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Saturday, February 10, 2007

GENTLE GIANT (SLIGHT RETURN)

Still on a Gentle Giant zag: m'man Chris on fantastic form when I caught up w/ him earlier in the week: telling me about his attempts to track dn former members of GG, etc...

We were talking about the live album I've been listening to recently and I mentioned the section that involved broken glass percussion...this was recorded in a pre-sampler era and Chris said he thought they used a reel-to-reel on stage to reproduce this...he reminded me about the part that involved a spinning coin and cackling laughter, and said that this was a recording of a studio-album part that had been engineered by Martin Rushent (who Nick interviewed ages ago and who most people of my generation associate w/ The Human League, Stranglers, Altered Images, etc)...sure enuff, I checked and Rushent was engineer, and later, producer on a raft of classic GG recordings...

Chris said he'd read somewhere that Rushent had said GG were one of his all-time fave bands...we started talking about the punchy, off-kilter, syncopated pulse-beat they favoured on a lot of their stuff and that how it was almost (okay, maybe stretching things here a bit) a precursor for some of the quirkier end of New Wave stuff...if you strip out some of their more folkier/faux-medieval tropes (certainly on the rockier-sounding live album) they don't sound too far removed from the first-wave agitated pop-punk of bands like, I dunno, Devo and the Ohio scene and so forth...certainly by the live LP (1976?) they had more in common w/ the quirky noivous nrg of Punk than you might expect...and lets not forget that there were a lorra bands back in that era that featured musicians w/ old-fart non-punk ped-i-greees that they tried to sweep under the carpet: The Police are the most obvious example, but worrabout the likes of, erm, Radio Stars, etc and there were a ton of others who pretended to play dumb for a while just so they could keep working: this is maybe another reason why Post-Punk took off so quickly, 'cos there were a whole bunch of musos who'd been working semi-incognito, so to speak, and were more'n ready to start using their chops again...

Anyway, interesting to play w/ the idea that Punk was not as much'va Year Zero/Start Again Moment as we usedta think and that unfash. bands like Gentle Giant were actually part of a pre-Punk 'tinuum that's been retro-rewritten out of history (they weren't as fash. as Can, Van Der Graaf, etc cos Johnny didn't mention 'em), and in fact may have inadvertantly been far more of a part of Punk's (or rather New Wave's) blue touch-paper (or at least it's stylistic/production/sonic palette) than we originally thought...

Post-script: pumping syncopation, as used by New Wave (and popularised by musical forms as far back as Neu Orleans Jass and b/yond), implies an off-on/up-down/yes-no musical (and visual: stark, white/black, lights on n off) shorthand that pre-seeds the digital 1/0 byte-obsessed era we all know an' love...)

4 Comments:

At 10:29 am, Blogger St Anthony said...

My God , the Radio Stars ... like the Vibrators, filled with oldies slumming it.

Always like some of that stuff that was written off as New Wave (in a derogatory sense), Devo certainly, early XTC ... 'agitated pop-punk' is a good description. Gentle Giant as precursor ... that never occured to me, have to go back and have a decko.

 
At 7:39 pm, Blogger kek-w said...

Yeah, early XTC is a v. good example. Elvis Costello circa "Armed Forces" another, maybe? Early Talking Heads, possibly... late period BeBop DeLuxe/Bill Nelson's Red Noise...

I've probably overstated my case a little...some of GG's studio albums are quite 'soft' in places, but they're a lot harsher n punchier than the likes of, say, Gabriel era Genesis...it's the off-kilter syncopation that gets me, tho...the short bursts of pumping music in odd time signatures; there's a sense of the music 'fracturing' into splinters; everything's off-balance or runs with a limp...Gentle Giant are surprisingly energetic (there's a misconception that Prog is passive or apathetic); they're not heavy, but maybe 'Gentle' is a misnomer... anyway, I can see a vague lineage of sorts that leads thru to some of the New Wave stuff...

Of course, music exists as part of a continuum; it evolves...music-forms don't just suddenly come into being; there's no such thing as Spontaneous Generation, tho it's tempting to think so sometimes...

History is always written by the victor, and the party-line (as espoused by the likes of Malcolm Mac, etc) says that Punk's ancestral forms were VU, Stooges, New York Dolls and, er, that's pretty much it. Everything else was written out of history, except a few fortunate cool late 60s/early 70s bands that the hipsters said it was okay to like.

Now, the business was pretty well entrenched by the mid-70s, so despite Punk n New Wave's eventual ascendency, there were a whole bunch of producers & engineers (especially the label in-House ones) who, like Rushent and Chris Thomas, carried on working thru that era...I mean, the entire music biz's infrastructure didn't just curl up and die because a bunch of snotty-nosed kids (and some pretend ones)had a handful of hits with 3-chord songs...so I think that certain musical and production traits were passed on from parental Prog/Pomp Rock genomes into their Punk/New Wave offspring....first-wave punk albums are for the most part pretty well recorded and produced (cos they used experienced in-house people at UA, EMI, Virgin, etc)...the whole low-fi, DIY, 'Indie' (as in its original meaning) came later... even the Sex Pistols has session musos play on some of their recordings...

As much as I'd like to romanticise an era that I lived through and that was a huge turning-point in my life, Punk was (ahem!) a business, like any other, so of course people like Maclaren and Bernie Rhodes were going to do everything in their power to take down their competitors, and so they called them 'hippies', 'dinosaurs', etc. It was a marketing game obviously, but it had far-reaching implications for a whole bunch of pre-Punk artists who then felt pressure to 'evolve' in ways that were actually artificial or unnatural to them, otherwise they would be left behind by 'the kids'...others just packed it in or gave up the ghost....

I think there's a whole raft of stuff (beyond Krautrock) waiting to be reclaimed...

 
At 10:57 am, Blogger St Anthony said...

Bill Nelson, there's a name to conjure with ... always unfairly tagged as subBowie/Roxy types, Be Bop Deluxe ... they made some good stuff, as did Nelson with Red Noise and his solo stuff.
Yes, I rather think some punk types had to fight to keep their more muso traits hidden. I read an interview with Keith Levine a few years ago where he says Steve Howe is one of his favourite guitarists ... certainly don't remember him saying anything of the sort when PiL first appeared.
Come punk, lot's of good stuff got chucked out with the bathwater ... poor old kevin Coyne being dropped by Virgin for instance, even though Lydon expressed his admiration ... even Bob Fripp's solo albums of the era have a new wave touch to them, as well they might, many of the players being from the punk/post punk end of the spectrum.

 
At 12:03 pm, Blogger kek-w said...

I saw BeBop Deluxe on their Drastic Plastic tour where Bill Nelson insisted they had John Copper-Clarke as support act (that quickly turned into a war-zone, I can tell you!).

I fucking love "Dynamite Daze" by Kevin Coyne - it's a lost classic and was made in the face of Punks encroachment on his turf. The slower numbers are incredibly moving, but the rockers really kick w/out resorting to punk tropes just to stay fashionable. There's a great bit on the title track where he baits the kids, snarling "Ooooooh, little punks, come out to play!"

Yeah, the Fripp trilogy from that late 70s era has a whole bunch of New Wave touches (David Byrne guesting via the Eno/TH connection, etc) plus mock-ironic titles of "God Save the Queen", "Under Heavy Manners", etc, but the LPs are a bit too stolid and over-mannered to suit my tastes (tho some good Frippertronic bits).

Interestingly, Eno resisted the urge to 'punk up' himself, even tho he himself produced Ultravox! (well ahead of the pack), Talking Heads, etc

 

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