The Making of Flying Teapot
daevid allen to Fred Dellar, Mojo Magazine 02/2002
Hi ya Fred,Great to hear from you after all this time. Still enjoy your writing whoever you work for. You've got me relaxing back in Oz after a 65 gigs in 73 days Gong tour of the european onion. So I have certainly given you much more than you need tho you do have plenty of choice therebye. Incidentally,this period is covered by the close-to-completed book titled: GONGDREAMING 2 (1969-75). If you havent seen GONG DREAMING 1 (SOFT MACHINE YEARS:1966-69) & you would like one of the last half dozen still unsold call Jonny Greene at GAS on 01458 833 040 & he may be able to get you one.
I wanted to write a short piece about the time Gong's first album for Virgin gained a release - in May 1973. I was hoping you could provide me with a few quotes about this particular time in the band's life. As far as I can recall, you began recording the Flying Teapot album in January that year but you had to break off to go to Deya.
Gong were at the cusp of radical change towards the end of 72. We had toured France exhaustively while dealing with a challenging sequence of different drummers. ( Rachid Houari/Pip Pyle/Mac Poole/Laurie Allan/Charles Hayward/Rob Tate) but the biggest blow was the withdrawal of Camembert Electrique bassist Christian Tritsch who was my main composing partner & ally through thick & thin. This was followed by the demise of BYG records leaving us still signed yet unfunded. I was on my last leg when my old mate Giorgio Gnomelski came to my aid & connected me with Simon Draper who was the Virgin Label boss. Our BYG contract was for France & thus excluded UK so we felt free to sign. Meanwhile Byg emerged & offered to go 50:50 with Virgin for a first explorative release. Giorgio was appointed producer & suggested bassist Francis Moze from Magma while Bloomdido & I wanted Laurie Allan on drums. Tim Blake was in his early days with us & Steve Hillage was showing lots of interest.
Can you recall much about recording that album? Was it recorded at the Manor? I can't recall and there doesn't seem to any production notes on the album.
Well we arrived at the Manor on New Years Day 73 in time for a new years dinner with Richard which was followed by an extravagent pudding fight & I couldnt help but wonder if it was cake of things to come. It is my opinion that Richard's early success as an employer was achieved by making each of his businesses enormously good fun to work for. Lots of lockout socializing with fellow workers empowered intense loyalty & encouraged liasons. This flowed on eventually to communal living for cheap rent thus enabling amazingly low wages without reduction in employee spending money. A cunning stunt which really worked during the early label building period. Working at the Manor was a choice gig for funloving hippy rock chickies & I met some inspiring women thus employed one of whom eventually led me to bassist Mike Howlett. I digress. Anyway, on Jan 2nd we began working with producer Simon Heyworth afternoons and into the late nights whereupon Mike Oldfield would emerge from under the kitchen table. He spent a lot of time there enjoying a curious relationship with a large cuddly dog. He would then work the red eye shift on Tubular Bells with producer Tom Newman till we were ready to take over the studio again. Original Magma bassist Francis Moze was quite brilliant on a wide range of instruments but perhaps because he was half French & half Cherokee, he had a spectacularly hot temperament. He would vent his wide ranging artistic frustrations with Gong by throwing hatchets at trees in a way that did not inspire confidence in his self control. Eventually he blew up at me & resigned but sensibly first made sure he had recorded all his tracks.
Meanwhile I had sensibly made sure I had hidden all his hatchets. Flying Teapot was mixed by Giorgio partly at the Manor and partly in George Martin's Air studio from late January thru early February. The hunt was on for a new bassist & thanks to the shakti squad at the Manor, Mike Howlett was discovered in London & abducted to the Gong community in a forest near Sens in France. In March, I went with Gilly & her daughter Tasmin to Deya where I had time & space to meditate on a new direction for Gong. I saw myself playing less lead guitar & leaving this to Steve while concentrating on vocals, audience connection & ritual theatrics. We returned invigorated three weeks later & began work on Angel's Egg.
How did the band feel about being signed to Virgin?
