Gentle Giant were formed from the remnants of late 60s psychedelic beat group Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, who scored a 1967 UK Top Ten hit with the excellent Kites single – which featured extensive use of the Mellotron.
Brothers Ray, Derek and Phil Shulman – who sang, played bass and saxophone – teamed up with superb instrumentalist Kerry Minnear (a keyboard-playing graduate from the Royal College of Music), guitarist Gary Green and drummer Martin Smith, and spent several months writing and rehearsing in a cottage in Hampshire, honing their craft.
After signing a management contract with Gerry Bron, the band came to the attention of the newly-formed Vertigo label, who saw the band as a potential rival for other major progressive acts of the day such as King Crimson.
Certainly Gentle Giant were as accomplished musically, and their 1970 Tony Visconti-produced debut album was suitably impressive, containing much fine material such as Funny Ways and Nothing At All.
Although critical reaction to their first vinyl offering was enthusiastic and reviews were favourable, sales in the UK failed to match expectations. In Europe however, Gentle Giant found an eager and receptive audience which reflected in greater commercial success.
1971’s Acquiring The Taste was a major leap forward musically and proved to be one of the finest ever recordings by the band. The standard of compositions such as Pantagruel’s Nativity and Black Cat was extremely high, although the album liner notes which stated that the record “abandoned all thoughts of perceived commercialism” proved prophetic when it failed to chart in the UK once more.
By the time Three Friends was released in 1972 Martin Smith had left the band to be replaced by Malcolm Mortimore.
The album was their first to be released in the USA, which led to an American tour, during which Mortimore was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and had to spend many months recuperating in hospital.
To complete the American tour, Mortimore was replaced by Welsh drummer John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers.
The US tour was well-received which refuelled their creative energy and the resulting Octopus album was a fine swansong for their time with Vertigo records.
Shortly after its release, Phil Shulman left the band and was not replaced for 1974’s In A Glass House album, released by the newly created WWA label.
Following 1975’s The Power and The Glory, Gentle Giant signed with Chrysalis and enjoyed their most commercially successful period with albums such as Freehand and Interview, particularly in the USA.
The band remained active until 1980 when they disbanded following the release of their album, Civilian.
Derek Shulman became a much-respected music business executive, becoming Vice President of PolyGram Records in America and signing acts such as Bon Jovi and Tears For Fears. Ray Shulman became a writer of music for commercials and John Weathers joined the legendary Welsh outfit, Man.
Vocals, bass, guitar, violin, drums
Vocals, bass, Sax
Vocals, Sax, trumpet
Keyboards, bass, vocals
John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers