Gentle Giant were an English Progressive Rock band active in the 1970s. Formed out of the ashes of Simon Dupree and The Big Sound (who'd had a Black Sheep Hit with the 1967 single "Kites"), they are notable for being one of the most experimental and versatile of the prog bands of that era.
Every member was a multi-instrumentalist who often switched instruments during a single song. This made up for very intricate arrangements and a Genre Roulette style of music in which one song could vary between hard rock, jazz, medieval folk tunes, baroque counterpoint, modernist sounds, and soft ambience.
Many prog-heads consider them to be one of the 'hardest' prog bands out there. In fact they are not that hard to listen to, however, since the compositions focus on catchy melodies, rhythms and clever songwriting in general. The compositions are very concise, not as long as the typical prog-fest and played almost totally clinically. This is not to say, however, that the band was dry or unemotional. It was noted by one fan that what made this band different from many other prog rock bands was their almost punkish energy while playing and clear enthusiasm for the music they were performing live. (Just see their YouTube videos for clear examples.)
They went to making pop songs in an effort to garner commercial success at the end of the '70s. Their sound, however, still proved too complex to appeal to a wide audience; they disbanded in 1980.
- Gary Green – guitar, mandolin, vocals, recorder, bass, drums, xylophoneKerry Minnear – keyboards, lead vocals (on recordings only), cello, vibraphone, xylophone, recorder, guitar, bass, drumsDerek Shulman – lead vocals, saxophone, recorder, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, "Shulberry"Phil Shulman – lead vocals, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, recorder, percussionRay Shulman – bass, trumpet, violin, vocals, viola, drums, percussion, recorder, guitarMartin Smith – drums, percussion
- Gary Green – guitar, mandolin, vocals, recorder, bass, drums, xylophoneKerry Minnear – keyboards, lead vocals (on recordings only), cello, vibraphone, xylophone, recorder, guitar, bass, drumsDerek Shulman – lead vocals, saxophone, recorder, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, "Shulberry"Phil Shulman – lead vocals, saxophone, trumpet, mellophonium, clarinet, recorder, percussionRay Shulman – bass, trumpet, violin, vocals, viola, drums, percussion, recorder, guitarMalcolm Mortimore – drums, percussion
1972–73: Classic lineup:
- Gary Green – guitar, mandolin, vocals, recorder, bass, drums, xylophoneKerry Minnear – keyboards, lead vocals (on recordings only), cello, vibraphone, xylophone, recorder, guitar, bass, drumsDerek Shulman – lead vocals, saxophone, recorder, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, "Shulberry"Phil Shulman – lead vocals, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, recorder, percussionRay Shulman – bass, trumpet, violin, vocals, viola, drums, percussion, recorder, guitarJohn Weathers – drums, percussion, vibraphone, xylophone, vocals, guitar
1973–80: Final lineup:
- Gary Green – guitar, mandolin, vocals, recorder, bass, drums, xylophoneDerek Shulman – lead vocals, saxophone, recorder, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, "Shulberry"Ray Shulman – bass, trumpet, violin, vocals, viola, drums, percussion, recorder, guitarJohn Weathers – drums, percussion, vibraphone, xylophone, vocals, guitar
- Gentle Giant (1970)
- Acquiring the Taste (1971)
- Three Friends (1972)
- Octopus (1972)
- In a Glass House (1973)
- The Power and the Glory (1974)
- Free Hand (1975)
- Interview (1976)
- The Missing Piece (1977)
- Giant for a Day! (1978)
- Civilian (1980)
In a Glass Trope:
- Album Title Drop: "Hail to power and to glory's way" appears in two songs on The Power and the Glory: "Proclamation" and "Valedictory". (Also on the title track, which was left off the original release of the album because the band hated it, but it is a bonus track on most reissues.)
- All Drummers Are Animals: Sexy animals, as this video and the top comment prove.
- Alucard: They have a song with this title that has lyrics which presumably refer to Dracula.
- Bait-and-Switch: Acquiring the Taste has a cover that appears from the front to be a tongue licking two flesh-coloured cheeks, but the back reveals that it's just a flesh-coloured peach.
- The Band Minus the Face: The departure of Phil Shulman was this. Derek says that he still doesn't know how the album following his departure, In a Glass House, got made, but they somehow managed to carry on.
- Band of Relatives: Three Shulman brothers formed the heart of the band in the early days. One of them dropped out.
- Book Ends: In a Glass House begins and ends with the sound of breaking glass. The Power and the Glory begins with the song "Proclamation" and ends with "Valedictory", a song based off of the same tune but on distorted guitars instead of keyboards, as well as an overall darker mood.
- Break-Up Song: "Free Hand"
- Common Time: Mostly averted. Sometimes played straight, sometimes played with: Often the time signature is 4/4, but the rhythms are still incredibly complex such as in the song So Sincere.
- Concept Album: FOUR of them! (Specifically, Three Friends, In a Glass House, The Power and the Glory, and Interview.)
