Gentle Giant

Gentle Giant

Infobox musical artist
Name = Gentle Giant

Img_capt =
Img_size = 300
Background = group_or_band
Origin = United Kingdom
Genre = Progressive rock, symphonic rock, experimental rock, hard rock
Years_active = 1970–1980
Label = Chrysalis (UK)
Vertigo (UK,US)
Columbia (US)
Capitol (US)
One Way
Alucard Music
DRT Entertainment
Current_members = Kerry Minnear
Derek Shulman
Ray Shulman
Gary Green
John Weathers
Past_members = Phil Shulman
Martin Smith
Malcolm Mortimore

Gentle Giant was a British progressive rock band, one of the most experimental of the 1970s. Textually inspired by philosophy, personal events and the works of François Rabelais, the group's compositional purpose was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular." [From the sleeve notes of the album "Acquiring the taste"]


Gentle Giant was formed by Derek, Ray and Phil Shulman in 1970 after the dissolution of their soul/pop band Simon Dupree and the Big Sound in 1969 . The brothers joined with Gary Green, Kerry Minnear, and a succession of drummers to produce a series of twelve albums throughout the 1970s, finally dissolving quietly in 1980.

Their earlier albums were more eclectic and experimental than their later ones. By 1974, as they started to gather an American following, they simplified their songs (which, compared to other rock artists at the time, were still very complex) to gain a wider audience. "Free Hand" reached the Top 50 in the U.S.

By 1977, as cultural trends saw the mainstream of music shifting towards punk and New Wave, the band developed a much more commercial sound. In 1979, they relocated to America to record their twelfth and most mainstream album, "Civilian", after which the group disbanded.

Compositional style

GG's music was mostly composed by Kerry Minnear, who had a degree in composition, and Ray Shulman, who emulated Minnear's technique to such a degree that it is hard to say who wrote what. In addition, Derek Shulman contributed various musical ideas, and sometimes whole songs. Phil Shulman wrote the lyrics for the first four albums; when he left the group Derek Shulman took over the lyrics. John Weathers and Gary Green contributed a few pieces to the last few albums.

Within the music, counterpoint is one of the most common stylistic devices. Furthermore, polyphony, polymetrics, hocketing, and the technique of using patterns is widely common in the ensemble's repertoire. Hocketing is the technique of passing a melody across different instruments: the phrase is divided into small groupins of one, two or three notes, and each part is then played by different instruments. This can be heard when the instruments come in after the vocal introduction to "Knots." Another example is the long build up in "Proclamation" after the instrumental mid-section, where a one-bar phrase is not only hocketed, but also spread out in sixteen repetitions, in which one of the small parts is added with almost every repetition.cite web | title=The Music of Gentle Giant | last=Hasnes | first=Geir | work= | url= | date= | accessdate=2008-02-06 - ]

However unusual the music of Gentle Giant might sound, a closer look reveals relatively few intricate chords, especially compared with contemporary classical music. Harmonically, the pieces are often traditional or at least closer to the neoclassicism of the first half of the 20th century. There are exceptions; songs like "Proclamation" and "So Sincere" utilise modern and more complicated harmonics, but mostly the unusualness lies in the sudden and unexpected twists and turns. For example, simple chords are often broken up in patterns in which some of the tones are altered from repetition to repetition, creating subtle differences in the chord's overall quality. Another common trick is unusual successions of more usual chords.

The also common device of moving from one key to another is another major reason why GG melodies might be perceived as quite uncommon, but again adds to the uniqueness of melodies within a song. Sometimes the key will change rapidly; in "Isn't it quiet and cold?", the change occurs inside a single bar, with a movement between a major and minor third. Equally, these thirds are superimposed in "Schooldays".

Melodies and instruments, as in the case of Gentle Giant, do have a compositional meaning while nearly in every piece from the start they are put contrapuntally against other lines and melodies. This development is continually accompanied by slight adjustments such as changing from minor to major key as well as accelerating and decelerating themes in their duration.The opening vocal line of "Pantagruel's nativity" is repeated in another rhythm in the saxes as they play background in the songs improvisational section, for example. Another changing method in Gentle Giants pieces is the clever handling of transitions between sections: in just a few bars, a hard rock guitar riff moves for a medieval choral in "Why not?".

