To All Saints Arts Centre in Lewes on Tuesday night to see Three Friends, a band playing the music of Gentle Giant that happens to include two original members: guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm Mortimore (original keyboard player Kerry Minnear was also in them for a while but left).
Discovering that I had a bit of spare time before they came on I went to the wonderful Lewes Arms pub, which was surrounded by Morris Dancers: a male team from Brighton and the prettiest and liveliest women’s team I have seen called Cuckoos Nest. Both teams put on a great display of stick dancing and provided a good start to the evening.
Got back to the deconsecrated church at 8.45 when the band came on. I wasn’t sure what to expect as Gentle Giant were multi-instrumentalists (cellos, violins, recorders, vibraphone, as well as conventional ‘rock’ instruments) who played ferociously complicated music, yet with melodies you could whistle on top. Within a couple of songs I was very impressed, the spirit of the music had been preserved; the additional musicians Andy Williams (guitar) Roger Carey (bass, backing vocals) and John Donaldson (keyboards) – jazz players all – managed to reproduce the complexities of the original records. It’s a strange coincidence, as two of them are often to be seen at the Jazz Hastings club backing a visiting sax or trumpet player. One of them told me that this was the most difficult music he had ever had to learn.
Highlights for me were Schooldays from the Three Friends lp and His Last Voyage a later track from Freehand; they tended to concentrate on the earlier records when Malcolm Mortimore was in the group – fine by me. They also had a series of interesting animated back projections – sound was great too. I never saw GG in the 1970s although I owned a couple of their later records – they were one of the many mid-league prog groups swept away by punk by the end of the decade. Ray Shulman later went on to produce The Sundays and The Sugarcubes amongst others.
Afterwards got to have a chat with Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimore – the band all live in Sussex apart from Gary who lives in Chicago, although he hasn’t acquired an American accent. He told me that many of the songs in this set had not been played live before – there were a lot of Kerry Minnear songs that he sang on the records but couldn’t reproduce live – Mick Wilson the singer managed a very good job of singing them. This was a warm-up show for a forthcoming series of dates in Canada. Also hanging around post-gig was a young girl who had travelled all the way from Japan. It finished pretty late but I managed to get the last train at 2353 – didn’t get home until after 1.00.