Get this crazy baby off my head!


Gentle Giant

Gentle Giant - The Last Steps - 1996 - Red Steel Music

GG were never as commercially successful as some of their peers (like King Crimson or Yes), but they are one of the greatest and most influential progressive rock bands of the 1970s. Their early albums are sophisticated and complex,and never commercial, but really worth getting into. Their music may be an acquired taste, but when your musical "palate" adapts to GG's music you will enjoy their albums. Gentle Giant cover rock, blues, jazz, & even Renaissance madrigals, marked by a heavy classical influence and unique use of vocal counterpoint. Sound quality is only fair on the '96 issue, especially the guitar parts. This is a 192 version, so you know what to expect. However, if you are a GG fan, and haven't heard this album, you may be less critical of the sound. It is a great concert from this great band. This is a previously unreleased live recording of Gentle Giant's last concert in the USA, at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, on June 16, 1980. It was the second of two shows that day. It is an official recording, and was re-issued in 2003, in a remastered version with a gatefold sleeve. Buy their brilliant 1975 "Freehand" album, listen to their great "Acquiring the Taste", & "Octopus" albums, and there is info on the band's "Out Of The Woods:The BBC Sessions" album @ GG/OOTW/BBC


Convenience (3:47)
All Through the Night (4:19)
Free Hand (7:75)
Knots (3:31)
Playing The Game (5:01)
Memories of Old Days (8:31)
Giant For A Day (5:24)
Inside Out (6:05)
It's Not Imagination (4:11)
Underground (3:42)
Five-man drum bash (7:04)
Band intro (2:11)
For Nobody (5:43)
Advent of Panurge (6:35)
Number One (6:42)


Gary Green - Guitars
Kerry Minnear - Keyboards, Vocals
Derek Shulman - Vocals
Ray Shulman - Bass, Acoustic Guitars, Backing Vocals
John Weathers - Drums, Backing Vocals


