Gentle Giant

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1969-71)

- Gary Green -- guitar

- Kelly Minnear - vocals, keyboards, cello

- Derek V. Shulman -- vocals, sax

- Phil Schulman -- vocals, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, recorder,


- Ray Shulman -- vocals, bass, violin

- Martin Smith -- drums, percussion


  line up 2 (1971-73)

- Gary Green -- guitar

- Kelly Minnear - vocals, keyboards, cello

- Malcolm Mortimore -- drums, percussion (replaced Martin Smith)

- Derek V. Shulman -- vocals, sax

- Phil Schulman -- vocals, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, recorder,


- Ray Shulman -- vocals, bass, violin


  line up 3 (1973-80)

- Gary Green -- guitar

- Kelly Minnear - vocals, keyboards, cello

- Derek V. Shulman -- vocals, sax

- Ray Shulman -- vocals, bass, violin

- John Weathers -- drums, percussion, vocals (replaced 

  Malcolm Mortimore)




- Ancient Grease

- Big Sleep

- Graham Bond Organization (John Weathers)

- Pete Brown and Piblokto

- Simon Dupree & The Big Sound

- Eyes of Blue

- The Grease Band

- The Moles

- Neutrons

- The Reapers

- Strawberry Dust

- Wild Turkey




Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  The Power and the Glory

Company: Capitol

Catalog: ST 11337

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: curved sleeve; original lyric inner sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 198

Price: $20.00


1974's, self-produced 'The Power and The Glory"  was released after a two year absence from the US market (1973's "In a Glass House" didn't see an American release).  The album revealed another round of personnel changes with multi-instrumentalist Phil Shulman having quit to become a teacher and the addition of former Graham Bond Organization drummer John Weathers to the line-up.  Though extensive, for the most part the personnel changes didn't see major changes in their musical orientation, which continued to feature a weird mixture of '70s progressive moves (think ELP, Genesis, and Yes) and English folk influences (think Fairport Convention).  Apparently a concept piece whose plotline was largely lost to my ears (something to do with the rise and fall of a politician ?), the playing on this one remained sterling throughout, with keyboardist Kelly Minnear getting plenty of spotlight time.  That said, the first time I listened to this album I clearly remember thinking something along the lines "if Spinal Tap had been a progressive band, I bet they would have sounded like this album ..."   Mind, you, legions of Gentle Giant fans are going to tell you I'm stupid, or worse ...  That's fine.  I own quite a few of the band's albums and while I like much of their catalog (including bits of this LP), I'm going to stick by my guns on this one.  It almost sounded as if the band were unsure what to do next and the result was a compromise showcasing some of their most progressively oriented efforts ('So Sincere'), some hard rock ('Valedictory'), and even some commercial moves ('Aspirations').  Individually it was all fairly impressive, but taken as a whole ...  not so much.   Unless you were a hardcore Gentle Giant fan, this one was likely to be a challenging proposition.  



"The Power and the Glory" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Proclamation   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 6:44  rating: *** stars

Built on a cool Minnear electric piano riff, 'Proclamation' took the riff and beat it into dissonant submission.  Almost jazzy at times, the track captured the band at their most progressive orientation, bouncing through a series of complex time and melodic structures in rapid succession.   

2.) So Sincere   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 3:46   rating: ** stars

The opening sax and violin section combined with a reflective folk-ish vocal made 'So Sincere' even harder to figure out.  Very dissonant, this one didn't make for particularly easy listening and was one of the tracks that inspired the earlier Spinal Tap comment.   YouTube has a clip of the band performing the song for the West German ZDF television network: 

3.) Aspirations   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 4:36  rating: **** stars

And just when I'd about given up on the album, the band unveiled one of their prettiest melodies via the ballad 'Aspirations'.  Opening up with some gentle Minnear electric piano,  Derek Schulman turned in a restrained, but simply gorgeous vocal - easy to imagine the late Sandy Denny taking a stab at this one.   

4.) Playing the Game   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 6:44  rating: **** stars

'Playing the Game' was even better showing these guys knew how to combine progressive sounds with a more commercial orientation - always loved Ray Shulman's dance-ready bass line.  Hard to believe I'm saying this, but even with the needless mid-song jam session that was apparently intended to showcase Minnear's chops), this one actually had considerable commercial potential.  I'm not sure where it was filmed, but YouTube has a 1978 performance of the song:


(side 2)
1.) Cogs In Cogs   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 3:06  rating: **** stars

The first couple of times it didn't do much for me, but eventually I came around to the 'Cogs In Cogs' charms.  Showcasing Minnear's keyboards and some nifty harmony vocals, the song had a goofy, jittery edge, but was fun and one of the songs I'd pull off for a 'best of' set.   YouTube has a clip of the band performing the song live for the West German ZDF television network:  

2.) No God's a Man   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 4:23  rating: *** stars

I guess it was bound to happen and the band's Yes-influences came streaming out on 'No God's a Man'.  Interesting instrumentation including harpsichord, some Chris Squire-styled bass, and the band's overlooked layered, harmony vocal capabilities ...   

