Acquiring the Taste. This second album showcased a band who were developing rapidly. Far more experimental and dissonant than its predecessor, Acquiring the Taste was shaped primarily by Kerry Minnear's broad classical and contemporary classical music training and also showed the band diversifying in their already impressive instrumentation (although many years later Derek Shulman would admit "we recorded (Acquiring The Taste) without any idea of what it would be like before we got into the studio. It was a very experimental album and we still didn't have an ultimate direction."[4]) The band's sense of challenge was made evident in the liner notes to Acquiring the Taste, which contained a particularly lofty statement of intent even by progressive rock standards.

First change of drummer, and Three Friends[edit]

After Acquiring the Taste, Martin Smith left the band, following apparent disagreements with both Ray and Phil Shulman.[8][9] He was replaced by Malcolm Mortimore.

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.

Arrival of John Weathers, Octopus, and the departure of Phil Shulman[edit]

In March 1972, Malcolm Mortimore injured himself in a motorcycle accident.[10] 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,[11] the band opted to formally replace him with Weathers at the end of the 1972 April tour.

The new line-up of the band delivered the Octopus album later in 1972. The hardest and most "rocking" Gentle Giant album to date, Octopus was allegedly named by Phil Shulman's wife Roberta as a pun on "octo opus" (eight musical works, reflecting the album's eight tracks). The album's release is generally considered to date the start of the band's peak period.

It was perhaps the most ridiculous pairing of groups ever in the history of show business. For the most part we got booed off the stage... At a show at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, we went on stage and the Sabbath fans were shouting "get off, we want Sabbath" and we were just getting set to play 'Funny Ways'. We pulled out the cellos and violins, and the crowd starting heckling immediately, but we were gradually starting to get past it, when someone threw a cherry bomb on stage. (Phil Shulman) made sure we all stopped playing and said we needed to get off the stage. As we were leaving the stage, Phil grabbed the mic and said to the crowd "you guys are a bunch of fucking cunts!", and the boo that went up after that was enormous! To this day I'll never forget it! We were sort of vindicated later on, as we thought we were never going to play Los Angeles again after the cherry bomb incident, but later on the Octopus tour we were able to sell out consistently there, so something clicked with the fans.

Derek Shulman on Gentle Giant's failure to win over Black Sabbath's audience in 1972[5]

In 2004, Ray Shulman commented '(Octopus) was probably our best album, with the exception, perhaps of Acquiring the Taste. We started with the idea of writing a song about each member of the band. Having a concept in mind was a good starting point for writing. I don't know why, but despite the impact of The Who's Tommy and Quadrophenia, almost overnight concept albums were suddenly perceived as rather naff and pretentious."[9] The album maintained Gentle Giant's trademark of broad and challengingly integrated styles. One of the highlights was the intricate madrigal-styled vocal workout "Knots". "Knots" was lyrically inspired by the writings and word play of R. D. Laing, according to the liner notes on the back cover of the North American version of the 1972 Octopus album. One of Laing's books is entitled Knots.

Before embarking on the Octopus tour, the band played a gruelling set of dates supporting Black Sabbath, during which they proved to be very unpopular with the majority of the headlining band's fans.[12] Gentle Giant underwent its most significant line-up change following the tour, 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 record).

Growing up, family, two sons, lovely little daughter, a wife who was getting lonelier and lonelier… No decision really, it was a foregone conclusion. My brothers, in fact, quite frankly wouldn’t speak to me for years afterwards because I said "that’s it, I’m going. I’ve got to go back to my family and I’ve got to go back and be a normal man."... I’m not saying how important (or not important) I was to the group, or anything like that, but my brothers thought that that was the end of the band. And that’s absurd. When five-sixths of the band are still there, (and) I go - no trouble. And they did: they carried on for seven more years, folks, and that was touring the world and getting great acclaim as a very fine five-piece outfit. But for me it was the only thing to do. It obviously took something away because I wasn’t able to listen to music for a few years afterwards.