Look, somebody got to take some friggin' care of these boots. Yet another release from the vaults, yet another release of absolutely abysmal audience-quality. Yeah, so, I know some is better than none, but still, couldn't something be done about it? Bring Derek's vocals a bit higher and put the goddamn audience a bit lower? Every time some drunk bastard farts I hear it much better than when Gary Green makes a particularly breathtaking complex guitar passage. And I know both 'Free Hand' and 'Underground' could not have sounded so terribly loose. You bet your ass it's all to do with uneven volume levels and such. They simply sound as if they were playing in different rooms. Nah. I do care about that, especially considering that the show in question was very good. The liner notes, as well as Derek himself in a short speech, inform me that 'this really was the last time the band played in America' (checking the band's concertography, I'm tempted to suggest the show was held at the Roxy Theatre, LA, on June 16th), and, as is usual, when it's your last night, you try to do everything especially well. I really have few complaints - outside the sound quality department, that is. In fact, had the sound been even moderately better, I could have defended the concert down to the last of my guts as being on par with The Official Live. Yes, despite the fact that this is indeed the Gentle Giant of the Giant For A Day and Civilian period rather than the 'classic' Gentle Giant. Naturally, as every reasonable band, they dedicate much of the time to promoting their last album - which is fine and dandy by me. I like most of these songs, and obviously, the band members like them as well, because 'All Through The Night' is delivered with a vengeance: Gary simply tears through the strings, and that weird, depressive feeling I got when listening to the studio version hits even harder for the live performance. 'Convenience', 'It's Not Imagination', and 'Inside Out' more or less match the studio counterparts; 'Number One' is used as the show closer where it eventually transforms into a raucous blues jam with Gary, once again, obliterating the rest of the band. And 'Underground' - gee I'm so glad they performed 'Underground'! - for some reason leads into an infamous 'Five Man Drum Bash', which is just what it bills itself as. The "bash" must have looked fine (hey, I remember when I saw Yes doing a similar thing, I was thrilled, for a few minutes at least), but the problem is, such things translate on to record very poorly, and when you got a recording the quality of a village shithouse, there's no real talk of any 'translation' at all. Going back in time, we have only one track from Giant For A Day - the title one, which Derek apparently was performing with his mask on. Again, poor recording quality totally "dismatches" Derek's vocals with everything else, but on the other hand, Kerry's keyboards are much more prominent, and the drum parts are really ferocious. And don't tell me, all ye "pop period detractors", that the audience was peppering the band with rotten tomatoes and broken copies of Giant For A Day while they were playing this. Uh-huh. They were cheering and burst into applause at the end of the song. Nobody cared about the genre of the songs played, everybody cared for the quality. And the quality of 'Giant For A Day' is good! It's fun! Going still back in time, from The Missing Piece we have the best song, 'Memories Of Old Days'. Alas, shitty recording quality nearly kills it off - no wonder, as it's a quiet acoustic-based piece. However, not even the shitty quality can make such a humble and pretty tune go completely rotten. The spectators are polite enough to quiet down as Gary slowly settles into his idiom, and we even get to hear Kerry's ultra-hushy vibes whistling the main theme before Derek takes it over. A bit overlong, perhaps, just like in the studio, but still a touching moment. We also have one song I really have little use for - 'For Nobody'. Apt title, really. Well, at least it's fast. Which leaves us with just four numbers from the really good old days to appease the progressive appetites of those present. (Provided somebody at the Roxy Theatre in 1980 still had any progressive appetites). Yet these are good songs! Of course, there's very little space to incorporate everything, but hey, you want solid renditions of golden oldies, you go back to The Official Live. Apparently the "golden oldies" were only meant to serve as 'breathers' in between the new material, and I fully accept that point of view. Fortunately, the performances are good. 'Playing The Game' inspires no special pieces of writing from me, but 'Free Hand' really rocks, with Gary hitting it off with his wah-wah, and 'Knots' is really titanic on here - they begin it with a sort of "monster stomp", building up the tension, and then, as the tension is finally relieved with the familiar bombastic introduction, the audience goes wild. Heh, I wish I could go wild over 'Knots', do I? Actually, for these fifteen or twenty introductory seconds, I can. And, of course, no show can get it on without 'The Advent Of Panurge' - isn't that song something of a 'Satisfaction' for the band? In short, I think The Last Steps demonstrate one important thing: namely, that there's no unbridgeable gap between the proggy past and the poppy present. If they wanted to evolve in that direction, they had every right to do so, as long as something creative would come out. And they had no qualms about setting 'Advent Of Panurge' next to 'Giant For A Day', and I salute 'em for that. Now if only they'd recorded this concert themselves instead of extracting old worn tapes from unwilling fans by means of extreme dental torture, everybody's fortune would be a good deal brighter. [ from George Starostin's Music Reviews, Only Solitaire, http://starling.rinet.ru/music/gentle.htm#Steps


