I accused my wife of putting glue on my water pistol collection. She denies it but I’m sticking to my guns.
Playing the Fool – The Official Live is a live album by British progressive rock band Gentle Giant which was released in 1977. It demonstrates the band’s complex musicianship and talent as well as showcasing versions of songs which are often greatly modified from the original album versions. The album contains versions of tracks from all of the band’s studio albums to that point except for Acquiring the Taste (although a section from the title track of that album is featured in “Excerpts from Octopus”).
In the words of a song I know: Thou shalt not judge a book by it’s cover, thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover (Thou Shalt Always Kill by Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip), but to be fair, whenever the name Gentle Giant was uttered in polite company two images would spring into my mind:
The second image always put me in mind of a folk act; not folk-rock but pure folk a la Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention (though I have seen the error of my ways with those bands). Even amongst my like-minded, prog-rock loving school friends, Gentle Giant never came up when we’d be discussing Yes, Rush, King Crimson etc. So pre-Limewire days, if I wasn’t aware of the band’s music sounded like, or my peers did not mention them, then I wasn’t prepared to investigate any further and so for over 40-odd years the music of Gentle Giant kept passing me by.
Well, not for the first time in this blog series, I’ve been made to look like a right dobber by being ignorant of this band and its music! There are some magnificent prog-rock songs on here; the truncated, yet still sprawling Octopus and the opener Just The Same rocks pretty damn hard. Musically the band have the chops to go head to head with any of the other “big” prog acts of the time, with each member of the band playing at least 3 or 4 different instruments and performing songs with more time changes than the TARDIS on a good night! Derek Shulman has a great voice, kind of a Gabriel vibe to it in places but still his own and the guitar work of Gary Green is very fluid and epic when it needs to be. I can now hear a lot of Gentle Giant influences when I listen to 80’s neo-prog acts like Marillion, IQ, Pallas, Pendragon etc.
Of course it’s not all fun and games: So Sincere has the double whammy of a drum solo and a xylophone solo to ‘enjoy’, there’s a renaissance fair vibe to the flutes on Funny Ways, and it almost goes full-on ‘hey-nonny-nonny’ in the middle of the second song, Reflection! But these wee quibbles aside, this is an excellent live album full of top quality songs and musicianship for you to enjoy. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who’s curious about GG, and I would most certainly listen to it again. Despite it having only 9 songs on this double album, and 3 of them are over 10 minutes, this didn’t feel like an excessive experience.
The overall result for Playing The Fool, is a 7.5, I’ve got to knock off points for that drum solo and the ‘hey-nonny-ness’ in certain places but I think it’s a fair score. Next on deck: more proggy goodness! TTFN!