Phil Shulman on his reasons for leaving Gentle Giant, 2008[13]

Gary Green later recalled "As I remember it, when Phil announced it at the end of an Italian tour, he said he would leave the band. He couldn't continue on. There was too much stress being on the road and the family. Plus the brothers were having a bit of a difficult time. They're brothers and they argued like hell, sometimes to the point where you thought they were going to hit each other. But I guess it was brotherly love (laughs). But when Phil said he was going to leave, we were all like stumped, 'Oh! What are we going to do? All right we'll buy a Moog synthesizer!' That's kind of trite; I don't mean it quite like that. We had to do something."[14]

"John (Weathers) and I really pushed for the band to continue at that point because it looked like we were going to fold. And that seemed just ludicrous – I mean we had Kerry at full strength and Ray writing great. We were really strong live and we were about to get stronger. I think we became a stronger band after Phil left. And that's nothing against Phil. We had just been just hitting our stride as players."[14]

Over thirty years later, Phil Shulman expanded on his reasons for departure in a 2008 podcast interview conducted by his son Damon and grandson Elliot. In the interview, he stated that his main motivation for leaving was because he had realised that the lifestyle of a touring musician was damaging his family life. The two blocs of Shulman brothers - with Phil on one side and Ray and Derek on the other would eventually resolve their differences and heal their relationship, although Phil neither rejoined the band nor returned to music as a career. (Ray Shulman has subsequently assisted Phil's son Damon Shulman with his own music.)

In a Glass House & The Power and the Glory[edit]

Gentle Giant at the Musikhalle, Hamburg, April 1974

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 album was also notable for its three-dimensional cover, using a cellophane overlay (replicated using the CD jewel case on the Terrapin CD reissue, and via a custom digipak for the later Alucard CD reissue). In a Glass House was never released in the USA, but was in great demand as an import.

The Power and the Glory followed in 1974. This was Gentle Giant's third concept album, this time taking power and corruption as the linking theme. The band also wrote a separate single with the same title. According to Derek Shulman, "WWA said, "Now boys, you've got to be commercial, you've gotta make singles. Now you run away and write us a single." So we did three atrocious numbers. This song's the worst - "You've got it lads!" - and we went into the studio and handed over the tapes when we came out. They put it out, we yelled at them, and they gave it back - took it off the market." (The single was added to CD reissues of the album).

The Chrysalis years, part 1: Free Hand, Interview & Playing the Fool[edit]

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. At this point, the band began to slightly simplify their complicated music in order to reach a wider (and American) audience, although at this point the band's music could be said to be being "polished" rather than "compromised". Compared to other rock artists at the time, Gentle Giant's music was still very complex.

This process 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, the album's songs reflected on lost love and damaged relationships (including the breakdown of the band's relationship with their former manager). Regardless of any issues of simplification, 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. Derek Shulman later admitted "I think Interview was the start of the erosion. I think the creative juices were starting to wane a little bit... I think Interview was the start of the slide towards the realization that this is a business now, and that's also a part of what the business had become. I was managing the band at the time and music business became a major business."[12] Despite this approach, the album did not repeat its predecessor's American chart success, peaking at No. 137.

By this time, Gentle Giant were a well-established live act in America and Europe, touring persistently and sharing stages with anyone from Sha Na Na to progressive rock contemporaries such as Jethro Tull and Yes. The influence of Gentle Giant on Tull is not well known, but their performances during this phase are equal too Tull output on the Bursting Out tape of the same era. The band's notoriously virtuosic live act (featuring rapid-fire instrument swapping and equally demanding rearrangements of the already complex studio pieces) made a powerful impression on audiences, meaning that Gentle Giant could equal almost any act on the bill. One 1975 show (at Detroit's Cobo Hall) saw them steal the show from both Gary Wright (debuting his Dream Weaver album) and Rick Wakeman (headlining with the touring version of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table). In 1976, this side of the band was captured on the live album Playing the Fool, recorded during the European tour for Interview.

The Chrysalis years, part 2: The Missing Piece and Giant for a Day![edit]

While Gentle Giant's skill as performers remained undiminished, their creative peak was now behind them. Affected by changes in popular style (including the growth of punk rock), the band made a mutual decision to refine their writing and performance style in pursuit of a broader market, particularly in America. Over the next two years, the band gradually jettisoned many of their complicated stylings in order to attempt to write simpler pop music and attempt to create hit singles.

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 continued to pursue the same course for 1978's Giant for a Day!. For this album, all clear progressive rock stylings were purged in favour of soft, radio-friendly rock and further unsuccessful singles: 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. Derek Shulman eventually remembered it as being "real contrived"[12] while Kerry Minnear would confess to having felt unsure as to whether he had anything to contribute to the album (although he made an attempt to write a single in the shape of "It's Only Goodbye").

