The Bananamoon Band
Je ne fume pas des bananes
Marc Blanc interview from liner notes - translation by GníAUM de Plume
When I started working with daevid, I was 18. I was in a band called the Primitives which later turns into Expression, but it was a transition band as our solo guitarist Bernard Lavialle as to go in the army. We meet Jerome Laperroussaz in a club (Le Damier), where we played. We made experimental music, very experimental music: it was only improvisation. He enjoyed that, and he wanted us to make a film with him. Our solo guitarist gone in the army, Jerome phones me one day and says: "Would you like to play with daevid allen?" Me, I was crazy about Soft Machine, but really completely crazy, and I first thought it was a joke. "Yes, he's in Paris, he's looking for musicians." I accepted, of course, without a lot of conviction. We made a "freak-out" (collective improvisation under dope control!), daevid was very happy, and so on. We immediately started working, because we had to play a gig three days after, under the name of Expression.
The day of the gig, it was mad! We just had time to repeat two tracks (Why Are We Sleeping and We Did It Again). The three sets we had to play were essentially made of freak-out. Public was flabbergasted, but enjoyed, without knowing that it was the Soft Machine guitarist who played for them. At this time daevid lived Rue Beaubourg and regularly played at La Vieille Grille, under the name of Gong. Unfortunately, I had never seen Soft Machine playing with daevid, except at the Studio des Champs-Elysèes for the Biennale d'Art Contemporain in Autumn 1967 where he joined them on the scene along with people of the Living Theatre.
We made two or three films with Jèrome. The first was an horror film, filmed in Normandie, in which we represented a kind of rock'n'roll sect, kidnapping a tramp to torture him with music, being obedient to a baleful bird. Five days of filming, during the ones we all were very stoned. I was a lot perturbed because we smoked too much, a lot. But daevid, him, was very well enduring! The principal actor of the film was Michel Auder, a friend of Jèrome, whom later became the husband of Viva, ex-girlfriend of Andy Warhol; He worked in the United-States, but was unknown by this time. He was a photographer. Later, Viva wrote a book dedicated to him. Of course, this film was censored by the French Television. It was the beginnings of 1968, don't forget. daevid, Patrick and me, we were playing more or less music in the film, and we made a completely mad music, 100% underground, real psychedelismo. Jerome was working for Le Bouton Rouge.
We made another film with him. The filming was planning for May 1968 in Paris! Incredible! We just can't imagine what's going to happen. In the first days of May, we were going to Rome to see the Byrds, in a Volkswagen! I was mad about the Byrds, and daevid also, I think. In Rome, we didn't know what's happening in Paris, it was May 1968 which start, and when we went back to Paris, it was the revolution. The day of filming, we go on Boulevard Saint-Michel where they were many car frames and Jerome filmed us all along the boulevard until a karate club where we played music. It was the Teki Club. Of course, the film has never been seen - censured! In the film, we played 'Why Are We Sleeping by Soft Machine (daevid allen's version). Jerome made a flexi-disc of this music.
In July 1968, we were in Avignon, we were waiting for daevid who didn't arrive. At this place, a cinema team managed by Claude Jauvert was filming a movie about the Festival de Theatre d'Avignon 1968, as it can be see through the eyes of a young musician, who was Patrick Fontaine, our bass player. However, I never saw the film. We had no money at this time, we were wandering in the festival. We played a little with the Living Theatre and finally, daevid arrived. The festival was finished and we played in first part of Gunter Hampel, a German vibraphonist. In Gunter's band, there was a guy named John McLaughlin, who made his debut. We played several gigs in Aix, Avignon, always in the first half.
After, we went in Spain during two or three months. We played in parties for painters, or in clubs, especially at the Sargent Pepper in Palma de Majorca we had rehearsals in daevid's house in Deia. At this time, there was an extraordinary atmosphere, with people like Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Anèmone, Didier Malherbe. For Patrick and me, it was fantastic as it was the place where the Soft Machine were born. A lot of artists of all kinds were living there; painters, authors, poets, musicians, for example Mati (who drew portraits of John Kennedy, but was also the painter of record covers for albums by Santana, Miles Davis - he was also drummer on occasions), Robert Graves (author, poetry teacher in Oxford, author of La Toison d'Or and whose son had realised the band photographies), Didier Lèon (painter), Michel Vu (painter and medium), etc. daevid and Gilli and all these people had a joint attraction for esoteric sciences and magic. daevid by meditation and hermit way of life, Gilli, the English poetess attracted by stories about ghosts and witches!
In Avignon, we met Bob Benamou (who became Gong's manager). He said, "Come to my home, I accommodate you, you could rehearse here". He has met daevid in the Soft Machine. Then, we lived during all the winter (68-69) in Monteaulieu, Drùme (near Nyons), which later became a "high place" of Gong, Kevin Ayers has even brought a house that he still has. A part of the history was done here. In trade for our accommodation, we planted a forest of pines. daevid tried to draw a bananamoon by planting the trees! I saw the forest after 20 years, it grows well! It's a superb place where are now living a lot of English, some artists.
