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Gilli Smyth

+ {Mother Gong} + {Glo} + {Goddess Trance}

A learned scholar of music, poetry and life in general (with three degrees from her time at King’s College London), Australian “space whisperer” GILLI SMITH was best known for her work with GONG, and its many off-shoots including PLANET GONG and MOTHER GONG.
Gillian Mary Smyth was born in Byron Bay on 1 June 1933, but it was in London and Paris in summer 1967 that the bilingual poetess began her near life-long association with SOFT MACHINE’s Melbourne-born figurehead DAEVID ALLEN. As the Paris protests flared up the following year, the couple fled the city – now as members of their newly-founded GONG – where she’d worked as a teacher at the Sorbonne. Daevid and Gilli would infrequently return to the French capital; recording GONG’s debut LP, `Magick Brother’ in autumn 1969. Aimed initially as a DAEVID ALLEN solo work but surfacing as a bona fide GONG album the following March (the full names of Daevid and Gilli appeared on the cover), even FRANK ZAPPA deemed this lot weird when he introduced the group on stage at a BYG Actuel Festival in Amougies, Belgium (BYG released the aforesaid record).
While one could talk forever and a day the prog-rock merits of subsequent GONG albums such as `Camembert Electrique’ (1971), `Continental Circus’ (1972), `Flying Teapot’, (1973), `Angel’s Egg’ (1973) and `You’ (1974), SMYTH’s space whispering input to each and every one was indeed out of this world; check out tracks `I Am Your Fantasy’ and `Dynamite: I Am Your Animal’, `Witch’s Song – I Am Your Pussy’ and `Prostitute Poem’ to find out why.
As pot-headed pixies GONG were virtually handed over lock stock and barrel to jazz-rock musician Pierre Moerlen in the mid-70s, whilst Daevid and Gilli brought up newly-born son Orlando; that phase was over, and the solar-powered PLANET GONG and Gilli’s own MOTHER GONG were coming to the fore. The latter outfit’s moniker predominantly derived from the sample-tastic solo LP, MOTHER (1978) {*6} – a concept record for the Charly stable concerning, you guessed it… motherhood – this was the “real” GONG in all but name, featuring as it did producer Daevid (on guitar), Didier Malherbe (sax/flute), Pip Pyle (drums), among others from affiliated acts. Nothing startling just cutesy and cosmic, the first half of the set was accessible through `I Am A Fool’, `Back To The Womb’, her alias `Shakti Yoni’ and the zany title track, the second half was made up of lengthy freak-folk-styled narratives `Time Of The Goddess’ and `Taliesin’.
As Daevid worked on his own space-rock outfit PLANET GONG, Gilli introduced MOTHER GONG – a jazz-rock ensemble, initially comprising co-composer Harry Williamson and Eduardo Niebla (guitar), Mo Vicarage (keyboards), Didier Malherbe and Nik Turner (wind), Trevor Darks (bass), and Ermano Ghisio-Erba (drums) and Corrina (vocals) – delivered the three-pronged-themed FAIRY TALES (1979) {*7}, featuring `Wassilissa’, `The Three Tongues’ and `The Pied Piper’.
A more settled line-up of Gilli, Harry and Didier (with drummer Guy Evans – drums, bassist Dayne Cranenberg, slide guitarist Yan Emeric, bassist Hugh Hopper, and guests NIK TURNER, STEVE HILLAGE and Steve Broughton, intervened for a series of witty, pro-feminist LPs ROBOT WOMAN (1981) {*7}, ROBOT WOMAN 2 (1982) {*5} and ROBOT WOMAN 3 (1986) {*6}; the latter pair switching Emeric and Hopper for percussionist Dave Sawyer, and Evans for Dave Cranenburgh.
Further MOTHER GONG angling came by cassette-only albums FISH IN THE SKY (1988) {*6} and BUDDHA’S BIRTHDAY (1989) {*6} – featuring the core of Smyth, Williamson, saxophonist Robert Calvert (ex-CATAPILLA), bassist Conrad Henderson and drummer Rob George – but without much music press coverage in times spearheaded by new movements such as grunge, Madchesster, acid-house and shoegazing, anything linked to “prehistoric” prog-rock was given short-shrift.
On the back of her musical reunion with DAEVID ALLEN on `The Owl And The Tree’ (1990); Harry Williamson was added the same year for `Stroking The Tail Of The Bird’, MOTHER GONG were not back on song until 1992’s LIVE 1991 {*7}, an album introducing unknown special guest Tom the Poet. The 90s continued with one solitary album as The Banana Moon Band with DAEVID ALLEN, plus a series of MG sets, WILD CHILD (1992) {*6} – recorded in 1989, SHE MADE THE WORLD – MAGENTA (1993) {*6}, EVERY WITCHES WAY (1993) {*6} – credited to Gilli Smyth and Mother Gong – and EYE (1994) {*5}.
As MOTHER GONG called time on their enterprise after the release of TREE IN FISH (1994) {*6} – cut live in 1991 – vocalist Gilli added another feather to her boa for GLO. A trio also comprising Steffe Sharpstrings and Stephan Lewry (of HERE AND NOW), the album EVEN AS WE {*6} was released in October 1995 without much fuss. Rubbing shoulders – so to speak – with the dance movement under the subsequent auspices of her own eponymous group set, GODDESS TRANCE (1996) {*6}, Gilli was beginning to garner some attention in her Aussie homeland; as Goddess T – Gong Global Family, steadfast twilight-zone label, Voiceprint, kept up her profile when releasing ELECTRIC SHIATSU (1999) {*6}.
Post-millennium, things were ticking over for GiLLi – as she was now credited – when IT’S ALL A DREAM (2001) {*6} was funded by GONG. I AM YOUR EGG (2005) {*6} – an album recorded in 2003 with Daevid and their son Orlando – PARADE (2005) {*6} – as Gong Matrices & Gilli Smyth – and SHORT TALES AND TALL (2005) {*4} – with Daevid – followed suit, but the amalgamative live set of ACID MOTHERS GONG was wearing thin on everyone but their extended family tree.
MOTHER GONG were back in cosmic circulation for a few years thereafter; core alumni consisting of son Orlando (drums), Tim Hall (bass), Gwyo De Pix (synths), Graham Clarke (violin) and Didier Malherbe (flute) responsible for two Voiceprint-sponsored sets: the part live/part studio MOTHER GONG 2006 (2006) {*6} and the wholly live O AMSTERDAM (2007) {*6} – recorded the previous November.
Coming up to her 80th year on Planet Earth, mother GILLI SMYTH wrapped up her riveting career by way of the understated PARADISE (2012) {*6}. While one could appreciate her longevity, her hippie highness – now once again living in Australia – was on form for most of the set. As DAEVID ALLEN passed to the other side the previous year, Gilli joined her former GONG guru on 22 August 2016. Her global family will miss her lots.
© MC Strong/MCS Aug2016

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