Gentle Giant (Super Star)

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About the Album

This was an Italian vinyl compilation on the Armando Curcio label (SU-1026) of songs from the first four albums:

The album includes a 12-page booklet, written in Italian, with six incredible color photographs of the band at different points in their history. The album was released only on vinyl.

Track List

  1. Funny Ways
  2. Alucard (misspelled as "Alcard")
  3. Giant
  4. Pantagruel's Nativity
  5. The Advent Of Panurge
  6. Knots
  7. Peel The Paint (not including the opening)
  8. Mister Class And Quality?/Three Friends (mislabeled as "Three Friends")

Thanks to Robert Hug Peterman and BobZuma for the above information.

Liner notes in English

- Gently translated and transcribed by Richard Beck

Richard writes: Bits in [] brackets are my notes, usually putting the literal translation into more readable English. The original features the convoluted journalistic style beloved of Italian media, and makes for difficult reading when translated in this way. The {} brackets are intended to make the thing a bit easier to read, and normal () brackets are in the original.

This isn't a translation as such, simply a transliteration, taking each word or phrase and translating it. To make it sensible clear English requires substantial re-writing of the sometimes tortuous sentence structure. Spelling corrections, or further help with translation, are, as always, welcome.

Part One

It is difficult to cite in the panorama of English music, which is always effervescent and rich with striking scenes, a group serious [reliable] and prepared but also conservative in their style and with a stable image like 'Gentle Giant'.

Born from a previous formation in the '60s, the complex [ensemble] of the gentle giant (for that is his/its name) acquired its own face [literally, 'physiognomy'] at the start of 1970, that of a sextet, reduced to a quintet when, after some years, the oldest of the three Shulman brothers, who were the soul {of the group}, decided to leave the stage; and from then, apart from a change in drummer, the Gentle Giant didn't change [mutate] until the Eighties, at the start of which they softly loosened [untied] or at least didn't speak anymore of their chronicles.

Also the frequent tours, the study and use of recording, the concert halls and a type of music that was no longer changing, all contributed to fix an unclear image of the group: a name of enormous prestige from the early Seventies and therefore, inexorably, above all a memory of the ancient vestiges when the taste and fashion had overtaken [superseded] it.

Shy and reserved, not fond of the newspaper headlines [covers] and attention-seeking, the Shulmans and company had created an original sound above all thanks to a combination of voices and instruments - a colourful texture of refined tone - and were able to compete on a par with all the most popular groups of the English classic-romantic-gothic generation: Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Jethro Tull.

There was an occasion during the second Italian tour of Jethro {Tull}, at the start of 1972, that our public had a means to have direct experience of the sextet, employed at the time like a back-up group, i.e. to open the evening. And notwithstanding the thunderous applause and the encore requests, they had to leave the stage after only half an hour of performance: thus was a contract foreseen, and the jealousy of the superb Ian Anderson and his Tull companions earned.

But Gentle Giant would return often to Italy, always in love with those fans who had discovered Genesis many years before their American and British counterparts; and which had caused the success of other excellent groups that weren't native to Italy ['profeti in patria', literally 'prophets of the homeland', I think], like Van der Graaf Generator.

Part Two

The writing below the photo on Page 1 reads:

It is difficult, for the critics, to label the first work of Gentle Giant. "Our purpose - the six friends explain in a note of the next album cover - is to widen the frontier of popular contemporary music, even if that means being unpopular".

The end of Page 1 and all Page 2:

Gentle Giant knew how to make music that was elegant and full of feeling, characterised by a new use of woodwind and strings, without the pretensions of big band, with the sole ambition of creating a rainbow rich of colours, to which the rhythm section added a soft tone, aided by the liquid sound of the vibraphone. Thus was created an avant-garde pop music in which there were flowing elements typical of rock, others of jazz and others of classical music. 'Funny Ways', 'Giant', 'The Advent of Panurge', 'Pantagruel's Nativity', 'Three Friends', 'Why Not?', 'The Runaway' were only some of the titles within their repertoire.

