Sunday, May 4, 2008

McDonald and Giles (music)

Ian McDonald
(organ, clarinet, flute, guitar, saxophone, piano, vocals)
Michael Giles (Drums, vocals)
Peter Giles (bass)

Progressive rock has gotten a bad rap, criticized for being self-indulgent and bombastic, and pretty much having died out by the let 70s, killed by disco and especially by punk and New Wave.  Punk was especially scornful of the musicianship and instrumentation, since their entire raison d'etre was to go back to basic (and, following the Ramones, with musicianship not considered important).

But in the early part of the decade, it was considered the direction that rock was going in, using classical and jazz structures and allowing the musicians to expand their horizons. Granted, there were some self-indulgence, but the attitude today is that if you write a song longer than five minutes and it's too long. That's a ridiculous limit -- classical composers routinely had their music go on for ten minutes or longer, as did jazz musicians. Even today, one of the major names of progressive rock -- Pink Floyd -- is often categorized as psychedelic, partly because progressive has a bad name.


McDonald and Giles comes out of the progressive tradition. Both McDonald and Michael Giles were part of the first incarnation one of the earliest progressive rock successes, King Crimson. Peter played with his brother and Robert Fripp (also of King Crimson). 

They decided they didn't like where King Crimson was going, so broke off to record their own album.  It's a charming bit of music, led by two main pieces:  "Suite in C" (a group of songs linked by their key) and "Birdman."  The latter filled the second side of the LP, a rock mini-opera about a man who wanted to fly, a tale similar to Brewster McCloud. The songs are generally light, showing off McDonald's multinstrumental abilities.  Giles is different from any other drummers, with a unique sound.

The album never went anywhere, mostly because the songs, while good, didn't have the type of hooks needed to make a splash.  The group broke up, McDonald eventually joining Foreigner (that's his saxophone on "Double Vision") and Michael Giles becoming a sessions drummer. 

It was unlikely from the start that the group would ever have been a major success, and it seems as though McDonald and Giles wouldn't have lasted very long.  But the put out one nice little album that shows talent and humor.

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