Gentle Giant emerged defiant, going their own funny way through the rise of a high expectation in the birth of a realization. Brothers Phil, Derek, and Ray Shulman were born in Glasgow, Scotland (Phil and Derek) and Portsmouth, England (Ray) where there learned music from a very early age. Ray remembers: "[We grew up in a] house full of musicians and instruments...I started learning trumpet when I was five just because it was there and then took up violin when I was seven. We were made to practice for an hour a day at least, when we really wanted to go out and play. I suppose it was a good thing we were really, and eventually I wanted to do it anyway...I wasn't formally taught at all."
They formed Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, making it into the UK top ten hit in 1967 with the single "Kites"; but the brothers were not happy with the pop scene and decided to form a new band. Derek explains: "In popular music, if you don't have that R&B feel, you'll never groove. So yeah, I love R&B. That was our background we became a pop band in Simon Dupree. And we had pop hits and we started doing that pop Top Ten thing, which was really a turning point for the band. We never toured the States but we were a killer live band. I remember how we used to go down. We were massive. But when we had the hits, it started going downhill. It almost became a millstone around our necks. So we said, "Ok, let's get rid of this mantle and do something totally different." So we threw it away to a degree. And so when we got the other guys to join, particularly Kerry, we had R&B and pop flavors from the first band and then all the other flavors were merged in this amalgam of what came out onto vinyl at the time, Gentle Giant. There was no direction, there was no set 'Let's sound like this.' I mean, we loved some bands. As I said, I think Frank Zappa was a real influence, and some of the jazzier people. I'm one of the most pop-oriented persons in the band and Kerry obviously is a classically trained musician; he was a protegee of Michael Tippett. And Ray was a classically trained violinist and he also had a real jazz feel, our dad was a jazz musician. Gary came from the straight blues school. He didn't know what anything but a 12-bar was so we had to teach him more than three chords. But he was a great player, is a great player."
Kerry Minnear: "A friend of mine from my home town in Dorset was dodging with Phil at the time the brothers were folding Simon Dupree. Phil was told I had just finished a music degree in composition and they phoned me up. I auditioned and was invited to join the new band. I had no other plans and it was a great opportunity for me ... As a writer in the band Phil, Derek and Ray were great to compose with. Phil in the early days was quick to encourage and inspire and give ideas a context. Derek was good at vocal lines and lyrics and Ray was a great composer and developer of ideas. As a musician in the band, I enjoyed the camaraderie of all the members of the group ... It was great for me, meeting three musically creative musicians willing to give me an opportunity to work with them on developing something 'outside the box'. They knew the business well and had the all important financial backing giving us the chance to concentrate entirely on the new project (no day job!)."
Their eponymous debut was recorded with producer Tony Visconti and engineer Roy Baker and featured Gary Green on lead guitar, 12 string guitar, and backing vocals; Kerry Minnear on Hammond organ, Minimoog, Mellotron, piano, tympani, xylophone, vibraphone, cellos, bass, backing and lead vocals; Derek Shulman on lead and backing vocals and bass; Phil Shulman on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones, descant, treble and tenor recorder, backing and lead vocals; Ray Shulman on bass, electric and acoustic guitar, violins, triangle, backing vocals; and Martin Smith on drums; with tenor horn by Paul Cosh and cello by Claire Deniz. George Underwood did the album cover art.
Phil relates: "Myself and my brothers have always sung three part all the time with Simon Dupree its not really difficult if you have a good ear you sing. More importantly Kerry could produce marvelous moving parts you know rather than straight harmony he'd give you a part to sing which in fact was more fugal counterpoint if you like you know. Unlike the normal POP method of singing in 3rds and 5ths all singing the same lines Kerry's parts in fact made it certainly not easier because you had to listen to yourself all the time and almost disregard who's around you provided you can hear it you know? I think all the band had very good ears you can't sing if you can't hear you know. All musicians sing some of us have sweeter voices than others I can't tell you about that but all the band could sing reasonably well."
Gary Green: "I am one of three brothers, so I understood the dynamics involved. Brothers can be a bit cliquey, but it didn’t really present any problems ... I think Gentle Giant is relevant to the new prog much as Miles and Coltrane are relevant to current jazzers. Many bands cite Giant as an influence, and we all stand on the shoulders of players that went before us."