The birth of the Giant

Phil, Derek and Raymond (Ray) Shulman were three brothers from Portsmouth, a city of 250 thousand inhabitants in the South of England, between Bournemouth and Brighton, on the English Channel, not far from the Isle of Wight, famous for its rock festival. The oldest, Phil, born on the 27th August 1937: the second, Derek, the 2nd February 47; the smallest, Ray, musically the most proficient, the 8th December 1949. They began to play when very young, above all in local rhythms and blues groups, inspired by the black American music. There we find them in the early sixties in 'Howling Wolf and the Roadrunners', or to be precise the howling wolves, the name borrowed from the great bluesman Howlin' Wolf (alias Chester Burnett).

In 1966 their manager wanted to transform them into professionals and changed the name to Simon Dupree and the Big Sound (where Simon Dupree is a pseudonym and not a real person). Thus began a career with the London record label Parlophone, the same as the Beatles, one of the EMI stables, at that time the prime British record house. The first 45rpm singles had a fair success, growing with time: 'I See The Light', also 'Reservations', and then the luckiest of all, 'Kites', in the charts in 1967, even though their fame never spread overseas. But already with the next song 'For Whom The Bell Tolls', the descent started. The problem was that the public had the wrong image of Simon Dupree: they wanted him to make melodic ballads and simple, ironic songs, almost in the cabaret style, whilst the Shulmans continued to love the rhythm and blues and jazz.

At that point the sextet divided: on one side Eric Hine, Tony Ransley and Pete O'Flaherty, of whom we hear little to speak of; one the other Ray, Derek and Phil Shulman, who decided to leave for a new musical adventure a little more ambitious. They became associated first of all with the guitarist, Gary Green, born the 2oth November 1950, brother of Colin, a soloist on the rock-jazz circuit; then the drummer Martin Smith who worked with them for a couple of years; then the keyboard player Kerry Minnear, born the 12th April 1948, just out of the Royal Academy of Music with all the classical baggage with which Gentle Giant couldn't do without. The Shulmans played at that time [in their time?] a large number of instruments: Ray the bass, the guitar, the violin and occasionally drums and piano; Derek bass, alto sax and above all the lead vocals; Phil the brass, of which in particular the trumpet and the tenor sax. It was a time of new romantic and gothic imagery in English pop which nurtured the old fairy tales, of enchanted castles, of ancient ['ossianiche' - I'm not sure what this means] poetry, of antique popular culture. The group chose the name 'Gentle Giant' and presented at the beginning of 1971 an LP, the cover of which reproduced the good-natured face of the giant who held the sextet in the palm of his hand.

Photos on Pages 2 and 3

These photos are accompanied by the following text:

Gentle Giant: from left, Kerry Minnear, keyboard player and poly-instrumentalist, John Weathers, drummer, Gary Green, guitarist, Ray Shulman, poly-instrumentalist, and Derek Shulman - who below we see playing the sax - lead vocals. The third Shulman, Phil, saxophonist and trumpeter, left the group in 1973.

Part Three

The character type used for the title and for the cover notes is that of ancient Gothic, that used by Magonza of Gutenberg when he invented the printing process ['printing with mobile characters'], in the 15th century [my history of C15 European literature is limited - I don't know whether 'Magonza da Gutenberg' refers to a person or a company]. Tony Visconti, the able producer of Italian origin who took care of the direction of records in the studio (he worked also with David Bowie, Rick Wakeman, T. Rex, etc.) explained with ['dovizia' - not sure what this is] of characteristic fantasy the origin of the name. The giant of which he told lived in the countryside of Somerset, from which he rarely ventured, only doing so to go and find his girlfirend in France, who was also a daughter of Gargantua (who remembers the tales of Francois Rableais?). One day, however, a sound which wandered with the East wind atracted him; with curiosity, and travelling quickly at night, avoiding the populated areas, he discovered that the sound came [originated] from Portsmouth, in particular from village out from the city, where six musicians were strumming an arrangement of 'Why Not?' at over a hundred Watts. He located them and placed himself around the house, with his ears on the two sides of the walls to obtain a stereophonic effect. The friends saw him and apologised to him for the din [noise]. "Am I disturbed?" responded the giant "but I have never heard music as lovely as this apart from a flock of birds!". Thus the giant became an admirer of the group, and they, after having posed with him for a photograph, decided to take the name of that good-natured [kind, gentle] figure, imposing and confident with a refined palate: because Gentle Giant were even at the start a team endowed with large personality and exquisite musicianship.

