Steve Ward, Classic Rock Society 09/2001
Hi daevid, Trust you're continuing to have a great time in the US of A. Things are moving well here. I've got a handful of interviews lined up already, some of which can be done as phoners in the next few weeks. No definitive answers from Q or Mojo so far, but the fat lady ain't hollered yet. A couple of magazines are under deadline so would like to do email interviews if that's okay. Sorry to hassle you before you've even set foot in the country!
The first one is for Wondrous Stories, the journal of the Classic Rock Society (Rick Wakeman is honorary president). The journalist's name is Steve Ward. He'd really like the answers back by 10th September so he can get the interview into their October issue - do you think you might be able to fit this in? Thanks in advance, and here's Steve's questions.
PS: Could we get together on the phone once you're in the UK and work out how / when you'd like to do the other interviews? Cheers!
Petrina McFarlane, Work Hard PR
You've been on tour recently with your other band, "University Of Errors" - Can you tell us a bit about the band - How do they compare to Gong ?
Well imagine the band TELEVISION in 2020AD but with an extraterrestrial shall we say psychedelic lyrical overview replacing the rather sunless manhatten angst of the original. Plus it is also a vehicle for political post punk rebellion.
In my view the UofErr guitarist (Josh THE BOMB Pollack) is a total original & his interaction with ex "STOMP" percussionist Jason Mills is rivetting. It is huge fun for me to play & sing with them. If Gong is art as transformer then UofERRR is more art as a mirror.
Your perfomances used to include what you yourself described as "Middle Class Revolutionary" poetry. Is this still a part of the Gong live experience ?
Well actually there is one poem of mine called MIDDLE CLASS REVOLUTIONARY which speaks for itself. On the music scene my performance poetry is usually abrasive or confronting or in some way challenging popular preconceptions amongst the cerebrally hip. Recently it has seemed less appropriate in GONG. But in Uof Errors: yes & in solo shows always.
Poetry has played a significant part, particularly in the early days,and you performed poems with the likes of William Burroughs, Terry Riley and of course Gilli Smyth who I believe was a poetess when you met her. You obviously feel that poetry & Rock music make comfortable bed-fellows.
I like to include performance poetry in music gigs wherever appropriate because it helps to popularise it & inspire people to try it themselves. Its the perfect peoples artform. All you need is a pencil & paper or a good memory. In Australia I am better known as a performance poet than as a musician. I also write softer more lyrical poetry which I read on literary occasions.
Gilli Smyth's vocals are an important part of the Gong sound - They've been credited as "Space Whisper" & "Atlantean Temple Chants" - Can your elaborate please ?
To me Gilli is a total one-off original. She is much undervalued in critical terms I feel. Perhaps history will treat her more kindly. The only comparable vocalists I can think of are those who have been inspired by her since she began.
The fact that my glissando style of slide guitar playing melts so well with her voice work has prompted psychics & other sensitive beings to suggest that we are somehow evoking sounds from unrecorded ancient civilizations. It certainly seems to help people's spirits to soar & many claim to have out of body experiences under its influence. Others maintain it has saved them from suicide. I would say it is much more positive than negative & some claim to have been healed.
I would simply say this is all possible…and leave others to decide if it is probable or not.
1997 saw the classic "You" album remixed by the likes of The Orb, Youth, Shamen, 808 State etc. Did you approach them to do the remixing and if so what prompted you to do so ? Are they all on the Gong wavelength ?
A bit of both. The idea was in the air & Gong was seen as an obvious candidate for remixing. All of the contributors proved to be on the Gong wavelength. I was particularly impressed with the track by ORLANDO and not just because he is my son.
Gong remain steadfastly impossible to pigeon-hole. Your music has been desribed as diveresely as Jazz influenced Space Rock, Tight but Improvisational, A blend of electronic sound/Jazz/Psychadelia/Eastern Mysticism and always with the humerous asides. Can you give us your definitive description ?
Absolutely not. It changes daily and anyway its much more fun to be out of control.
One of the most distinctive Gong sounds is your glissando guitar style. You cited Syd Barrett as being the influence for this style,even down to the rumours that Barrett's picture was pinned to your amp "For Inspiration" during early gigs - Any truth in that or if not how did you develop the glissando style ?
True. Well mostly. I saw Syd playing a curious sort of slide guitar with the Floyd at the Ally Pally in 1967 and he looked rather embarrassed by it. But out front it sounded spectacularly Wagnerian! I was impressed. Later when I was barred from re entering the UK with Soft Machine I returned to Paris where I stayed with a black american lady friend whose absent husband was an antiquarian. Here I discovered a stainless steel box of 19 century gynacological surgical instruments & inspired by the sound of syd I set to work on a guitar & this subsequently evolved into glissando. The only photo I have ever had of Syd however was one where he was pictured ignoring a gorgeous young woman with an ass to die for. The photo survived for obvious reasons which had little to do with Syd.
I remember reading that reviewers of your 1971 classic "Camembert Electrique" were sent cheese scented promo's which I think is a wonderful idea. Any truth in that and if so what was the reaction at the time ?
