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Gentle Giant formed out of the blues based (and later psychedelic) group Simon Dupree & the Big Sound in 1969, which featured the multi-instrumental Shulman brothers Derek Shulman, Ray Shulman, and Phil Shulman. They joined with guitarist Gary Green, keyboard player Kerry Minnear, and a series of drummers (John Weathers most consistently, also Martin Smith and Malcom Mortimore) to play music beyond the scope of ordinary rock, though with still a hint of blues in Green's guitar. Minnear's elaborate arrangements featured elements of both medieval polyphony and twentieth century composition.

In particular, the complex four-part vocal arrangements give the band its unusual character, with each part functioning independently rather than forming simple harmonies. The instrumental parts were just as complex, often featuring interlocking parts often in odd meters, all backed by a solid drum pattern.
Cello, violin, recorder, saxophone, and vibraphone (all handled by band members) figure prominently in the arrangements in addition to Minnear's keyboards.

The band took their name in tribute to the giant Pantagruel from the satirical Renaissance fiction of Rabelais. The band disbanded in 1980.

Ray Shulman went on to become quite a renowned producer at the alternative scene from the late Eighties and onwards, working with oddball likeminded, but musically extremely competent indie acts such as Icelandic The Sugarcubes and Danish art-pop group The Poets (originally Poets Of The Signature, in the US and Canada known as The Sealand Poets).

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