Gentle Giant was an English art-rock band that released eleven studio albums between 1970 and 1980. Their original lineup featured multi-instrumentalist brothers Phil, Derek, and Ray Shulman, plus guitarist Gary Green and composer–keyboardist Kerry Minnear. Derek, Phil, and Kerry traded lead vocals. In 1972, John Weathers joined as their permanent drummer. After the fourth album, Phil departed and Giant settled as a quintet.
On Vertigo, Gentle Giant made the 1970–72 albums Gentle Giant, Acquiring the Taste, Three Friends, and Octopus. Their early sound covers symphonic pastoralism (“Pantagruel’s Nativity,” “Wreck,” “River”), organ-based heaviness (“Giant,” “Alucard,” “Peel the Paint”), chamber-string arrangements (“Edge of Twilight,” “Black Cat,” “Raconteur Troubadour”), and mallet-laden avant-garde (“Isn’t It Quiet and Cold,” “Schooldays,” “Knots”).
Gentle Giant moved to Vertigo-subsidiary WWA for the 1973/74 albums In a Glass House and The Power and the Glory, then signed to Chrysalis for the 1975/76 albums Free Hand and Interview. This period encompasses melodramatic epics (“The Runaway,” “Experience,” “Proclamation”), folksy excursions (“A Reunion,” “Talybont,” “Mobile”), quirky innovations (“Cogs In Cogs,” “Just the Same,” “Give It Back”), and percussive–vocal experiments (“An Inmate’s Lullaby,” “So Sincere,” “Design”).
After their 1977 live double-album Playing the Fool, Gentle Giant embraced new wave, funk-rock, and adult-oriented styles on The Missing Piece and Giant for a Day. In 1980, they capped their career with Civilian, an energized melodic-rock set with crisp, shiny production.
Members: Derek Shulman (vocals, saxophone, recorder, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, Shulberry), Phil Shulman (vocals, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, recorder, percussion, 1970-72), Ray Shulman (bass, trumpet, violin, vocals, viola, drums, percussion, recorder, guitar), Kerry Minnear (vocals, keyboards, cello, vibraphone, xylophone, recorder, guitar, bass, drums), Gary Green (guitar, mandolin, vocals, recorder, bass, drums, xylophone), Martin Smith (drums, percussion, 1970-71), Malcolm Mortimore (drums, percussion, 1971-72), John Weathers (drums, percussion, vibraphone, xylophone, vocals, guitar, 1972-80)
Gentle Giant formed in 1970 from the ashes of Simon Dupree & The Big Sound, which featured brothers Phil Shulman (b. 1937), Derek Shulman (b. 1947), and Ray Shulman (b. 1949).
The Big Sound issued a string of mid-60s soul-rock singles on Parlophone, culminating with the ethereal 1967 psych hit “Kites” and the cryptic “We Are the Moles,” issued incognito as The Moles. In addition to their primary roles — Derek (lead vocals), Phil (saxophone, trumpet, backing vocals), Ray (guitar, violin, backing vocals) — each brother mastered additional instruments. They folded the Big Sound to link with equally adept, musically fluid multi-instrumentalists.
Ex-Bluesology pianist–singer Reginald Dwight — a stand-in member on late-period Big Sound shows — was considered for the new band, but the Shulman’s ruled this out after hearing the advance tapes of Empty Sky, his debut album as Elton John.
For their new band, they hired Kerry Minnear (b. 1948), a multi-instrumentalist with a degree in composition from the Royal College of Music. He would serve as their musical director and sing on some of the quieter numbers. They also recruited guitarist Gary Green (b. 1950), a blues-inclined player who also handled mandolin and recorder. For the time being, the brothers retained Big Sound drummer Martin Smith.
The new group initially called itself Giant but affixed the word Gentle at the suggestion of booking agent Colin Richardson, who noted the intricate, delicate nature of their music. They signed with the Gerry Bron Agency, a management firm whose main client, Uriah Heep, recently formed from the ashes of Spice and The Gods.
Gentle Giant made their live debut on May 9, 1970, at the Portsmouth Polytechnic Union House, supported by Fairfield Parlour. Their second scheduled gig (6/6/70: Exeter University) was cancelled after a heatstroke suffered by a member of headliners Van der Graaf Generator.
On June 20, Gentle Giant flew to Germany for the Hamburg Open Air Pop Festival, a two-day event with sets by Black Sabbath, Colosseum, East of Eden, Family, Humble Pie, Juicy Lucy, Pete Brown & Piblokto!, Rare Bird, Steamhammer, and Uriah Heep. On July 4, Giant and fellow Open Air acts (Heep, Eden) played Popday ’70, a multi-bill at Portsmouth Stadium with Gypsy, Heaven, Hookfoot, Keef Hartley Band, and Strawbs. On the 15th, Giant played London’s Marquee as the opening act for Slade.
Gentle Giant joined a growing roster of post-psych acts (Beggars Opera, Cressida, Gracious, Gravy Train) signed to Vertigo, the fledgling subsidiary of Philips–Phonogram. They recorded their first album in August 1970 at Trident Studios. After sessions wrapped, they played opposite Czar (9/14: Marquee) and Scottish rockers Tear Gas (10/9: The Temple, London).
1970: Gentle Giant
Gentle Giant released their self-titled debut album in November 1970 on the Vertigo “swirl” label. It features six songs written by Minnear and the Shulman’s, starting with “Giant,” a swelling Hammond rocker with foreboding bridges — “He is coming, hear him coming, are you ready for his being?” — sung with urgency.
“Funny Ways” is a minor key chamber number that became an enduring live favorite. “Alucard” is a pensive, distorted post-psych rocker with traces of “Schizoid Man.” Side one closes with “Isn’t It Quiet and Cold,” their first in a line of choppy, mallet-sprinkled pieces. The presence of xylophone — little heard in rock up to this point — binds this song to later sui generis experiments like “Knots” and “Give It Back.”
Side two contains the somber, nine-minute “Nothing at All,” which veers from folk-harmony lament to hard-rocker and back; and “Why Not,” a bluesy jam ala Gravy Train. The album wraps with “The Queen,” a short adaptation of the national anthem “God Save the Queen.”
Gentle Giant was produced by Tony Visconti and engineered by Roy Baker. This was an early credit for Visconti, an emerging industry heavyweight who was aiding the rise of his two main clients, David Bowie and T. Rex. Baker — a tech hand for Ten Years After and the producer of Free‘s recent Fire and Water — would eventually polish Queen for stardom.
Minnear and the Shulman’s handled the arrangements. “Isn’t It Quiet and Cold” features guest cellist Claire Deniz (John Kongos, Strawbs).
Gentle Giant is housed in a vertical gatefold with an illustration of the band’s mascot: the giant Pantagruel, who holds the members in his hands. The inner-gates feature lyrics, credits, and “A Tall Tale,” Visconti’s account of the band and their relationship to the giant.
The album appeared in the UK, Europe, Oceania, Japan, Canada, and Mexico, but not the United States, where the cover was used instead for the Columbia pressing of Gentle Giant’s 1972 album Three Friends.