The three Shulman brothers had previously formed Simon Dupree And The Big Sound with three others in 1966. They cut 9 singles 1966-69 (and one as The Moles in 1968) and one album in 1967, all for Parlophone. The act played r’n’b and soul and ventured into psychedelia and pop. After disbanding late 1969, the three brothers formed Gentle Giant Feb 1970, bringing drummer Martin Smith, who had joined Simon Dupree early 1969, with them. Kerry Minnear, who had graduated from the Academy of Music in 1969 with a degree in composition, joined them on keyboards and vocals, and guitarist Gary Green was brought in to complete the lineup in March. The group were then signed to progressive label Vertigo. Their first album displayed their thorough arrangements, utilizing counterpoint and polyphony like no other groups within rock had ever done and would ever do until this day. Their multipart singing and use of classical instruments were in line with the current scene, only that they brought these aspects much farther.The group toured extensively mostly in the UK and built a cult following. Their next album, Acquiring the Taste (1971), expanded their frontiers further, dipping into jazz, folk and complicated harmonies and chord progressions, but the satiric cover art and their vow inside to run the risk of being unpopular with their musical experimentation failed its target and gave them a somewhat pretentious image, which they never managed to get rid of. Nevertheless, the album impressed Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, who asked the group to support them on their European tour in early 1972.Drummer Martin Smith then left to lead a quieter life as drummer in various outfits on the south coast. Young and aspiring Malcolm Mortimore replaced him and the next album, Three Friends, was recorded. This was the group’s first concept album with a rockier edge and longer compositions. As they were to embark on the promotional tour in the Spring of 1972, Mortimore had a motorcycle accident and John Weathers was brought in, to replace him pernamently. After recovering, Mortimore continued to play and record professionally, and still does Weathers brought a solid foundation to the group’s complexity and they achieved enormous popularity particularly in Germany and Italy. They hastened back to record Octopus, their last album for Vertigo, with the famous Roger Dean cover, for many their ultimate achivement, displaying a versatility and blending the various styles into an ultra-progressive album. They then embarked on their first US tour with Black Sabbath, to promote Three Friends that had been released by Columbia with heavy promotion, but the two acts didn’t fit together. They were saved by Ian Anderson who asked them to support Tull on their US tour and the group finally broke through in the USA, though not on a large scale. The group then went home to support Groundhogs and promote Octopus which was released late 1972. Sadly, in the USA the record company chose not to use the Dean cover, didn’t release the record until the following year, and then Phil Shulman handed in his resignation. He was 10 years older than the rest of the band and although the band’s musical leader, he chose his family above the music business and quit music altogether.Black Sabbath had formed their own company World Wide Artists (WWA) to re-release their whole catalogue, and Gentle Giant now moved to WWA with a view to doing the same. Their fifth album, In a Glass House from 1973, was and is still awesome and among GG fans regarded as their best album, although the loss of Phil would come to mean toning down the gentler side and the use of the accoustic instruments. In the USA the record company refused to release the album on the ground that it was too eclectic and undigestible, but it then sold 250 000 on import. The group now headlined some of their tours and was particularly well received on the West Coast and in Canada.The extensive touring continued and the next album, The Power and the Glory, brought their complex rhythmic and atonal experimentation to new heights. This album was released in the USA by Capitol and sold well, but the group was being ripped off by WWA in the UK, who folded shortly thereafter.In 1975 Gentle Giant headlined most of their concerts and released Free Hand on Chrysalis which made it to top 30 in the UK and the top 50 in the USA, making it their best selling album ever. The album probably represents the height of their sophisticated techniques, the atonality had been toned down and the tremendous interplay was taken to its extreme. To cash in on the success they rushed the recording of the next album and the end result, Interview, which was released in 1976, failed to some extent although charting in various European countries. It was based upon silly questions made by music journalists, but this backfired as it was too introspective and not as developed as previous albums. Some of the accoustic instruments had been excluded as the group opted for more of a rock image, but the cover art failed to reflect this. The group thus gave up on England after touring in the Summer.A double live album, Playing the Fool, recorded at their European tour in the Autumn was released in 1977 and showed the group’s rearrangements of studio material for live purposes. It was stunning to know that the band members actually performed their incredibly complex tunes on stage. The album probably represents the group at their peak of popularity, and subsequently they made a decision to play their new material live before recording it.At this time, many progressive acts had given up or given in to a more commercial style, and the Shulman brothers chose midway in making their next album to go for a simpler, more AOR oriented approach, to follow the musical trend. The Missing Piece, released at the end of 1977, contained their last progressive excursions and their first singles material, which, of course, failed to make the expected impression on the young. Meanwhile, other progressive rock acts either gave up or gave in and the same happened to Gentle Giant. They quit touring for a while and recorded Giant for a Day, which contained short songs to cash in on the new wave and bring the group new fans while the cover art was deliberately made un-progressive to show the new direction. The record which was released in 1978 and its ill-conceived cover sadly show their lack of understanding basic rock’n’roll and appalled their fans while attracting noone else. In 1979 the group made a final attempt to obtain commercial success with the hard-rock stadium oriented Civilian. It was released in 1980 accompanied by a US tour, but the approach failed once again and the group disbanded at the end of the tour.Derek Shulman became A&R man for Atco and has been in the business on the executive side since. Ray Shulman and Gary Green made another attempt together under the band name Shout, but their only single released in 1982 bombed without a trace. Ray Shulman then made television and advertising music, in 1987 started producing and in 1994 started making computer games music. Gary Green only plays for a hobby, after having recorded with Eddie Jobson in 1983. Kerry Minnear played for a church until 1988 when he started composing TV series music and teaching music. John Weathers played with Welsh rockers Man until 1997 when he quit in order to play and record as a freelancer. Many attempts to bring the band together again have not brought fruit, apart from having resulted in re-releases of the whole catalogue on CD and thorough release of previously unreleased material.The upsurge of interest in progressive rock music in the 90s has seen a renewed interest in the group and they arguably were surpassed by none in utilizing classical composition techniques within a rock framework. Their instrumental skill has made them a favourite musicians’ band and they have influenced a huge number of bands within the progressive rock context in the 90s. © Geir Hasnes, August 2001


