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Gong

+ {Planet Gong} + {New York Gong} + {Pierre Moerlen’s Gong} + {Gongmaison}

An ensemble of many shapes and sizes, GONG were at their best when space-cadet DAEVID ALLEN was on board. The hippiest prog-rock combo to come in from the continent and find solace in and around Glastonbury, “The Pot Head Pixies” maintained a flower-power ethos right up to the first departure in the mid-70s of their “Alien” leading light.
Founded in Paris, France in 1967, Australian-born poet/musician Daevid Allen was looking for another outlet for his talents when The SOFT MACHINE (part of the embryonic Canterbury scene since the mid-60s) had to let him go when he was refused a visa back to London from a gig in St. Tropez. This effectively ended his tenure with ROBERT WYATT, KEVIN AYERS and Mike Ratledge, providing him the impetus to set up his own commune of hippies who later evolved into GONG. A flexible outfit at this stage, featuring singer/guitarist Daevid and his London-born girlfriend Gilli Smyth on vocals (plus others Ziska Baum and Loren Standlee), they were forced to dissolve the band when a student revolt resulted in the couple decamping to Deia, Majorca. There they met sax player Didier Malherbe, apparently living out of a cave, and almost immediately the second phase of GONG was born. Hoping to re-gain entry to Paris via an invitation to record a soundtrack for Jerome Laperrousaz’s movie Continental Circus, the group signed to Jean Karakos’s self-financed BYG imprint.
The GONG alumni provided the backing for two albums, MAGICK BROTHER (1970) {*6} and `Banana Moon’; the latter being credited to a solo DAEVID ALLEN, albeit a group set in all but name. Theirs was an enchanting blend of whimsical, unconventional psychedelia that combined spaced-out rock and weird experimentation in the mould of SYD BARRETT, CAN and Jane Birkin! Penned mostly by the “Pot Head Pixie” Gilli, the word ethereal suited everything from `Gong Song’ and `Glad To Sad To Say’ to `Pretty Miss Titty’ and `5 And 20 Schoolgirls’.
Under pseudonymous monikers, and adding musicians Christian Tritsch (lead guitar/bass), Pip Pyle (drums) and 6th member Eddy Luiss (keyboards), 1971 unearthed the electric cheese of CAMEMBERT ELECTRIQUE {*9}, which crystalized their innovative spacy sound and acid-fried humour. Despite a handful of weirdly-titled short interludes (`Radio Gnome’, `Wet Cheese Delirium’, `Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen’s Heads’ and `Gnome The Second’), GONG produced a number of their best tracks here in `Tried So Hard’, `You Can’t Kill Me’, `Fohat Digs Holes In Space’, `Tropical Fish: Selene’ and Gilli’s “whispering grass” `O Mother’. The LP was finally issued in the UK in June 1974 when Richard Branson’s Virgin label virtually gave it away for 49p.
“Seems like a tropical fish to me” as GONG so succinctly put it on their previous slice of fromage, but going back a little to April 1971, the quintet had recorded what was to become the band’s third official LP, the aforementioned soundtrack to CONTINENTAL CIRCUS (1972) {*6}. Mostly down to Gilli and French filmmaker Laperrousaz (who wrote the first two together for this documentary), one could describe this GONG excursion as jazzed-up prog-rock with a tripped-out, playful twist that only this band could carry off. `Blues For Findlay’ kicked off the set in fine jam-rocking style, a sort of HAWKWIND meets PINK FLOYD; Daevid got into gear, so to speak, rallying off simplistic lyrics that conjured up the theme of motorbike racing. Track 2, `Continental Circus World’, set the controls for the heart of the race track, revs per minute provided by the bikes themselves, looped over the French National Anthem, while excerpts from the movie are collaged with sparse lyrics (“Time is your life, time is your world”) that bely the celluloid theme.
Ditto track 3, `What Do You Want?’, totally ‘Floyd-full-on-`A Saucerful Of Secrets’, although with repetitive mantras, gyrating glissed-out guitars, playful sax and Gilli, with her come-to-me siren vox, it was wow! And where has one heard these lyrics, “What you want, what you really, really want”; thankfully there was no resemblance in style or fashion to another 5-piece from London. The downside of this timeless gem was that: Did we really need an instrumental take of `Blues For Findlay’ tagged on as the lengthy track No.4. It’s not every day one recommends a bootleg, but with – the import Spalax CD being deleted and – four additional tracks, it might be worth emptying one’s pockets or indeed one’s bank accounts.