- Design Student's Orgasm: The cover of Acquiring the Taste◊.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Before forming Gentle Giant, the Shulman brothers played in a blue-eyed soul group called Simon Dupree & The Big Sound. When their attempts in soul proved commercially fruitless, they tried their hand at psychedelia (while still going under the Simon Dupree moniker) and got a Top Ten hit with "Kites". During this time, they ended up touring Scotland with the then unknown Elton John substituting for their ill keyboardist, Eric Hine. When they couldn't follow up the success of "Kites", they made the Beatles-esque single "We Are The Moles", this time going by The Moles. Due to the hype surrounding the anonymity of the Moles (at one point, it was speculated that The Beatles themselves had made it), sales of the single started to pick up, but quickly petered out when Syd Barrett (yes, that Syd Barrett) spilled the beans on the project. Eventually, the Shulman brothers gave up on Simon Dupree & The Big Sound and, out of its ashes, formed Gentle Giant.note
- Epic Rocking: Mostly averted. Their compositions manage to encompass much more in less time, it seems. Atypically for a Progressive Rock band, their average song length is about five minutes long. They did tend to mix things up live and play extended medleys, however. A complete list of studio songs over six minutes long from their first nine albumsnote : "Giant" (6:24), "Alucard" (6:02), "Nothing at All" (9:08), "Pantagruel's Nativity" (6:52), "The House, the Street, the Room" (6:03), "Plain Truth" (7:36), "Prologue" (6:14), "Schooldays" (7:37), "Peel the Paint" (7:32), "The Runaway" (7:16), "Way of Life" (7:53), "Experience" (7:50), "In a Glass House" (8:26), "Proclamation" (6:56), "Playing the Game" (6:46), "Free Hand" (6:16), "His Last Voyage" (6:27), "Interview" (6:54), "I Lost My Head" (6:59), "Memories of Old Days" (7:18), for a total of 20 examples. Most of their prog albums have two or three really long songs; the only one without any is Octopus (which still has "River", which almost qualifies for this trope at 5:51), while In a Glass House stands out having the most at four. Still, by prog standards their material is pretty short (as mentioned above their average song length on these albums is about five minutes), so one could say the trope is Zig-Zagged. Live, however, they definitely indulged in this trope; the medley of Octopus material on Playing the Fool is almost 16 minutes long, which qualifies even by prog standards, and that's not all.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The album Interview is a concept album of an interview.
- Full-Circle Revolution: The Power and the Glory talks about this; the first song describes an autocratic ruler asserting his authority over the people; the following songs talk of an ambitious person attempting to gain power and set things right, but the final song on the original album is a reprise of the first, with the new chorus "Things must stay, there must be no change; anyway, time to rearrange"
- Genre Mashup: Early on, they were very blues-influenced, but later had medieval and classical influences as well. Later albums included reggae-, new wave- and punk-tinged songs.
- Gratuitous Panning: Required so that the listener may keep up with different simultaneous lines in the music.
- Happily Married: Most of the band these days. Phil Shulman left the band to keep it so.
- Large Ham: Derek Shulman's stage performances may come off as this.
- LOL, 69: In the later years of the band, John Weathers frequently wore a personalized Oakland Athletics jersey with 69 as his number in concert, and according to Weathers, the fans knew what was up.
- Love Nostalgia Song: "Think of Me with Kindness" from Octopus.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: The Missing Piece.
- New Sound Album: Though every album has a certain continuity, they vary things up quite a bit.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Alucard", "Pantagruel's Nativity", "Prologue", "The Advent of Panurge", "Knots", "An Inmate's Lullaby", "A Reunion", "Proclamation", "Valedictory", "Mobile", "Interview", "Design", "Empty City" and all the instrumentals.
- Pun-Based Title: The fourth album Octopus is a work consisting of eight tracks: an octo - opus.
- Rock Opera: The Power and the Glory is an unusual one at that. It speaks of government corruption.
- Rock-Star Song: Most of the songs from the concept album Interview deal with rockstardom.
- Sanity Slippage Song: "An Inmate's Lullaby" is about a man in a mental hospital.
- Self-Titled Album: Their debut.
- Sinking Ship Scenario: The theme of both "Wreck" (from Acquiring the Taste) and "His Last Voyage" (from Free Hand).
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein: The band has polyphonic songs in which multiple lines are sung simultaneously. Makes following the lyrics almost impossible without looking them up.
- Studio Chatter:
- Intentional on Interview.
- A somewhat humorous example also occurs on the song "The Face" from The Power and the Glory, when one can quite audibly hear an enthusiastic "Oh, WOW!" after a very fast electric violin solo. Liner notes from a CD release reveal that this was Ray realizing he ended the solo a few bars early.
- Title Track: Acquiring the Taste, Three Friends, In a Glass House, Free Hand, Interview, and Giant for a Day have them, while the self-titled, Octopus, The Power and the Glory (in its original configuration), The Missing Piece, and Civilian don't - but even the self-titled has "Giant", while the band recorded a title track for The Power and the Glory that they just left off the album because they hated it (it's included on most later reissues, though).
- Uncommon Time: As humorously illustrated here◊. A few songs utilize polymeter, such as "Just the Same", which uses simultaneous 6/4 and 7/4 in its verses.
- Vocal Tag Team: All of the members sung. In the early stages the band had three lead vocalists: Derek for the rocky songs, Phil for the folksy, dreamy songs and Kerry for the classically-inspired ones. Gary Green & Ray Shulman both often sang harmony vocals, and John Weathers has been known to sing lead on a couple songs.
- Word Salad Lyrics: "Knots" is described as a "musical jigsaw", inspired by R.D. Laing. Its further complicated by the complexity of the music.