Club/College Shows, German Tour
On November 14, 1970, Gentle Giant played a triple-bill at Exeter with Quatermass and headliners Ginger Baker’s Air Force. December shows included double-bills with Gnidrolog (12/2/70: Aquarius Birdcage, Harlow), Embryo (12/7: Bolton Casino), and a triple bill with Colosseum and Nucleus (12/10: Lyceum, London). Giant’s setlist during this period featured the entirely of their first album plus the yet-to-be-recorded “Plain Truth” and two originals that remained unrecorded: “Hometown Special” and “City Hermit.” They also performed a song titled “Peel Off the Paint,” which they musically altered and recorded for their third album as “Peel the Paint.”
In January 1971, Gentle Giant started sessions on their second album. Meanwhile, they appeared live on bills with Affinity (1/16/71: Imperial College, London) and Uriah Heep, who just released their second album Salisbury. Their March schedule included dates with Swegas (3/1: City of London Polytechnic), Paladin (3/18: University of Manchester), and Third World War (3/20: Thames Polytechnic Student Union).
Along with Mott the Hoople, Giant opened Arts Ball ’71 (3/19: Winter Gardens Empress Ballroom, Blackpool), an event headlined by Colosseum and Marmalade. On the 26th, Giant were among three opening acts (Egg, Gypsy) at Kursaal Ballroom, Southend-on-Sea, for Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express.
On March 31, Gentle Giant embarked on a seven-city tour of Germany with Colosseum, then readying their two-LP swan song Colosseum Live. On April 17, Giant opened for Renaissance at Haymarket Theatre in Basingstoke. Additional spring dates included bills with Stone the Crows (5/8: Twickenham College Student Union) and Lindisfarne (5/30: Palace Theatre Southend-on-Sea).
On June 4, Gentle Giant played City University, London, as part of the Vertigo Showcase tour, which also featured Catapilla, Graham Bond Magick, Jimmy Campbell, and Warhorse. Collectively, they played four dates, culminating with a 6/24 show at Dorothy Ballroom, Cambridge. Giant also performed in Southhampton and Plymouth (6/18–19) with Groundhogs.
1971: Acquiring the Taste
Gentle Giant released their second album, Acquiring the Taste, in July 1971 on Vertigo. It starts with the giant’s theme, “Pantagruel’s Nativity,” which modulates a three-key melody through multiple arrangements. “Edge of Twilight” is a slow, quiet, cello-laden number with timpani and mallet breaks. “Black Cat” employs similar elements with pizzicato accents.
“The House, the Street, the Room” sports a pointed vocal melody and multiple instrumental passages, including a free-form middle with random Zappa-like jitters, followed by a wailing Heep-like Hammond stretch. Side two is bookended by “Wreck” and the lengthy “Plain Truth,” both dramatized and intense yet interspersed with counterpoint.
Visconti produced Acquiring the Taste at London’s Advision and Air Studios during January–April 1971. Each member is credited with at least three instruments. Minnear’s arsenal includes Minimoog, piano, Mellotron, harpsichord, electric piano, celeste, clavichord, vibraphone, and maracas. Musician Paul Cosh augments the band on trumpet, which he also played for Curved Air on their 1972 release Phantasmagoria.
In the liner notes, Gentle Giant famously declare their intention “to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular.” The vertical gatefold sports a crude illustration of a dripping tongue above a wet, pierced pear.
After the release of Acquiring the Taste, Martin Smith cleared out for 18-year-old drummer Malcolm Mortimore.
Sound 71, Gentle Giant / Jethro Tull tour
On August 21, 1971, Gentle Giant supported satanic rockers Black Widow at London’s Temple. The following day, they supported T. Rex at Trentham Gardens, Stoke-on-Trent. After a pair of Continental dates with Black Sabbath, they played the Sound 71 Blues and Progressive Festival (9/10/71: Pavillion Gardens, Buxton) with Juicy Lucy, Paladin, East of Eden (then promoting their self-titled album), Groundhogs (promoting Split), and the Edgar Broughton Band. On September 29, Giant backed If at Quaintways in Chester.
Gentle Giant’s autumn ’71 shows included dates with the (post-Blodwyn Pig) Mick Abrahams Band (10/10: Civic Centre New Lord’s Club, Gravesend) and Dando Shaft (12/8: Whitley Abbey School, Coventry). On October 9, they opened again for Widow, this time at Borough Road College, Isleworth, over a third-billed Supertramp. On December 3, Giant played Two J’s Club, Braintree, with Copperhead, a shortplayer follow-through to psychsters The Lemon Tree (a Move-connected act whose drummer surfaced in Wizzard).
On January 6, 1972, Gentle Giant embarked on a Continental tour supporting Jethro Tull. On the tour, Tull performed material from their 1971 releases Aqualung and Life’s a Long Song (EP). Tull frontman Ian Anderson often sat in on Giant’s live rehearses but, awed by their musicianship, declined to join in out of respect. Giant played 27 confirmed dates on the Jan–Feb. tour, which covered Denmark, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Three Swedish dates (Jan. 9–14) occurred without Giant because the country denied them entry. The tour wrapped on Feb. 6 at the Palazzo dello Sport in Novara, Italy.
1972: Three Friends
Gentle Giant self-produced their third album at Advision Studios in December 1971. The resulting Three Friends appeared in April 1972 on Vertigo (UK, Europe) and Columbia (North America). It’s a concept album that concerns three childhood friends who take divergent paths as gown men: one becomes an artist; one a manual laborer; one a businessman. The songs (three per side) chronicle their respective journeys and current dissatisfaction in life.
The staccato 3/4 guitar figure that starts “Prologue” is followed by a modulating, multi-layered thematic sequence. The lyrics consist of two stanzas that reason how “fate and skill and chances” drive three friends apart. Further instrumental passages ensue, including a contrapuntal Moog/organ figure over a 6/4 bassline.
“Schooldays” opens with an ornate pattern of glowing vibes. Phil and Kerry counter-sing one another, lamenting the lost friendship that the three boys once vowed for life. The song, though quiet, filters through brisk passages in shifting meters with pizzicato accents. A slow, dark Mellotron/piano passage is followed by a galloping, vibe-laden section (ala Samurai).
“Working All Day” is a gruff rocker from the laborer’s point of view. “Peel the Paint” is an epic of shifting meters and faint/loud dynamics, spoken from the POV of the artist. “Mister Class and Quality?” is a folksy strut that gives voice to the businessman. “Quality” drops into the title track, comprised of multiple bridges with three-way harmonic counterpoint over compound meters. The final 1:40 assumes a churchy organ vibe.
Vertigo pressings of Three Friends sport a gatefold designed by Rick Breach, who also did 1971/72 album visuals for Ben, Black Widow, Catapilla, Killing Floor, Nirvana, and Warhorse. As children (front), the three boys are blue with like-minded brains. As men (back), they’ve diverged into green (laborer), blue (businessman), and red (artist). The inner-gates contain bubbled illustrations that further chart their odyssey.
Between the sessions and release of Three Friends, Mortimore got injured in a motorcycle accident. For their upcoming tour, Gentle Giant enlisted Welsh drummer John Weathers, the producer–songwriter of Ancient Grease (a precursor to Racing Cars) who long served in soul-rockers Eyes of Blue. Weathers became Giant’s permanent drummer. Mortimore resurfaced in G.T. Moore and the Reggae Guitars.