Derek considers: "We wanted to be experimental, not 'progressive.'... We started in 1970. And it was towards the end of the 10 years we were together that there became a name for it: progressive. But when we started, it was just, "OK, let's get together and made some good music." It wasn't like, "Let's try and do this kind of a thing...we just did it because we wanted to do...I don't know what we wanted to do. It was like a reaction to the pop '60s and the success thing. And we wanted to do something different, something better. We didn't know how better, but more stretching. We didn't know where it would take us. It could've flopped and we'd have been sweeping streets in 1971. But luckily we made a living out of it ... It was like this big funnel really. We all had these varied influences, whether it be pop, classical, rock, jazz, or whatever, and we just came together and created what we did. A lot of the bands who were doing prog rock back then were doing long songs that in many cases were just filler, but we never tried to impress anyone with our talents, maybe we were just trying to impress each other! (laughs) What to us just seemed like some clever songs really touched a lot of people it seems, which never fails to amaze me"
"Nothing At All"
"Alucard" is Dracula spelled backwards.
All songs written and composed by Kerry Minnear, Derek Shulman, Phil Shulman, and Ray Shulman, except where noted.
1. "Giant" vocals: Derek Shulman 6:24
2. "Funny Ways" vocals: Phil and Derek Shulman 4:23
3. "Alucard" vocals: Phil Shulman, Derek Shulman, Kerry Minnear 6:01
4. "Isn't it Quiet and Cold?" vocals: Phil Shulman 3:53
1. "Nothing at All" vocals: Phil and Derek Shulman 9:08
2. "Why Not?" vocals: Derek Shulman, Kerry Minnear 5:31
3. "The Queen" (P. Shulman, R. Shulman, Minnear) (instrumental) 1:40
"A Tall Tale" by Tony Visconti
Giant took notice of the long shadows and decided to quit for the day in the apple orchard. He stretched, took forty steps and covered the quarter mile to the mouth of his cave. He sat down and pulled a sweet smelling cork out of a two hundred gallon jug. Scrumpy is what he poured into a mug having the same capacity as a bath tub.
As he quaffed he perceived that something strange was in the air, stirring the serenity of the Somerset countryside. He slowly rose to his full height and whispered, "Ar, there be a good sound floatin' in the east wind. I think I'll investigate."
You must understand that the giant doesn't go out much, except when he sees his girlfriend in France now and then (she's the daughter of Gargantua) --- and twice a century at that! Now he had another good excuse to break the routine of his work at the orchard.
He travelled swiftly through the night, carefully avoiding populated areas. When he came to the Salisbury Plain he decided to see if his stone ring was still standing. He made it as a boy, just for fun. As he approached, two long-haired youths sitting against a slab looked up. One said, "Man, this stuff is pretty good gear. I've just hallucinated a great big far-out lookin' giant over there."
The other said, "Farout man, I see him too."
They sat motionless for a few moments, then the giant turned and continued his quest towards the south. When he was out of their sight the first one whispered wide-eyed, "Too much man, us having the same hallucination." The other youth had fainted.
Sure enough, the sound was coming from Portsmouth way. To the giant's delight it came from a cottage out in the countryside, far from the centre of town. Inside, six dedicated musicians were tearing off a rendition of 'Why Not?' at a thousand watts; that's enough to rip the top of anybody's head. All except the giant's. He just laid on his stomach, rested his head on his folded arms and listened with an ear to each open window for good stereo.
The band stopped after three hours and Ray said to Kerry, "Let's go out and dig the stars." They opened the front door and nearly walked up the giant's nostrils. They jumped back inside shakin' all over and both said at once, "There's abigfaceoutthereit'sbigit'sbig --- oh!"
The others noticed immediately that something was wrong so they all went out to have a look. They saw the head of a great big giant, sleeping peacefully. Phil was at the head of the group. He turned and said, "Gary, did you spike our tea again?"
Just then the giant opened his eyes. "Be ee the boys as were makin' that good sound?"
Martin, at once put at ease by the friendly accent answered, "Yes, it was us. I'm sorry if we made too much noise. You see, we moved out here so we wouldn't bother anybody and ---"
"Bother anybody? But that's the gentlest music I've ever 'eard apart from thunderstorms."
Needless to say they all got on very well after the giant had said that. Frank the roadie moved the instruments outside and they played the rest of the night for him. Somewhere in Portsmouth a seismograph reported a mild earthquake when the giant was dancing.
In the morning I drove down from London with the group's manager Gerry and my friend George the artist. We drove around to the back of the cottage and gaped at the group laying in the grass listening to stories of the giant's distant past. Derek ran to us as the car lurched into reverse and bade us to halt. He explained everything and soon we were listening to the amazing things the giant had to say.
Before the giant left, it was suggested that he pose for a picture with the group. No matter how I angled my polaroid I just couldn't get everyone in the picture. I have some photos of six guys and a big boot, six guys, a big eye and part of a big nose: but I couldn't get a decent picture of the giant and the band together. George was more successful. The giant placed him at the top of a tall tree and in fifteen minutes George had done the rough sketch.
Well, there you have it. The story of the Gentle Giant. You may think it's fantastic, but then, so is the music.