The Chrysalis years, part 3: Civilian[edit]

In 1979, Gentle Giant relocated their centre of operations to Los Angeles in order to record their twelfth 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 the songwriting was more reminiscent of earlier Gentle Giant work despite its relative simplicity.

While Kerry Minnear would pronounce himself far more satisfied with this album and its songs, Ray Shulman would eventually state "I hated making (that) last record, I hated being involved with it."[15] In 2005, Derek Shulman reflected "Civilian was done with less passion than some of the other albums. As it turns out we as a band were just not good at being rock or pop stars. We would have loved to be as popular as a Genesis or Rush or Yes. In hindsight, I sometimes think that Gentle Giant was wrongfully put into the progressive rock category. Much of what we did was very clever, but we certainly didn't do these long complex tunes like Yes or Genesis did."[5]

Split[edit]

We had a meeting in New York when we started the tour over here. We met in New York to get together and see it as a launch-off place. Kind of had a talk about what we were going to do. At that meeting Kerry and Derek said this was going to be the last tour and they didn't want to be on the road anymore. And you understand it; they had families. Kerry had just had a baby and Derek was just getting married. But having said that, I was married and so was John. You can change things like that; there are ways to work around that. You don't have to tour. I don't think we really toured an awful lot as Giant. I think we could have worked a lot harder at touring. We toured perhaps five or six months of the year. The rest of the year we didn't tour, which seemed a bit silly if you really want to make it or break the market. So let's go ahead and do it and capitalize on this rush we got. So it all seemed a little odd to me. It was sad.

Gary Green reflects on the final Gentle Giant split[14]

In the summer of 1980, the group quietly disbanded. In 2005, Derek Shulman would recall that "the creative juices just weren't flowing. I was living in Los Angeles at the time when we broke up. We weren't really sure what direction to take. I don't regret the decision we made to disband, and I'd do it again if we were to do the whole thing all over again."[5] Ray Shulman has commented "There was definitely the decision that the last tour would be the last tour. Once we knew that, we enjoyed ourselves. We decided to quit then rather than let it go on too long."[15] In an interview with Mojo in 2000, Kerry Minnear asserted "(the split) wasn't because of punk, it was because we had lost our way musically."[16]

Gary Green's opinion of the split differs. In 2003 he commented "My own personal opinion is that the band broke up because Derek really wanted a hit album, and I think Ray did too, and they were fed up. They had been musicians longer than I had, and they had tasted it pretty good when they were with Simon Dupree, at least in Britain. And they were looking for some of that in Giant too. My feeling is that we could have continued on as PFM did, or Yes, and still continue. If we had adhered to the statement we started out with, we could still be playing that, and still be earning a reasonable living. That's all water under the bridge and that's fine now. It seemed a bit silly to cut off your creativity for that kind of thing."[14]

Post-split[edit]

Following the dissolution of the band, Derek Shulman went on to a highly successful career in the organisational side of the music business (initially promotion and artist development for PolyGram, followed by A&R at Mercury, becoming president of Atco Records, after which he became President of Roadrunner Records. He now is the owner of new music company 2Plus Music & Entertainment).[17] Ray Shulman moved into soundtrack work for television and advertising before becoming a record producer (working with, amongst others, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Sundays, and The Sugarcubes). He has written soundtracks for computer games, as well as producing DVDs for artists such as Genesis and Queen.

John Weathers went on to drum for Man (an association that lasted until 1996) and most recently was spotted playing drums for Glenn Cornick's Wild Turkey again (2006). Gary Green (having settled in America, near Chicago) went on to play with various Illinois bands (including Blind Dates, The Elvis Brothers, Big Hello, and Mother Tongue) and guest on recordings and at concerts by Eddie Jobson and Divae. Kerry Minnear returned to the UK and settled in Cornwall, spending many years working in gospel music[12] He now runs Alucard Music, the organization supervising the legal and royalty issues regarding Gentle Giant's music.