It was not by chance that [Tony] Visconti worked with them immediately, and to launch them {lanciarli: to throw, get up to full speed, embark (them) upon} there was Vertigo, a recently-formed label which one could identify by their game of black and white lines which revolved on the turntable to produce an optical illusion of an abyss [chasm, etc.]. Vertigo belonged to the new wave of the young English discography [recording artists?]: the same as that which recorded the explosion on Island of King Crimson and Traffic, the ascent of Harvest with Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, and the first successes of Charisma with Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator and Audience. Far from the political pledges [commitments] of many colleagues of the period, but always {dando - aware of?} a certain matter of some importance their heads, Gentle Giant started a strong search [literally search without falling] for great effect, for freedom, for the incommunicable or for refined technicality themselves.

The first disc, which simply carried the name of the sextet, was contributed to by the influences of [or, more simply, influenced by] the English folk revival: the courtier style of the Amazing Blundel, the legacy of American blues of Pentangle, and the giant rock [?] and Eastern mood of Jethro Tull. Rock, jazz and classical were the other influences to which the group related, binding them together with duty [diligence?] and denouncing [ignoring] hardly anything in order to produce something innovative from the material which was not yet completed. Nevertheless, 'Funny Ways', 'Why Not?', 'Giant' became the classics of English romantic popular music. 'Giant' was a spacious piece, dominated by the impact of acoustic and electronic elements in a nervous atmosphere, almost afraid of the arrival of the fabled Gargantua, transformed {di oniriche elucubrazioni; ??} with infantile [childish] fear. 'Nothing At All' is characterised by punctuality [probably means accuracy of timing] of the group's sound: the fugue, the staccato rhythms, the improvised appearances of one or another instrument, for example the keyboard of Minnear and the violin of Ray Shulman, so precise and cold, and a typical example of the English school that does not want to renounce [give up] an austerity without the proper spirit [?].

The young people who discovered the record by accident on the racks of import record shops, and the critics who had already judged the first work found themselves in difficulty to label the music of Gentle Giant. But the question was idle [lazy].

The same musicians wrote on the cover of their second album, 'Acquiring the Taste': "It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at risk of becoming very unpopular". There was no paradox, because they soon became the good friends of the European public and their attempts were appreciated: "We have recorded each composition with the one thought - that it should be unique, adventurous and fascinating. It has taken every shred of our combined musical and technical knowledge to achieve this. From the outset we have abandoned all preconceived thoughts on blatant commercialism. Instead we hope to give you something far more substantial and fulfilling".

Part Four

The caption on page 6 accompanying the two photos reads:

The music of Gentle Giant: An original 'mixture' of pop, rock, jazz and classical. Says Derek Shulman - seen in the photo during a concert by the group - with a hint of pride: "In England, our records were played on the third channel [Radio 3], which is the BBC's classical music station".

Music Lessons

'Acquiring the Taste' is a record more mature and balanced than the preceding one. Amongst their unforgettable pieces, that which opens the collection, dedicated to the birth of Pantagruel: "Pantagruel born -- the earth was dry and burning In Paradise dear Badabec prays for him...". Evidently the group continued to be inspired by Francois Rabelais, the French doctor who under the name of Alcofribas Nasier had published about the middle of the 1500s 'The horrible and frightening stories and bravery of the much renowned Pantagruel king of the Dipsodi, son of the grand giant Gargantua' [I don't know the 'official' translation of this work - this is the literal translation of the title given in the piece]; and also another four books dedicated to Pantagruel and his family, people that were recovered [reinvented] from an old popular publication.