Italian TV, First US Tour
In April 1972, Gentle Giant opened a number of UK screenings of Jimi Plays Berkeley, a Jimi Hendrix concert film of his May 30, 1970, show at the Berkeley Community Theatre. Giant’s setlist at this stage featured four numbers from Gentle Giant (“Funny Ways,” “Alucard,” “Nothing at All,” “The Queen”) and three from Three Friends (“Prologue,” “Schooldays,” “Peel the Paint”), but only one from Acquiring the Taste (“Plain Truth”).
In May, Gentle Giant embarked on a nine-city German tour with Chicken Shack and Man. Giant was scheduled to appear with their tourmates at the Waldbuhne in Berlin for the Super Pop Festival, a four-day event (May 19–22) with sets by Amon Düül II, Atomic Rooster, Blackwater Park, Can, Cravinkel, Eiliff, Ekseption, Emergency, Frumpy, Golden Earring, Hawkwind, and Home.
In June, Gentle Giant flew to Italy, where they performed for a broadcast on the RAI TV Network. Another guest on the program, Formula 3, invited a reluctant Giant to join them on stage for a closing-credits jam. Melody Maker erroneously reported a Giant tour of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia — nations the band never visited.
On August 24, Gentle Giant made their US live debut at the County Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, as the opening act for Black Sabbath, then promoting Vol. 4. The Sabbath tour ran through Sept. 16 with 10 confirmed dates and multiple cancelled shows. Third acts on these bills included Argent (8/30/72: Civic Coliseum, Knoxville, Tenn.), Malo (9/11: Salt Lake City), and Captain Beyond (9/15: West Hollywood).
As a promotional stunt, Columbia arranged for Bronx Guinness height-holder Eddie Carmel (aka “The Happy Giant”) to accompany Gentle Giant on select US dates and carry each member onto stage. However, the 9′ tall man died of a heart attack on August 14, 1972, at age 36.
Gentle Giant were among the few acts to honor their booking at the Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival, a ramshackle Labor Day weekend event on Bull Island near Griffin, Indiana. Other acts that played included Bang, Birtha, Flash, Foghat, Lee Michaels, Michael Quatro, Ramatam, and Rory Gallagher. The bands that cancelled included Sabbath, Allman Brothers, Ballin’ Jack, Chamber Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, and Nazareth.
In late September, Gentle Giant served as an opening act (along with The Eagles) for Yes, who were then touring their fifth album, Close to the Edge, with new drummer Alan White. This leg covered six cities, interspersed with Texas dates supporting Steve Miller and Peter Frampton. In early October, Giant played three shows in Quebec, including a show in Ste-Foy with William S. Fisher.
On October 13, Gentle Giant re-teamed with Jethro Tull for a 26-city tour of the East Coast and Midwest, culminating with a November 13 show at Madison Square Garden. Tull were now promoting their album-length “song” Thick as a Brick. On Nov. 17, Giant embarked on a five-week UK tour supporting Stray and the Groundhogs, then riding high on the albums Who Will Save the World? and the just-released Hogwash.
Gentle Giant’s fourth album, Octopus, appeared in December 1972 on Vertigo. It features eight Minnear–Shulman Bros. originals, mostly in the 3–4-minute range, including the 11/8 chamber track “Raconteur Troubadour” and the musically unprecedented “Knots,” a jigsaw of xylophones and contrapuntal vocal lines. “The Advent of Panurge” opens the album with an angular vocal melody (rooted in E) trailed by Green’s guitar line.
“The Boys in the Band” is a frantic instrumental with abrupt changes and a prominent Minimoog figure. The album also features heavy riffs (“A Cry for Everyone”), light-hearted folksiness (“Dog’s Life”), and tender piano balladry (“Think of Me With Kindness”). The phased, swirling “River” passes through interlocking guitar figures, dreamy vibe-laden stretches, and wailing blues-rock passages.
Gentle Giant self-produced Octopus at Advision during July–August 1972. The album was engineered by Martin Rushent, whose growing list of credits included 1971–72 albums by Compost, Osibisa, Stone the Crows, and Tonton Macoute.
Octopus was named by Phil’s wife, who made a pun on the fact that Gentle Giant composed eight songs (octo) for their latest opus. Illustrator Roger Dean painted the gatefold cover, which shows a menacing octopus emerge from a deep green sea. Dean, a regular artist for Yes and Osibisa, also did 1972 covers for Babe Ruth, Budgie, Midnight Sun, and Uriah Heep (Demons and Wizards). Stateside, Octopus appeared on Columbia with a die-cut jarred octopus illustration designed by John Berg (Chase, Chicago, Dreams, Electric Flag).
This would be the last album with eldest-of-kin Phil Shulman who, at 35, wished to retire from band life. Gentle Giant continued with its remaining five-piece lineup until 1980.
“Knots” appears on the 1973 Columbia comp The Progressives, a two-LP set with cuts by Charles Mingus, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Matching Mole, Ornette Coleman, Soft Machine, and Weather Report. “The Boys In the Band” appears on the 1973 Vertigo comp Suck It and See! along with tracks by , dAtlantis, Jackson Heights, Jade Warrior, Kraftwerk, Magna Carta, Rod Stewart, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and the Spencer Davis Group.
On December 28, 1972, Gentle Giant embarked on an eight-city tour of Italy, supported by local avant jazz-rockers Area. These shows marked Phil’s final days as a member. They were booked for the Sound of Britain in Concert, a festival at the Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt, Germany. Genesis — then promoting their fourth album Foxtrot — took Giant’s place at the January 17, 1973, event, which also featured sets by Amazing Blondel and Steeleye Span.
Gentle Giant possibly played their first show as a quintet at the Corn Exchange in Devizes, England, as the impromptu opening act for Irish rockers Thin Lizzy, who just scored their chart breakthrough with “Whisky In the Jar.”
The lineup of Kerry Minnear, Gary Green, John Weathers, and Ray and Derek Shulman had to rearrange their live numbers to adjust for the loss of one member. Their spring–summer 1973 setlist featured “Prologue,” “Alucard,” “Funny Ways,” “Nothing at All,” “Plain Truth,” and two songs from Octopus: “The Advent of Panurge” and “Knots.”
On March 8, Gentle Giant embarked on 48-date US tour at the Hersheypark Arena in Hershey, Penn., supporting the J. Geils Band and Edgar Winter Group. The tour included multi-act bills with Focus (3/11/73: Music Hall, Cleveland), the Mahavishnu Orchestra (3/16: Felt Forum, NYC), and Jo Jo Gunne, a Spirit-spinoff with Jay Ferguson. One show featured English rustic-rockers Tranquility as a third act. In Toronto, Giant and Vinegar Joe opened for Wishbone Ash (3/29: Massey Hall).
On April 3. Gentle Giant played the Lantern in Fort Wayne, Indiana, supported by the local symphonic-rock band Ethos Ardour, who later shortened their name to Ethos and titled their first album Ardour. That month, Giant played seven Midwest shows with Humble Pie (most with co-openers Foghat) and back-to-back shows in Detroit and Akron with Procol Harum. On the 20th, they appeared on a multi-act bill with ex-Zombies singer Colin Blunstone at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. Giant supported King Crimson on three straight nights (4/22–24) in the Great Plains, including one show with jazz saxist Charles Lloyd (Cowtown Ballroom, Kansas City, Mo.).
