Brief Gong History
The story of GONG begins (again), full moon Easter 1966. Daevid Allen has a vision which is to change his, and many other people's lives.
He gains the impression that he is an experiment being supervised by intelligences far beyond his normal level of awareness, that he is later to call the octave doctors, seeing himself on stage in front of a large rock festival audience and experiencing a connection with them that had the quality of intense LOVE, while at the same time being surrounded by a enormous cone of etheric light… simultaneously drawing astral shadows from deep below us and dissolving them in the downpouring radiance focused at its peak.
This vision spawns the entire mythology around which the band is based. The concept of playing anything as remotely fashionable as pop music was a radical step for Allen. He says he would never have considered playing pop songs if he had not heard the Yardbirds', "Still I'm Sad".
Daevid: "For a time i forgot about this revelation, but before long, the act of offering myself to the powers that combine, energise and transform all that lives through music became my only reason to exist. At this point I became aware of my life purpose.
Daevid's first attempt to manifest this vision resulted in the formation of the Soft Machine in October 1966. In retrospect he felt that the band lacked the spiritual integrity that he was looking for, but did provide the circumstances for his first performances with Gilli Smyth as the 'electric poets'. His involvement with the project came to an abrupt end in August 1967, when he was refused entry back into the UK owing to his visa having expired.
Daevid spent the next couple of months in Paris experimenting with his electric guitar and a boxful of nineteenth century gynaecological instruments processed through an echo box and other effects. Daevid claims to have been inspired by watching Syd Barratt playing with Pink Floyd at the Ally Pally.
Whilst playing around the left bank cafe scene, Daevid and Gilli met up with magic brothers and mystic sisters; Elson, Taner, Ziska and Natch.
The six of them obtained a residency at La Vieille Grille and began to realise the concept of Total Space Music together with Daevid's glissando guitar, Gilli and Ziska on Space Whisper (a.k.a. Atlantean temple chant), Elson and Natch on flutes and Taner mixing it all through his pride and joy, a state of the art 6-channel Semprini echo chamber, becoming the very first in a sacred lineage of switch doctors. Daevid described the whole experience as "eight of the maddest musicians imaginable… improvising around nothing for hours on end, completely stoned."
During this time Daevid was introduced to a young filmmaker named Jérôme Laperrousaz, and young bassist and drummer Marc Blanc and Patrice Lafontaine, plunging straight into the student riots in Paris, May 1968 with an ORTF camera crew. Their performance was stopped by the police, the trio had been photographed and a warrant signed for their arrest, so Daevid and Gilli split for Deya just in time to avoid being busted by the police who considered them to be insurgents.
They returned to Deya, narrowly avoiding expulsion from Spain due to a provocative interview Gilli had unwittingly done with the Barcelona tabloids.
Once the heat had died down a bit they smuggled themselves back into France with the intention of fulfilling commitments with Living Theatre and the Bananamoon Band. Whilst in Avignon they met up with a cheery Parisien flea market dealer called Bob Benamou, who had invited Gilli to stay at his house, in the grounds of which was Dr Mishra's Ashram/Retreat run by one Brahmanananda - (a.k.a. Bananana Ananda) an old friend from Paris days.
Daevid and Gilli spent the rest of '68 in Deya working on the material that was to become Magic Brother / Mystic Sister, there they met Didier Malherbe who was living in a goatherders cave on the side of a mountain in Robert Graves' back garden. They staged poetry readings in a miniature reproduction amphitheatre next door involving local poets and musicians. They returned briefly to Paris to record demos for Pathe Marconi and Barclay with the Bananamoon Band - these have eventually surfaced as Je ne fum pas des Banananes - they turned down the original deals they were offered on the grounds that the deals were too old-fashioned.
Daevid's father Wally gave him enough money to buy the old millhouse on Bob Benamou's land in the south of France, which they moved into and began work restoring. One of their visitors that summer was swashbuckling entrepreneur Jean Karakos, who had started an anti-music-biz record company called BYG. He advanced the money to record Magic Brother and Bananana Moon before hearing a single note or signing any contract.