During all this time, Jèrome Laperroussaz managed us. Thanks to him, we made four demos. The three Barclay demos were made in Bernard Estardy's studio (ex keyboard player of Nino Ferrer), who became an important person for the French variety, Claude Franáois, Sardou, Halliday. He was very well invested in the stuff and proposed to daevid to put Mellotron on Pretty Miss Titty because he had one of the first Mellotrons in his possession. daevid refused as it was variety arrangements. My drum is mixed in back. At this time, I had a quarrel with the sound engineer, it was the first time that I entered a studio. I looked the drum microphone and said to Patrick, "Look at the microphone, it seems to be a rotten one". Of course, Estardy heard and cried, "And your drum, isn't it a rotten one?" The fourth demo was made in Boulogne, at Studios Pathè with Patrice Blanc-Francard on production. There are in these tracks some freak-out sequences. Breaking references structures (rhythm, harmony, melody), in order to find the "instant" sound. Art and history were oriented through this May 68. There were no contracts obtained with these demos. I think it was daevid's wish as he didn't really search for a contract. Perhaps he didn't want to be 'prisoner' of a French record company, and this kind of music was perhaps too much strange. The year after, Karakos came, and signed everyone on his own label BYG. But now, at this present time, there was not a lot of possibilities in France. I remember our diffusion at the Pop Club de Josè Arthur on France Inter radio station. I don't remember what we played and how we played. I just remember the big silence which follows our version of 'Je ne fume pas des bananes', direct, live in all France.
So we spent the winter in the Drùme, making rehearsals of what was going to become the first Gong album. Between this times, our soloist was back from army, and the French pop scene was starting to move with in particular, an important concert at the Bataclan where played Martin Circus, Triangle, We-Free (later, Alice), Ghilain, etc., all of them playing first parts for Soft Machine. All a move where we feel unfortunately absent. We can consider this concert at the Bataclan as the birth of French progressive rock. Patrick, our soloist and me, were eager to start a new band. daevid had the idea of Gong well printed in mind, so we friendly separate and we started Ame-Son. Ame-Son was Franáois Garrel, (brother of the cineast Philippe Garrel) on flute, Bernard Lavialle on guitar, Patrick, and me. We made an album in September 69 on BYG-Actuel label.
All those years were good, but it wasn't so simple. From 70-71, government became more strict. Ame-Son had ceased to exist a little because of this, we can't continue to live by music because the big festivals started to be forbidden in France, sort of politic take of control. From one day to another, authorities were afraid by long hairs, drugs and rock, because by this time in France, pop music was considered as politically enrolled on the communism side. Festival d'Amougies should have take place in France (in Paris or in the North Region), but they had to do it in Belgium. Biot Festival was made, along with Festival des Halles in Paris (5 fantastic days of music with light-shows), Aix and some others.
Bands like us were living of these festivals. The festivals had big success in the press, and then - ban on festivals by Pompidou and Raymond Marcelin (Home Secretary). It was very hard to survive then, and the only way was by making gigs in the MJC (cultural clubs for young people). That's what bands like Gong, Magma, Ange did. This kind of music has been deliberately killed at this time.
In France, we don't speak enough of Karakos. Thanks to him, everything moved. On 6 months, he signed Gong, Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Alan Silva, Sun Ra, Alan Jack Civilisation, Alice, and Ame-Son. He realised 25 records with BYG, he organised Festival d'Amougies (European Woodstock) - he frightened business peoples!
daevid is the man who love the re-starts, perhaps due to his mystic dimension, which make him look at people and events as being gifts. It was incredible; daevid allen of Soft Machine (who were the most recognize avant-garde band in Europe, with their first 45rpm: Love Makes Sweet Music, on 28th position in the English charts), all re-starting with unknown people! In fact, it didn't matter for him to play with one or another if they were good vibrations. He's someone who amazed me by his artistic talents but also by his humility. But sadly, on each time, it's people who he trusts who throw him out.
Us, (Ame-Son), we wanted to fly by ourselves. In Gong, other peoples of the band took the leadership, so, he left. I think it's writing in his Karma: he's the father, and one day, the other people need to kill the father, which is stupid! Perhaps it's his capricorn side.
I saw Gong at Wagram in 1974, with Steve Hillage, Didier Malherbe, Bill Bruford, etc The super-band. I go to see daevid after the show and say, "Well, it's OK now. You're going to become a world-recognized band as Yes and Genesis", He answers me, "No, I go off'. So despite the fact that this band had all in itself to become a multi-national as the others of the same kind.
So, I wasn't amazed when I saw daevid at the Dunois in 1989, re-starting again, after a 10 years leaving!