Gilli felt ambiguous because it meant being away from the magic forest & France but after my Deya vision of Gong rebirth I felt fresh inspiration pouring into writing partnerships with everyone in the band. With the huge success of Tubular Bells, Virgin felt to me like a small but perfectly formed access point through which we could reach an expanding audience. Richard felt like a fun loving albeit enigmatic partner on the path towards a more sophisticated style in popular music & it all felt as though t'was destined to be.
For Angels Egg, Virgin sent their brand new mobile recording truck over so we could wire up and record from our own rooms or even record in the middle of the forest. There was a lot of good acid available at this point as well as Datura so we were well away on our group shamanic journey by the time recording began. It was close to the ideal circumstances for us.
I believe a tour was lined up to coincide with the album's release. Was it the first UK tour?
We had played our first UK gig at the first Glastonbury Festival and subsequently some mini tours with Kevin Ayers including the legendary Roundhouse sunday afternoon gigs but our first fully noticable tour was of Virgin Records shops & commando raids on city centre car parks. We wanted to play so we played wherever we felt like playing basically. We caused a lot of traffic jams & general chaos which added to the buzz around Virgin but also many of our most faithful fans saw us for the first time here.
We're you happy with the album?
Gilli felt it was interesting and original but I was beginning to realise how difficult it was to capture the live magic of Gilli's space whisper vocal effects & my idiosyncratic glissando guitar sound. It still is.
Did you make the album as a one-off, or did you visualise making Angel's Egg and You at that time? I had the trilogy in my mind from the beginning of the new Gong vision in Deya. All of my ideas for change in Gong came from visions which came through psychically to me/us from the actual Gong planet. Shortly after my first conscious connection with the mother planet intelligence it was clear that a trilogy of albums was required and that each should be a stage in the shamanic journey of a character called Zero from normal awareness to expanded consciousness. (A Gong Mythology)
FLYING TEAPOT told the story of Zero's awakening to extra ordinary impulses & his seven initiatory experiences leading to his leaving his body & this planet.
ANGEL'S EGG dealt with his journey to & experiences on planet Gong culminating in an audience with the all wise Octave Doctor. He is given the visionquest of reproducing Gong conditions (peaceful, playful & compassionate) on Earth via a rock festival.
YOU completes the story with the successful setting up but last minute failure of Zero's attempt to materialize his visionquest (stoned & he missed it) binding him to an endless circular repetition of the song cycle.
The actual written story has been withheld to allow listeners to create their own versions. At some point my version will become available.
Anything you can recall - any amusing stories or suchlike - would help. As I mentioned, it's only a short piece but any quotes you may have would be invaluable.
1. Simon Heyworth was practically driven to a nervous breakdown by the Gong group production method. Everybody in the control room trying to mix their bit audibly. Finally the band was banned & Simon mixed alone.
2. When the first bits of Tubular Bells was in the rough mix stage Simon Draper summoned me for a preliminary hearing. When asked my opinion I replied that it seemed like a Proms rock William Walton thing but it might not be very commercial. But then my talent for commercial hitspotting was deeply flawed. I was playing chess with Hendrix one night in 66 when Chas Chandler played us a demo of Purple Haze and I gave a parallel reply. To complete my material world misfit kit, when asked for a single from Virgin in 74 I proposed a song entitled: The D Day DJ's gettin the DDT's & was laughed out of the portobello office. Prophetic or galactic prophelactic? Or both? Answers on damp beer mats please…
3. In the early days of Virgin, when it was contract signature time, in the middle of final negotiations Richard would do a Bob Dylan & climb out his window & wobble suicidally broody on the window ledge. I enjoyed this & encouraged him to jump. Other more traditional types seeking payment would be totally unnerved & sometimes even leave unpaid. Virgin voodoo?
By the way, I loved the jazz album you did two or three years ago. I knew you'd get around to something like that eventually!
Fred you say the absolutely nicest things!
Pity I could never find a proper Jazz label to release it into the jazz mainstream. It currently hides away in the GAS catalogue playing hard to get. Fun talking to you. Need anything else? Here I am. Take care.