Sunday, 2 October 2016

"Three Friends/Octopus" by GENTLE GIANT (2013 Beat Goes On 2CD Reissue - Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Fate And Skill And Chances..." 

The first double-disc reissue of Gentle Giant’s extensive back-catalogue put out by England’s reputable 'Beat Goes On' label remastered the Portsmouth boy’s first two Prog outings at Vertigo Records - "Gentle Giant" from 1970 and "Acquiring The Taste" from 1971 (see separate review for that 2012 Andrew Thompson Remaster).

Now we get those difficult third and fourth albums – "Three Friends" and "Octopus" – which for GG saw huge musical progress and an ever-expanding fan base. Both hailed from 1972 (April and November) and were their last two LPs for the famous Progressive Rock label 'Vertigo' – home of many’d the eye-catching and elaborate gatefold sleeve. Here are the wee beasties...

UK released June 2013 – "Three Friends/Octopus" by GENTLE GIANT on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1090 (Barcode 5017261210906) offers their third and fourth studio albums remastered onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Three Friends" (35:27 minutes):
1. Prologue
2. Schooldays
3. Working All Day
4. Peel The Paint [Side 2]
5. Mister Class And Quality?
6. Three Friends
Tracks 1 to 6 are their third studio album "Three Friends" - released May 1972 in the UK on Vertigo Records 6360 070 and April 1972 in the USA on Columbia PC 31649 with different artwork. Produced by GENTLE GIANT and Engineered by Martin Rushent.

Disc 2 "Octopus" (34:17 minutes):
1. The Advent Of Panurge
2. Raconteur, Troubadour
3. A Cry For Everyone
4. Knots
5. The Boys In The Band [Side 2]
6. Dog’s Life
7. Think Of Me With Kindness
8. River
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 4th studio album "Octopus" - released November 1972 in the UK on Vertigo Records 6360 080 and February 1973 in the USA on Columbia PC 32022 with 'an Octopus in a pickle jar artwork'. Produced by GENTLE GIANT and Engineered by Martin Rushent.

KERRY MINNEAR – All Keyboards, Vibraphone, Moog, Cello, Lead and Backing Vocals
RAY SHULMAN - Bass, Violin, Guitar, Percussion and Vocals
GARY GREEN – Guitars and Percussion
DEREK SHULMAN - Lead Vocals and Alto Sax
PHILIP SHULMAN - Alto and Tenor Sax, Trumpet, Mellophone, Lead and Backing Vocals
MALCOLM MORTIMER – Drums ("Three Friends" LP only)
JOHN WEATHERS – Drums, Congas and Percussion ("Octopus" LP only)

CALVIN SHULMAN – Boy’s voice on "Schooldays" on the "Three Friends" LP

The outer card slipcase gives the release a classy feel (now generic with all BGO releases) while the 16-page booklet is packed with original details (the Three Friends drawings and Roger Dean’s Octopus artwork) and properly in-depth assessments of the albums and the band by noted writer NEIL DANIELS (done in 2013). The final few pages give you the lyrics to both records - all of it backed up by original album and reissue credits. ANDREW THOMPSON has carried out the new Remasters at Sound Performance in London and both albums are huge improvements over the 1st and 2nd records – real presence and power taking full advantage of the very serious Production values poured into both platters by a band obsessed with getting their aural vision right.

Whilst the first two studio efforts sounded not dissimilar in style to King Crimson and Yes meets Family (Roger Shulman’s lead vocals were even akin to Roger Chapman) – by the time our South Coast Progressive Rock band reaches early 1972 – they sound more Greenslade than ELP. With musical adventure and boundary-breaking forcibly built into their every song – the six-piece band hammer you with virtuosity and ideas. And even though Tony Visconti did a great job on the first two platters (especially their brilliant 2nd LP "Acquiring The Taste") – GG took the Producing helm for Three and Four and man does it show. The short but ambitious concept LP "Three Friends" – stories of three pals who grow and they go their separate ways (some successful – some not) – and the much loved "Octopus" – sound HUGE here.

"Prologue" doesn't make for an 'easy listening' start - jerking/gangly synth chords that eventually settle into an almost church-like set of harmony vocals. The production is fabulous as the boys sing of three childhood friends feeling the 'winds of change' (oh yes folks the concept album). "Schooldays" feels like Greenslade's "Bedside Manners Are Extra" or 1974's brilliant "Spyglass Guest" (see separate review) - dancing keyboards and voices tell of 'happy days' and 'going nowhere' - the amazing vocals and pinging vibraphone building as lyrics come at you about 'pink ice cream' and dull homework and Mister Watson wanting to see the naughty lads in his Master's office. "Schooldays" is incredibly accomplished and at times beautiful in its melodies and scope. "Working All Day" sees the three pals in dead-end jobs whilst at home 'papa was rough...he didn't care for learning...' where they quickly learn that 'everybody's equal' just isn't true. There's a clever guitar/saxophone refrain that holds the five-minute passage together. "Peel The Paint" is a Prog song with choral strings about superficial layers being stripped away to reveal 'the same old savage beast'. The perky "Mister Class And Quality?" follows the more successful of the three buddies with his house and car and pretty wife - sounding very "Tarkus" ELP in its keyboard jabs and containing a wild almost vulgar guitar wig-out where the band simply lets rip. That eventually segues into the final "Three Friends" which mellotrons its way to a rather nondescript ending...

If "Three Friends" was good rather than great - "Octopus" upped that ante. A very Medieval passage on the giant 'Pantagruel' meeting a friend from Hell opens the "Octopus" album - a complicated Crimsonesque set of piano, bass and guitar jerks called "The Advent Of Panurge". The vocal interplay along with serious musicianship impresses throughout - a continuation of a book theme first explored on the "Acquiring The Taste" album. If you thought the Side 1 starter was 'difficult' - "Raconteur, Troubadour" is the kind of Prog Rock that will infuriate some and leave others breathless. "A Cry For Everyone" even employs some riffage at the start but soon weaves its way into incredible Rush territory - a complicated mini Rock Opera based on the writings of Albert Camus. Vocal gymnastics fill "Knots" - a staccato jabbing set of Captain Beefheart "Trout Mask Replica" moments based on R.D. Laing's oblique poetry. That's followed by the instrumental "The Boys In The Band" - a rapid-fire Jazz Fusion piece preceded by a coin making its way across your speakers. The largely acoustic "Dog's Life" meshes the world of 'old faithful' hounds and whines of Roadies (go figure). The surprisingly pretty "Think Of Me With Kindness" keeps the complicated out in lieu of a delicate vocal and equally tender piano (check out the beautiful brass interlude). "Octopus" ends on proper Prog - "River" - where it seems Gentle Giant play every instrument at their disposal whilest singing lyrics like 'trust the shallow virgin stream' (know what you mean mate).

Neither album is mainstream or easy to digest for sure – and some will say its all pretntious claptrap - but that was always the case with GG's output. Having said that you do get amazing playing virtuosity - clever classical interludes and layered harmony vocals sat on top of a trademark guitar sound not unlike Robert Fripp or Keith Emerson enjoying themselves. It's all here on these two revered slices of British Progressive Rock - sounding and looking great too.

Eleven albums on and England's Prog heroes were still there in 1980 – giving it loads of difficult syncopations and selling bugger all records. Yet GENTLE GIANT did and still does engender a fiercely loyal following - and on the evidence presented here - you can understand why that affection still endures today...

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