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Gentle Giant – Three Friends (Reissue) Award winner

Gentle Giant
Three Friends (Reissue)
by Mike McMahan at 27 April 2020, 8:04 PM

After the first two releases from GENTLE GIANT, the 1970 eponymous debut and 1971’s “Acquiring the Taste,” some things changed within the band’s inner structure, both involving personnel and musical direction. In the year following the release of “Acquiring the Taste” and before the recording of the 1972 masterpiece, “Three Friends,” percussionist Martin Smith left the band due to conflicts with brothers Ray and Phil Shulman, to be replaced by the equally able Malcolm Mortimore. The third release would also mark the first attempt at a conceptual piece from GENTLE GIANT, a practice which had become the rage of the day after the release of THE WHO’s “Tommy” a few years before.

The story behind this concept album revolves around three childhood friends growing into adulthood and each following a different path. One becomes a road worker, one an artist, and the other a white-collar businessman. After being cast to their individual fates, the friends lose their ability to relate to each other, and ultimately lose sight of the friendship itself. The album also marks the band’s first venture into producing their own work, as the first two releases had been produced by Tony Visconti (of David Bowie and T. REX fame).

There are also significant differences, stylistically speaking, between the musical presentation of “Acquiring the Taste” and “Three Friends;” immediately evident on the first track on the record, the aptly titled “Prologue.”  There is a more straightforward groove to this cut than anything on the first two albums, which shows its face with the solid and fairly heavy introduction. Also missing from the entire recording are the more chaotic instrumental breaks, possibly inspired by the stylings of Miles Davis’ recent (at the time) work “Bitches Brew.” The band instead presents these interludes in a far more mainstream setting, relying on melody and the super-talented individual musical abilities housed within the band.

The album truly begins the concept theme with the second track; and holds the theme well throughout. “Schooldays” (featuring one of the finest examples of vocal mixing I have personally ever heard), “Working All Day,” “Peel the Paint,” and “Mister Class and Quality?”, follow the friends through their life’s journeys; from childhood to the inevitable inability to retain the relationships between them. The album, taken in its entirety, is quite brilliant. The songs stand together as one story, though each carries its individual styling and the musical complexity we have come to expect from GENTLE GIANT. Sadly, after this release and due to an unfortunate motorcycle accident injury, Malcolm Mortimore was unable to fulfill contractual touring obligations and was replaced by John “Pugwash” Weathers for the remainder of the ’72 tour. Weathers would also go on to record and tour with the band until their split in 1980.

To date, “Three Friends” remains one of GENTLE GIANT’s finest moments; and on this reissue, sounds incredible, front to back. Essential to any fan of seventies era Progressive Rock.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

1. Prologue
2. Schooldays
3. Working All Day
4. Peel the Paint
5. Mister Class and Quality?
6. Three Friends
Kerry Minnear – Hammond Organ, Piano, Mellotron, Minimoog, Electric Harpsichord, Clavinet, Vibraphone, Bongos (Track 2), Triangle (Track 2), Lead Vocals (Track 2,6)
Derek Shulman – Lead Vocals (Track 3-6)
Ray Shulman – Bass, Violin, 12 String Guitar (Track 1), Vocals (Track 6)
Phil Shulman – Saxophones, Lead Vocals (Track 1,2,4 and 6)
Gary Green – Electric Guitar, Mandolin, Tambourine (Track 2 and 5)
Malcolm Mortimore – Drums

Additional Musicians:
Calvin Shulman – Child’s Voice (Track 2)
Record Label: Alucard Music


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