“The birth of a realization
The rise of a high expectation
Together successful, defiant
Together the parts make a giant.”
The opening lines of ‘Giant’ which opens the album up on Gentle Giant’s sole self-titled debut originally released in 1970 on the Vertigo label and produced by Tony Visconti, proves that this was no ordinary band, but a band that was pushing boundaries going beyond from what Yes, ELP, and Genesis were doing during that time frame. For Ray Shulman’s incredible bass textures and violin work that he brought to the table, he kept the lines forming between the band members, and his two brothers; Derek and Phil.
Born on December 8, 1949, Ray was one of the youngest of the Shulman brothers. Their father played in a jazz band as a trumpet player. And not only it was one of the first instruments he played, but he learned both the violin and guitar. Ray was also preparing himself to join the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain which consisted 164 members, ages 13 to 19 years old.
And what the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain does is to give experiences that are thrilling, orchestral music for teenagers and audiences who need the music, more than ever. But he switched gears as his brother Derek asked him to join ‘60s psychedelic group Simon Dupree and the Big Sound which had a hit with their single in the UK that reached the top 10, ‘Kites‘.
Followed by the Moody Blues-sque ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (Not the one by Metallica) and the humouristic sing-along ‘Broken Hearted Pirates’ which featured an uncredited Dudley Moore on piano. Soon the band got fed up of playing the blue-eyed soul, psych-pop tunes and wanting to branch out by being more than just one-hit wonders. They would later reincarnate themselves as Gentle Giant. And the rest as they say is history.
Releasing 11 studio albums and 1 live album (Playing The Fool – The Official Live), Gentle Giant’s music was like nothing you ever heard before. There’s the blues influence, medieval textures, poly-rhythm’s, complex lyrics, insane time changes, hard rock, classical, pop in their latter years, and right down to the bone.
His usage of the four instruments between the bass, trumpet, acoustic guitar, and violin, he would take his instruments on a journey that is beyond your wildest dreams. Whether it’s ‘Funny Ways’, ‘Proclamation’, the live version of ‘Excerpts from Octopus’. Just watch the performance at Long Beach in 1975 where he and Gary Green just play their hearts out in an incredible acoustic duo they would share together on stage during the medley’s from their fourth studio album, the last to feature their older brother Phil to become a family man.
Whenever you put on a Gentle Giant record, it’s not just the prog-rock styles, but how they were often under the radar from the big names during that time frame. And it’s quite understandable on why bands and artists like Mike Portnoy, Ozzy Osbourne, Haken, Steven Wilson (who would later remix their albums in 5.1), and the late, great Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons, Amen, Dinosaurs) had a true fond of the band’s music.
When you listen to Free Hand which was originally on the Chrysalis label and their seventh studio album that same year for the Long Beach performance, it showed that the band were returning to their roots from their time with Vertigo. Ray’s bass playing on the title-track is out of this world. He follows both Gary and Kerry’s keyboard arrangements on a loop before the eruptive blast between Weathers’ drum playing and Derek’s eruptive vocal lines.
It’s very much like a cat-and-mouse chase when you feel Ray’s presence as he embarks on other sea travels between ‘Time to Kill’ and the melodic renaissance of Kerry’s operatic vocal lines on ‘His Last Voyage’. He wasn’t just a multi-instrumentalist, but a true visionary on where he sees the band go and how he can come up with something on the top of his head.
After the band split up in 1980 following the release of the Civilian, Ray would later do scores for TV, Films, and Commercials between ’82-’86. And would later become a music producer during that time frame, working with alternative rock acts; Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch, The Sugarcubes and The Sundays. Followed by writing scores for video games including Privateer 2: The Darkening and co-composed with long time Giant alumni Kerry Minnear for the 1996 game, Azrael’s Tear.
Speaking of video games, the rap song ‘Legend Has It’ by Run The Jewels which was featured in the 2019 first-person shooter game Far Cry: New Dawn, has a sample of Gentle Giant’s ‘Knots’ during one of the moments in the game which I can’t spoil, because it’ll ruin the moment. Ray would also find time to work with projects as a creative author for DVD and Blu-Ray projects.
Mainly from Universal, Rhino, and Esoteric Recordings. From Be-Bop Deluxe, Van der Graaf Generator, Barclay James Harvest, Tangerine Dream, The Moody Blues, to Jethro Tull, he made those reissues as box sets brilliant. Now that he’s in the afterlife, jamming with Martin Smith in heaven, the legacy of Gentle Giant’s music will live on for the next generation to discover the band’s legacy.
To Ray, thank you for the memories. You will always be working all day, coming across the Charaton Bridge, and having a two week holiday in Spain while living in a glass house and being so sincere with Proclamation.
“Once three friends
Sweet in sadness
Now part of their past
In the end
Full of gladness
Went from class to class.”