Gentle Giant consciously used the classical composition technique of stating themes. For example, one theme used on one instrument in the beginning was later reused simultaneously or in counterpoint on another instrument, or against other chords or instruments than in the tunes beginning. Furthermore, often an opening theme is later sung in a choir, even in a development of the original theme elaborated through using bits and pieces of it.

Now and then song lines could stay in the "wrong" place for shorter or longer times, the most obvious example being "Prologue" , where the line itself is simple, but an eighth note behind the down beat and thus going between the bass 4th notes continually. In "Schooldays" , phrases with three syllables are divided so that one person sings the first two syllables, and the other sings the second and third syllable, but the second syllable which they both sing is not on the same beat.


There has been renewed interest in Gentle Giant since 1990 , with new fan clubs, new releases of live concerts and previously unreleased material, several tribute albums and a failed 1997 attempt by fans to convince the members to perform a reunion concert. Several recent progressive rock bands claim to have been greatly influenced by the music of Gentle Giant, including Spock's Beard and Echolyn.

In 2005, to celebrate the band's 35th anniversary, a series of digitally remastered and specially packaged CDs of their later albums were released, also featuring 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".

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 due to 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 "Аcquiring the Taste"; in December, 2006, "Octopus" in a mini-sleeve with the original design of Roger Dean was released, and in December, 2007, Repertoire released "Three Friends" in a mini-sleeve with the original British release design. Prior to that all first four albums have been re-released on Universal Japan label.

Musical attributes

Though Gentle Giant's music has a unique sound it also has many aspects in common with other progressive rock bands:

* Frequent changes in tempo
* Frequent use of syncopation
* Non-standard time signatures, including polymeters (2 or more time signatures played simultaneously)
* Complex melodies, frequently contrasting harmonies with dissonance
* Unconventional use of numerous classical and medieval instruments
* Musical structures typically associated with classical music, like the madrigal "Knots" and the fugal exposition in "On Reflection"
* Multi-part vocal harmonies
* Extensive use of instrumental and vocal counterpoint
* Complex lyrics
* Concept albums (on the occasion)

One Gentle Giant album listed a total of 46 instruments in the musician credits.


*Derek Shulman - born Derek Victor Shulman, on 11 February 1947 in Glasgow, Scotland.
*Kerry Minnear (keyboards)
*Ray Shulman - born Raymond Shulman, on 8 December 1949 in Portsmouth, England.
*Gary Green (guitars)
*John Weathers (drums 1972 – 1980)

;Other members
*Phil Shulman (1970-1972) - born Philip Arthur Shulman, on 27 August 1937 in Glasgow Scotland.
*Martin Smith (drums 1970 – 1971)
*Malcolm Mortimore (drums 1971 – 1972)



* "Gentle Giant", 1970
* "Acquiring the Taste", 1971
* "Three Friends", 1972 (#197 US)
* "Octopus", 1972 (#170 US)
* "In a Glass House", 1973
* "The Power and the Glory", 1974 (#78 US)
* "Free Hand", 1975 (#48 US)
* "Interview", 1976 (#137 US)
* "Playing the Fool", 1977 (#89 US)
* "The Missing Piece", 1977 (#81 US)
* "Giant for a Day", 1978
* "Civilian", 1980


* "Edge of Twilight", 1996
* "Under Construction", 1997
* "Scraping the Barrel", 2004

Live Recordings

* "Gentle Giant in Concert" - Recorded 1978 at the Hippodrome, Golden Green, Released 1994
* "Out of the Fire: The BBC Concerts" - Released 1998
* "The Last Steps" - Recorded USA 1980, Released 1996, Red Steel Music RMC CD 0205


* "Giant on the Box", (DVD+CD) 2005
* "GG at the GG", (DVD) 2006


External links

* [ Official web site]
* [ Semi Official Giant Tour history]

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