“Octopus” by Gentle Giant: how did they come up with such a masterwork album within so little time?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by ParloFax, Feb 15, 2017.

  1. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Their touring schedules were hectic as hell and all over the place - by then on both sides of the Atlantic - and they had even released another great album just a few months prior to that one!

    So what I’m curious of is how they used to write at such a fast pace, and such highly complex material... They were a writing team of four then – the three Shulmans plus Kerry Minnear – but did they really write collectively, or was it instead, each of them came up with the written parts of his respective creation, and that’s it: we’ll go from there and rehearse, and the two non-reading guys (Gary Green and John Weathers) will learn their parts by ear? Because, I am not a musician, but to me the idea of “committee writing” sounds incompatible with being on the road constantly, THEN getting three weeks booked at Advision studios to knock an album... and an album such as “Octopus”!

    I’ve been playing it on the road for a couple of days, and I think I like it even better still than in 1972! What an amazing collection of diversified songs it is! Sounds both polished and “funky”, what with the exciting drive and punch of drummer John Weathers... My favorite prog album!
     
  2. pbuzby

    pbuzby Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, US
    I read a bit about their writing process in a fanzine called Proclamation in the 90's. As I understood it, the "Shulman/Shulman/Shulman/Minnear" writing credit was like "Lennon/McCartney," not usually accurate. Generally Ray (sometimes with help from Derek) or Kerry wrote the music and then Phil wrote the lyrics. After Phil left, Derek wrote the lyrics, and also wrote the music himself sometimes.
     
  3. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    That sheds some light, thanks!

    I remember Ray mentioning in an interview that he would occasionally get some of his bass parts from Kerry's left hand at the piano.
     
  4. Yep that's how they worked or someone would come in with a sing fragment and marry it to something someone else had. Ray wrote a lot of the music as did Kerry with Derek doing a bit less music composing (although he would as well) less and focusing on lyrics. When I asked Gary a Green about this during an interview ages ago, he indicated that once they had the song put together they would work on ways to seamlessly blend these bits and pieces together. That doesn't mean they also didn't write whole pieces and bring them to the table. It was a patch work,of different processes.
     
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  5. Instant Dharma

    Instant Dharma Forum Resident

    Location:
    East Bay, Ca
    Oh man. I gotta fire up Advent of Panurge!!
     
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  6. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for this, and since you mention Gary, would you happen to have any news about his health condition? It seems we haven't heard from him since he had this heart attack while on tour, last year or so.

    I think, BTW, that Gary Green deserves a special award of merit for having soldiered on for 10/11 years just learning and playing this kind of music. I imagine that, especially when you don't sight read, it must be nerve-wracking to learn stuff like that, coming from another guy's brains, right from scratch...
     
  7. cellery

    cellery Well-Known Member

    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Interesting info about the Giant's creative process here! Don't have anything to add to that but will say I never knew Octopus was knocked off so fast and it really is astonishing. Wouldn't have been surprised to hear that it took three weeks to piece together 'Knots', but the whole record within that time? Wow. It's not a long album but it's such a deviously complex piece of work, and simultatiously very catchy, funky and even poppy in a way - the balance they achieve on it is quite remarkable.
     
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  8. mx20

    mx20 Enthusiast

    Location:
    Raleigh, NC
    I think the intricate stuff like Knots was usually written by Kerry alone (except lyrics). Derek and Ray both brought guitar riffs that formed the basis of songs. Phil brought the vaudeville numbers :)

    I agree about how magical it all became when they combined their talents in such a short amount of time! Perhaps they had learned to work well under pressure in their days as Simon Dupree & The Big Sound?

    This work ethic persisted right up until 1978, IMO. Interview is a particularly amazing album with (iirc) less than 3 months to write, rehearse AND record the whole thing.

    Another incredible skill they had was in the rearranging of their material for the live show.

    I will confess here that Octopus happens to be my least favorite of their pre-1977 albums; unpopular, I know :)

    But I do enjoy this record from one of my favorite bands!
     
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  9. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    According to Jack Skelly's Gentle Giant Tour History page, it's even worse than I first thought: 12 friggin' days!!