3.) The Face   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 4:09  rating: ** stars

To my ears any song that opens up with an electronic violin and a syncopated beat starts at a major disadvantage so 'The Face' simply never had a chance in my book.  Dense and difficult; and what was with Derek's pained vocals ?  He literally sounded like he just smashed his pinky in a doorway. 

4.) Valedictory   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 3:13  rating: *** stars 

Guitarist Gary Green had been largely subdued until the closer 'Valedictory'.  Opening up with some crushing Green chords, he steals the show on the album's final performance.  Not sure why, but this one's always reminded me of a Genesis track.


The band actually recorded a song entitled 'The Power and the Glory'.  I'm not enough of a GG fan to have the inside story, but my understanding is that it was written as an after thought - almost a contractual obligation effort intended to placate record executives who didn't think any of the album tracks had commercial potential.  So here's the funny thing - even though the band reportedly hated the song, it was actually quite good; certainly commercial, but with enough edge to please progressive fans:








- 1974's 'The Power and the Glory' b/w 'Playing the Game' (WWA catalog number WWS 017)









Genre: progressive

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  The Missing Piece

Company: Capitol

Catalog: ST 11696

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $20.00


While I'm not a Gentle Giant fanatic, I own several of their albums and I can tell you the first half of 1977's "The Missing Piece" is unlike anything they'd recorded up to that point.  There ninth studio set in seven years, this is also the album where the band started to lose their longstanding progressive fan base.  Do I hear someone screaming "SELL OUT" in the background?


So I don't know enough about the band's history, or inner workings to understand the reasons for their shift towards a more open and commercial sound.  Perhaps it was driven by commercial realities - Capitol /Chrysalis management telling them to sell more records, or lose their recording contracts?  Perhaps they were feeling the pressure of an audience that had increasingly embraced punk and new wave simplicity?  Maybe they were just tired of the complexities associated with being a progressive band and wanted to play shorter, punchier songs?  Maybe they just wanted the cash in order to finance more days in Spain?   I'm sure it breached the standard progressive band recording contract, but 'Memories of Old Days' was the only song that clocked in over five minutes.  What I can say is I quite like the album.  That will put me out of step with many fans, but I'd point out that a Gentle Giant pop tune is not the same thing as a KC and the Sunshine Band pop tune.  Yeah the Derek Shulman, Ray Shulman and Kelly Minnear songwriting team definitely went for a stripped down approach this time around.  And I like it.  I found the entire first side to be a hoot.  'Two Weeks In Spain' was a hysterical travel commercial.  Great melody; cute lyric; sense of fun.  'I'm Turning Around' was an inward looking power ballad that's always reminded me of Phil Collins-era Genesis. Admittedly, that's not necessarily a great comparison, but I like Collins-era Genesis.  The rockin' 'Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It' seemed like a jab at their progressive fans.   'Who Do You Think You Are?' and 'Mountain Time' were both catchy.  The first parts of side two found the band retreating towards a more patented Gentle Giant progressive sound.   The funny thing is I liked these songs just as much.   As Old As You Are Young' managed to take medieval folk flavors and make them catchy.  'Memories of Old Days' was simply one of the prettiest things they ever recorded.  Even though it clocked in at over seven minutes, the song goes by in a flash.  'Winning' and 'For Nobody' returned to Gentle Giant's idea of what a rock song should sound like.  The term I've seen over and over is "transitional album".  I can go along with that.  My executive summary would be -   music for folks who think Phil Collins-era Genesis is progressive and progressive music for people who don't like progressive music.


"The Missing Piece" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Two Weeks In Spain   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 3:00   rating: **** stars

I'm not a gigantic Gentle Giant fan, but have to admit that 'Two Weeks In Spain' caught my attention for how catchy and downright funky it was.  I'm using the "funky" term loosely, but yeah, propelled by John Weather's frenetic drumming and Ray Shulman's bass line, the song had a bouncy melody (well a series of interwoven melodies) and a fun lyric "We're back again, drink the wine, weather's fine, only two weeks in Spain is not enough ...".  I bet the Spanish tourism industry loved this song.  Add to that, for a progressive band these guys sounded like the were actually having fun.  Sh*t, I think with a couple of beers down the hatch (or perhaps a couple of Sangrias), you could actually boogie to this one.  It made for an interesting choice as an English single:


- 1977's 'Two Weeks In Spain' b/w 'Free Hand' (Chrysalis catalog number CHS 2181)


Well worth watching, YouTube has an enjoyable 1978 BBC Sight & Sound Concert performance of the song. Wonder if you can still buy a jumpsuit like the one Derek Shulman was wearing? 