GONG had been part of the Glastonbury scene following a slot at the 1971 festival, although Daevid broke up the band soon afterwards. A year later, the main core trio re-formed with a slightly altered alumni of drummer Laurie Allen, bassist/keyboardist Francis Moze and Tritsch, along with fresh astro-cadets Steve Hillage (guitar) and Tim Blake (keyboards). Now on Virgin Records, the expanded ensemble began work on a trilogy of albums under the “Radio Gnome Invisible” umbrella, starting with 1973’s “Part 1” FLYING TEAPOT {*8}. Raising the flag of both titles on the “gliss-friendly” side one (think MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA with a smile), side two was a celebration of fun (`The Pot Head Pixies’), improv prog-jazz (`Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell’) and the sensual (`Witch’s Song: I Am Your Pussy’).
Also produced by the then French-based Giorgio Gomelsky, “Part 2” ANGELS EGG (1973) {*8} was another seminal set that went a long way to solidifying the GONG sound one’d come to expect; and despite Laurie and Francis being superseded by perfectionist percussionist Pierre Moerlen and Mike Howlett respectively; Mireille Bauer was promoted full-time during this period. Lasting a solitary minute and a bit, serious jazz cut `Castles In The Clouds’ was in stark contrast to grandiose pieces `Other Side Of The Sky’ (plus `Oily Way’ and `Inner Temple’) and Steve’s pre-“Fish Rising” gliss-oid journey `I Niver Glid Before’.
Bringing the “Radio Gnome Invisible” trilogy to a close, “Part 3” YOU (1974) {*7} was darker and noisier than in previous outings. Adding – as guests here at first – percussionist Benoit Moerlen and voice/chorus specialist Miquette Giraudy, GONG reached out to improv jazz lovers through Pierre’s solid work on sticks, while Steve’s hypnotic guitar overshadowed even Daevid on the lengthy `Master Builder’, `A Sprinkling Of Clouds’ and `The Isle Of Everywhere’.
GONG were in subsequent disarray when DAEVID ALLEN and Gilli decamped to Spain. With their leading lights gone, Malherbe and the remaining band went through a dizzying series of personnel changes when their ace-in-the-pack STEVE HILLAGE left to unleash his debut set, `Fish Rising’, featuring GONG alumni. Although still in attendance alongside Howlett, Pierre Moerlen, Giraudy and Bauer, Malherbe also roped in Jorge Pinchevsky (violin), Patrice Lemoine (keyboards) and Sandy Colley (vocals) for the strictly jazz-rock SHAMAL (1976) {*5}; produced incidentally by NICK MASON. But this was not the GONG older fans wanted to hear; Howlett’s vocals (example `Wingful Of Eyes’) rather ineffective to the band’s staccato beats and rhythms on everything else.
Malherbe and Moerlen continued with the GONG moniker, testing on tour, Brian Davidson (ex-REFUGEE) after Bill Bruford (ex-YES) left to join GENESIS. By this point, former SOFT MACHINE guitarist Allan Holdsworth was added to Mino Cinelu (percussion) and the returning Francis Moze (bass) and Benoit Moerlen (vibraphone) for GAZEUSE! (1977) {*7}. Surprisingly not at all bad from a makeshift band of jazz-rock outcasts, the fully instrumental set had its moments in `Expresso’ (its American LP title), the ZAPPA-esque `Night Illusion’ and the funky `Esnuria’.
While a raft of continental Daevid and Gilli fans had now opted for their GONG/PLANET GONG enterprise (`Gong Est Mort’ and `Floating Anarchy Live 77’), it was Pierre Moerlen and not Didier whom resurfaced as GONG; retaining Benoit Moerlen, Mireille Bauer (and, in part, guest Holdsworth), while roping in added bassist Hansford Rowe for EXPRESSO II (1978) {*6}; additional guests were violinist Darryl Way (ex-CURVED AIR) and acoustic guitarist Bon Lozaga. On closer inspection, even when the new wave and the old guard were turning the tide against them; tracks such as `Heavy Tune’ (featuring MICK TAYLOR) and `Golden Dilemma’ playing to the MAHAVISHNU among us.
The righteous but thankfully gracious decision to call his group PIERRE MOERLEN’S GONG was underway for 1979’s DOWNWIND {*6}. Showcasing a title track that involved MIKE OLDFIELD, brother TERRY OLDFIELD, STEVE WINWOOD and recent escapee Malherbe, there was a tight connection to the past; `Jin-Go-La-Ba’ (made famous by SANTANA) was a nice touch, while guitarist Ross Record and guest violinist Didier Lockwood put up a good show; TAYLOR again played lead guitar, this time on `What You Know’.
Dispensing with the odd star turns (plus Ross), Pierre surrounded himself with Hansford, Bon, Peter Lemer (keyboards/synths) and, for the second half of TIME IS THE KEY (1979) {*6}, Allan Holdsworth, who’d been occupied in BILL BRUFORD’s group.