At this point Daevid reconnected with the original vision that had spurred him on, realising that he was "…one of the many human, and thus flawed, instruments creating a cultural and spiritual revolution. It was very clear to me that laughter was a vital ingredient and could be used as camouflage - absurdity was the ideal shield."
By July of 1968 a three year contract had been signed for Magic Brother and Bananana Moon and subsequently with Gong for Camembert Electrique. Allen wasted no time in pulling together a team of virtuoso musicians in Paris to form the first proper Gong band, and began recording in September.
Karakos, along with BYG records and Actuel Magazine, set up the Amougies Jazz festival where Gong played their first gig on October 27th. Billed as the first ever French festival, it was actually held ten miles across the border not far from the site of the historical battle of Waterloo, due to pressure from the French Police, still nervous from the previous years riots.
Magic Brother became pop album of the week on French Radio. Gong spent two months gigging hard around Paris.
Laperrousaz gave them free use of his haunted Normandy Chateau (Château du Thiel) - built oddly enough by the inventor of the curling tongs - where Gong lived, wrote and rehearsed music for films such as "Je, tu, elle", TV ads,Es que je suis.../ Hyp hyp hypnotise ya, it's the time of your life and even the theme tune for the ORTF news.
Benamou officially becomes Gong's manager and the band move back to Montalieu in July. Despite the successes of the band - receiving radio play on programmes like the French 'pop2' - Houari left the band. Allen: "In the end he was playing quieter and quieter until one day he just wasn't there anymore."
Technically Daevid still owes Karakos two solo albums. Karakos had wanted at least one ex-Soft Machine to be involved and, as it happened, Robert Wyatt was around. After several cases of Fosters lager and loads of black hash they decide to book Marquee Studios in London and cut Bananamoon
March sees a move to a hunting Lodge in Voisines, and Pip Pyle joins in April. Thus the scene is set to begin recordings at Herouville Castle in May for Camembert Electrique, Dashielle Hedayatt's Obsolete, and Continental Circus - the latter being a film by jérôme Laperrousaz about ex world motorcycle champion Bruce Findlay. The debut gig for this more muscular line-up is at Glastonbury festival in the UK. Bananamoon is released in July and Kevin Ayers joins in August as a semi-permanent member. They set off on a UK tour, Pip leaves after French dates in December and goes back to England.
Laurie Allan joins on drums in Jan 1972 and does the Belgian dates and a UK tour, after which Kevin Ayers decides that he really can't hack the lifestyle and goes back to his more relaxed solo career. Laurie Allan refused ever to play the same song twice and left as soon as he knew what was coming next.
Drummers came and went. In August the band split for a while. Gilli had just given birth to her first son, Taliesin Allen and needed time off from the busy schedule of gigging and recording. Bob Benamou and Jaques Fivel return to the antiques business and Karakos had more or less disappeared off the scene, having run into trouble with his label BYG and forced to go under ground.
Georgio Gomelsky persuades Daevid, Gilli and Didier to return to Britain and talk to Richard Branson who had taken an interest in them on the basis of their Glastonbury Festival performance, so the band shack up with Virgin Records despite still being technically signed to BYG - the start of years of legal wrangling and unreceived royalties.
Gong was having problems settling on a permanent rhythm section. Christian Tritsch wanted to move off bass and concentrate on lead guitar and vocals. They audition several bass players including Bill MacCormick (ex - Matching Mole), but finally plumb for Francis Moze from Magma. With Laurie Allan back on the drum stool this band perform a three week tour of France before picking up Kevin Ayers' Guitarist Steve Hillage, and inviting Tim Blake back as a full-time member.
in January 1973 the band travel to England to record Flying Teapot at Virgin's Manor Studios in Oxfordshire. The sessions are allegedly tumultuous due in part to Moze clashing with everyone except Daevid and Steve. After one too many disagreements, Daevid calls it a day and splits back to France. Plans are made for the band to continue without him as Paragong. Daevid seeks commitment from Virgin in the form of a new contract and agency deal.
