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Formed at the dawn of the progressive rock era in 1969, Gentle Giant were a British bandactive between 1970 and 1980, known for their musical complexity, sophistication and the varied skills of its compounding members, all of which, except Malcolm Mortimore, were multi-instrumentalists. Gentle Giant’s unique sound melded hard-rock and classical music, with an almost medieval approach to singing.
The band was born out of the ruins of Simon Dupree & the Big Sound, an R’n’B based outfit led by brothers Derek, Ray, and Phil Shulman. Gentle Giant abandoned both the R’n’B and psychedelic orientations of the previous band. Derek sang and played guitar and bass, Raysang and played bass and violin, and Phil handled the saxophone, augmented by Kerry Minnear on keyboards, and Gary Green on guitar. Their original line up also featured Martin Smith on drums, but they went through several percussionists in the first three years of their existence.
Their eponymous debut album was released in 1970 and garnered praise from stalwart BBC Radio One DJ, Alan “Fluff” Freeman. Derek’s high-octave vocals, maturing with each passing year, alongside the band’s chant-like harmonies and growling guitar riffs allowed their 1971 sophomore set Acquiring The Taste to receive further accolades.
Gentle Giant’s music was considered complex even by progressive rock standards. Unlike many of their contemporaries, their “classical” influences ranged beyond the Romantic and incorporated baroque, and modernist chamber music elements. The band also had a taste for broad lyrical themes, drawing inspiration not only from personal experiences but also from philosophy and the works of both François Rabelais and R. D. Laing. In 2015 they were recognised with the lifetime achievement award at the Progressive Music Awards.