On the back of a LIVE (1980) {*6} set, the stagnant jazz-rock they peddled during the PIERRE MOERLEN’S GONG period was kept afloat in Germany with the release in 1981 of LEAVE IT OPEN {*4}. Pierre, Bon, Hansford and Francois had added Brian Holloway (guitars), Charlie Mariano (saxophone) and Demelza (percussion), but in audacious tracks such as `How Much Better It Has Become’ and `I Woke Up This Morning Felt Like Playing Guitar’, time was not the key. If one wanted further examples of PIERRE MOERLEN’S GONG then one had to wait until 1986’s BREAKTHROUGH {*3} and 1988’s SECOND WIND {*2}.
Daevid, Gilli and Didier (in other words: GONG), were excavating their roots in France, where on the 28th May 1977 at the Paris Hippodrome, they recorded the almost forgotten live release, GONG EST MORT (1977) {*6}. Unofficial in many respects, with all three pseudonymous: Bert Camembert, Shakti Yoni and Bloomdido Bad de Grass respectively, they were joined by Hi. T. Moonweed (Tim Blake), Mr T. Being (Mike Howlett) and even Pierre de Strasbourg (Pierre Moerlen) on many of their old favourites.
Bona fide splinter act PLANET GONG were a combination of commune punks Daevid and Gilli, incorporating HERE AND NOW members Keith Missile/Bailey (bass), Kif Kif Le Batteur (aka drummer Keith Dobson), Prof. S. Sharpstrings (aka guitarist Stephen Lewry), Gavin Da Blitz (aka Gavin Allardyce; on synthesizers) and others. The 12” single `Opium For The People’ was released in early ’78, when groups such as H&N chums ALTERNATIVE TV were sniffin’ indie success.
With also Suze Da Blooz and Anni Wombat (vocals), re-issue imprint Charly were proud to present LIVE FLOATING ANARCHY 77 {*7} the following April; a treat for Pot Head Pixies fed up with Pierre’s prehistoric jazz-rock. Daevid and Gilli’s PLANET GONG captured the essence of space-rock and the spirit of punk, while fresh material such the aforementioned “Opium”, ORB precursor `Allez Ali Baba Blacksheep Have You Any Bull Shit: Mama Maya Mantram’, the whispering `New Age Transformation Try: No More Sages’ and the jamming title track, were gloriously spontaneous.
Taking himself further afield, Daevid kick-started NEW YORK GONG, with members of art-rockers MATERIAL:- Bill Laswell (bass), Michael Beinhorn (synths), Don Davis (alto sax), Fred Maher (drums), Cliff Cultreri (guitar), Bill Bacon (drums), Mark Kramer (organ) and Gary Windo (tenor sax). 1980’s ABOUT TIME {*6} was as much about the punk CBGBs scene than Pierre’s jazz offerings; `Much Too Old’ becoming 40-something Allen’s best since “Opium”. The trippy jazz-inflicted tracks were counter-balanced with TALKING HEADS-meets-KING CRIMSON/Belew pieces that tripped up rather than tripped out – good though it was. DAEVID ALLEN of course, returned to solo work and home-land Australia.
While Gilli had found her feet in her MOTHER GONG splinter (`Fairy Tales’, etc), Daevid took time to launch his own “fathership” GONGMAISON. Roping in Malherbe (wind), Graham Clark (violin), Wandana Bruce (harmonium, vocals), Shyamal Maitra (tabla, percussion), plus MOTHER GONG alumni Harry Williamson (synths) and Conrad Henderson (fretted bass), 1989 saw Demi Monde release the eponymous GONGMAISON {*6}. Incorporating a potpourri of deep-fried disco, reggae and raga (on a re-vamp of `Flying Teacup’, `1989’ and the 10-minute `Titti-Caca’ respectively), 50-something Daevid had more to say than most of his peers.
Re-enlisting his HERE & NOW chums (most notably Keith Missile), Daevid’s GONGMAISON entourage delivered the almost missable cassette-only STRONG & STREAMIN (1992; recorded live 1990) {*5}, featuring several golden nuggets. Meanwhile that same year, PLANET GONG were briefly back in circulation for LIVE FLOATING ANARCHY 1991 {*6}, an update, if one needed one, of his 1977 venture, with added attractions.
Inevitably, as sure as eggs is eggs and teapots fly, GONG (namely Allen, Malherbe, Clark, Maitra, Missile and Pip Pyle) once again evolved into a proper group for 1992’s SHAPESHIFTER {*6}. Missing Gilli’s grassy-eyed whispers or HILLAGE’s glissando guitars (though Steffi Sharpstring was on hand), highlights on this hour-long extravaganza were the folky `Spirit With Me’, the live `Can You: You Can’ and the mighty finale `Goddess Invocation – Om Riff’.