    >>July - Aug. Between July 24 and Aug. 5, the band recorded their fourth album, OCTOPUS, at London's Advision Studios. It would prove to be the first album to draw significant attention to the band and many consider this album to be Giant's strongest effort.<<

    And I was not so accurate in my statement that they toured both sides of the Atlantic at that point in time. This only started in the fall, by the time "Octopus" was in the can.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
  10. pbuzby

    pbuzby Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, US
    Although Giant worked very efficiently, other bands had similar schedules then. I believe Ian Anderson said Tull spent around a week recording Thick as a Brick.
     
  11. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Yes that is amazing! But didn't they get a bit of time "off" to write/rehearse before that, in some hall down the road? I might have heard that in the TaaB 25th anniversary CD interview...
     
  12. pbuzby

    pbuzby Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, US
    Yes, I think they had a rehearsal period and then spent the week in the studio after they learned the music. Did Giant get time for that before the 12 days?
     
  13. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Yes, relying on the above Web page and the fact that there doesn't seem to be many shows confirmed before that recording window, I guess it's likely.
     
  14. stereoptic

    stereoptic Anaglyphic GORT Staff

    Location:
    NY
    and to be able to play the tunes so exquisitely in concert is another major success!
     
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  15. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    And as if non-singer Gary Green's contributions weren't laudable enough, when Phil left in January '73, some of his choral singing parts in concert thereon bestowed upon Gary... including "Knots"!!
     
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  16. cellery

    cellery Well-Known Member

    Location:
    The Netherlands
    From what I remember from an interview I heard on a CD edition I used to own, they recorded the entire thing in something like two takes which pretty much blew the studio personels' heads clean off. That was after rehearsing the thing to death in a basement somewhere for a while though (a few weeks? can't remember how long exactly).
     
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  17. cellery

    cellery Well-Known Member

    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Straying a bit off-topic here but again re: Thick as a Brick: what amazes me most on that one is Jeffrey Hammond-Hammonds bass playing really. He sounds so damn good throughout the whole thing despite reportedly having learned the instrument from scratch during the Aqualung sessions the previous year. To've gone from that to playing so well in such a demanding environment is pretty damn impressive.
     
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  18. DJ LX

    DJ LX Forum Resident

    Location:
    Madison WI
    Johns Weathers said the "The Boys in the Band" was particularly challenging. But he came through with flying colors!

    "Excepts form Octopus" from Playing the Fool is phenomenal.
     
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  19. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I absolutely agree with you, and have expressed this many times here how I don't get over it... However, he did play the bass several years before that, within The Blades (the old group he used to be in, alongside Ian Anderson), but I don't know to what extent he was competent at it or not, then.

    What impresses me is how, on top of learning how to play well some pretty complex material, he would maintain great tone, even once he went from playing on stage practically standing still (first "This As A brick" tour) to jumping and prancing all over the place as of the year after that ("A Passion Play" tour).

    He said in an interview that, in his youth he used to be adept at memorizing stuff like Brahms violin concertos...
     
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  20. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    ...and features a then-new acoustic guitar duo arrangement. That's a new medley of Gentle Giant tunes they do in those 1976 shows. ...Or did they do that new medley as of the "Free Hand" (1975) tour? I haven't heard that one...
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2017
  21. DJ LX

    DJ LX Forum Resident

    Location:
    Madison WI
    I agree. I'd add that, in addition to being adept at playing Gentle Giant's complex compositions, Green's playing still retained a bluesy grittiness that he'd work in at appropriate moments. This provided a nice counterpoint to Minnear's more academic 'classical' approach. On its face, this combination shouldn't have worked, but it did... brilliantly! In an interview, Green stated that egos never got in the way -- that the individual member's contributions were always in service of the song. I think that's key.
     
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  22. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Absolutely true!

    Yet something struck me about Minnear while playing "Octopus" the other day. As classically trained as he is, he has that percussive approach to playing the piano ("The Advent of Panurge") which seems to lock in perfectly with the funk touch of John Weathers, who is a loud drummer! I really like that.
     
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