In May, Gentle Giant headlined over Steeleye Span at three Texas shows and supported Jethro Tull in Nashville (5/21: Municipal Auditorium). In June, Giant partook in the Summer Rock Festival, a pair of two-day events in Berlin (6/9–10: Waldbuhne) and Frankfurt (6/10–11: Radstadion) with Beck, Bogart & Appice, Osibisa, Roy Wood‘s Wizzard, and Wild Turkey. They returned to Radstadion on July 21 for another Summer Rock event with sets by Back Door, Curved Air, Heavy Metal Kids, Marsha Hunt, Sly & the Family Stone, and Tempest.
On August 28, Gentle Giant taped a BBC session at London’s Langham Studio 1, performing “The Advent of Panurge” and two new songs: “The Runaway” and “Way of Life.” The set was broadcast on the September 28 broadcast of the BBC music program Sounds of the Seventies along with segments featuring Mike Moran and Welsh rockers Sassafras.
1973: In a Glass House
Gentle Giant issued their fifth album, In a Glass House, in September 1973. It’s based on a loose concept of people in figurative and literal “glass house” predicaments.
“The Runaway” opens to the sound of breaking glass and filters through staccato 6/4 patterns with lyrics about a prison escapee. Midway, the song breaks into flute-laden folk verses about “hopes stained with strange regret,” followed by a lengthy xylophone solo.
“Way of Life” consists of three main sections: a galloping song proper, a slow Tudorian mid-section, and a mid-tempo churchy outro. The protagonist reexamines his purpose in life and considers a new course, with or without his partner.
“An Inmate’s Lullaby” sports a “Knots”-like arrangement of tuned percussion and contrapuntal vocal lines. Lyrics about “staring up at the great big white light” are overlaid with glowing vibes and glockenspiel; broken with marimba runs.
“Experience,” which deals with self-reflection and regret, shifts through contrapuntal minor modalities (Gm, Cm) and unexpected turns (tritone A♭-D). A sequence of bridges unfold where four instruments play counteracting melodies. Midway, a baroque vocal passage — “But with age the conscience slowly dawns and bonds of duty gently tied” — heralds a rockier inner-song: “Master inner voices, making the choices.”
“A Reunion” is a chamber-folk ballad about a chance encounter between long-lost friends who’ve each undergone tremendous changes over the years. Thematically, it invokes the concept of Three Friends.
“In a Glass House” opens to a whirlwind of steel guitar and violin, then cuts to harpsichord-driven verses in 6/8. These movements exchange until 4:15, when the song morphs into a mid-tempo, riff-based rocker in F# with alternating bars of 7/8, 10/8, and 12/8. The album ends with secondary snippets of each song and the fading sound of breaking glass.
In a Glass House was Giant’s first of two albums released in the UK on the short-lived World Wide Associates (WWA) label, which also issued material by Black Sabbath (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath), Groundhogs (Solid), and Snafu. In Germany and New Zealand, the album appeared on the Vertigo spaceship label. In a Glass House did not appear in the US.
Photographer Martyn Dean (Roger’s brother) took the b&w performance pics, presented as framed photo-negatives on a transparent silk-screen over an inner-sleeve with altered angle photo-negatives.
Gentle Giant self-produced In a Glass House with engineer Gary Martin, a tech hand on albums by Yes (Fragile), Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express (Second Wind), Stomu Yamash’ta‘s East Wind (Freedom Is Frightening), Hugh Hopper (1984), and the Soft Machine albums Fifth, Six, and Seven.
Fall ’73 / Spring ’74 Tours
Gentle Giant’s fall ’73 tour featured two full songs from In a Glass House (“The Runaway,” “Way of Life”), three 1970–71 staples (“Funny Ways,” “Nothing at All,” “Plain Truth”), and a medley titled “Excerpts from Octopus,” which contained portions of “Knots,” “The Advent of Panurge,” and “The Boys In the Band” — the last rearranged as an acoustic-guitar duet between Green and Ray. As an encore, Green performed an extended solo lead-in to a band rendition of the second half of “In a Glass House.”
On September 17, 1973, Gentle Giant embarked on a 14-date UK tour with Wild Turkey. Giant then headed to Italy for a 12-city tour of Italy with Acqua Fragile (October 9–23). A week-long swing through Switzerland and Germany included back-to-back shows (Oct. 26–27) in Berlin and Hamburg with Leo Kottke and Procol Harum, then promoting their sixth album Grand Hotel. On November 16, the BBC taped Giant at Golder’s Green Hippodrome, where they appeared with folkster Dave Ellis.
Gentle Giant recorded a new album during the winter of 1973–74 and returned with a setlist similar to the prior tour: dropping “Way of Life,” reinstating “Prologue,” and combining “The Runaway” with “Experience.” They embarked on a 20-date tour of the UK and Germany with String Driven Thing, starting in Chatham (3/8/74: Central Hall) and wrapping prematurely in Hamburg (4/10: Musikhalle). Giant cancelled 12 scheduled dates in France, where they were slated to headline over SDT during the second half of April. (Magma replaced Giant on the 4/17 show at Salle Paul-Fort in Nantes).
1974: The Power and the Glory
Gentle Giant’s sixth album, The Power and the Glory, appeared in September 1974 on WWA (UK), Capitol (US), and Vertigo (elsewhere). It features eight songs credited to Minnear and the Shulman brothers, all sung by Derek apart from two (“So Sincere,” “Aspirations”) largely sung by Kerry. The songs revolve around the themes of power, corruption, and public discontent.
Minnear plays cello (“So Sincere”), marimba (“Playing the Game”), vibraphone (“No God’s a Man”), and Fender Rhodes electric piano (“Proclamation”), in addition to Minimoog, Hammond organ, piano, Clavinet, and Wurlitzer. Ray plays electric violin on “The Face.”
“Proclamation” opens with staccato RMI electra-piano. Derek fills each off note with words of a despot’s oration; mustering solace with “It can change… it can stay the same.” After the first “hail” bridge, Ray’s syncopated bass line confounds the structure until Weathers enters with an uncharacteristically straight drum pattern. After the second round of “hails,” filigrees unravel over rattling metal; growing faster and more intense amid spinning piano and guttural Hammond. A grand, demonic passage unfurls as they chant “hail to power” in unison. Everything falls into darkness before the lost song proper reappears.
“So Sincere” opens with a contrapuntal violin–cello arrangement, interjected with tenor saxophone. Minnear sings soft, taut syllables against the pattern. The chorus is an avalance of jabbing guitar, poking bass, and bubbling-over keyboard arpeggios.
“Cogs In Cogs” opens with a jerky, frentic Minimoog figure in 15/8. Hyperactive passages in 5/8 and 7/8 herald Derek’s stark metaphors about the lies of leaders and the servile masses.
“The Face” starts on a circular violin motif with counteracting picked guitar. A unision descent resolves on a frantic 3/4. Derek’s arching vocals talk about the faces people assume to rise in life. Midway, a flowing rhythmic sequence gives vent to wild violin runs and wailing guitar leads.
Sessions took place between December 1973 and January 1974 at Advision with Martin, who engineered The Power and the Glory in succession with titles by David Essex, Herbie Mann, and the first two albums by Isotope.
