Someone said "Planète Gong"?
Someone said "Planète Gong"? And out of the conjurer's hat spring a bunch of punked-up pixies, the street version of the silver surfers of pop.
Imagine the spirit of Grunge, well before its time, infamous and free! (as it ought to remain, so that its heroes do not pull the trigger in a flat in Seattle). Grunge, I said, in a head-on collision with Star Trek and the music of the spheres, the children of Albion, squatting, busying themselves with oats and nuts or the design of toe bongs, rose up to the challenge of high tech and opened their door to fame and fortune.
The first I knew of it was one busy Saturday afternoon in the Portobello Road, outside Ceres (the grain shop - still there, but then you could hang around upstairs and listen to music and exchange infos. That was when culture primed on business and love vibes on despair and you found nothing but resin in your quid deal, unless it was 100% henna and then you knew you had been ripped off).
Anyway, into Ceres for a date slice and I bump into Twink who has just left Here & Now because of his bed (but that is another story!). Twink played synthesizers and was a bit of an electronic wizard. He knew all sorts of sophisticated people and among them Gong founder from down under, daevid allen, Captain Camem-Bert himself, the bard in a space suit, was coming back to these shores and looking for accompanying musicians….
That must have been 1977. In the last couple of years, Here & Now had become the darlings of hippy low society, great faves of the free festival crowds. Of course more famous bands would turn up at festivals, but Here & Now were the real thing. They lived in their bus and you could always share with them a joke, a bong (bonk?) or a bowl of muesli. There were groupies (I know, I was one), lots of excitement all for free.
Back at the bakery, this piece of news, that possible coming together of daevid allen and Here & Now (which was to be Planète Gong) was crucial news indeed for me! It touched two of my best bands of all times.
1971. Metz, France. Foire Expo. My first concert ever: Gong! I had to lie to my parents to be able to go. Electric low fat full cheeses and flying pieces of crockery are accompanying my first forays into the newly discovered misty landscapes of Counter Culture. As far as I am concerned Captain Capricorn is god.
1975. West London squatland somewhere on the edge of the Free State of Frestonia I have new neighbours. They walk down the streets barefoot in long flowing robes. They play music, even when the guy next door turns up on their doorstep with a hammer in his hands. But most of the time they go up and down the country playing for free. They call themselves Here & Now.
I became a dedicated follower. I joined them on the bus a couple of years later at Stonehenge. The rest of the summer was spent doing the rounds of free festivals.
I loved to dance to their music under the stars (or in the pouring rain), feeling the earth under my bare feet and the breeze on my face, and my head full of twirling whirling sounds…. Dancing the moment as they were playing the moment and a precious moment it was to be shared by all . Everyone was getting high on it and to me it could never be otherwise. I cared but little for technicalities such as bum notes or feedback in the monitors.
In the meantime in London some serious deals were going on involving Charly Records and in September the bus was winding its way across Devon and country lanes were getting narrower and narrower. We were to meet daevid at some friends of his for some serious rehearsing (? some of us were still unsure of the meaning of the word) in the land of Tarka the Otter. The setting was beautiful. A discrete manor on rolling lawns and a charming little pavilion were defintely not to approach. It had sheltered the making of a piece of English literary heritage unknown to me, a very important man had written a very important book there and my only excuse is that I am not English and still I felt in awe (well, a little).
We all came. Women, children, dogs and musicians. All grinning with (ill conceived) excitement and rather penniless. I started having the idea that our attitude was looked upon as rather unprofessional. Well, this is how we were and we meant it and that is why we'd been asked in the first place.
daevid at the time was battling with a Mr Branson of Virgin fame over who was and wasn't Gong. He was pretty pissed off with the professionals anyway! Only months before the Sex Pistols stuck it up EMI's we were storming the small Virgin offices in Vermont Court off the Portobello Road.
1977. And a strong wind of rebellion was blowing across the country. Anarchy was in and we were in it. And here we were trying to keep track of both the moment and the coda (I know now : the wes )***
While the musicians worked hard at it the women were milling around picking blackberries the size of apricots, and generally enjoying the countryside and the mushrooms. Early on, daevid remarked on how few women there were in a male dominated showbiz and would we like to do something. he choir of angels came into being and my career as a dancing girl! The band had grown to its full size.
I was given a name : Annie Wombat. I hadn't even known till then that such creatures existed. And it's only years later that I finally flipped through the pages of the encyclopedia to the letter W to find myself staring at afat frumpy ball of fur. That got me wondering…. But I have always liked wombats.
And so it came to pass that in the winter of that same year, I was prancing around a stage where Captain Beefheart had strolled only moments before, facing a huge Parisian crowd packed into the biggest (to me) circus tent in Europe (full to the brim it was, bursting at the seams).
So there we were : Planète Gong. For me the Flying Teapot had landed with a crash and a bang. Some sort of demystification was in order.
It started the following morning when I woke up in a bus to the sight of god in purple long johns pummelling his hand and humming softly (mornin' do in) and coming to the realisation : he'd lost his race to the Weetabix packet and he'd end up with just mantrams for breakfast.
But I must hand back to god that he introduced some sort of spiritual discipline to what had been a free-for-all-get-it-while-you-can-day-to-day-hand-to-mouth kind of existence. We had mottos such as "Dope makes holes in your aura". Collective meditation before going on stage became the order of the day.
We had a string of dates in England before the French tour. One day, we were stopped by the blue meanies on the outskirts of `guildford in the wake of the bombing. We were roughly invited to vacate the bus for a search. There we were on the grassy bank of a windswept English road, our eyes shut, holding hands in a circle, chanting OM MANI PADME OM.
As a result we were budled away to sample the delights of the brand new local police station. There, the upholders of law and order didn't shrink back from manually exploring the contents of the baby's nappies. After mushrooms or bazookas? And still the chant went on amid bumping doors and howling wind. Very unnerving…. We were released with great relief (theirs).
We were ready for France. With our own PA and a new bus. There is some crazy story circulating about an oil change. And someone refilling only the emergency tank. Anyway the whole thing seized up and we had to continue in a couple of hired minibuses. And all along the way we were hosted and feasted. A tour de France des Compagnons….
Lourdes. On a damp and cold winter day, we're on our way to someone's chaley high up in the mountains. So up we went through sleet and snow and rose above the clouds to clear blue skies and intense heat! Our captain felt so warmed by it all that he threw his Merlin garb to the wind and did a little dance around the chalet, in his yellow cotton underwear (what a splendid display of long johns we had on that tour!).
All of a sudden he was gone from sight - pfft ! Disparu ! Guided by his cries for help we pulled him out of the septic tank (prosaically speaking the shit pit) that had claimed him knee deep ! We visited Castles, farms, developed a taste for cassoulet and mille-feuilles. We made a live album and a studio single.
We went on without daevid. Holland, and over England and Wales and Scotland as Planète Gong. And on to be Here & Now again….
We never ceased to sing about Floating Anarchy. I hope all of us ; some of whom I haven't seen in aeons ; will do to the end.
With love and many happy wombats of the day,
* Henry Williamson, the author of Tarka the Otter, had worked in a garden shed. His son Harry - a musician, and the inventor of Gilli Smyth's space whisper effects box, amongst other things - was our host at Oxford Cross.