Phil Shulman retired entirely from the music business following his time in Gentle Giant. He subsequently worked as a teacher, in retail, and ran a gift shop in Gosport, Hampshire, UK before his retirement.[12][18] He was briefly in a band with his son Damon Shulman and recorded several pieces with him. Several of these (under the collective title of Then) were spoken-word pieces in which he reminisced about his upbringing in the Glasgow slums. One of these pieces - Rats - appeared on Damon Shulman's solo album In Pieces and can be heard as an audio stream on Damon Shulman's homepage and MySpace page (made available in April 2008).[19][20]

Original Gentle Giant drummer Martin Smith settled in Southampton and drummed with various bands there - he died on March 2, 1997.[21] Second Gentle Giant drummer Malcolm Mortimore has continued to work as a successful sessions drummer in the rock, jazz, and theatre fields.[22]

Reunions[edit]

Despite having seen many of their progressive rock contemporaries reunite for moneyspinning tours, Gentle Giant are notable for having consistently refused to reunite as a full band. In 1997, the Gentle Giant fanbase unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the members to perform a reunion concert. Reasons cited by members for their rejection include busy schedules, health problems, lack of practice on instruments, and other personal reasons.[23] Asked about a possible reunion in 1995, Phil Shulman replied "we lead such disparate lives now and different lifestyles, different attitudes... I think it's impossible."[18] In 1998, Ray Shulman asserted "For me and Derek, the disruption to our lives now, I can't see how it would be worth it. It would be very difficult. The whole process would take such a long time and you would have to give up what ever you are doing. We both have careers independent of GG." [15]

There have been two partial reunions, both featuring between two and four of the band members and with neither event being identified as a formal reunion of Gentle Giant. The first of these took place in 2004 and the second in 2008 (developing further in 2009).

The 2004 partial reunion featured four former Gentle Giant members - Kerry Minnear, John Weathers, Gary Green, and Phil Shulman (who only participated as a lyricist). This quartet reunited as a studio-only project solely in order to record three new compositions for the Scraping The Barrel box set ("Home Again", "Moog Fugue", and "Move Over"). There was no live activity and the quartet disbanded immediately after the recordings.

A 2008 partial reunion involved the creation of a new band called Rentle Giant in order to play Gentle Giant material. This band featured two other former members of Gentle Giant (guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm Mortimore) who recruited three noted jazz-fusion musicians to complete the band - Roger Carey (bass and vocals, from Liane Carroll's band), Andy Williams (guitar, collaborator with Carey in the Engine Clutch And Gearbox trio), and John Donaldson (piano and keyboards). Green also contributed lead vocals to some of the songs. In March 2009, Green and Mortimore were joined by a third Gentle Giant member - Kerry Minnear - and Rentle Giant consequently changed its name to Three Friends. At the same time, the band expanded to a seven-piece by adding current 10cc vocalist Mick Wilson as dedicated lead singer. About six months later, it was announced that Minnear was leaving the band for personal reasons, and that Three Friends planned to continue as a six-piece. Minnear later revealed that the split was amicable and that he had left for reasons of respect (as the Shulman brothers had "not been particularly enthusiastic" about the existence of Three Friends). [24] Carey, Williams and Donaldson have subsequently left the band and been replaced by Lee Pomeroy (bass), Gary Sanctuary (keyboards) and Charlotte Glasson (violin, sax).

Minnear has also recently announced plans for him to collaborate with Ray Shulman on a new writing project.[24]

Reissues[edit]

There has been renewed interest in Gentle Giant since 1990, with new fan clubs, new releases of live concerts and previously unreleased material, and several tribute albums. Sadly for fans, the rights of the band's catalogue are scattered among many companies, not all of which are keen on re-releasing the albums properly. In particular, the first four albums have yet to receive definitive CD releases. For example, the title track on Acquiring the Taste begins with an obvious defect, possibly from a damaged master tape, on all current CD and vinyl releases. The 1996 compilation Edge of Twilight includes a corrected version of the song. Conflicting evidence sometimes reports that this defect exists on the original 1971 vinyl release of the album, with the opening note bending up as the tape comes up to speed - probably an engineering error.

In July 2004, the first eponymous album was re-released by Repertoire; in December, 2005, they released Acquiring the Taste; in December, 2006, Octopus in a mini-sleeve with the original design of Roger Dean was released, and in December, 2007, German label Repertoire released Three Friends in a mini-sleeve with the original British release design. Although not widely distributed, these re-issues have been praised for their production quality and remastering. Before that, all first four albums have been re-released on Universal Japan label.

In 2005, to celebrate the band's 35th anniversary, a series of digitally remastered and specially packaged CDs of their later albums were released by Derek Shulman's company, DRT Entertainment. They all featured unreleased live tracks (of varying quality) as bonuses. Many of these albums (most notably, In a Glass House) were previously difficult to purchase in North America without resorting to imports. The re-released albums are: In a Glass House, The Power and the Glory, Free Hand, Interview, The Missing Piece, Playing the Fool (live), and Giant for a Day.

