Expreso Imaginario, an Argentinan magazine, published an article about Gentle Giant in the September 1979 issue. (Number 38, pages 42-43.) The author was Ralph Rothschild (if I am reading the slightly damaged credit correctly.) (Thanks to Carlos Pagés.)
Thanks to Wn Dn!
"Howling Wolves," an R&B-dedicated band, was the first semi-professional band of Derek and Ray Shulman. "We needed a manager and a van, and our brother Phil, then a school teacher in Portsmouth, took that position and got us the first show for 18 pounds. He was an excellent manager and soon we had our own mobile and changed our name to The Road Runner's. To give a more complete sound to the band Phil entered as a saxophonist and the new manager changed our name to Simon Dupree And The Big Sound. We had many performances." They recorded the first single that reached no. 45 in the rankings. "We didn't make our own compositions," clarifies Derek, "since they were unlistenable, they were not commercial at all." Derek aka Simon Dupree, and his Big Sound were already touring with The Beach Boys and Helen Shapiro. Under pressure from the new manager they recorded "Kites," a ballad that reached the fifth place. They appeared in Top Of The Pops.
"We had a frivolous image of ballad singers. We started acting in cabarets and that was the end. We broke the band towards the end of '69 and we had enough money to have a rest for the rest of the year and find us a new band."
Having dissolved the group, the Shulman brothers began the search for new musicians. The first taken was Kerry Minnear graduated from the Royal College of Music as a composer. He had just arrived from Germany, where he eventually decided to leave his former band Rust, so he had to be repatriated with a help from his parents because he had run out of money, living there without food and without shows. The Keyboardist, he also plays bass, cello, percussion and vocals. Kerry happened to be the musician that the Shulmans needed.
To find a guitarist the band put a notice in the magazine "Melody Maker," looking for an admirer of Freddie King, BB King and Soft Machine. Despite coming from the blues world, Gary Green immediately adapted to the new group.
The sixth to join was drummer Martin Smith, and with the production of Tony Visconti they made for the company Vertigo their first album simply titled "Gentle Giant."
1970. The English scene had already witnessed the mighty establishing of King Crimson and the powerful rise of Yes. "We were on the same path. The album was not a great success sales-wise, but it made our name known."
The six members of Gentle Giant have finally appeared in the giant dwarf's hand, mighty and rising, as well. There, Derek carried the vocal part; Ray played bass, violin, some guitar, percussion and vocals. Phil was on sax, trumpet and voice.
GG sounds different and its influences are several. You can find passages of classical music, rock and jazz. The rhythm is strong and there are passages of great sweetness. Complex and melodious songs at the same time. The vocal arrangements are excellent and the use of various instruments, they give a great variety of timbres. A symphonic rock passage is suddenly being interrupted by a rock or a honky-tonky. It is not a fusion of different styles. It is something new!
Gentle Giant can be summed up as representative of what their live performances were. "Nothing At All" is a soft theme that highlights Minnear in cello and tuned percussion. "Isn't It Quiet And Cold?" does have a bouncing rhythm. "Why Not?" is a strong rocker with an excellent vocal performance. Those who listen to this first work today, after a nine year distance, will still find something new in it. It is a record that is not lost in time and always sounds fresh and different.
Acquiring the taste
"Acquiring the taste" beats the first album. Released in 1971 it shows a greater level of experimentation. It begins with "Pantagruel's Nativity," a powerful rock that continues the theme of the mythical and folkloric giant. More comfort is found in "The House, The Street, The Room." There are 20 instruments that accompany these words: "My time is spent in chains and confusions of my people / I don't tell nobody / I keep my sorrows and swallow the bitter tears that I shed / I don't tell anyone, go to the reverie / together ... ."
The term that gives title to the disc is a short exercise of Kerry Minnear on the moog. "We entered the studio without a clear idea of what was going to come out. It was an experimental album and we still didn't have an address to point to. It came out very well, but it is certainly our most mysterious album," says Derek. "It is our objective to expand the frontiers of popular music by taking the risk of being unpopular. Each theme was recorded with the only idea that should be unique, fascinating, adventurous."
"Three Friends" (1972) is a conceptual work about three former classmates, their hopes, dreams and accomplishments. By the time, drummer Martin Smith was replaced by Malcolm Mortimore because of misunderstandings with Phil. From this album on the production already ran on behalf of Gentle Giant. The album was excellent and strengthened the group, that would go on tour with Jethro Tull and later with the group "Groundhogs." During this last tour Malcolm suffered an accident on his motorcycle and was replaced for good by John Weathers (former "Graham Bond's Magic" and "Grease Band," the band of Henry McCulloch).
With the new drummer they recorded the beautiful "Octopus." There are eight themes among which "Think of me with kindness" is of great beauty with a melody that creates magical climates. They reached 19th place in the US, sixth in France, fourth in Germany, first in Sweden.
No one is a prophet in their land: in England they remained unnoticed. Phil, discouraged with long tours and lack of success, leaved the group, returning to his former occupation as a teacher, making the group orphaned with five members only.
"Octopus" marked the end of the GG-Vertigo relationship and the following LP: "In A Glass House" (1973) was produced by "World Wide Artists."
