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Book Review

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Book Review:The Stories of English

by Lang Reid

The English language is well known as a remarkable way of communicating, with its subtle nuances and shades of meaning, however, how it really evolved is not as well known. This week’s book, The Stories of English (ISBN0-141-01593-4, Penguin editions 2005) has been written by probably the most erudite scholar of English alive today, David Crystal, and might just throw some fresh light on the subject. Amongst his achievements in life, he is the Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales and 10 years ago was awarded the OBE for services rendered to the English language. He has also written over 90 books around his favorite subject, English. With that background, you could reasonably expect that he knows his stuff.

He begins the book with the ‘accepted’ origin of ‘Standard’ English, and follows it immediately with what he calls ‘The real story’ which takes into account the differences, or ‘nonstandard’ English. In fact, he states confidently in the introduction, “Most English speakers do not speak Standard English. A significant number of English authors do not write in Standard English. And a large number of those using English in computer mediated interaction do not use it either.” However, do not fall into the trap that Standard English does not matter.

Being a dyed in the wool researcher, David Crystal uncovers many facts not generally known, in his quest for the real origins of present day English. I was unaware that there were six bibles translated and printed between 1525 and 1611. These six were only the major ones. There were over 50 translations in that time, with some being publicly burned for having been published in a “vulgar tongue”. Nor did I know that the authorized King James edition of 161 was plagiarized from an earlier version called the Coverdale version printed in 1534.

David Crystal also explodes the myth that our language has very few ethnic origins being Anglo-Saxon in character, and quotes many words that have arrived in English from countries such as marmalade from Portuguese; alarm, brigand and million from Italian; rhubarb, treacle and tragedy from Greek; cotton, elixir and mattress from Arabic and arsenic which comes from the Persian.

The book is dotted with side-bars each with interesting snippets. Crystal notes that it does not take long for a new variety of “English” to grow, citing the Pitcairn Island settlers, the nine Bounty mutineers of 1790, who gave the world Pitcairnese, which has its own vocabulary after little over 200 years.

The glottal stop earns its own chapter, being such a dialectic phenomenon. Taking the word ‘bottle’ as an example, the double t’s are not pronounced but replaced with a glottic sound, which interestingly does not have a letter of the alphabet to signify its existence.

This is not a book to gloss through, as much of the spellings are given in their middle-ages versions, and this does slow reading and comprehension. Or it did for me!

The review copy was made available by Bookazine, and at B. 495, is a damn fine read. In English of course! And Standard English at that.

Mott's CD Reviews: Gentle Giant - Acquiring The Taste

mott the dog

5 Stars *****

Gentle Giant were one of the truly great bands from the Seventies, their music was totally indefinable. Well I suppose that is not initially true, it was sort of a mixture of Rock / Jazz / Blues / Progressive Rock / Folk / Medieval / Dance / Pop / Heavy Metal / Fusion / Classical / Big Band / New Age / World and, of course, original Gentle Giant sound. So as you can imagine it was just a little bit difficult to find the exact pigeonhole to file them under. Listening to them, you can only conclude that they should have had their own little section so everybody could find them.

The band started when the three brothers Shulman: Derek, Ray, and Phil, got fed up with life as part of Simon Dupree and The Big Sound, who were semi-famous for having a couple of hits in the late Sixties, most notably ‘Kites’ from 1967. Wishing to go onto something with higher (sic) ideals than their pop band, likewise musicians were sought out. This search started in 1969 when of course there was an absolute abundance of very talented muso’s around, all having been brought up on a heavy diet of Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge, etc., and who were now ready to spread their own wings. A butterfly plucks a chord in Memphis can lead to a whole musical movement in London.

Three like-minded musicians were selected. Keyboard wizard Kerry Minear was obviously going to be a very useful limb to the Giant, as he could also sing lead vocals on the more rock orientated songs, plus play the odd bass note when Ray Shulman had other duties. Martin Smith got the seat behind the bins as he was found to be a drummer that was prepared to adapt to whatever musical style the rest decided to change to, even if it was three or four times during one song. Perhaps the pick of the bunch, though, was guitarist Gary Green, a guitarist who could either play his axe with great feeling, picking his notes with passion and subtlety, or could knock you dead by turning around and playing so fast the wallpaper would strip from your walls.

