CD REVIEW – Gentle Giant – Three Friends

Gentle Giant’s third album was their first concept album, they tell us: “The idea of this album came about simply from normal conversations within the group. You know how people often reminisce about old school friends and wonder whatever became of them; or the people who surprise us with their successes or failures. Anyway, the theme in this album is based on three people – friends at school but inevitably separated by chance, skill and fate.”

The three school friends grow up to become a road digger (Working All Day), an artist (Peel The Paint), and a white-collar worker (Mister Class and Quality?) who can no longer understand each other’s lifestyles.

Suggestions abound that the band weren’t too keen on this album and also that they didn’t perform much of this album live because it didn’t go down too well. Well I’m a fan, possibly blinkered, but for me the music is excellent, ranging from the loud and raucous through to the exquisite vocal work

The opener “Prologue” has, for me, slight aural association with early Yes work, focusing on exploration of an inventive extended riff/theme, great use of vocal harmonies, delightful Hammond organ and textured, tasteful key sounds. Pitched percussion is another classic GG feature, vibraphone and delicate guitar/bass used well here to launch the flighty, nostalgic “School Days”. Another trademark is the “…and now for something completely different….” method, such as here where the songs breaks to a gorgeous, emotionally reflective piano and ethereal vocal section. Followed by a delicious smooth jazz vibraphone interlude to close.

“Working all Day” has an almost Hillage vibe to start, but you have to wonder if they used the old Beatles technique of pitch-shift, such is the sudden transition to the main theme, a heavy production befitting the song topic. These guys can groove as proven by the guitar, bass and drums here, woodwind relief initially whilst Kerry Minnear winds that Hammond up into a to a delightfully searing frenzy before they return to the grinding opening theme. “Peel the Paint” opens low-key, almost furtively establishing itself before launching into its heavy blues sax and guitar riff. And that’s before the impressive Hendrix/Hillage live sounding drum accompanied guitar solo. And that sums up these guys. So willing to try things as a one off. Fearless.

“Mr Class and Quality” has a slightly tongue in cheek quality. In no particular order there’s nice blues guitar, jolly synth passages, jaunty electric violin, and a rumbustious nature which suddenly finds itself terminated by the reverential beginning of “Three Friends”. Constantly climbing yet not reaching its pinnacle, there’s an ache, a longing in this stunningly beautiful title track as it fades to end.

This is a solid, workman-like album with classic Gentle Giant elements that will satisfy the fan and intrigue the casual listener.


Band:
Gary Green – guitars, percussion

Kerry Minnear – keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, Moog, vocals

Malcolm Mortimore – drums

Derek Shulman – vocals

Phil Shulman – sax, vocals

Ray Shulman – bass, violin, 12 string guitar, vocals

Assisted by Calvin Shulman, Ray’s son (boy’s voice on Schooldays).

Tracklisting

  1. Prologue (6:12)
  2. Schooldays (7:33)
  3. Working All Day (5:07)
  4. Peel The Paint (7:25)
  5. Mister Class And Quality? (5:51)
  6. Three Friends (3:00)

All titles written by GENTLE GIANT (Shulman, Shulman, Shulman, Minnear)

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