A great intellectual of the French Renaissance, Rabelais made allegorical stories against the politics and morals of the time; the theologicians of the Sorbonne together accused him of heresy against the king. A taste for the fabulous tales, punctuated with descriptions of incredible personalities and stories, together with the comic, was born from the exaggeration to the gigantic scale of physiological function of the hero and of hundreds of strange episodes, like the theft of the bells of the Parisian cathedral of Notre-Dame: in short an inspired description [or decriptive vein?] which united a vivacious realism with acute criticism of society in his time. In a certain sense Gentle Giant responded with their music to the Rabelesian characters: fantasy and realism together, a taste for description but also irony and disenchantment. 'Acquiring the Taste' gave a way to value more the rich timbre [tone] of the arrangements and the ability of the musicians. The formation was the same as that of the first LP. Kerry Minnear, keyboards, and the author of the pieces together with the Shulman brothers; he played piano, organ, celeste, clavinet [?], clavichord, xylophone, vibraphone, mellotron (the large white chest with pre-recorded tapes made famous by Moody Blues and King Crimson) and, for the first time, the synthesiser. The title track of the album is all his own, an minute and a half of moog.

Also the choir {this may mean voices or the mix of voices with instruments} represented a distinctive element, effectively intertwined without doubt around other schools of rock, the white West Coast or the voices of the black groups of rock 'n' roll. The instrumental mixtures were the aspect most convincing; but each voice [] covered a specific role: it's not that they limited themselves to substituting a guitar soloist with a violin, or a singer with a flute.

The choral nature became the principal factor of the magic of the gentle giant.

Between 'Acquiring the Taste' and 'Three Friends' (1972), Gentle Giant played [exhibited themselves!] in Italy together with Jethro Tull and obtained, as they say, a clamorous success. Into the formation which debuted in our country [i.e. Italy], on drums entered Malcolm Mortimer, a shy and taciturn musician, who was unfortunately removed from the scene by a motorbike accident, and therefore on the fourth album his place was taken, definitively, by John Weather, Welsh drummer already with the Eyes of Blue, the Magic of Graham Bond and the Grease Band, the group accompanying Joe Cocker. On this platform the giant provided a music lesson that did not limit itself to pieces more or less well-known, but gave clear intentions of the desire to create and enjoy rhythms and melodies together with the listeners.

A few weeks later came 'Three Friends'; it is the story of three friends, an album with a unifying theme, a concept as they say in English. They were accused from some parts of excessive formality, of musical respectability, nevertheless it's a dignified and coherent work, which closes the first period of the Giant, which in effect thereafter changed label, passing to WWA, just created by their manager Pat Meehan. The confrontation with Jethro Tull, already established on the stage, was copied [continued, matched] in the record library: 'Three Friends' was judged without doubt superior to the contemporaneous 'Thick As A Brick' of Ian Anderson and friends.

The idea of the work, revealed the protagonists, came about simply from a normal conversation between the components of the group, remembering the old friends of school and asking what became of them {lit. what end they may have made}. Three men, friends at school, were inevitably separated by their profession, by opportunity and above all by destiny. Gentle Giant realised {made} the disc in London, produced by themselves, no longer with the support of Tony Visconti; for curiosity's sake, the sound engineer was Martin Rushent, later producer of many English hard rock groups. 'Schooldays' and 'Peel the Paint' were {/are} the most renowned of the six pieces of the collection. The authors, once again, were the three Shulmans plus Minnear.

At the same time as the release of 'Octopus', the fourth album, the manager Pat Meehan decided it was time to explore the American market, the largest in the world and the most conducive to success and of profit.. Meehan also managed another two groups, Yes and Black Sabbath, which had already received good welcomes across the ocean. Thus, with a violin full of humour, a baroque trumpet and a liquid vibraphone [probably refers to the fluid style of playing!], the shy Minnear anf the cheerful Shulmans left to present themselves to the Americans: an unusual experience also for the spectators who saw them.

In Europe the release of 'Octopus' was organised with a lot of care and attention ['premure' can also mean 'haste', but I doubt it in this context], even if it was less fresh and original than the preceding releases. This was the moment in which the attention of their contemporaries specifically, those playing similar music} was to be multiplied. The name of the Giant figured amongst the list of promising bands of the year in the annual poll which the "Melody Maker" suggested in their articles; Keith Emerson, organist of ELP, one of the most charismatic people of international music in those years, described {declared} publicly 'Octopus' to be his favoured disc of the moment.