The cover depicts Alfred the Great (front and back) flanked by ace of spades with the band name and initials in blackletter font. Original copies are die-cut round along the top corners. The design is credited to Cream, the firm behind 1974/75 covers for Alquin (Nobody Can Wait Forever), Earth and Fire, Eric Tagg, Kayak (Royal Bed Bounder), and Stackridge (Extravaganza).
The album’s intended title track — a short, hopping verse–chorus number with staccato Clavinet — was left off the album. (However, “Proclamation” contains the line “Hail to Power and to Glory’s way” during the heavy “Hail… hail” sequence.) Instead, WWA issued “The Power and the Glory” as a non-album a-side in November 1974, backed with an edit of “Playing the Game.”
US Tour ’74/’75
On October 8, 1974, Gentle Giant played their first US show in 16 months at Denver Coliseum supporting Traffic. They did a five-night stand (Oct. 9–13) at LA’s Whisky A-Go-Go, supported by Harvey Mandel. The tour covered 22 cities, where Giant played opening slots for Return to Forever (10/25/74: Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh), Dave Mason (10/26: Rider College, Lawrenceville, NJ), Frank Zappa (10/29: Farm Show Arena, Harrisburg, Penn.), Mountain (11/4: Cobo Hall, Detroit), the Climax Blues Band (11/8: State University, Plattsburgh, NY), and Robin Trower (11/10: Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore). Giant opened two Midwest shows for Golden Earring — then riding their transatlantic breakthrough “Radar Love” — and two triple-bills with Focus and John Martyn.
In late November, Gentle Giant played three shows in Switzerland and did a five-city tour of Italy with jazz-rockers Arti e Mestieri.
In January 1975, Gentle Giant arrived in Quebec, where they performed with local up-and-comers Maneige (1/14/75: Montreal Forum) and Sloche (1/16: Centre Culturel, Sherbrooke). They did multiple shows with American Tears supporting ex- guitarist Alvin Lee, including two shows on the 18th at New York’s Academy of Music. An unconfirmed date placed Giant at the Community Theater in Berkley, Calif., as the opening act for Camel, then promoting their second album Mirage.
On February 17, Giant opened the Auditorium Theater in Chicago for Peter Frampton, then readying his defining fourth solo album Frampton. Purportedly, an enthused audience demanded an encore, which Ray obliged alone with his bass before the others joined in. Some attendees left after Giant’s set. (The headliner was still a year shy of his mammoth Frampton Comes Alive fame.)
On June 21, Gentle Giant appeared at Philipshalle in Dusseldorf, Germany, for the 2nd Pop Meeting, a two-day festival with sets by Baker Gurvitz Army, Earth and Fire, Eloy, Grobschnitt, Hardin & York, Kin Ping Meh, Kraan, Message, Nektar, Omega, Pell Mell, Randy Pie, Savoy Brown, Scorpions, Secret Oyster, Streetmark, and UFO.
1975: Free Hand
Gentle Giant released their seventh album, Free Hand, on August 22, 1975, on Capitol (North America) and Chrysalis (abroad). It features seven songs by Minnear and the Shulman brothers. “On Reflection” is a partial a cappella number with vocal turns by Derek, Ray, Gary, and Kerry. Derek sings lead on the wobbly opener “Just the Same” and the folksy “Mobile.” He trades passages on “Time to Kill” and the title-track with Kerry, who sings lead on “His Last Voyage,” a quiet ballad with classical guitar, vibes, and Clavinet. The penultimate track, “Talybont,” is a Tudor-style instrumental with Green on recorder.
“Just the Same” starts on syncopated 7/8 with staccato piano, overlaid with clipped guitar. The sax-injected verses and wobbly chorus are in 6/8. The lyrics embrace freedom of expression and association. The slow, foggy middle gives way to a faster, wiggly passage before the song resumes. The wiggly, wobbly keyboard effects presage new wave music.
“On Reflection” starts a cappella with layered counter-vocals that coalesce on “all around, all around…” Minnear’s tender “I remember” verses feature Green on descant recorder and Ray on viola. A fast, filigree-laden instrumental sequence spins and modulates the vocal themes to fadeout. The track features Minnear on harpsichord, celesta, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, tympani, harp, and cello.
“His Last Voyage” opens with slow counterpoint between bass, staccato guitar, and glockenspiel. Minnear’s angelic vocals are interspersed with Clavinet refrains, roaming scales and mallet runs. Midway, a low-key, closed-cadence rhythm pattern takes hold with wailing leads and restless piano.
Gentle Giant produced Free Hand at Advision in April 1975. Martin engineered the album with assistant Paul Northfield, who also worked on the debut solo albums by guitarists Steve Hillage (Khan, Gong) and Steve Howe.
Hipgnosis illustrator Richard Evans did the Free Hand cover art. It shows a disembodied hand (color) reach from thin air to a mantle-shelf with a framed, monochrome picture of rope-bound hands. The surrounding wall pattern (continued on back) resembles the skin ridges (magnified) of hand prints. The band’s name appears in red blackletter over the title in two-dimensional (white–red) bold font. Evans also designed 1975 covers for Boxer (Below the Belt), Caravan, Hydra, Howard Werth & the Moonbeams, Solution (Cordon Bleu), and Strife.
Summer–Fall ’75 Tour
On August 16, 1975, Gentle Giant opened a three-act bill at Boston Garden with Frampton and Steppenwolf. In Quebec, they played the Stade de Trois-Rivieres (7/18/75), where they headlined over Pollen and Raoul Duguay. Giant, in turn, opened for Weather Report in Montreal (7/30: Autostade).
On September 21, Gentle Giant performed at London’s New Victoria Theatre, supported by unsigned folkie Michael Moore. Giant’s late ’75 setlist featured three songs from Free Hand (“Just the Same,” “On Reflection,” “Free Hand”), three from Power and the Glory (“Proclamation,” “So Sincere,” “Cogs in Cogs”), two oldies (“Plain Truth,” “Funny Ways”), the connected Glass House numbers “The Runaway–Experience,” and a revised “Excerpts from Octopus,” which now interpolated “Raconteur Troubadour” and “Acquiring the Taste.”
Gentle Giant embarked on a fall US tour that included shows with Jethro Tull (10/1: Capitol Center, Largo, Md.) and multiple dates with Rick Wakeman and ex-Spooky Tooth singer–keyboardist Gary Wright, then charting with the title-track from his third solo album Dream Weaver. Giant’s Oct. 7 show at Ultrasonic Recording Studio in Hempstead, NY, was broadcast locally on WLIR FM.
The Wakeman dates included triple-bills with Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House (10/10: Spectrum, Philadelphia) and a scheduled show at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati (10/18) with Procol Harum, who were touring Exotic Birds and Fruit and their just-released Procol’s Ninth. Procol — beset by a pre-show equipment truck breakdown — were barred from performing by Wakeman’s unsympathetic crew. The backstage sparring went public over Cincinnati’s WEBN radio.
On October 24, Gentle Giant played the Paramount Theatre in Portland, Ore., as the opening act for Strawbs, then touring behind their 1975 release Ghosts. Giant supported them on five West Coast dates before heading to Europe for a 15-city one-act tour. In December, Giant played 13 UK shows with support from Moore, still two years aware from his singular album: the curiously titled Planet Life release The Tallest Man In the World.
