Gentle Giant

Posted by Bo Ellegaard on November 23, 2020 0 Comments

"Once upon a time..." many fairytales begin but in this case- when talking about rock music- it´s merely a wish from the serious listener sometimes to return to earlier times also known as "The Good Old Days" -more precisely the early 1970´s- when rock music would be played in odd time signatures with lots of breaks inside one song, long soloing and preferably a concept-(double)-album with cover art by Roger Dean or Hipgnosis. Of course released on new strange labels one of which could in fact cause vertigo when looked upon while playing!
In my case it was Valentyne Suite by Jon Hiseman´s Colosseum.


This music was generally known as progressive rock.
I believe that King Crimson is said to have recorded the first progressive rock album-  the eponymous "In The Court Of The Crimson King" in 1969, but shortly after a lot of bands followed suit: Pink Floyd, Gabriel/Hackett-era Genesis, Caravan, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Soft Machine, Yes, Colosseum etc. Even Jethro Tull went from blues to progressive rock in the early 1970´s with several concept albums about being stupid, water lungs, dancers, minstrels and other strange subjects. Lest we forget Mike Oldfield´s magnum opus Tubular Bells (V 2001)!!

In the beginning it was mostly a British scene but the continent soon got their progressive rock bands: In Italy bands like PFM, Cirkus Maximus and "horror movie"-band Goblin. France had Magma and Ange. In Germany Tangerine Dream did scores for films which became the albums´ concepts themselves. Some of the Krautrock bands could easily fit into the progressive rock bracket as well.

In Denmark very few musicians had the skill or nerve to play this demanding kind of rock music, however, bands like Ache, Burnin´ Red Ivanhoe, Day Of Phoenix, Culpeper´s Orchard/Culpeper and Dr. Dopojam were among Danish bands who were heavily influenced and this music still lives to this day.

With instruments as diverse as the latest electronic invention, Bob Moog´s Synthesizer, late-1960´s novelty: the Mellotron. With lots of (Hammond)organ a Hohner Clavinet and a Theremin thrown in for good measure. Add Baroque instruments too like the recorder and stringed acoustic instruments. Used were also jazz instruments like saxophones and flutes to the usual array of electric guitars- some of which even had more necks than one should you suddenly need 12 strings or an extra bass for soloing! All this plus bass and drums, obviously.

To make a record sound even more otherworldly lots of studio sound effects "now in stereo" including phasing between left and right speakers were put to good use- though sometimes overused as they were.

The reason for writing this blogpost is my recent recovery of another great 1970´s band nobody remembers anymore... at least I thought.
Searching Youtube for any footage at all I found several concerts. One of the song titles "Two Weeks In Spain" came to mind and seeing it performed live I found to my surprise that Gentle Giant could still touch you with their take on progressive rock.
Or "Baroque ´n´ Roll" as their style was called in an Italian TV show (in glorious black and white!) from early 1970´s- you see: Gentle Giant were big in Italy!!

I knew the albums "Glass Houses" and "The Power And The Glory" back in the 1970´s and also remembered the song "Two Weeks In Spain" mentioned above but to find that Gentle Giant recorded 11 albums in ten years before they split was equally remarkable along some truly impressive concert clips spanning almost their entire career. They could play their songs really well live. Their complex music were executed spot on as these live clips show!

This complexity of the band is based on the tight rhythm section of Ray Shulman (bass) and John Weathers (drums). The brilliant keyboard player Kerry Minnear and the excellent guitarist Dave Green (with a very sweet tone from his old ´burst- sorry for getting carried away!).
But what stands out when listening to Gentle Giant is the singing- firstly Derek Shulman´s powerful solo vocal capable of singing these unusual (read: impossible) melodic lines but not least all the band members voices add to the songs.
 In songs "On Reflection" and "Knots" showcase a kind of mideaval chorus/chanting by all members of the band that makes you shiver with delight.

And did I mention the more than competent use of violin, cello, trumpet, vibraphone and recorder?
Especially the recorder- in fact there are several played by the band at one time- makes Gentle Giant sound very British- this meant in a good way!!
Incorporated in Gentle Giant´s music all these various instruments make sense in order to create such diverse moods as the band does from straight rock ´n´ roll over prog rock to a more subtle acoustic folkish tone.

I can only recommend you to search Youtube for live footage and if you also get hooked find  the band´s music either as secondhand (Discogs) or look for the reissues (both CD and vinyl) available on the internet. The earliest albums are the most "prog" and later albums become more accessible with shorter songs but feel free to find your own path through this marvellous band´s oeuvre!!


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