2.) I'm Turning Around   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 3:54  rating: **** stars

Listening to the ballad 'I'm Turning Around' you could be forgiven for thinking these guys had been listening to a lot of Phil Collins-era Genesis.  The song's quite pretty with an apparent theme of personal renewal (?), but the combination of Gary Green's lead guitar and Kelly Minnear's synthesizer washes sure sounded a lot like "Abacab" era Genesis.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, though hardcore Gentle Giant fans were probably appalled.  The song was tapped as the US single:

- 1977's 'I'm Turning Around' b/w 'Cogs In Cogs' (Capitol catalog number 4484)

Here's another clip from their 1978 BBC Sight & Sound Concert:  

3.) Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 2:20  rating: **** stars

Geez, and I thought the two prior songs were commercial ...  'Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It' literally sounded like they were trying to write a punk-flavored top-40 tune.  Wonder if the song title was a slam at their hardcore progressive fan base?  If so, I bet those old geezers weren't very happy.  Say what you will, but the track certain rocked out.  And here's the Sound & Sight clip.  Worth it just to see Gary Green's stage moves (Kelly Minnear on keyboards and second guitar): 

4.) Who Do You Think You Are?   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 3:33  rating: **** stars

And just when you thought the album couldn't get any more mainstream, along came the bouncy 'Who Do You Think You Are?'  Sporting a melody that crept into your head and wouldn't leave, the secret sauce on this one was Ray Shulman's bouncy bass line.

5.) Mountain Time   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 3:19  rating: **** stars

'Mountain Town' threw out any semblance of progressive moves in favor of a slice of boogie-rock.  The song's always reminded me of a mash-up of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Stevie Winwood and Traffic. You could probably dance to this one even if you were sober.  I can see progressive fans rushing to lift the tone arm.  The song was tapped as a German single:



- 1978's 'Mountain Time' b/w 'Another Show' (Chrysalis catalog number 6155 024)

Here's the Sight & Sound clip:  






(side 2)

1.) As Old As You Are Young   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 4:19  rating: **** stars

There's a good chance that lots of Gentle Giant fans never made it through the first side, which is unfortunate since they would have found some respite on side two.  In comparison to the first side, 'As Old As You Are Young'  marked a return to their progressive roots - kind of.   Kicked along by Kelly Minnear's gurgling synthesizers (he also shared lead vocals with Derek Shulman), structural it was far more intricate than the first five songs, with an interesting medieval folk flavor.  That said, the tune was still catchy.  Catchy as in something you might catch yourself humming.

2.) Memories of Old Days   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 7:15   rating: **** stars

With Green and Ray Shulman on acoustic guitars (12 and 6 strings respectively) and Minnear doubling on electric guitar and keyboards 'Memories of Old Days' displayed a gorgeous melody, marking Gentle Giant's return to classic progressive territory.   In addition to picking up bass responsibilities, Derek Shulman added one of his best vocal performances to the mix making for one of the album's highpoints. As for the song's meaning?  I've always taken it literally; the band looking back and where they've been over the past decade.  Anyhow, I've seldom had seven minutes fly by so quickly.  Here's the Sight & Sound link: 

3.) Winning   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 4:12   rating: **** stars

'Winning' provided drummer Weather's moment in the spotlight.  Hum, given all the percussion, for a moment I thought I'd put on a disco album ...  It's the album's strangest song and at times sounded like Weather and the rest of the band were playing two different songs.  I'm not sure how, but the combination of Green's rollicking lead guitar and Minnear's keyboard managed to make this one of the album's most commercial performances.

4.) For Nobody   (Derek Shulman - Ray Shulman - Kelly Minnear) - 4:00   rating: **** stars

Geez, riding on Ray Schulman's roaring bass line (could he be the best bass player in rock and roll?), 'For Nobody' sounded like the band had gone full-in to show they could rock and roll, or they had all overdosed on stimulants.  It was skitterish and jerky and reminds me of Andy Partridge and XTC might have sounded like had they decided they wanted to become a progressive band.  And then the intertwining vocals kicked in along with the Focus-styled flute and for a brief moment we were back in traditional Gentle Giant territory.  This may be my favorite song on the album.  Here's the Sight & Sound line: