Gentle Giant: "We were never being serious musos – we just wanted to entertain"
Prog takes a trip to witness Gentle Giant being inducted into the Portsmouth Hall Of Fame, and to discuss the early days with the band to mark the release of new album Three Piece Suite
Once the taste has been acquired, Gentle Giant are one of most flavoursome bands in prog. For those who like their music in turns spicy, delicate and super-literate, they remain arguably the genre’s best-kept secret.
Yet 37 years since their demise, the whispers are getting louder. They have a significant, and growing, hardcore fan base of admirers. One of the first acts to spawn a cottage industry for reissues at the end of the 20th century, they have since been keenly championed by Steven Wilson, who has remastered several of their albums. His latest is one of his best for them: Three Piece Suite looks at the cream of the group’s first three releases.
We here at Prog have long recognised their significance – they picked up our Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2015 Progressive Music Awards. Lead singer Derek Shulman flew in from the States and joined bassist Ray Shulman and keyboard player Kerry Minnear – half of the original six-piece – to collect their gong that evening.
Almost two years to the day later, coinciding with the release of Three Piece Suite, Prog got wind of a very special event taking place in Portsmouth, the band’s home town, and soon were on a fast train to the south coast. The group – and Simon Dupree And The Big Sound, their hit-making precursors – were being inducted into the Portsmouth Hall Of Fame at the Guildhall, right there in the middle of the city.
It was here in the Guildhall that the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and many others played. Davy O’ List stood in for Syd Barrett when Pink Floyd played here in 1967, and it was where Dark Side Of The Moon was first played in its entirety five years later. It was here, too, that a 12-year-old Derek Shulman bunked off school to see The Beatles, but was caught in the queue on a Southern TV news bulletin that got him in trouble.
At a beautifully organised and tremendously sincere event, the brothers who founded Gentle Giant – Derek, Ray and, most importantly, Phil Shulman – were together, along with founder member Kerry Minnear. This was huge news as Phil, the eldest brother and the group’s original visionary, now a very spritely 80-year-old, hadn’t been in the same room publicly with his brothers since 1973. Although Gentle Giant were to play the hall twice themselves in ’74, and ’75, Phil had long left the group.