Octopus is the polyp with eight tentacles, drawn on the cover of George Underwood {actually Roger Dean!}. They presented 'Raconteur Troubadour' which sought to capture the spirit found in medieval England, not just the music, but also the text; also 'Knots', the exceptional vocal inspired by the work of the psychologist Ronal Laing; 'The Boys in the Band', an instrumental that Gentle Giant dedicated to themselves; 'Dog's Life' directed with affection towards the workmen [i.e. roadies] around the group, those who build the stage and iron out the problems of a concert [lit. make straight lines] and 'The Advent of Panurge], another title of the age of Rabelais: Panurge is the right arm of Pantagruel [right hand man/best man?] and protagonist of a book whose principal themes were his prodigiousness and his eventual marriage.

There wasn't a driving theme to this album, however this became clear {was announced} in 1973 for a successive work, inspired by political motives of all dictators of history. For the first time, there wasn't Phil Shulman: already 35 years old, the musician decided he was too old for an active scene, and that he wanted to dedicate himself to his wife and children. At the end of the year, 'In a Glass House' came out, a record that had nothing to do with dictators. It is a mosaic of fragments half-way between courtesan folk, ecclesiastical music, modern impressionism and the contemporary avant garde. There were only six tracks, three per side: remember 'The Runaway' which placed itself on the line of classic folk with a clear Anglo-Saxon stamp, with the vibraphone in first/prime place, an instrument which Minnear played the best of the six. Notable also 'Way of Life', half fast rock and half dreamy ballad, and the piece which gave its name to the collection {i.e. the title track!} and which was securely favoured in the same year as poly-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield produced his great work 'Tubular Bells'.

Photo: Another image of Derek, spokesman of Gentle Giant, that which with 'In a Glass House' gathered, perhaps, the last, full approval.

Blue box, p8:

  • 1939: Birth of Phil Shulman, the oldest of the 3 brothers which gave rise to Gentle Giant. Phil was to be for 4 years the saxophonist and trumpeter of the group.
  • 1947: Birth of the second brother, Derek, principal solo voice.
  • 1948: Birth of Kerry Minnear, keyboardist and poly-instrumentalist who would be a base [fundamental foot!] in the history of Gentle Giant.
  • 1949: Birth of the youngest of the Shulmans, Ray, poly-instrumentalist par excellence.
  • 1967: The first group formed by the Shulmans, called 'Simon Dupree and the Big Sound', obtained their biggest success with the '45' 'Kites'.
  • 1970: Tired of the cabaret style and of melodic ballads, they fell back on their first love, rhythm and blues, and the Shulmans founded Gentle Giant, with the guitarist Gary Green, the keyboardist Kerry Minnear and the drummer Martin Smith.
  • 1971: On the trail of new romanticism, of the gothic, and of a classical revival in the English pop scene, the first album of the band from Portsmouth was born.
  • 1972: Second album and European tour; in Italy they supported the very popular Jethro Tull, impressing the audiences more than Ian Anderson's group. At the end of the year, the third LP gained a growing approval.
  • 1973: 'Octopus', the fourth LP, planted Gentle Giant in America. Manager Pat Meehan founded his own label, WWA. Phil Shulman left the group for family reasons - they remained a quintet. After a brief period with Malcolm Mortimer, the new drummer was John Weathers.
  • 1974: After many concerts in Italy, the Autumn tour of our country {Italy} was shadowed by incidents and arguments and was interrupted before the end.
  • 1975: Gentle Giant changed record label (Chrysalis) and manager (Terry Ellis). It was their best moment to be in Europe rather than the USA.
  • 1976: In the course of a long and ambitious international tour, they recorded a double live album, which came out in the following year with the title 'Playing the Fool'.
  • 1979: Recording of the last album of their discography, 'Civilian'.
  • 1980: The disc was released; no official announcements of a break-up were made, but the formation remained inactive for successive years.

The American tour found new interest: in Los Angeles the press agreed on the fact that Yes (like with the time for Jethro Tull years before) were largely surpassed by the less popular Gentle Giant. To the Americans, the Portsmouth group wanted to be seen as a classical group and not rock 'n' roll. Said Derek Shulman, with pride, "In England, our last album was played on the third channel, which is the classical station of the BBC {Radio 3}. We remain classical, but in the modern sense of the word. We like to form sounds and arrangement of sounds from life and for every day". In their shows there wasn't the need for lighting effects, of choreographic ideas and shiny costumes that characterised the scene of English romantic pop.