Accompanying a fully-fledged reunification over two nights (alongside other off-shoot incarnations), GONG were documented on the 1995 double-CD release 25th BIRTHDAY PARTY: OCT 8th-9th, 1994, LONDON, THE FORUM {*8}. Without Clark or Missile/Bailey, but with Mike Howlett, Tim Blake, Steffi, Pip, Didier and Gilli, all the finest long and short wave GONG mantras were on board.
With the main core of GONG (Allen, Smyth and Malherbe) now warming to the thought of a studio comeback; drummer Chris Taylor (of SOUL II SOUL), sax-player Theo Travis and keyboardist Mark Robson in place, hippie idealism and cosmic space-funk were present and correct on ZERO TO INFINITY (2000) {*7}. While only one piece harked from the past (1969-penned `Wise Man In Your Heart’), a handful of tracks were a tad elongated for the times, although `The Invisible Temple’ and `Infinitea’ proved GONG could still hack it. Filling Robson’s berth with Gwyo ze Pix (keyboards, electronics, vocals) for the rather unnecessary addendum, LIVE 2 INFINITEA (2000) {*6}, GONG were already creatively treading on thin ice. Ditto OK FRIENDS – 2001 TOUR (2002) {*5}, a jam-packed improv-like trek into “anything goes” scheme of things.
Teaming up with ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE players (Kawabata Makoto and Cotton Casino) and adding American guitarist Josh Pollock (of University Of Errors), bassist Dharmawan Bradbridge, drummer son Orlando Allen and, in a guest capacity, Gilli Smyth, ACID MOTHERHOOD (2004) {*7} was closer to avant-garde metal than whimsical psychedelia. If one could tear oneself away from the cover juxtaposing Daevid’s head on to the body of a naked pregnant woman, then GONG had some say on a handful of the experimental monster cuts.
Uncredited as a GONG album (in all but name), the family outing of GILLI SMYTH, DAEVID ALLEN and offspring ORLANDO ALLEN combined well for `I Am Your Egg’ (2005). As ACID MOTHERS GONG (no Dharmawan or Orlando but with the addition of Hiroshi Higashi, Tsuyama Atsushi and Yoshida Tatsuya), LIVE TOKYO (2006) {*6} – at the Doors Club, April 2004 – pleased their fans from the East with regurgitations of older cuts alongside a bruising barage of neo-psychedelic nu-tunes.
Catapulting their AMT cousins into the ether, a reunion of sorts (featuring Allen, Smyth, Hillage, Howlett, Giraudy, Travis, Taylor and Malherbe!) looked to the future with 2032 (2009) {*6}. As hard as ever to pigeonhole a group who could caramelise into almost anything that was anti-pop, chameleons GONG rode their cosmic bubblebath on the crest of an old wave on `Digital Girl’, `Guitar Hero’, `Pinkle Ponkle’ and the topical `Waccy Baccy Banker’.
In the years to come, numerous personnel changes had not wavered Daevid and his GONG in his quest to continue in an inimitable care-free fashion; 2009 had saw David Sturt come in (for Howlett); Ian East (for Travis) the following year; the returning Orlando Allen (superseding Taylor) and guitarist Fabio Golfetti was preferred over Giraudy and HILLAGE (in 2012). However, when his missus was replaced by guitarist Kavus Torabi prior to 2014’s I SEE YOU {*7}, Daevid and Co were again relying on fresh acolytes to take them into space time continuum. An hour-long sojourn into territory unfamiliar for even die-hards (`When God Shakes Hands With The Devil’, `Syllabub’ and the POPOL VUH-like `Zion My T-Shirt’ all examples), GONG were thankfully in retrospective mode on the title track, the gliss-tastic `The Eternal Wheel Spins’, `Pixielation’, and the dreamy 9 minutes of concluding autobiographical piece, `Shakti Yoni & Dingo Virgin’; the latter becoming a fitting end to an overwhelming career for Daevid, who died the following March (13th) at the age of 77.
Joining him in that Flying Teapot in the sky, “Mother Gong” Gilli Smith passed away on 22 August 2016, leaving GONG Mk.whatever inheritors Kavus (now on vocals/guitar), Fabio Golfetti, Dave Sturt, Ian East and fresh drummer Cheb Nettles to unfetter the enlightening post-ALLEN set, REJOICE! I’M DEAD! (2016) {*7}; Daevid featured on two pieces: `Model Village’ (alongside Didier Malherbe) and `Beatrix’, while that unmistakable glissando guitar of HILLAGE propped up the 10-minute excursion of `Rejoice!’. No doubt some pundits might baulk at the thought of a bequeathed GONG shape-shifting into a combo of space cadets but, as if conducted from hands above, `The Thing That Should Be’, `The Unspeakable Stands Revealed’, `Through Restless Seas I Come’ (with Didier, again) and `Visions’, stood tall among anything from their “Pot-Headed-Pixies” period.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Mar2015-Sep2016

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