From the first to the last note the latter is an excellent disk. It begins with glasses that break and keep pace until they widen with the initial theme of incredible vigor. In this marvelous album there is no respite and the vocal arrangements stand out. Surprisingly, Yankee CBS did not publish this album for the American market. Despite the discouragement that this caused, later they would record "The Power and the Glory" (1974), the last for Phonogram in England and the first for "Capitol" in the US. It is a series of songs about political corruption that fit the prevailing mood in Washington (Watergate): "You may not have everything all want or need / everything you have has been due to me / it can change, can remain the same / who can demand ...," ending with "Greetings to the path of Power and Glory / day after day / Hail ... Hail ... Hail ... ."
They toured the US quite successfully. The album reached the Top 50; at the same time that "In a Glass House" became an import success in the American disc market with 150,000 copies sent from England.
After signing the contract with the English label "Chrysalis," there appeared "Free Hand," one of the most shocking discs in the decade.
- The text written above the photo in the second scanned page:
- The followers of Gentle Giant are like a cult that always stays true to the group. They feel a kind of addiction to the band's music.
- In the same way they can be ignored, because despite having more than ten albums they are still "the most unknown English band that has released ten albums."
New contract, new life
It is a fresh album, vital, with humor. The issues remain complex, the arrangements higher. "On Reflection" is a vocal canon to which a piano is then added, and then vibraphone and drums. The poetry and harmonic beauty run throughout the theme. The voice is nothing more than another instrument that relies rhythmically on the construction of the words. There are no weak points in an album that ranges from songs with Renaissance touches to the purest rock and roll. The first track "Just The Same" begins with the finger chatter that rhythmically introduces the subject, and that accent remains at the beginning of side 2, where it is given by the sound of an electronic tennis (video game) of a pub. "His last voyage" is another pearl with rhythmic changes, pauses; a plane that goes from classical music to rock braiding in an amazing dialogue with the guitar and drums. "Talybont" immerses us in the medieval music, again. It is criminal that this album has not yet been published in our country!
We have passed through 1975. The year when Gentle Giant has reached their maximum maturity. In 1976 they recorded "Interview" that followed the line drawn in "Free Hand." The theme "Design," on the wave of "On Reflection," has vocal instruments and percussion as the only instruments. Without reaching the genius of "Free Hand," it is a disc without waste.
The 75-76 tour of the US and Europe brought results in the form of "Playing the Fool" or "The Official Live Gentle Giant," the band's first official live album; a response to the pirate "Playing the Fool in Wonderland."
For those who thought that playing GG music live was impossible, here is an answer. On stage there is music, quality, humor: just look at the madly wrinkling eye rows of Ray Shulman while he apparently solemnly performs his violin solo.
Those who witness their concerts got excited. As Andy Snipper says: "It is the best reproduction that can be achieved from Giant live. It shows how good they are acting. Listen to the instrumental virtuosity without a doubt, which is powerful, exciting, full of humor and everything else. The proof that Giant is alive; and the most important thing is that it shows Giant in its most effective role - as the best live English band."
However, the market did not understand... After nine Gentle Giant albums it seemed that they did not want to insist more with the English public and their sights were set on the North American market.
The melodic approach to the songs have changed, the arrangements have changed, too. There was more rock and roll now. Although the group maintains the same staff; as was the compositional seal (so far, absolutely all material was signed by Shulman-Shulman-Minnear), despite everything, the sound was no longer the same.
It is a quite deep turn that makes me see "another" Gentle Giant, more commercial. This new GG makes us miss the times before "The Missing Piece" (1977), although the overall quality remained intact. The rhythm is square, more continuous, more commercial. The surprise of "The Missing Piece" was confirmed in "Giant for a Day" (1978). You can disappoint the old followers (of which there are many) and please a new audience, I don't know if much broader, but different. The humor continues to exist as in the tune "Spooky Boogie" that can make someone laugh as if there're Les Luthiers (popular Spanish-speaking Argentine comedy-musical band) playing. These were more conventional discs, stereotypical in their soft and strong themes. Nevertheless they kept the interest and there happened jewels like "I'm Turning," "Memories of Old Times" or the fast "For Nobody" (of a vigorous joy) from the disc published here with track names written in Spanish - "The Missing Piece." There were also jewels like "Thank You," "Friends" (a delicious song), "It's only Goodbye," and the heavier "Rock Climber" from "Giant For A Day."
We now see a band that joins the "rock groups" camp, yet with a superlative quality. Another detail is the intervention in the last album by John Weathers in the compositional part ("Friends" and "Take Me").
[Here below the penultimate paragraph that I had most problems with translation of. This is the only paragraph where the translation may be somewhat different from what the author of the original article meant] No matter what we think about it, nowadays the band's art travels through safer roads, without losing its quality. Speaking of selection of one or the other Gentle Giant, I remain definitively with their first nine albums and listen with pleasure to the remaining two. At the same time, I fear for a future that one day may put us onto more casual paths. [end of that 'confusing' paragraph]
The rock business they abandoned, when they dissolved "Simon Dupree," returns to the Shulmans. Derek's phrase: "Expanding the frontiers of popular contemporary music at the risk of being unpopular" ultimately implies a revision of the concept of music for minor numbers of listeners. What does these terms above ultimately mean? What is the balance between popularity and quality?
— Ralph Rothschild