visit Planet Gong and what we did when we got there
(Cris Baldwin talks to Daevid Allen)
2000-11-27 : The Foundry, Birmingham
The Foundry in Birmingham (England November 27th 2000) is really a bit of a hole. However it was the venue for Gong's show so we had to be there. We arrived around 6.30pm and six hours later we were still in a land of bliss. The intention had been for Cris to interview Daevid Allen and see Gong. We got so much more than we bargained for, for which we are really grateful. The interview with Mr Allen however is another story, one more chapter in man's sorry tale of non-cooperation with technology.
Firstly we spoke to Gilli Smyth, who was charming and kind and patient with the first-time interviewers.
AA: What's it like to be back out with Gong?
Gilli : Back out with Gong? I've always been out with Gong. We started, actually, in '68 and then the revolution came so we had to flee and then started again in 1970 and then I left in 74 after 'You', to do solo projects in 1978 I did a couple of solo albums, Mother and Faery Tales. In 78 I started the Mother Gong band and that ran thru' to 94. But because I toured and made ten or twelve albums with Mother Gong and things I never stopped and then we had the birthday party reunion in 1994. In the meantime Daevid had been doing Planet Gong and Shapeshifter and things so the reunion was not coming back to Gong it was like continuing what we had been doing. But it put together what they call this 'classic' Gong because Mike Howlett's in it.
AA : So what actually is the line-up tonight?
Gilli : Mike Howlett on bass, he joined in 73, Angels Egg and You he was on and Chris Taylor came last year, Pierre Moerlen dropped out. Chris is great, we're happy with him. Then we have Theo too, (Theo Travis), Theo playing flute and saxophone and that's great because Didier, (Malherbe), can't do all the gigs, he did Hackney Empire, and sometimes in France and it's lovely playing with Didier but he can't do regular touring because we have done so much touring, we started in March this year and we're finishing on Saturday(2nd December)and that's nine months.
AA : That's a long time to be on tour. Some of the reviews I've read on the internet from America have said this is one of the most powerful Gong bands that they'd ever seen.
Gilli : Yeah, it's nice, we're happy with it actually.
AA : We were listening to the live album on the way over and it gets into - it sounds a real clichéd thing to say - a groove and it's really, really nice.
Gilli : I guess we'll tour again next year, we're going to go home and have a bit of a rest, well not a rest, you know where you can write things and do new stuff.
AA : So where are you living now?
Gilli : I live in Australia and Daevid lives about 15 minutes away on the North Coast. Even though Daevid and I broke up in 78 we still work together and are really good friends. One of the reasons we live in the same area is so that we can do stuff.
AA : How do you feel about a lot of younger people getting into the old classic trilogy stuff, as there was the You Remixed album with the techno and trance remixes, how do you feel about those mixes?
Gilli : Well I love techno, in fact I have a techno band in Australia called Goddess T and we've done three, just finished the third album called Electric Shiatsu but we play at dance parties so I feel very much in tune with people. What I love about raves is the musicians and the dancers and the visuals and everything is all part of a big celebration, you're not on a stage with people looking at you. People are really dancing and that inspires you to play more out. In the Goddess T band is mine and Daevid's son Orlando, he's 26 and a professional musician, he left home when he was 16 to go on tour, it runs in the family. Orlando did a remix of, 'You are I and I am you', on the album and he is who I have the band with over there.
AA : Are you thinking of bringing them over here?
Gilli : The Goddess T band toured Japan last year but it's just the distance and airfares and the expenses but I'm sure it'll happen.
AA : I look forward to that, that'll be really nice, shall we let you get off then?
Gilli : Well I should maybe go and have a look on my microphone.
And after signing some of the competition prizes away Gilli went to be replaced, much to our surprise, by new keyboard man Gwyo ze Pix.
Gwyo : Are we on the air?
AA : Yeah, so who are you and what are you doing in Gong?
Gwyo : I'm the new kid on the block in Gong and I actually played with some of the guys in 1975 at free festivals.
AA : What sort of era was that?
Gwyo : That was shortly after 'You', before Steve Hillage left, after Daevid left, I didn't know Daevid but I had met Steve Hillage and Mike [Howlett] and Didier Malherbe so there was a connection there. Some of the people used to live in the cottage we had in England; Tim Blake lived there for a little while.
AA: He's got a new album coming out.
I had this synthesiser duo and we've just reformed it this year after 25 years that was what that was about and we supported Gong in Hackney, Hackney (London England) was strange.
AA : So basically you're the keyboard whiz?
Gwyo : Mmmm, just as much synthesiser sounds and effects.
AA : Are you using much new technology?
Gwyo : Train spotting time! I'm using some virtual analogue things, one of them is virtual acoustic, for saxophone and fluty type sound and the other all-rounder is the Access Virus which I think is brilliant, otherwise one little analogue synth and organ piano and things.
