About The Album
This was a compilation album, See For Miles/Charly CM 109. It has been released on CD.
Derek Shulman - vocals
Ray Shulman - guitar
Phil Shulman - saxophone
Tony Ransley - drums
Pete O'Flaherty - bass
- Like The Sun Like The Fire
- For Whome [sic] The Bell Tolls
- Broken Hearted Pirates
- 60 Minutes Of Your Love / A Lot Of Live
- Get Off My Bach (Note: not originally on the vinyl album.)
- There's A Little Picture Playhouse
- Day Time, Night Time
- See The Light
- What Is Soul
- Who Cares
- She Gave Me The Sun
- Thinking About My Life
- It Is Finished
- I've Seen It All Before
- You Need A Man
Written by Chris Welch
Ah, the sins and follies of youth! When Ray Shulman learnt that a ghost of his past was about to rise and haunt him, he exclaimed "That's a bit morbid isn't it!"
But as he cast his memory back to the strange music and stranger times of the mid-sixties, he began to soften, and a note of pride crept into his appraisal of the days when he and rock music were young and guileless..
Do I detect a low mumbling of discontent among those record shop browsers who like to read all the sleeve notes before making their purchase? "Forgive me for asking, but who is this Ray Shulman geezer?" demands the less than humble reader.
"I was under the distinct impression that this album was devoted to the works of that great Flower Power hero, Simon Dupree, famous not only for his Big Sound, but also for his big hit, 'Kites.'"
Ah yes, but you see, like all good ghosts, Simon Dupree was a fairly nebulous character. In fact, he didn't actually exist. And what's more, the Big Sound weren't really a psychedelic band, they started out as blue eyed soul brothers. Let Ray Shulman explain.
"What, 'im again?"
Have patience, and respect. The music encapsulated on this fascinating album deserves that much.
Simon Dupree & The Big Sound are virtually forgotten today and have short shrift in the history books. Yet they were typical of an important era in the development of British rock. Theirs was the classic route from soul band, to flower-powered experimental record makers, on to touring concert attraction.
It was a pattern that was to give us many world beating super groups. They served apprenticeships in small clubs, playing tight, funky dance music, learning how to take chances and expand their horizons in the studio, and finally combining all their experience on the big rock stage.
This was the process that produced Jethro Tull, Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, the Moody Blues, and in this instance -- Gentle Giant.
The Simon Dupree Band started out life as The Howling Wolves (which gives some clue as to their musical policy), and then became The Road Runners, playing hard core R&B around the Portsmouth area, home of the Shulman brothers. They were Ray who plays bass, guitar, violin, drums and piano, Derek (lead vocals, bass and sax), and Phil on sax and trumpet. Phil was the eldest and was born in Glasgow in 1937. Derek (1947) and Ray, the youngest (1949) were both born in Portsmouth.
Ray remembers that they used to work 365 days a year around the local scene. "I was 16 years old then and playing lead guitar. We were having a great time. And then one day we got a manager who said we should change our name to Simon Dupree & the Big Sound. I still don't know why! But that was the scene in those days. You had to have a flashy name. I suppose things haven't changed much.
"We carried on playing loads of gigs on the same circuit as Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band and Alan Bown." The music was strictly soul, drawn from the resources of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Ray says that one of the old pirate, stations, Radio England, provided them with invaluable material. But there were problems.
"They played soul on the radio all the time, including some really obscure songs. But because the reception was bad sometimes, we had to make up our own arrangements of the songs! The band was amazingly popular the, and we were earning L300 a night, and back then in 1966, that was really something. But it meant I was missing school.
They cheerfully trucked on round the soul scene and then came the apocalyptic effects of a hit. "'Kites' changed it all. We hated it," reveals Ray. "The management wanted to change us and our image and make Derek a sex symbol. And they gave us "Kites," which we hated so much, we took the piss out of it. But it was a hit, so maybe they were right!"
