In an era of cash-in records that stretched all the way from The Flower Pot Men to Alf Herbert & His Marijuana Brass, a handful of British psychedelic pop 45s transcended their original intention of being tongue-in-cheek send-ups of the ‘flower power’ movement to masquerade as genuine cultural epiphanies.
Derek Shulman began the band in 1965 – originally as The Howling Wolves – with his brothers Phil and Ray. Their other brother, Terry, was their road manager.
Joined by Eric Hine, Tony Ransley and Pete O’Flaherty, Simon Dupree and The Big Sound scored a trio of minor hit singles, before asking their management in 1967 to come up with a song that would finally provide them with a genuine chart breakthrough.
Manager John King went to Robin Music and came back with Kites. The band hated the song, recorded it under duress in two-and-a-half hours and went off to tour Sweden.
Written by the old-school team of Lee Pockriss (who also wrote Catch A Falling Star and Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini) and Broadway lyricist Hal Hackady, Kites was transformed by the group from a traditional romantic pop ballad (albeit one with an unusually florid lyric) to a kitsch but spellbinding slice of British flower-power, replete with gongs, woodblocks, finger cymbals, Mellotron and swirling wind effects.
Derek Shulman’s sonorous lead vocal was counterbalanced beautifully by actress Jacqui Chan’s evocative but incomprehensible spoken contribution.
The band quickly brought in a local Chinese restaurateur to write a few lines that Jacqui (who at the time had a degree of notoriety as Lord Snowdon’s mistress) then recited phonetically.
The result was a mini-masterpiece that reached the Top 10 over Christmas 1967.
Later records – including the superb For Whom The Bell Tolls – flopped and the cabaret circuit beckoned. The Shulman’s achieved something of a makeover when they formed progmeisters Gentle Giant in 1970.
Guitar, violin, trumpet, vocals
Vocals, saxophone, trumpet