Interview: Gentle Giant(John Weathers)
Interview Gentle Giant(John Weathers) March 2010: Gentle Giant is .....


Gentle Giant was a British progressive rock band active between 1970 and 1980. The band was notable for the particular complexity and sophistication of its musical material and for the diverse musical skills of its members (all of whom, bar the first two drummers, were accomplished multi-instrumentalists).

The band's onetime stated aim was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular," although this stance was to alter significantly with time. While never achieving the commercial heights of progressive rock contemporaries such as Genesis, Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Gentle Giant was considered to be one of the most experimental bands in the genre (as well as one of the most experimental rock bands of the 1970s).

Gentle Giant's music was considered complex even by progressive rock standards, drawing on a broad swathe of music including folk, soul, jazz and classical music. Unlike many of their progressive rock contemporaries, their "classical" influences ranged beyond the Romantic and incorporated mediaeval, baroque, and modernist chamber music elements. The band also had a taste for broad themes for their lyrics, drawing inspiration not only from personal events but from philosophy and the works of both François Rabelais and R. D. Laing.
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The Recordings with Gentle Giant(John Weathers selected)

1973 In a Glass House

01. The Runaway [7:16]
02. An Inmate's Lullaby [4:40]
03. Way of Life [8:04]
04. Experience [7:50]
05. A Reunion [2:12]
06. In a Glass House [8:09]

This was the first album after the departure of elder brother Phil and he'd always taken the lead in decision making, writing and recording. Now that he'd gone the rest of us had to prove that we could survive without him. So this album I thought was just a little tentative, it was almost like starting from scratch again, but I think that it turned out okay.
My favourite track is “Experience,” mainly because of all the light and shade within the one song. It was also great to play live because you could “rock out” at the end.
1974 The Power and the Glory

01. Proclamation [6:48]
02. So Sincere [3:52]
03. Aspirations [4:41]
04. Playing the Game [6:46]
05. Cogs in Cogs [3:08]
06. No God's a [4:28]
07. The Face [4:12]
08. Valedictory [3:21]

By the time we went in to record this we had been touring constantly for a year and were a lot more comfortable with being a 5 piece. It's obviously a concept album about absolute power being corrupting, and it just happened to coincide with Watergate which generated a great deal of interest in it particularly in America. I think as an album though it works very well, lots of different ideas going on, something to accommodate most tastes. There was a great atmosphere in the studio throughout the recording.

My favourite track has to be “Aspirations,” beautifully written and sung by Kerry. There is a little story attached to it. We were trying to record it in the late afternoon and after about 4 or 5 attempts at the backing track just couldn't get the right kind of feel. So we took a break and unusually went out for a couple of drinks. We got back at around 9pm and Ray suggested that we turn down all the lights and record it as live, and what you hear on the album is the first take, the atmosphere on it just leaps out, the only overdubs are the vocals which Kerry did immediately after the take.

1975 Free Hand

01. Just The Same [5:34]
02. On Reflection [5:41]
03. Free Hand [6:14]
04. Time To Kill [5:08]
05. His Last Voyage [6:27]
06. Talybont [2:43]
07. Mobile [5:05]

We'd had an almighty bust up with our management WWA and had had to pay them $100,000 to get out of the contract, but at last we were able to be in control of what we did. There was also a new label and management, Chrysalis, who were much more adept at promoting our kind of music. So there was a feeling of rebirth surrounding the recording, a breathing of relief as it were, we were all very happy.

There's a lot of good stuff on the album but the one that really stands out for me personally is “His Last Voyage.” Again it's all about mixing up different genres, it kicks off with cleverly written counterpoint, and then when you least expect it, launches into an almost swampy groove underneath a howling guitar solo, magic stuff, and most enjoyable to play.
1976 Interview

01. Interview [6:54]
02. Give It Back [5:08]
03. Desig [4:59]
04. Another Show [3:29]
05. Empty City [4:24]
06. Timing [4:50]
07. I Lost My Head [6:58]

A tongue-in-cheek comment on the endless round of interviews that we were doing on the seemingly endless tours, the questions would always be exactly the same. But because of the touring this album ended up being done in a bit of a rush.

There is some good stuff on there though, most notable are “Design” in which Kerry plays all the percussion parts, and “Empty City,” which is simply a lovely song.
1977 Live - Playing the Fool

01. Just the Same/Proclamation [11:13]
02. On Reflection [6:20]
03. (Octopus) Boys In The Band [15:35]
04. Funny Ways [8:35]
05. In A Glass House [9:31]
06. So Sincere [10:22]
07. Freehand [7:40]
08. Sweet Georgia Brown [1:15]
09. Peel the Paint/I Lost My Head [7:35]

There were 2 main reasons for releasing the live album. The first was that our touring schedule had been hectic and to take a couple of months off to write and record a new album was a no-no. The second reason was that a great deal of re-arrangement went into the live shows so there were a lot of new parts added and we were a lot more familiar with the songs having played them night after night, they were far more polished than the original recordings.

My favourite? It has to be “So Sincere/Drum and Percussion Bash.” I'd never enjoyed playing drum solos and always got bored listening to other drummers playing them no matter how good a player they were, so with having Gary, who was a pretty good drummer, and Kerry, who was a trained percussionist in the band, we decided to have a drum/percussion feature instead. It worked really well, better than any drum solo and the audience loved it, and so did we.

1977 The Missing piece

01. Two Weeks In Spain [3:00]
02. I'm Turning Around [3:54]
03. Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It [2:20]
04. Who Do You Think You Are? [3:33]
05. Mountain Time [3:19]
06. As Old As You're Young [4:19]
07. Memories Of Old Days [7:45]
08. Winning [4:12]
09. For Nobody [4:00]

There was quite a bit of pressure coming from the record label, they wanted a hit album and it was suggested by them that we come up with an album that was more “accessible,” and this was the result. This time though most of the tracks were written well before the sessions and we'd even put some of them into the live shows to knock them into shape. In the studio in Holland we set up as if for a live gig and even put the drums on a riser. The sessions were great, for once we all knew the songs backwards, which made life a lot easier, but it was a bit of a different direction for us I must admit.

I like pretty much all of it but there are 3 tracks that stand out for me. “Who Do You Think You Are?” Which I like because it really swings, “As Old as You're Young,” which has a good tune and arrangement, and “Memories of Old Days,” which is a great piece by Ray that we used to play live. I got to play guitar in the live version, which I really enjoyed doing.

1978 Giant for a Day

01. Words From The Wise [4:11]
02. Thank You [4:45]
03. Giant For A Day [3:48]
04. Spooky Boogie [2:52]
05. Take Me [3:34]
06. Little Brown Bag [3:24]
07. Friends [1:58]
08. No Stranger [2:28]
09. It's Only Goodbye [4:15]
10. Rock Climber [3:52]

Oh dear!! I have to be truthful here. This album is reviled by most Giant fans because it was a complete departure from everything we'd done before, though we had sort of slipped a little in that general direction with “Missing Piece,” it wasn't as blatant as this album, this is straight forward Rock/Pop and the whole idea backfired. What you must remember though is the state of the record industry at the time, what was known as “Progressive Music” was on its knees and even the most popular exponents, Yes, Genesis, Tull etc were forced by the labels to make albums that would appeal to a wider audience. I rest my case, blame it on the boogie.

As an old time rocker I like “Little Brown Bag” and “Rock Climber” they're both no nonsense unashamed Rock-n-Roll with the latter featuring a blistering guitar solo from Gary.
Any anecdotes/special memories from the recording sessions?
In general Gentle Giant recording sessions were very workmanlike, usually 12 hours, and there was always a deadline to be kept so there wasn't a lot of time for messing around, but having said that there was always a light-hearted feel to the proceedings. Like the time that Ray was putting the violin solo onto “The Face.” He miscounted the length of the solo and ended up 2 bars short, realising his mistake he shouted “Oh no!!” and played a little flourish. It was so hilarious that we all insisted that it be kept in. Then there was the time that Kerry was doing multiple percussion parts on different instruments placed all around the studio, I think it was on “Design.” To save time he was rushing from one instrument to the other trying to play all the parts in one take. Somebody came up with the idea of having a bit of fun at Kerry's expense by making it more and more difficult to get to the next instrument. This was achieved by sending out the tape operator to place sound screens, one or two at a time, in his path. This went on for about 20 minutes until finally three of the instruments were totally blocked off and he was forced to start climbing over the screens. It was then that he looked up, and seeing us all through the control room window falling about laughing, realised that he'd been had and the parts had been in the can all along. He took it all in good fun bless him.