Were you surprised that, in the incendiary climate of 1968 Paris, Gilli and yourself were personally identified as catalysts of political insurgency?
No because I made my own anti CRS demonstration in the Boul St Michel on the first weekend after the student riots hit the world news & was photographed by the CRS. I was only saved from being arrested then by the fact that I was being filmed by an ORTF film crew with whom we had been shooting a rock video that very day. Obviously we couldnt resist the temptation to hit the hot spot & improvise.
Did you relish this enforced notoriety, and did the role of seditious, urban outlaw revolutionary fit in with the true ethos of seminal Gong?
Totally. It was a time of change and each culture did it their way. Our appartment in the rue Beaubourg was at the centre of the action and was used by my street fighter mates as hideaway between bouts of action in the streets. Eventually we escaped Paris only a matter of hours before the french police raided our place to arrest us. We were lucky to get over the border into Spain.
Where did you find the like-minded spirits that comprised the original Gong line-up, surely they couldn't all have been living in mountainside goat-herders' caves like sax-touting troglodyte Didier?
Well, Didier was only briefly and a somewhat dreamy flute playing cave dweller and actually the cave was on Poet Robert Graves' land in Deya de Mallorca. But a logician might well be mystified by the manner in which we found the musicians for Gong…and vice versa. Bassist Mike Howlett will tell you such a story.
You recorded Est-ce-que Je Suis in a haunted chateau and around the same time performed in a supermarket's underground car park, were the early days of Gong invested with a feeling of almost limitless possibility?
More of a sense of wonder at the strangeness of its unfolding. After a while the strangeness became normal and normality seemed somewhat exotic. Some might say there was a curiously irresistable extra terrestrial guidance carrying us along.
Was your initial Glastonbury performance something of a turning point, suddenly both the British underground took you into their hearts and Richard Branson wanted you for his embryonic Virgin label?
Well, I had been banned from entering the UK for three years and I still had a couple of months to go. I had an image of the Buddha stuck over my passport photo because the whole thing was totally illegal anyhow. Miraculously they didnt even open it - just waved us through. My view is that it was a quiet summer sunday morning and that Gilli's thoroughly revealing neckline made them lose their concentration. But having entered against the wind we played our very first gig at the very first Glastonbury festival & were greeted with delight by friends old and new.
With the benefit of hindsight, do you look upon the ultra budget-priced Virgin release of Camembert Electrique as a revolutionary, anti-capitalist statement or an exceptionally shrewd way to sell an unprecedented number of records?
Both. Thats why I enjoyed working with Richard Branson and why Virgin was as much fun as Gong in its early days.
Rather than sticking to a single rigid line-up, you've always allowed Gong - and its many incarnations - to mutate and develop naturally and organically. Has this been the secret of the band's longevity?
Maybe its because the music was not grounded in rock structures like english bands but came from the looser more flexi forms of jazz so it could handle a lot of movement of personnel and change of interpretation. I always looked for excellent yet eccentric musicians for whom I had a lot of respect. Miles Davis was a genius at this caper.
You do, however, embrace the notion of conceptual continuity; will we ever see the ultimate conclusion of the Radio Gnome trilogy, now up to its fifth episode and still going strong?
It depends on whether the rest of the band wants to do this and once the new music is down on tape- the planetary inspiration that i-as chief gongscribe-can bring through. But the intention is certainly there so the window is unlocked.
You've always appeared to gleefully embrace brave new sonic possibilities, from allying yourself with the punk spirit of 1977 to your forthcoming double-header with The Orb; are you still learning from and being inspired by contemporary sounds?
Yes and there has never been such a wide range of musical & technical sources available. Almost too much so that my tendency is rather to go inward at the moment and just play a lot of zen guitar until breakthru….
And it is, of course, two-way traffic. Is it flattering and heart-warming to be heralded as one of ambient music's leading spiritual godfathers?
Its great to feel part of a huge and nameless surge forward in the evolution of music and to know that my own tiny & very personal contribution fits into the grand mosaic somewhere. Its an excellent antidote to existential gloom.