Indeed the song was a smash in 1967 and starts off this compilation of tracks which cover those bizarre years when soul bands, almost overnight, gave up their years of riffing and cries of "all right!" to don beads, bells and kaftans, burn sticks of incense and attempted to probe the mysteries of psychedelia.
"Kites is full of interesting effects ranging from early use of Mellotron, the new wonder instrument, which used prerecorded tapes, to gongs and vibraphone. If there is a hint of "Sgt. Pepper" extravagance about "Kites" and "Like The Sun Like The Fire," there was good reason.
Says Ray, "We made those tracks at Abbey Road, and of course the great thing was the Beatles had just recorded "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and the studio was full of different instruments. So we could experiment with the Mellotron, which had only just arrived."
"Kites" was a haunting oriental melody complete with actress Jackie Chan reciting some poetry in Chinese. Or was it dialogue in Japanese? It could have been the times of trains on the main Peking railroad for all we knew in those heady days, and today it still remains a mystery. There is a timeless quality about the tune, and as the backing was so far ahead of its time, the net effect today is to sound surprisingly fresh and well worth reviving.
Although the Shulman brothers mourned the old days, they were soon to be dressed in frilly clothes and sent off on package tours with the Walker Brothers and Gene Pitney.
Non-existent Simon found himself being screamed at by hysterical young girls. "We all got screamed at in those days. And to tell you the truth, we thought it was great! But we never had another hit. Our follow up was 'For Whom The Bell Tolls,' but it didn't take off. The last year of the band we spent playing in cabaret clubs."
This experience effectively finished the band off and as the new decade dawned, the boys decided to expand on those happy hours fooling around in the wake of the Beatles at Abbey Road. They formed Gentle Giant in 1970 as a multi-instrumental concept dedicated to playing advanced arrangements.
"Playing the scampi and chips belt had done our heads in. We would sooner have been rehearsing back in our front room, and Derek actually had a nervous breakdown because of it." So, without too many regrets, Simon Dupree died and the Gentle Giant arose in his stead. They made many a solid album like In A Glass House and The Power and the Glory.
"The band broke up in 1980 after our last America tour," says Ray. "It was inevitable really, because the last LP we did was a bit of disaster." But Ray is still playing and plans a solo project soon.
What did he think of the records he made as a teenager, that chunk of his early life represented by this collection? "We weren't trying to be weird. We were just making pop music, and we hadn't really started to write our own material then. The kind of stuff we really liked was by Don Covay, Otis Redding and Sam 'n' Dave. But they turned us into a trendy pop band wearing trendy clothes, and after one hit single, you only really survive if you get another. We didn't."
Although Ray is disparaging about the way the band allowed themselves to succumb to the pressures of commercialism, they always did their best to make the pop material intelligent and interesting. Even on a simple novelty item like "Get Off My Bach" they'd use vibraphone and saxophone to bring sophistication to the sound.
Although "Kites" ultimately sowed the seeds of their destruction as a pop band, the kind of soul, funk, gospel and blue beat they played for their own delight always sustained them. And listening to these old cuts again is to be struck by their astonishing relevance to much of today's music, as once again bands from Birmingham and London revive the spirit of soul.
Derek was a powerful, impressive singer with real technique and a gift for interpreting lyrics, well displayed on a dramatic performance like "It Is Finished." He was no mere pop wimp, as you can hear on the roaring "Day Time Night Time," and the fast, driving I See The Light." Dig that organ break! This could be a hit down the Hammersmith Palais even now. And listen to the Mexican style trumpet breaks on "What Is Soul," and the blue beat rhythm of "Amen." Get out the shades and porkpie hats.
Stranger still is the case of "Broken Hearted Pirates." Eat your hearts out Adam & The Ants." And the soul medley, "60 Minutes Of Your Love" and "A Lot Of Love" compared favourably with the new crop of Midnight Runners who have followed in the footsteps of the Road Runners and Ram Jammers of yore.
Simon Dupree... this is your life!