Friday, 30 September 2016

"Gentle Giant/Acquiring The Taste" by GENTLE GIANT (2012 Beat Goes On 2CD Remasters by Andrew Thompson) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...A Tall Tale..." 

Talk about keeping it in the family – Portsmouth brothers and multi-instrumentalists Derek, Ray and Phil Shulman teamed up with classically trained guitarist Gary Green, keyboard whizz Kerry Minnear and drummer Martin Smith in 1970 to form GENTLE GIANT. Abandoning their Sixties Simon Dupree & The Big Sound pop sensibilities entirely – they powered full tilt into the emerging sound of the day – Progressive Rock. Eleven albums later and England's Prog heroes were still there in 1980 – giving it loads of difficult syncopations and selling bugger all records.

This first double-disc reissue of their extensive back-catalogue put out by England’s reputable Beat Goes On label remasters the South Coast boy’s first two Prog outings at Vertigo in 1970 and 1971 – home of many'd the eye-catching gatefold sleeve. Not dissimilar in style to King Crimson and Yes but without perhaps the same (dare we say it) commerciality – Gentle Giant nonetheless built a steady and fiercely loyal following - and on the evidence presented here you can understand why that affection still endures today. Amazing playing virtuosity - clever classical interludes and layered harmony vocals sat on top of a trademark guitar sound not unlike Robert Fripp enjoying himself - it's all here - sounding and looking great too. Here are the tall tales and the bearded technicalities for their first two steps…

UK released November 2012 – "Gentle Giant/Acquiring The Taste" by GENTLE GIANT on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1095 (Barcode 5017261210951) offers their first two studio albums remastered onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Gentle Giant" (37:05 minutes):
1. Giant
2. Funny Ways
3. Alucard
4. Isn't It Quiet And Cold
5. Nothing At All [Side 2] 6. Why Not
7. The Queen
Tracks 1 to 7 are their debut album "Gentle Giant" - released November 1970 in the UK on Vertigo Records 6360 020 (it was not issued in the USA). Produced by TONY VISCONTI.

Disc 2 "Acquiring The Taste" (39:07 minutes):
1. Pantagruel's Nativity
2. Edge Of Twilight
3. The House, The Street, The Room
4. Acquiring The Taste
5. Wreck [Side 2]
6. The Moon s Down
7. Black Cat
8. Plain Truth
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 2nd studio album "Acquiring The Taste" - released July 1971 in the UK on Vertigo Records 6360 041 (not issued in the USA). Produced by TONY VISCONTI.

DEREK SHULMAN - Lead and Backing Vocals (some Bass), Alto Sax, Clavichord and Cowbell
RAY SHULMAN - Bass, Violin, Electric Violin, Viola, Spanish Guitar, 12-String Guitar, Organ Bass Pedals, Skulls, Tambourine Percussion and Backing Vocals
PHIL SHULMAN - Alto and Tenor Sax, Trumpet, Clarinet, Recorder, Piano, Claves, Maracas, Lead and Backing Vocals
KERRY MINNEAR - Electric Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Vibraphone, Moog, Piano, Celeste, Clavichord, Harpsichord, Tympani, Maracas, Bass, Cello, Lead and Backing Vocals and Tuned Percussion
GARY GREEN - Lead Guitar, 6 and 12-String Guitar, Wah-Wah Guitar, Donkey's Jawbone, Cat Calls and Vocals
MARTIN SMITH - Drums, Gongs,Tambourine and Percussion

CLAIRE DENIZ - Cello on "Isn't It Quiet And Cold" on the "Gentle Giant" LP
PAUL COSH - Tenor Horn on "Giant" and played Trumpet and Organ on the "Acquiring The Taste" LP
TONY VISCONTI - Recorder, Bass Drum and Triangle on the "Acquiring The Taste" LP

The outer card slipcase gives the release a classy feel (now generic with all BGO releases) while the 16-page booklet is packed with original details (the Tony Visconti 'A Tale Tale' liner notes that graced the inner gatefold of the debut LP) and properly in-depth assessments of the albums and the band by noted writer DAVID WELLS (done in 2012). The final few pages give you the lyrics to both records - all of it centred by a black and white photo of the original six-piece band. ANDREW THOMPSON has carried out the new Remasters at Sound Performance in London and while the 1st LP is undoubtedly hissy in places - both records are full of presence and power - the second album "Acquiring The Taste" in particular shining like a new sixpence (there were mastering issues on the first run of these CDs but I've experienced none of that in 2016).

Defiant in their musical vision - you're struck at first by their playing - Gentle Giant was an accomplished band right from the off with musical adventure and boundary-breaking forcably built into their DNA. The debut album is ragged around the edges for sure – but it’s mighty in scope and daring. A doomy church organ hisses in for "Giant" and you're in ELP territory before Derek Shulman comes roaring in the vocals like the younger brother of Roger Chapman from Family. Things get really interesting with "Funny Ways" - a fantastic amalgam of beautiful cello, acoustic guitar, electric wah-wah and even a lone brass instrument all combining into a delicate choral rock track - Phil Shulman's lead vocal softer and more suited to the song. "Alucard" (Dracula spelt backwards and a label name used for GG reissues) is proper Prog - huge synth chords - phased vocals - brass jabs and lyrics about 'terror fills my soul' - nice. Side 2 opens with the Emily Bronte Baroque of "Isn't It Quiet And Cold" - whimsy vocals dancing daintily above a violin, harpsichord, cello and timpani plinking. Hardly surprising that the nine-minute "Nothing At All" was chosen as the representative track of the album on the 2005 Vertigo 3CD Box Set "Time Machine" (see separate review) - it's stunning - beautiful - surprising and the playing/arrangements are so damn accomplished like Yes meets Jethro Tull by way of Family (the Bass and that ever-present Acoustic Guitar
are particularly sweet and clear on the remaster). The guitar Prog of "Why Not" is superb too but the mock 'God Save' "The Queen" tests your patience a tad.

If the first album was an announcement and more-than-promising start - the largely improvised 2nd album delivered on that Prog entree. Like "Nothing At All" from the 1st LP - "Pantagruel's Nativity" was chosen as the representative of "Acquiring The Taste" for the "Time Machine" Vertigo Box Set - another near seven minutes of wickedly good mellotron and guitar. Inspired by the French Author Francois Rabelius and his tale of jousting giants 'Gargantua and Pantagruel' - it has fabulous audio especially on this chunky guitars and layered vocals. You're then thrown by the sheer prettiness of "Edge Of Twlight" as sounds flit from speaker to speaker - a pretty Prog ditty as I say but with menace provided by big kettle drums and phased voices. "The House The Street The Room" feels like Family meets Genesis somewhere between 1968's "Music In A Doll's House" and 1970's "Nursery Cryme". The short synth pavane of "Acquiring The Taste" precedes "Wreck" which has an almost catchy Uriah Heap chorus of 'hey yeah'. But for me the album is sealed by the final three - "The Moon Is Down", "Black Cat" and "Plain Truth" - all of which display more clever breaks than you can shake a stick at. At seven and half-minutes and opening with some wicked wah-wah guitar not unlike Hendrix having a doodle on his Strat - the longest of the three "Plain Truth" is very cool Prog indeed and leaves you impressed by an unsung hero of an LP (fans consider ATT a gem).

In the liner notes for "Acquiring The Taste" - GENTLE GIANT collectively stated that their music should be '...unique, adventurous and fascinating...' even ' the risk of being very unpopular...' Job done boys...

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