So thus was the mighty Gentle Giant born in 1969, a very apt title as there was no doubt of the strength of this musical group, nor was there any doubt in their charm and wit.

The first album was released in 1970, when really the Giant was just finding its feet. It was really after a year on the road that the Giant reached it’s full maturity, making their second album ‘Acquiring the Taste’ the first album that was to feel like the finished item.

There are eight numbers on ‘Acquiring The Taste’, all of which stand up on their own, but are much better suited to listen to as a complete album, as each track runs into the next, like new chapters of a page-turner novel that you just can’t wait to get to, and then when the next one starts you are already intrigued as to what the next bit is going to sound like.

During the recording of this album the Giants used over thirty different instruments between them. Gary Green was the only member of the band allowed to stick to just one instrument. They also used to take all these different instruments with them on the road as well, which must have led to some very interesting stocktaking after gigs, and also used to cause much hilarity during the concert if a musician had to swap instruments half way through a song and upon putting the first one down would make a huge pantomime of trying to find the next one before the required solo was needed.

The linier notes for ‘Acquiring The Taste’ are perhaps the best description of Gentle Giant’s music, in their own words so to speak: “Acquiring the Taste is the second phase of sensory pleasure. If you’ve gorged yourself on our first album, then relish the finer flavours (We Hope) of this our second offering. It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary music at the risk of being very unpopular. We have recorded each composition with one thought - that it should be unique, adventurous, and fascinating. It has taken every shred of our combined musical knowledge to achieve this. From the outset we have abandoned all preconceived thoughts on blatant commercialism. Instead we hope to give you something far more substantial and fulfilling. All you need to do is acquire the taste.”

It may sound a little pretentious now, but considering that this was written nearly thirty-five years ago, it does at least tell you that the Giant’s heart was into trying to create something new and interesting. The music of Gentle Giant sounds as fresh and inventive today as it did then, cutting its own swathe through the fields of modern music. Also the Giant’s music is as indescribable now as it was then. The Gentle Giant had it’s own particular musical swagger about it.

I think for anybody that would like to shake hands with the Giant musically, this their second album is as good as any, although for a band whose music was so complex, and who seemed to be constantly on the road in the early seventies (three month tours of America were commonplace, and any large festival in Europe without Gentle Giant just was not complete), they were very prodigious in the studio, producing between 1970 and 1975 eight albums. Gentle Giant (1970), Acquiring The Taste (1971), Three Friends (1972), Octopus (1972), In A Glass House (1973), The Power And The Glory (1974), and Freehand (1975). They also released a fine live album, Playing The Fool (1977). I admit that both quality and quantity dropped off after this, and time finally caught up with the Giant in 1980 when the band called it a day.

After a new burst of appreciation for the Giant in the late nineties there have been many re-releases and compilation albums released (the best result from this is probably the double CD called ‘Edge Of Twilight’ which culls most of the best tracks from the Giant’s first six albums and gives you over two and a half hours of music). Amazon now stocks over ninety Gentle Giant titles, and I’m afraid if you wish to hear some of Gentle Giant’s music that is where you will have to go, as still today most music shops would not know quite how to market the Gentle Giant. Remember, you can always listen to snippets of the music for free by downloading the Sound Bits so you know what you are getting into before pressing the ‘Proceed to checkout’ button.

In his namesake Gentle Giant are individually
Derek Shulman: Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Bass Guitar
Ray Shulman: Bass Guitar, Violin, Some Guitar, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Phil Shulman: Saxophone, Trumpet, Lead Vocals, Recorders, Backing Vocals
Kerry Minear: All Keyboards, Some Bass, Cello, Lead Vocals, Tuned Percussion,
Backing Vocals
Gary Smith: Guitar
Martin Smith: Drums and Percussion

Songs on ‘Acquiring The Taste’
Pantagruel’s Nativity
Edge Of Twilight
The House, The Street, The Room
Acquiring The Taste
The Moon Is Down
Black Cat
Plain Truth

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]