A reissue series on CD and, with bonus tracks, as digital downloads was begun in 2009/2010. In a 2009 interview Derek Shulman also indicated that plans were in the works to put out an animated film based on "The Power and The Glory" (this has yet to come to fruition). In 2011 the original mastertapes for "Three Friends" and "Octopus" were located and Alucard reissued each album with a bonus live performance of material from each respective album. Each album was remastered by Ray Shulman and Francis Kervorkian (both of whom worked on the 2009 remasters).

‘Free Hand’ & ‘In’terview’ both get re-issued in 2012 on CD/DVD & Vinyl. The CD/DVD features a previously unreleased lost quadraphonic mix. The special 4.1 Surround Sound mix (audiophiles note it’s DTS 96/24 and Dolby Digital 48 kHz/24bit) has been adapted from the original Quad mixes. The band members have written new sleevenotes for both albums.

2012's 'I Lost My Head - The Chrysalis Years' is a 4-CD set rounding up all of Gentle Giant’s Chrysalis albums with bonus tracks including John Peel sessions, 7" mixes, live tracks & 'b' sides etc.

Musical style[edit]

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:[25]

  • 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.)[25] In general, the band relied on sudden and unexpected compositional twists and turns to stimulate their audience, including:[25]

  • 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)

Personnel[edit]

Members of classic lineup listed in bold.

  • Derek Shulman - lead vocals, saxophone, recorder, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, "Shulberry" (3-string custom electric ukulele[26]) (1970–1980)
  • Ray Shulman - bass, trumpet, violin, vocals, viola, drums, percussion, recorder, guitar (1970–1980)
  • Kerry Minnear - keyboards, lead vocals (on recordings only), cello, vibraphone, xylophone, recorder, guitar, bass, drums (1970–1980)
  • Gary Green - guitar, mandolin, vocals, recorder, bass, drums, xylophone (1970–1980)
  • Phil Shulman - lead vocals, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, recorder, percussion (1970–72)
  • Martin Smith - drums, percussion (1970–1971)
  • Malcolm Mortimore - drums, percussion (1971–1972)
  • John "Pugwash" Weathers - drums, percussion, vibraphone, xylophone, vocals, guitar (1972–1980)

Discography[edit]

A comprehensive discography[27] is available on the official web site.[28]

Studio albums[edit]

Live recordings[edit]

  • Playing the Fool - The Official Live (1977) (#89 US), Chrysalis, Capitol; recorded (au naturel) on European tour, September to October 1976
  • In Concert (1994), recorded at the Golders Green Hippodrome, London, 5 January 1978
  • Out of the Woods: The BBC Sessions (1996, re-released in 2000 under the name Totally Out of the Woods with additional tracks)
  • The Last Steps (1996, re-released in 2003), recorded at the Roxy Theater, Los Angeles, 16 June 1980
  • Out of the Fire: The BBC Concerts from 1973 & 1978 (1998)
  • King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents (1998), recorded at the Academy of Music, New York City, 18 January 1975
  • Live Rome 1974 (2000), recorded at the PalaEur in Rome, Italy, 26 November 1974
  • In'terview in Concert (2000), recorded at Hempstead, New York, 7 March 1976
  • In a Palesport House (2001), recorded at Palazzo dello Sport, Rome, 3 January 1973
  • Artistically Cryme (2002), recorded at Olympen, Lund, Sweden, 19 September 1976
  • Endless Life (2002), recorded at Music Hall, White Plains, NY, 3 October 1975 and at Community Theatre, Berkeley, CA, 28 October 1975
  • The Missing Face (2002), recorded at the Ballroom, Cleveland, OH, November 1977
  • Prologue (2003), recorded at the Munsterlandhalle, Munster, Germany, 5 April 1974 and at the Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 10 October 1975
  • Playing the Cleveland (2004), recorded at the Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, 27 January 1975 and at Academy of Music, New York, 5 November 1975
  • Live in New York 1975 (2005), recorded at Music Hall, White Plains NY, 3 October 1975
  • Live in Santa Monica 1975 (2005)
  • Live in Stockholm '75 (2009), recorded at Club Kåren (Kårhuset), Stockholm University, 12 November 1975

Compilations[edit]

