So, along with the Saturdays searching through Good Vibrations or Rob’s Record Mart for copies of albums by Tangerine Dream or Edgar Froese or Peter Baumann or Yes there was a band called Gong. I might have been recommended them by my big bother, I might have just stumbled across them.
I bought Camembert Electrique with an ambivalent attitude toward its gatefold interior — too hippy and yet pleasing. The music itself swang from noise and howls to heavyish guitars. I bought a couple more albums, Angel’s Egg and You, but I never quite followed it up or understood what the pot head pixies were up to. Now, their lead musician during that period, Daevid Allen, has died of cancer.
I don’t think I can do more justice to him right now than quote from Solar Flares:
Allen had discovered works by writers of the Beat Generation in a bookshop in Melbourne and travelled to Paris in 1960, staying at the Beat Hotel in the Latin Quarter, frequented by poet Allen Ginsberg, and visiting jazz clubs. Travelling to Dover the next year, he wanted to be part of a band, and, inspired by the mythology of jazz musician Sun Ra, formed a trio with Wyatt, performing at William Burroughs’s happenings in London, before he helped found Soft Machine. Refused re-entry to Britain after a European tour, Allen settled with his partner, academic Gilli Smyth – who performed as Shakti Yoni – in Paris; in the lead up to the May 1968 student protests, they formed the band Gong. Their albums – including Camembert Electrique (1971) and the trilogy Flying Teapot (1973), Angel’s Egg (1973) and You (1974) – offered an expansive fusion of psychedelia, quasi-Eastern mysticism, concept albums and fantasy, with overt drug references. The band continued through many incarnations, changes of personnel and
different names over the next forty-plus years. The Radio Gnome trilogy drew upon Allen’s own mystical experiences, especially at Deià, Majorca; Zero the hero has a vision in the Charing Cross Road and goes through a process of seven initiations, enabling him to leave his body for the Planet Gong. Having gained an audience with the Octave Doctors (which appear in the form of a giant eye inside a cone inside an egg-shaped aura), he is charged with bringing the vision to the rest of the world via a music festival, but fails. Allen’s cosmology of pot-head pixies, flying saucers, flying teacups and flying teapots, the Planet Gong, the pirate radio-like Radio Gnome and the recurring characters such as Mista T. Being, Herbert Herbert Esq, Fred the Fish, Selene the Moon Goddess, the Good Witch Yoni and the Submarine Captain offer a kind of mind-expanding science fiction.
I’ve yet to follow up the Canterbury Scene or the Canterbury Sound (which arguably has barely more to do with the city than Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales), but I will one of the days. I suspect I missed Allen more than once at the Adelphi Club in Hull and at Lounge on the Farm, and now he’ll be missed forever.
Another one gone.