Daevid returns with a renewed sense of purpose. Gong play in London, watched by Richard Branson and Mike Oldfield, who spots Pierre and asks him to play at the premier of Tubular Bells at the Queen Elisabeth Hall the following month. Flying Teapot is released and the first BBC 'Top Gear' session is recorded. The first major UK tour - with this, the classic line-up - is undertaken in June and work immediately begins on Ooby Scooby Doomsday at Manor Studios in Oxfordshire. In July they move back to France and begin sessions for Angel's Egg at Pavillion du Hay in Voisines.
Gong move to Middlefield Farm near Oxford, UK, and are almost immediately busted for dope. Pierre Moerlen rejoins in May and they begin rehearsing for You.
Daevid Allen: "The creation of You was very different to Angel's Egg. We had come to the conclusion that, because I was contributing a lot of the material, that it was too much my original creation. It was time we created something completely together, so we booked up a cottage in England, and we lived there for a week, we saved up some wonderful acid and we took this acid together as a group. And this was one occasion where there was no paranoia, it was just a wonderful, wonderful trip and we all played and played and played. And we connected so strongly together out of the improvisations, we just improvised and recorded it and then at the end of the day, we would listen to the recordings and take the pieces out that we wanted to learn."
Pierre Moerlen leaves to become a full time member of the prestigious Percussions de Strasbourg, and Gong become split over various personal, spiritual and musical issues. Daevid wants to leave the band, finding the music too technique-oriented. Other members object to having to fit their music to his perpetual storyline and take issue with his choice of ending for the trilogy. Record company businessmen want them to be more commercial and play down the political subversion. There is also heated disagreement about the wisdom of continuing to use drugs as part of the band experience.
Gilli leaves for Spain and is replaced by Miquette Giraudy - Steve Hillage's girlfriend - previously an actress who'd appeared in Barbet Schroeder's film La Vallée.
Laurie Allan returns for the UK tour, is busted for drugs whilst crossing the Franco-German border and is forbidden ever to enter France again. He is replaced by Bill Bruford for the remainder of the dates in Germany, Holland and Norway.
Youis released in November, but as the album rises in the UK charts, Karakos reappears and slams an injunction on the album claiming that Gong are still signed to BYG. A twelve year legal battle between Virgin and BYG ensues, resulting in all Gong's royalties going to the lawyers.
Daevid finally leaves the band during a gig at Cheltenham: "I couldn't actually get on stage. It was as though there was a an invisible curtain of force that was stopping me from going through the door. I threw myself at the open door and bounced back, off nothing. And this blew my mind so thoroughly that I just ran out of the theatre into the rain and started hitchiking on the road with all my clothes, my stage clothes, my costume and face painted with fluorescent colours. And then a woman looked at me so strangely that I started thinking I was a murderer and I was hiding in the bushes. Finally I got picked up by somebody who had left the concert, was taken home, and then I had to realise that I had to leave Gong, so that's the way it all ended."
Gong completes the tour with Steve and Miquette fronting a truncated line-up.
Pierre Moerlen returns after Virgin offer him the leadership of the band, recording Shamal in December. Steve Hillage guests on a couple of tracks only and leaves the band for good to concentrate on his solo career.
The band split again into lyrical versus instrumental camps. Simon Draper of Virgin chooses the Moerlen-driven instrumental approach. Patrice Lemoine and Mike Howlett leave. Gazeuze! is recorded in September, but the band splits irrevocably afterwards.
The original purpose of the band had vanished, but they still had a contract to complete with virgin under the name Gong. Pierre Moerlen had met up with Hansford Rowe in New York, in November. They decide to form a new Gong line-up - the prototype of Pierre Moerlen's Gong
Pass the Magic Hat