Ahh if only…..
In 1975 you quit Gong as a result of what you described as a force-field which prevented you from going on stage. How disturbing an experience was that ?
Utterly frightening & inexplicable. I was so freaked out that I ran out the back of the theatre & tried to hitch back home with my UV facepaint & stage costume on. Passing drivers were staring so hard I hid in some bushes afraid the authorities would lock me up. Eventually two gong freeks who had left early saw me and took me home. I couldnt play with Gong for years after that. Later my spiritual teachers told me I had been prevented from continuing for reasons I can't disclose.
It was also suggested at the time that you developed an aversion to drummers and their "Macho tendencies",so much so that you recorded a solo album "Good Morning" with the Catalan acoustic trio "Euterpe" which had you rejoicing at the lack of a drummer on the record. Presumably your opinion of drummers has now changed ?
My problem with drummers at that time was simply that every time the band started playing really well the drummer would leave. Pierre Moerlen was the worst of them all. This drove me crazy. Pierre still does it to us but Chris Taylor is a different kettle of funk!
How did you react to the onset of Punk in the 70's and was it in someway partly responsible for Planet Gong ?
A11: I was totally inspired by Punk. I was pretty fed up with posey middle class rich kids with very clean hair, white clothes & expensive gear noodling off into obscure perfectionism. I wrote OPIUM FOR THE PEOPLE as my space punk anthem & I meant every word of it. Ironically it was Gong that many punk journalists chose as soft targets for the kill the hippy thing. In Cleveland USA once I went to a Boomtown Rats gig and wotsisface turned the whole audience on me with a kill the hippy rant which made me the target & put me in real danger. Little did he realise how ridiculous he sounded given the reality of Planet Gong & the Floating Anarchy Free Tours we were doing. In fact he had already sold out to the very market forces we were actively attacking.
Your 1980 solo album "Divided Alien Playbax 80" was an instrumental LP on which you invited your audience to make up their own lyrics. An innovative idea - Did you get any interesting lyrics from the fans & did you use any of them ?
Well actually there WERE lyrics on it and secondly I tend to always encourage my audience to rewrite lyrics or contribute lyrics for instrumentals in the true spirit of creative interaction. And yes we receive some great lyrics. In fact "Playbax" was a "Burroughs style Cut Up" of the masters of the New York Gong album featuring Bill Laswell & Material. I cut the masters into tape loops & reconstructed this into what could be seen as an early example of the techno collages now made from samples which we call "techno" or "electronic beat music". I continued these experiments on a (12-inch) EP called EX:STOP/DON'T STOP with australian performance artist: David Tolley in 1981.
Gong has featured numerous musicians over the last 30 odd years and has often been described more as a loosely defined collective. Do you agree and has the ever changing personnel kept you and your ideas fresh ?
Nowdays Gong sits at the centre of an organic collective of related bands as well as a collective of musicians. Naturally the interchange and interaction keeps us all fresh & perpetually challenged to stretch beyond our limits.
Your fan base is of a wide ranging age group,many of whom weren't around in the early days. How do you think your music & the whole Gong culture reaches the young,especially when you've never has a hit single and minimal,if any,radio airplay etc ?
It used to be said with tongue firmly in cheek that it was de rigeur for a Gong cd to accompany many a young person's first psychedelic experience. Grass roots word of mouth has been our best friend and now we have the web working for us also. And we all gig a lot. But ultimately Gong has become many things to many people perhaps due to its diversity of style & refusal to be pidgeon holed. This works best over time because there is always something surprising to discover. In art terms we are more like Max Ernst than Andy Warhole.
I was interested to read that you were quoted as saying that your art was more important than your children - Many people may find that a little difficult to understand - Can you elaborate please.
I was misunderstood. I said I had tried sacrificing my kids for my art and it didnt work. Then I tried sacrificing my art for my kids and that didnt work either. I dont have an answer except to give each lots of quality time…my art over here and then my kids in Australia. Believe me I love my kids fully & wholly. I adore them but I can only be fully there for them when I am in Oz.
You're about to embark on an extensive UK tour which covers the whole of the country (Penzance To Aberdeen). Do you still get the same buzz from touring and playing live ?
Yep! I love it!
The tour includes two special gigs,one with The Orb (London 3rd Oct) & one with Hawkwind (Nottingham 7th Nov). Will you be sharing the stage with both bands and how will these gigs differ from the rest of the tour ?
A17: I hope Alex Patterson invites me to gliss with him. But I will let Hawkwind get on with their own thing unmolested. We will certainly play much longer sets alone. But more concentrated with the others.
Finally,as you now approach your mid 60's how far into the future do you look in terms of Gong,both in terms of recording & especially touring. Do you see yourself ever living in gentle retirement or do you thinkyou will always be involved in the music business in some way?
You know Steve, I dont expect to retire even after I have popped my clogs!
Thanks for giving up your time to answer my questions. STEVE WARD - CLASSIC ROCK SOCIETY