Formed at the dawn of the progressive rock era in 1969, Gentle Giant seemed poised for a time in the mid-'70s to break out of its cult-band status, but somehow never made the jump. Somewhat closer in spirit to Yes and King Crimson than to Emerson, Lake & Palmer or the Nice, their unique sound melded hard rock and classical music, with an almost medieval approach to singing. Gentle Giant was born out of the ruins of Simon Dupree & the Big Sound, an R&B-based outfit led by brothers Derek, Ray, and Phil Shulman. After switching to psychedelia in 1967 and scoring their only major hit that year with "Kites," as Gentle Giant the group abandoned both the R&B and psychedelic orientations of the previous band; Derek sang and played guitar and bass, Ray sang and played bass and violin, and Phil handled the saxophone, augmented by Kerry Minnear on keyboards, and Gary Green on guitar. Their original lineup also featured Martin Smith on drums, but they went through several percussionists in the first three years of their existence. In 1970, Gentle Giant signed to the Vertigo label, and their self-titled first album — a shockingly daring work mixing hard rock and full electric playing with classical elements — came out later that year. Their second effort, 1971's Acquiring the Taste, was slightly more accessible and their third, Three Friends, featuring Malcolm Mortimore on drums, was their first record to get released in the U.S. (on Columbia). Their fourth album, 1973's Octopus, looked poised for a breakthrough; it seemed as though they had found the mix of hard rock and classical sounds that the critics and the public could accept, and they finally had a permanent drummer in the person of John Weathers, an ex-member of the Graham Bond Organisation. In 1974, however, Gentle Giant began coming apart. Phil Shulman decided to give up music after the Octopus tour, and became a teacher. Then the group recorded the album In a Glass House, their hardest-rocking record yet, which Columbia's U.S. arm rejected as too uncommercial. The two-year gap in their American release schedule hurt their momentum, and they weren't heard from again until the Capitol release of The Power and the Glory in 1975. Gentle Giant released Free Hand, their most commercial album, in 1976, but then followed it up with the jarringly experimental Interview. After the 1978 double-album Playing the Fool, the group went through a seeming change of heart and issued a series of albums aimed at mainstream audiences, even approaching disco, but by the end of the 1970s their popularity was in free-fall. Minnear, who had been playing an ever-more central role since the mid-'70s, had already left the group when Gentle Giant called it quits in 1980. Ray Shulman later became a producer and had considerable success in England working with bands like the Sundays and the Sugarcubes, while Derek Shulman became a New York-based record company executive. © Bruce Eder, Allmusic.com


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