Jimmy Shulman

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Four Friends, a story by Jeff Oliver, 01 April 1996.

I thought this information was well known, what with the jokey "Zeppo" Shulman references in Dan's pages as a clue to the plain truth. I'm talking about the fourth brother, James, who (as Derek revealed in a Melody Maker article) was the "black sheep" of the family. Born on the ferry which plies between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, Little Jimmy never grew taller than 4 feet 7 inches. He briefly joined the navy in 1965, missing his own chance to become part of the original 'Big Sound' lineup.

In fact, Little Jimmy was deeply wounded when the band chose the name Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. Not only was Simon the name of the imaginary friend who would abuse him as a child but the inclusion of the word 'Big' was taken as a slight on his diminitive stature. This was compounded by the later choice of the sizeist name Gentle Giant, at which time he secretly vowed to wreak vengeance, largely through his passion for deeply wounding practical jokes, especially those involving Superglue.

During the recording of "Mister Class And Quality?", Jimmy glued Gary Green's foot to the floor of the studio, which accounts for the grunts which can be heard 4 minutes 11 seconds into the track as Gary strained to free himself. This also gave rise to Gary's habit of lifting one leg in the air when playing guitar on stage, to prevent Jimmy doing it again. At one time, John Weathers was proud of his luxuriant flowing hair which he would endlessly comb and preen. This was severely damaged by Jimmy introducing napalm into John's styling gel, so John has worn a flame-retardant baseball cap ever since to cover his balding pate.

The band's reputation as multi-instrumentalists was also down to Little Jimmy, who hid the bass guitar during a performance and Ray had to borrow a violin from an itinerant beggar outside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to finish the performance by playing "Three Blind Mice" very loudly indeed.

On one occasion when Jimmy removed all the guitar leads mid-set, Ray and Gary had to improvise an acoustic guitar interlude which was recorded on PtF as part of "Octopus - Boys in the Band". During this duet, Derek was chasing Jimmy across the back of the stage and through the auditorium. Finally, 5 minutes and 12 seconds into the recording, Derek catches him, Jimmy shouts out and the audience applauds as he is dragged onto the stage and pinioned under Kerry's cello. At 5 minutes 25 seconds, you can hear the feedback as the leads are plugged back in again ready to resume the number.

Once Jimmy was caught out though. Having hidden on stage in a seemingly unused bass drum, the band launched into "So Sincere". During the drum quintet, Derek made his usual uninhibited attack on the drum with a large mallet, causing Jimmy to suffer acute deafness. He finally managed to struggle free from the drum and can be heard (on PtF) 6 minutes 33 seconds into the song, pushing aside a tambourine and then bemusedly yelling 'Bang, bang'. He then fell off the stage, to a ripple of applause from an audience who thought it was part of the act.

Of course, Little Jimmy will be best remembered for inspiring the titles and lyrics of many of the band's songs. Having had his arms superglued to a door, Derek was released by a team of firemen with a blow torch and immediately penned "Peel The Paint" and later "Free Hand".

Returning backstage from the bar at the Usher Hall Edinburgh with a bottle of 80/- during a live recording, Jimmy tripped and the bottle smashed against the microphone, a moment used at the opening of "In a Glass House".

But without a doubt, his most notable and sadly unreleased contribution was to Giant's third album "Four Friends", a story of four boys who were friends at school but entered four totally separate professions - a businessman, construction worker, artist and sailor. Jimmy's fascination with the navy had already led to the shanty-style number "Wreck" on "Acquiring the Taste". Now on "Four Friends", he inspired the jaunty but ultimately tragic track, "Capstans and Fo'c'sles", which originally segued seamlessly into "Mister Class And Quality?". It told the largely autobiographical story of a diminutive matelot who spent his entire naval career being sea-sick on HMS Nelson. He subsequently attempts to desert, is caught and put in military prison, descends into mental instability and ultimate leaves the navy, themes which were picked up later in "The Runaway", "Glasshouse", "An Inmates Lullaby" and, of course, "Civilian".

Notably, the track featured Kerry's only bassoon solo to make it onto vinyl, with Ray on the Grimace bass and John on Welsh spoons. Musicologists note that it employed the little used rotating spliff scale, where a theme is passed progressively from musician to musician, each gradually becoming quieter until someone decides to stop and go out for some chocolate.

I hope that clears up the matter.

Jeff Oliver