AA : So you're like the new kid on the block but not as you were involved a long time ago.
Gwyo : My sister gave me a Gong-type name, Gwyo ze Pix, actually based on my postcode of where I was living at the time.
AA : Well it could've been worse!! So did it all slot together well, was there much working out to do?
Gwyo : Well I invited myself to a rehearsal in April and it worked so I joined the band then, that was only four days and nice then we've had one rehearsal, otherwise we do it on stage if possible. I think this is your next victim, I didn't mention the sheep Mike!
And, again to our surprise, enter Mike Howlett, bass player and, as we discovered, a man with more than one tale to tell. Firstly, he told us a joke.
Mike : What's the difference between the Rolling Stones and a Scottish sheep farmer? The Rolling Stones sing, 'Hey, You, get offa my cloud', and the Scottish sheep farmer says, 'Hey McCloud, get offa my ewe'
AA : [groans]
And that pretty much set the tone for an interesting discussion for the next twenty minutes or so, some of which it would be unwise to relate to you, referring as it does to Mike's group Strontium 90 which featured members of a huge band before that band was formed. Indeed, that was the first time they had all met. An arresting experience for those three, future blonde, individuals. He was a very funny raconteur and not at all serious. So bear that in mind. Enough already here's some of the highlights of our discussions with Mike Howlett.
AA : So, how are you doing?
Mike : A bit shagged as usual.
AA : Gilli says it's been a long tour?
Mike : [mumbles a little incoherently] ...when did we start, Monday, day off Tuesday, so Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Saturday Sunday Monday, so we've had six gigs in a row... [Voice in the background : 'We started in September'] Yes I know, but a day off is all you need really. I feel we're a bit fatigued.
AA : Edinburgh (350 miles north) last night?
Mike : Yeah
AA : That's a long way to travel.
Mike : Yeah we had to do it a couple of hours after the gig, stopped in the Lake District... [drowned out by the road manager's chat]
AA : So I better ask you some coherent questions. (I think we should point out that we were only expecting to speak to Daevid and hadn't prepared for anyone else to talk to us.)
Mike : My favourite colour?
AA : We quickly explained who we were and why we were doing this and Chris Taylor had briefly joined us but was reluctant to chat and just ate fruit instead.
Chris : I don't do interviews!
Mike : He wants approval afterwards, he's got a heavy lawyer, he sues me if I play the wrong note you know, heavy legal situation.
AA : As bad as Van Morrison? We were listening to some of the live album on the way Chris and you two seem to get into a real solid groove. Has it been really easy to fit back into the Gong, get back into the groove of playing these tunes?
Mike : The first year, the first tour we did in America in 1996 was dreadful physically, I loved it, I loved doing it but every night I'd go to bed and my fingers would be throbbing like golf balls, I was so out of condition. You tootle around at home you don't do the same thing as you play on stage and it was just agony, I'd go and do the sound check every night and it was like "ouch" "ouch", and then those endorphins kick into play in the brain and you sort of ride over it. I miss that pain now. What I do now is I try to leave my finger in dangerous places. I was right of condition but what's great about this band at the moment is it's very road fit, which is the greatest thing, because even on a slow night we know we can do a good show.
AA : So you can just get out of the van and hit the ground running
Mike : Yeah, so that's good because you can't expect energy every night and touching wood, not that I'm superstitious or anything. I had a really strange one I'm still trying to understand. I tend to believe you take what you have gathered from coincidence, there's always something interesting to be discovered from it even if it's just the change of a mindset. In a hotel in Aberdeen actually, I was getting my clothes out to get dressed change my shirt as we'd been on the road about a week, and there was a shiny penny that had fallen so I put that on top of these clothes, then I couldn't find it so I thought it must have fallen down the back of this little chest of drawers. So I think you don't let a lucky penny slip away so I pulled the chest of drawers out lean over to get it, (laughs), and under this chest of drawers are 5 porno magazines, (laughs), and I thought fuck me.
AA : Serendipity
[Voice in the background : 'One of the highlights of the tour!'] Mike : I'm still trying to work out what the secret message is.
AA : Perhaps you should leave pennies alone from now on.
Mike : In for a penny, penny for my thoughts.
AA : Penny for your porno, very odd.
Mike : We tried to work out what the likely scenarios could be, what we think was that every month this travelling salesman comes through, always orders the same room, and he has his little stash down there, he know s they're safe and I could tell form the accumulated dust and debris down there that it's not somewhere that gets cleaned very often. Strangeness indeed. So we had these magazines in the bus for a while.
AA : Purely for research purposes.
Mike : Well, yeah. [Voice in the background : 'See how the other half lives'] It's fascinating really, what also impresses me is that after how many years now there've been porn magazines and yet you never see them repeated as far as I can recall, and yet there is a limited range of possibilities that you can come up with.
AA : Must be a generational thing, each generation gets it's own stars.
Mike : There's a constant flow of lovely young girls who will show their bodies off for a certain fee, why do men get turned on by pictures where as women want more cerebral things.
There then followed quite a technical discussion about the crisis of censorship with regards to pornography, freedom of speech, and neo-nazism which is heavy going really but important thing to think and talk about, just not right here, right now. Maybe we'll make it available as an mp3 in the future. There was also stuff about tribal genetic baggage and the survival mechanisms and genetic modification. In fact, it'd make a damn fine book :o). At the end of that section he had a small brandy.
Mike : So you guys do this on a website? Do you have a card?
AA : we're going to review the gig and the live album so there's a card for you (and we got one from the man responsible for the wonderful fluorescent set).
Mike : Acid Attack
AA : Started off as a progressive review site but I'm not the main man he's coming later.
Mike : So there's a hierarchy even in this.
AA : It's a lowerarchy. I review the more experimental stuff but I've been a Gong fan since I was 14.
Mike : So how old are you now?
AA : 36
Mike : So 22 years, man and boy. It's been very encouraging, that's what has really impressed me since I've been doing it again - I did the birthday party in 94, which was the first gig I'd done in 17 years.
AA : Really, first gig full stop, so what had you been doing?
Mike : Well I became a record producer, you didn't know about my glorious past as a record producer. I produced, 'Echo Beach' by Martha and the Muffins.
AA : Fine tune.
Mike :And I did all the early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark hits, Enola gay, then I did China Crisis, Blancmange, 'Living on the Ceiling', I did Flock of Seagulls all their big hits, massive in America.
AA : You're the one to blame.
Well no, musically they were very good, (more slightly dodgy legal ground so no more), the band themselves were very nice people. The thing took off because of the record company, Jive and the man who ran that. You wouldn't believe how big they, (Jive) are now. They've got people like R Kelly and they've got Steps, they were not afraid of being cheesy and Clive Calder, who's South African, and he's the guy who saw Samantha Fox in the papers and thought, 'Why hasn't see made a record'. So it's his fault. He's got a very, unashamedly thing but he would sign interesting bands like Jonathan Butler he signed, Ruby Turner.
AA : She's a local girl.
Is she, she was on Jive. He's very smart, he realised in the early 80's that hip-hop was happening in Chicago he sent a guy out there to live there to pick up that scene, he also had this idea he had the studio, he had a huge publishing thing that was the backbone of it. He had the record company, he had studios, he managed producers and he managed engineers and writers.
AA : [He then returned to the porn theme of earlier.] So if there is a big headline on the internet, 'Gong member into porn'...
Mike : Or 'Gong bass player; wanker'
AA : It doesn't seem very likely, or at all likely.
Mike : Of course not, that's err, disgraceful behaviour. So where were we? I produced Joan Armatrading, Gang of Four, I had a great run as a record producer in the Eighties, made loads of money. My other big story.
AA : For the reasons we outlined earlier we feel it in our best interests (ie we don't want to get sued) not to transcribe what followed, though it was very funny and Mike told us he had told the producers of a recent VH-1 programme about the Police the same tale and he believes that they wouldn't dare to have used it either. And that brought it to the end and we heartily thanked him.
AA : So then followed the show, well, about an hour later after they'd all been out for a curry. We still hadn't interviewed Daevid Allen and Mike suggested we might have to do it just after the show. So for the details of the show see the live review. So, we hung about for about three parts of an hour before we got to speak to him on his own, though he too, very kindly signed the prizes for our fantastic Gong competition. This is where we then lost the battle with technology. Or rather Cris did. The short and sweet interview with Daevid didn't record but our memories are that impaired so here's what we do remember.
AA : So, Daevid have you got a special message for all the Acid Attack readers? [long pause]
daevid : Well, no. Ask me a more focused question.
AA : Yes that was rather Zen. Ok, how about this. A lot of people are saying that this is the best Gong band ever, which is your favourite?
daevid : This is a really good live band, unlike some of those from the 70's where there was tension, we're all getting on really well.
AA : Gilli was saying that Orlando is playing with Goddess T in Australia.
daevid : He's more of a tech guy and a really good drummer. I'd like to have him with Gong but he's been resistant to that, wants to make his own way but I hope he'll be with us the next time we tour.
AA : Daevid also told us a typical Gong story but that really needed to be heard rather than remembered. Then, slightly sadly, we all thanked him for various things, a good show, inspiration, etc., and we left him there and went out into a bloody awful rainy night in Birmingham to go home. The next day we were all still buzzing. We'd like to thank everyone who made both the interviews and show possible, even if we can't remember all your names, so thanks to Johnny Greene for arranging it, and to Gilli, Gwyo, Chris, and Mike for making time to talk to us, entertaining us and making us extremely welcome. And to the tour manager and the technical chappy who we also spoke to. These Interviews were incompetently recorded by Cris and transcribed lovingly by Gordon.