Gentle Giant released their eighth album, Interview, on April 23, 1976, on Chrysalis and Capitol. It features seven songs by Minnear and the Shulman brothers. Derek sings everything apart from sections of “Interview” (bridge: Weathers), “I Lost My Head” (first half: Minnear), and “Empty City” (verses: everyone). Kerry sings the verses on “Design,” which features vocal counterpoint with Derek and John in the middle.
“Interview” is a pounding 3/4 organ–bass rocker (in C minor) with aggressive vocals, soaring guitar refrains, and quiet, pointillist keyboard breaks. Minnear’s piano runs verge on free jazz. Midway, a pinging, echoey bass trades off with Green’s pinched, sitar-like tones.
“Give It Back” has a twitchy, reggaefied intro in 12/4 and jerky, alternating verse bars of 7/4 and 5/4, replete with muted Clavinet and ghostly Minimoog. On the middle-eight, a two-note staccato guitar–bass pattern zigzags in lockstep, interspersed with xylophone fills.
“Design” starts a cappella with contrapuntal vocals about an old man’s reflection on life. The middle is punctual expressionism with randomized jawsharp, vibraslap, wood blocks, and percussive sundries.
“Another Show” is a fast, jerky, frenetic full-band descent, broken by zigzag bars of bass–keyboard counterpoint in 10/4. Icy organ chords shimmer up and down amid the song’s climactic rush. This track presages the sounds XTC would create on their first two albums.
“Empty City” starts with a classical guitar cadenza, soon overlaid with foggy synthesizer and high harmonies. The bridge moves tightly upward on a sax-sprayed bassline with the refrain “How could she have been so wrong”).
“I Lost My Head” starts with a filigree of classical guitar, clavichord, and pizzicato violin. After the initial verses, the gentleness is gradually overtaken by an upward motif that sounds a gong at 2:50. The second half is an aggressive mid-tempo rocker (in C) with a bridge that intersperses clipped guitar parts and ascending unison runs.
Sessions took place in February–March 1976 at Advision with Northfield, who also engineered 1976 albums by Cado Belle (self-titled) and Locust. Journalist Phil Sutcliffe, a longtime champion of Gentle Giant, is heard in snippets conducting a band interview. The assistant engineer, , worked on Interview concurrently with Druid (Fluid Druid) and Wakeman (White Rock).
The Interview artwork is credited to Chris Clover and Geoff Allman. The front shows a zoomed-in clipping of the dictionary entry on the word “interview,” rendered transparent against a cloudy blue sky with a bold half-rainbow. The blackletter logo is filled with rainbow gradient. The back shows each member posed inside a quarter-circle while a six panel shows a half-rainbow over the disembodied head of Pantagruel. The quarter-circle theme carries over to the inner-sleeve with a blue-white scheme and a head-to-head group shot.
In Australia and Germany, Chrysalis lifted “Give It Back” (b/w “Empty City”).
On April 30, 1976, Gentle Giant embarked on a two-week, 12-date UK tour with Dutch jazz-rockers Solution. The tour kicked off in Cambridge and wrapped on May 15 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Their May 7 show at Birmingham Town Hall was attended by Roy Wood, whose recently completed jazz-rock album Main Street wound up in the vaults for 24 years.
Gentle Giant’s spring–summer ’76 setlist featured four Interview numbers: “Interview,” “Give It Back,” “Timing,” and the second half of “I Lost My Head,” performed as a medley with “Peel the Paint.” The prior album’s “Just the Same” and “Free Hand” were retained from the ’75 tours along with “Excerpts from Octopus,” “The Runaway–Experience” and a medley of “Proclamation” and its mirror “Valedictory.”
On May 17, Gentle Giant played Gaumont Hall in Southampton with Split Enz, a newly arrived Kiwi septet who were playing their first UK show as an audition for Chrysalis reps. Impressed with their set, Giant befriended Enz and helped them land the deal. Split Enz were summoned to the UK by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, who befriended the band at a double-bill in Australia. He produced their Northern Hemisphere debut Mental Notes, titled after their rare 1975 Oceanic debut album. (In August 1976, the Manzanera-produced album appeared Down Under as Second Thoughts.)
On May 21, Gentle Giant returned to Turfschip, Breda, for another show with Dutch art-popsters Kayak. The following day, Giant played the Oor Festival (aka Popfestival 76), an event at Stadion DHC in Delft, Holland, with sets by Alquin, Eric Burdon, and 10cc (plugging their fourth album How Dare You!).
Gentle Giant kicked off their ’76 US tour on June 17 at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Penn., with opening act Starcastle, a Champaign, Ill., symphonic-rock band whose debut album appeared on Epic that February. Starcastle backed Giant on nine dates of the tour, which also featured multi-bills with Derringer and Todd Rundgren‘s Utopia (6/22/76: Civic Center, Springfield, Mass.), Angel and Rainbow (7/6: Masonic Temple, Rochester), and back-to-back Midwest shows with Felix Pappalardi & Creation. On July 11, Giant played the Electric Ballroom in Dallas with a band called Uncle Rainbow, a shortplayer act with future members of Bourgeois Tagg.
On July 17, 1976, Gentle Giant played to an audience of 55,000 at Anaheim Stadium as the opening act for Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, and headliners Yes, who just reactivated after a year-long pause for solo albums, including recent releases by Jon Anderson (Olias of Sunhillow) and keyboardist Patrick Moraz (The Story of i). On the 18th, the same four acts played to 35,000 at San Diego’s Balboa Stadium.
Gentle Giant rounded out their US tour with a six-date West Coast leg supporting Yes, including shows in Portland (7/25: Memorial Coliseum) and Vancouver, BC (7/22: Pacific Coliseum).
On September 16, Gentle Giant launched a European tour at the Chateau Neuf in Oslo. After three shows in Sweden, Giant were joined at Philipshalle in Dusseldorf by Italian operatic rockers Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, who opened eight nights in Germany and France. The tour included stops in Munich (9/25: Circus Krone Building) and Paris (10/5: Pavillon de Paris) before wrapping in Brussels, Belgium (10/7: Cirque Royal). The last night featured a rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” a 1925 trad jazz standard that Giant often played during soundchecks but included in the Cirque set as a 75-second raveup titled “Breakdown in Brussels.”
1977: Playing the Fool, Spring Tour
In January 1977, Gentle Giant released Playing the Fool, a two-album set of live numbers taken from the Dusseldorf, Munich, Paris, and Brussels shows. Side one features Dusseldorf renditions of “On Reflection” (6:20) and a medley of “Just the Same” and “Proclamation” (11:13). Side two contains the Munich performance of “Funny Ways” (8:35). Side four includes “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the Brussels rendition of “Free Hand” (7:40).
Nearly half the set draws from the Paris show. Side three features a thrice elongated “So Sincere” (10:22) and a medley of “The Runaway” and “Experience” (9:31). “Excerpts from Octopus” (15:35) contains parts of “The Boys in the Band,” “Raconteur Troubadour” (an acoustic guitar duet), “Knots” (second half), and “The Advent of Panurge,” which breaks for a recorder duet. TBitB segues into “Raconteur” with the intro bars of “In a Glass House.” The bridge between “Raconteur” and “Knots” interpolates “Acquiring the Taste.”
Playing the Fool is housed in an Allman–Carden gatefold with four-panel imagery from each concert destination (outer) and a non-outlined dot-connect of Gentle Giant’s 1976 transatlantic tour itinerary (inner-gates). Northfield engineered the set in succession with albums by Pat Travers, Soft Machine (their Paris live album), and Giant’s upcoming studio release.