Also, in the music - and the next album, Interview, confirmed this fully - the style was more hungry and immediate. Interview was written, arranged and recorder in little more than a month, a really short time. It is the more grimly energetic of the last works which, reluctantly the same Derek Shulman, spokesman of the five, now seems not to be judged with much benevolence, in comparison with 'The Power and the Glory' which had to be given birth to [produced!] with the need of many months.

We return also to the words more personal and autobiographical, which were born through experience within the group. The title track of the LP is a joke on the journalists and their banal questions, above all on those who had not heard the group's first albums, and asked the best questions (some of which are found in the songs of the collection [erm... things fall apart here. Perhaps 'best' in an ironic sense, that is, most banal]. But is was this routine, admit the group, that led them to suggest and repeat always the same thing like parrots.

'Give It Back' spoke instead of the taxes that the English musicians were required to pay: in their own fiscal interest, many left the country and some chose the West Indies. It was for this reason that the piece had a Jamaican cadenza {/style}: 1976-7 was also the time of the international explosion of reggae. 'Another Show' reprised the theme of the roadies, and English term for those who accompany the group on the road: technicians, electricians, porters. 'Timing', old school rock, is a joke on lawyers, defined as the true and only winners in any [each] court victory. 'I Lost My Head', finally, is a song of love, unusual for the group, but justified by changes in the private lives of some members. The record was made in a rush because the whole of 1976 was spent by Gentle Giant on an international tour.

In Italy they played in Turin, Brescia, Reggio Emilia, Rimini and Rome and they reconciled themselves with our country: in 1974, in fact, the tour was dogged by legal rows, misunderstanding, technical problems and disorder [/chaos]. It was the age of so-called 'autoriduttori' [literally this means 'self-reducing' or 'self-reducers' and probably refers to cut-backs and shortages; perhaps rebels or activists] and of the extremist fringe of public who attempted [/pretended] to use music to their end; the English group had abandoned a series of concerts before the end of the tour.

In Autumn, Gentle Giant returned once again to our country [Italy is often referred to by Italians as a 'semi-island' or peninsular], using as support for some weeks the 'Banco del Mutuo Soccorso'; it was in this tour that a double album was recorded and which reached the shops in 1977. It was called 'Playing the Fool', [the author then translates this title into Italian] and arranged on four sides were 11 fundamental moments of the group's history, from 'Funny Ways' to 'Just the Same', from 'Free Hand' to 'In a Glass House', from 'Boys in the Band' to 'On Reflection'. It is an excellent recording, with accurate timbre and resonance and some different arrangements (with respect to the original albums), with a renewed use of mixed vocals and other finesses that dissipated certain doubts of undecided fate after the first transferral to America. Less significant results from the last three albums were forthcoming from the group, because, as already underlined, they repeated the already well-known plans [/familiar themes].

The first of the three was 'The Missing Piece' [author's translation]. On the cover a puzzle of the image of the old gentle giant was reproduced, that of the initial 1971 LP. The record was made in a Dutch studio; the hair of the musicians was shorter; the music was shaped and jumpy [springy?! lively?], at times almost funky. The definition of Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant was now this: "We are just a Rock 'n' Roll group". 'Giant for a Day', more self-confident and amusing, again showing on the cover the familiar and chubby face of the giant, followed. The theme of this record was that of ephemeral glory and self-instigation together {this might refer to the fact that they all wrote bits of the music}. The third album was 'Civilian', and we are already in 1980, when the group was practically stationed in the US, at least artistically speaking. Europe, in fact, was becoming miserly towards the group and their ilk, their old friends.

The recording was made in a Californian studio: and it was there that the gentle giant, without fame and without praise, wrote the last page of his own discography. Perhaps he is asleep for ever, perhaps (according to the legend on the first album cover) he has simply gone to find his giantess love, daughter of Gargantua. And he's thinking of a surprise return to Portsmouth, of the southern counties of England.

Credits

Original piece by Enzo Caffarelli. Translated into English by Richard Beck.

The blue box with the discography doesn't require translation, although there are some trivial typographical errors, including:

  • Twighlight - Twilight
  • No God's Man - No God's A Man
  • Could'nt - Couldn't