  • Giant Steps - The First Five Years (1975)
  • Pretentious - For The Sake Of It (1977)
  • Champions Of Rock (1996)
  • Edge of Twilight (1996)
  • Under Construction (1997)
  • Scraping the Barrel (2004)
  • I Lost My Head - The Chrysalis Years (2012)
  • Memories of Old Days (2013)

Bootlegs[edit]

  • Playing The Foole (Bootleg) (recorded in 1974)

For many years this remained the only Gentle Giant bootleg and no others appeared before the Compact Disc era. No other bootlegs have since been seen on vinyl. The album achieved such fame, however, that the band decided to adopt the title for their official live double album Playing the Fool (omitting the final "e"), released two years later.

Despite the sleeve description, the bootleg album is not live and was not recorded during any "American tour".[where?]

Filmography[edit]

  • Giant on the Box (DVD, 2004)
  • Giant on the Box - Deluxe Edition (DVD + CD, 2005)
  • GG at the GG - Sight and Sound in Concert (DVD + CD, 2006)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bruce Eder. "Gentle Giant - Review". Allmusic. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  2. ^ From the sleeve notes of the album "Acquiring The Taste"
  3. ^ "Gentle Giant". discogs.com. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d Zig-Zag magazine interview, 1975 - hosted on Gentle Giant homepage - retrieved May 23, 2009
  5. ^ a b c d "Derek Shulman Speaks On All Things Gentle Giant, interview on Sea Of Tranquillity music website by Pete Pardo, June 19, 2005 - retrieved May 23, 2009". Seaoftranquility.org. 2005-06-19. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  6. ^ "Sir Elton John - Biography on Bio". Thebiographychannel.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  7. ^ "Gentle Giant (Super Star) - The Gentle Giant Home Page". Blazemonger.com. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  8. ^ Zigzag Magazine interview with Gentle Giant, archived on Gentle Giant homepage, retrieved October 23, 2008
  9. ^ a b Ray Shulman interviewed in Q Classic, The Ultimate Collectors Edition, "Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock", 2004 - retrieved May 23, 2009
  10. ^ "Malcolm Mortimore page on Gentle Giant homepage". Blazemonger.com. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  11. ^ Gentle Giant Tour History, retrieved October 23, 2008
  12. ^ a b c d e Interview with Derek Shulman on Gentle Giant homepage, retrieved October 23, 2008
  13. ^ Podcast interview with Phil Shulman (part 3 of 3) conducted by Damon and Elliot Shulman, retrieved November 21, 2008
  14. ^ a b c d 'Gary Green of Gentle Giant' - interview by Jeff Melton for Expose Magazine, 2003 - retrieved May 23, 2009
  15. ^ a b c 20th Century Guitar interview with Ray Shulman, archived on Gentle Giant homepage, retrieved October 23, 2008
  16. ^ Mojo interview with Kerry Minnear, archived on Gentle Giant homepage, retrieved October 23, 2008
  17. ^ Musician Magazine interview with Derek Shulman, March 1995 - , archived on Gentle Giant homepage, retrieved October 23, 2008
  18. ^ a b Interview with Phil Shulman on Gentle Giant homepage, retrieved October 23, 2008
  19. ^ MP3 excerpt from Damon Shulman/Phil Shulman piece Rats on Damon Shulman's homepage, retrieved November 21, 2008
  20. ^ Damon Shulman's MySpace page, retrieved November 21, 2008
  21. ^ Martin Smith page on Gentle Giant homepage, retrieved October 23, 2008
  22. ^ Discography on Malcolm Mortimore homepage, retrieved October 23, 2008
  23. ^ "FAQ page on Gentle Giant homepage". Blazemonger.com. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  24. ^ a b "Waking The Giant – An Exclusive Interview with Kerry Minnear from Gentle Giant" by Ryan Sparks, Classic Rock Revisited webzine, November 15, 2009[dead link]
  25. ^ a b c Hasnes, Geir (2005). "The Music of Gentle Giant". Acquiring The Taste by Paul Stump - SAF Publishing,. Retrieved 2008-02-06.  -
  26. ^ Article on Shulberry on TEDUCATION.com (featuring video clip), retrieved October 24, 2008
  27. ^ "Gentle Giant discography - The Gentle Giant Home Page". Blazemonger.com. 2011-07-04. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  28. ^ "The Gentle Giant Home Page". Blazemonger.com. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 

External links[edit]