Gentle Giant promoted Playing the Fool with a winter–spring 1977 North American tour: launched on February 17 at Buffalo’s New Century Theatre with Rodan (possibly the Orinda, Calif. brass-rock band) and English rockers Mr. Big, a Queen-like band that recently hit the UK charts with the acoustic harmony ballad “Romeo.” The following night, Giant played Cincinnati’s Riverfront with Steve Hillage and headliners Electric Light Orchestra.
The Canadian leg included dates with Symphonic Slam (2/23/77: Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto) and two shows in Quebec with Et Cetera, a local act who made heavy use of Giant’s contrapuntal harmonies and mallet arrangements on their 1976 self-titled album.
On 12 dates, Gentle Giant shared bills with Renaissance, who were touring behind their 1977 magnum opus Novella. Giant opened in all cities apart from San Diego, where they headlined over Renaissance. Several dates featured third acts, including Sea Level (3/11: Fox Theater, Atlanta) and Mr. Big, who were plugging their stateside release Photographic Smile.
Apart from Renaissance, Gentle Giant headlined over Ace (two Northeast shows) and Canadian rockers Prism (3/19: Electric Ballroom, Dallas). In Texas, Giant headlined over Southern rockers Point Blank (3/20: The Wharf, Tulsa) and the unsigned Wommack Brothers (3/18: Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin), who later issued a self-pressed EP (Runaway Heart, 1981). Giant’s Portland–Seattle swing (March 25–26) reconnected them with Starcastle, now plugging their second album Fountains of Light. In California, Giant overtook Pablo Cruise at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.
Gentle Giant broke from the road in May to record their next album. In June, Giant pulled out of two multi-act events with Genesis, Lake, and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in the German cities of Koln (6/17: Mungersdorfer Stadion) and Offenbach (6/19: Stadion am Bieberer Berg). In Koln, Giant’s slot was filled by John Miles, who performed material from his 1976/77 albums Rebel and Stranger In the City.
The Missing Piece
Gentle Giant released their ninth studio album, The Missing Piece, on August 26, 1977, on Chrysalis and Capitol. It features nine songs by Minnear and the Shulman brothers, including the folk-tinged “As Old as You’re Young” and “Memories of Old Days” (at 7:18, their longest post-1973 number). Other songs explore funk-rock (“Mountain Time,” “Who Do You Think You Are?”), punk (“Betcha Thought We Couldn’t Do It,” “For Nobody”), and melodic pop-rock (“Two Weeks in Spain,” “I’m Turning Around”).
“Two Weeks in Spain” has a descending plucked guitar figure over a hopping rhythmic pattern. Derek mirrors the figure with taught vocals about idle, passing time. The figure modulates and alters for the piercing synth and treated electric piano passages on the middle-eight.
“I’m Turning Around” has a quiet, circular electric piano motif, complemented with Derek’s tender vocals about romantic compromise. A rising organ gives way to a power chorus in C major. Structurally, this is one of the earliest eighties-style power ballads.
“Mountain Time” opens with high, twitching piano and works into a sliding, harmonized groove on the line “Last night I had to tell you.” The lyrics concern romantic separation anxiety on tour dates in the Mountain time zone.
“For Nobody” opens frenetically on compound time with distorted organ over cymbal spray. The verses unravel over Derek’s cryptic cut-and-run clues. An old-style a cappella break and a sequence of clipped and fractious instrumental trade-offs wind back to the urgent song proper. The mix of intricacy, abandon, and nihilism mirrors The Stranglers.
Gentle Giant self-produced The Missing Piece at Relight Studios, a Dutch facility in Hilvarenbeek that Genesis used for their recent album Wind and Wuthering. Weathers opens “Winning” with a homemade tin-percussion contraption that a fan handed him on Giant’s spring tour.
Ray designed the Missing Piece cover with one Tanner. It shows a white puzzle piece on synthetic grass mat. The name and title are in white lower-case Poiret One typeface. On the back cover, the puzzle piece is revealed to be the missing piece to a Pantagruel puzzle. The inner-sleeve is solid green with a white puzzle shape on one side — a theme duplicated on the LP labels of the Capitol version. In most territories (US UK, Germany) the cover and sleeve are Kelly Green. Select markets pressed the cover in Sea Green (Canada) and grey-green (Italy).
“I’m Turning Around” preceded the album as the lead-off single, followed in October by “Two Weeks in Span.” They reached two albums back for the respective b-sides, “Just the Same” and “Free Hand.” In Germany, “Mountain Time” was the second single (b/w “Another Show”). Both German singles sport picture sleeves that carry over the grass mat and puzzle shape themes.
Fall ’77 Tour
Gentle Giant promoted The Missing Piece with an autumn 1977 North American tour. Their setlist featured six songs from that album: “Two Weeks In Space,” “I’m Turning Around” “Memories of Old Days” “Betcha Thought We Couldn’t Do It” “For Nobody,” and the encore number “Mountain Time.” They also performed two whole numbers from Free Hand (“On Reflection,” title-track) and a medley of “Just the Same” and “Playing the Game,” plus the perennial fave “Funny Ways” and the previously unperformed Power and the Glory deep-cut “The Face.” On some nights, they preceded “Excerpts from Octopus” with a blues jam. All material from Interview was dropped at this point.
Gentle Giant headlined all dates on this tour, supported in most cities by Dr. Feelgood, an R&B/punk act known for their kinetic live performances. Their third album, the 1976 live release Stupidity, topped the UK charts. Between their two 1977 albums (Sneakin’ Suspicion and Be Seeing You), wiry guitarist Wilko Johnson cleared out for Gypie Mayo.
The tour began on October 29, 1977, in Upper Darby at Pennsylvania Tower Theater. Select nights featured the third-billed acts Garfield (10/30/77: University of Guelph), Face Dancer (11/10: Louie’s Rock City, Bailey’s Crossroads, Va.), and Australian country rockers The Dingoes (11/8: Yale University). A cancelled date at Ontario Waterloo University was set to include Canadian rockers Rose. On consecutive NY nights (11/4: New Century Theatre, Buffalo; 11/5: NY Palladium), Giant and Feelgood were joined by Crawler, a continuation of the late Paul Kossoff’s post-Free outfit Back Street Crawler. Their album Crawler was moving units with the FM-rotated “Stone Cold Sober.”
On one date (11/15: Ohio Agora Ballroom), jazz–primitive guitarist Sandy Nassan served as Gentle Giant’s opening act. After Feelgood left the tour, Giant played Widener University in Chester, Penn. (11/18), with local pomp rockers Baby Grand, who just released their first of two albums on Arista. The tour headed Midwest with hard-rockers Law, finishing on November 22 at Milwaukee’s Oriental Landmark Theater.
1978: Giant for a Day!
“Words from the Wise” is a slick mid-tempo number with West Coast harmonies, clipped guitars, and a funky deep break with vocoder. “Thank You” edges into country blues with crisp acoustic chords and sliding licks over a rolling rhythm track. “Giant for a Day” is a spiky new wave cut with taut syllables, wobbly keyboards, and staccato riffing. “Spooky Boogie” is a quirky xylophone instrumental in the vein of Interview.
The first side wraps with “Take Me,” a funk–boogie with a harmonized chorus. Derek co-wrote the song with Weathers, who lone-wrote “Friends,” an earnest finger-picked folk tune with succinct phrasing (“Enemies, some say, add spice to your life… but I’ve always hated to be so disliked.”)
Side two also features “Little Brown Bag,” a raunchy Streetwalkers-style rocker with barroom piano; and “No Stranger,” a refined funk-boogie with Beatle-esque bridge harmonies and a modulated outro. The album closes with “Rock Climber,” a driving, aggressive rocker with shouted vocals over an ascending riff; inter-cut with a staccato music hall bridge.
Stylistically, Giant for a Day! draws from an adult-oriented template — Little Feat, Steely Dan, West Coast rock — similar to the 1977/78 output of fellow Brits 10cc (Deceptive Bends, Bloody Tourists), City Boy (Young Men Gone West), Cafe Jacques (Round the Back, International), Charlie (No Second Chance, Lines), Racing Cars (Weekend Rendezvous), Sad Cafe (Fanx Ta’Ra, Facades), and other accomplished acts with members in the 28–32 age range.
Gentle Giant recorded and self-produced Giant for a Day! in April–May 1978 at Ramport Studios, Battersea; Maison Rouge, Fulham; and Scorpio Sound, Euston. Northfield engineered the album in succession with titles by Judas Priest (Stained Class) and National Health (self-titled).
Ray and Tanner conceived the packaging for Giant for a Day! The cover, illustrated by Peter Owen, features a cut-out mask of Pantagruel (with instructions) against a blue background with the title in a thought bubble. The back has a b&w photo collage of subjects “wearing” the (doctored on) mask, including a boxer, a rugby team, a beauty pageant contestant, and royal figures. The lyrical inner-sleeve is blue with white text. An additional insert features a grayscale version of the Pantagruel cut-out mask. Owen also designed covers for Chrysalis and Polydor comps of Blodwyn Pig, Fatback Band, Gloria Gaynor, James Brown, and Steeleye Span.
Capitol (US) issued “Words from the Wise” as a single (b/w “Spooky Boogie”). A limited pressing appeared on orange vinyl as part of a Halloween promo package with the Pantagruel mask, a Giant for a Day! jacket pin, a “Little Brown Bag” (for trick or treat), and an orange lollipop. Chrysalis (UK) issued “Thank You” as the first single (b/w “Spooky Boogie”), followed by “Words from the Wise” (b/w “No Stranger”).
Gentle Giant didn’t tour behind Giant for a Day! but they did make videos for “Words from the Wise” and the title-track, both comprised of studio footage.
Gentle Giant released their eleventh studio album, Civilian, on March 3, 1980, on Chrysalis and Columbia (US). It features seven songs by Minnear and the Shulman’s but starts with “Convenience (Clean and Easy),” a co-write between Derek and Green. Musically, the album presents mid-tempo and uptempo melodic rock with shiny production.
“Convenience (Clean and Easy)” is a medium-uptempo rocker with thick, vicious riffing and bubbling synths. Derek’s biting lyrics rail throwaway products and cheap entertainment.
“Underground” activates with cymbal-sprayed open chords over a crisp, trebly bassline. The harmonized verses cope with the boredom of travel with churning disco precision, resolving with the line “On the wheels in motion, underground.”
“I Am a Camera” is a bouncing rocker (verse in A, chorus in B) with lyrics about the frozen, eternal image: a recurrent theme in early eighties lyrics (“Turning Japanese,” “Camera, Camera”). Yes used the same chorus line on “Into the Lens,” a track on their 1980 album Drama. Its co-writers, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, rerecorded the song as “I Am a Camera” on Adventures In Modern Recording, the second of two albums by their synth-duo project The Buggles.
“Inside Out” is a slow, foreboding track with a rising, staccato guitar line over a ticking hi-hat. The narrator awakes from a blackout and grapples with his senses and diminished mobility: a predicament underscored on the ominous chorus line “Do I need lifting?”
“It’s Not Imagination” floods in with a tight, upward spiraling riff. Derek’s taut inquiries into the hidden subtext of advertising leads him to the simple conclusion of the chorus, delivered over a bouncing ascent. Green’s sheer, trebly chords overlay the song’s extended instrumental refrain.
Sessions took place between August and November 1979 at Wessex Sound Studios, London, and Bijou Studios, Hollywood. Gentle Giant self-produced Civilian, which was engineered at Wessex by Civilian was remixed at Sound City in Van Nuys, Calif. by Mike Shipley, who also worked on 1979/80 albums by Broken Home, City Boy, Night, and Tycoon.
Civilian sports a modernist cover designed by Nancy Donald and Go-Go’s manager Ginger Canzoneri. It shows a modified image from the 1940s of men in hats, ties, and overcoats crowded in a terminal. They’re rendered faceless; their shirts are colored light blue in the otherwise monochrome image. The photograph was sourced from the archives of Dan Weiner (1919–1959), a photojournalist for Fortune magazine. The band name appears overhead in paint strokes (yellow) with the title embedded within the name (red). The back cover shows one of the hatted subjects zoomed with the paint strokes color-inverted (red name, yellow title). Nancy also did 1979/80 covers for Bliss Band, Boz Scaggs (Middle Man), Frannie Golde, Gary Myrick, Group 87 (self-titled), Ren Woods, Splendor, and Weather Report.
German Chrysalis issued a 7″ of “All Through the Night” (b/w “Convenience (Clean and Easy)”). Stateside, Gentle Giant re-signed with Columbia, which last issued their 1972 albums Three Friends and Octopus. The Columbia deal was brokered by FM radio consultant Lee Abrams, who met with the band before sessions commenced to discuss the direction of their new music.
A ninth track from the Civilian sessions, “Heroes No More,” remained unreleased until the album’s first CD reissue. It’s a pensive, mid-tempo rocker with an arching organ theme over a staccato, descending pattern (in G minor). Derek recalls forgotten icons from his youth that he still admires, even if he now sees them as mortals.
Final Tour, Breakup
Gentle Giant promoted Civilian with a May–June 1980 tour that included four shows in New York state with local rockers 805. On May 17, Giant played the Palladium, NYC (formerly the Academy of Music) with David Sancious. A week later, Giant made appearances in Asbury Park and Mempstead with new wavers Regina Richards & the Red Hots, whose frontwoman later recorded mononymously as Regina and scored a 1986 Billboard Top 10 with the Madonna-soundalike “Baby Love.”
In Texas, Gentle Giant headlined over San Antonian hard-rockers Heyoka (6/3/80: Palace, Houston) and shortplayer act Lightning (6/4: Bijou Showcase Club, Dallas). The Southwest leg included a show at Old Waldorf in San Francisco with comedian A. Whitney Brown, later known for his satirical commentary as a featured performer on Saturday Night Live, where he appeared on the Weekend Update segments during Dennis Miller’s tenure (1985–91).
In mid-June, Giant did multiple two-show nights with the Juggler James Marcel at the Roxy in West Hollywood. The last, on June 16, was Gentle Giant’s final performance.
- 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)
- Discogs: Gentle Giant
- English Albums: G (page 2)
- 45worlds: Gentle Giant
- 45cat: Gentle Giant
- Gentle Giant Tour History
- Concerts Wiki: Gentle Giant
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