planet gong tribal

interviews
Pip Pyle
13/04/1999

In Gong, were you given the opportunity to compose?

Yeah, I did, I mean, in fact... As a matter of fact I did lots of things. I did actually compose quite a lot of stuff on "Camembert", but I didn't get a credit for it. In much the same way that all those trilogy records afterwards were all written by musicians in a jamming situation, and I don't expect that Daevid would deny that. I remember I wrote that riff to "O Mother", and I wrote that middle bit of riff to "You Can't Kill Me"... But I mean, it's like that, I didn't really think about, oh, this is my tune. Gong was never particularly about writing songs, in the way that it came out of a lot of jamming and getting stoned. Once again ! Good old drugs... Yeah, so I think it got formalized into sort of songs, in a natural sort of way, which is a good way of composing. Nowadays you very rarely get the opportunity to sit around, seemingly, for the rest of your life, playing with people. I don't think anyone does, we all seem to work much more on the road, and we come up with something that's really finished.

Communal lifestyle was the thing, then. You all lived together....

Yeah. Apart from Gong, I never... I lived with Phil, subsequently to that, and Richard, so that was a sort of community in London East Sheen.

Gong was an actual community.

Yeah, it was basically sort of, you know, completely out of an economics, really, cause we couldn't afford to live in Paris, so we got a very nice house in Sens, it cost nothing. You could keep the band alive on a couple of kilos of brown rice and vegetables a week. And everyone would just be plowing the money back into the community, which is more or less where the rift is still nowadays. Well, we won't talk about that man...

Did you like the lifestyle?

Well, I quite liked it for a while. Then I got fed up with not being paid for anything. I mean, I asked for some money, saying I'd like to go out with my girlfriend and kids for the day, and there wasn't any money. And then the next day, while we're going through a border, we get searched by the customs, and they find something like a thousand quid hidden under the seats. I started to ask questions then, about exactly what was going on financially. But more to the point was that I was close with Phil, mostly...

When you started playing with Phil again, was it already with Richard Sinclair?

Yeah. In fact the time that I left Gong was about the time that Robert split up Matching Mole... Or at least there was less happening with Matching Mole, than there had been in the first year or so, they did quite a lot of tours. There was less going on. Certainly it was within the next year. Phil and I were putting Hatfield together as soon as I came back from France, with Steve and Richard. Even though Matching Mole hadn't really sort of disbanded, but it disbanded very shortly afterwards, within a couple of months.

You're the one who first met Branson and introduced him to the others? Through Gong?

Well, Gong had nothing to do with Virgin at that point. It was really Simon Draper, his mate, that just liked Hatfield and the North, he was scouting around at the time. He was responsible for all those early Virgin signings, like Gong and Henry Cow, and Robert later, and Mike Oldfield as well. I actually can't remember, I think he just called me up. He'd just heard about Hatfield and the North by the time he called me up... I'm not clear about that. But it was Simon. Richard never had, and never will have any idea about the music. He's good at selling things.

You weren't very rich, apparently, in the Virgin days....

Well, they were pretty generous in a way, they were very over-generous with the studio time. The thing was, it was their studio, and we were paying for it. We didn't realise at the time, cause it was just a groovy time hanging out in the country, in this great studio with all these nice little waitresses, and lots of free drugs and all the rest of it. We were there for... months ! And it costed us ??? Which means that... in fact now, Hatfield has broken even, after all this time... Now that we've paid this enormous debt off them, cause it cost about 30,000 pounds, which was a huge amount of money in those days. It was 20,000 actually, plus 10,000 that went into buying a P.A. and all the rest of it.

"Shaving Is Boring", you had already played it with Steve Miller...

Yeah, I remember writing that tune when I was with Gong, in fact. Cause I remember writing it on guitar and teaching it to Kevin Ayers, who we did a tour with. And he couldn't quite play the chords ! (laughs)

It's a song with several small themes...

Yeah, in fact there was a whole verse and things, with words and everything. It was really a kind of poppy sort of romantic lovesong...

It wasn't about shaving, then...

No, no (laughs). In a way I probably started writing that cause Kevin was hanging out with the band a lot when we were doing some gigs with him. So I think it was the kind of romantic kind of pop-song that I probably wrote very much with him in mind, cause he was around, and I thought he'd sing it quite well on guitar. He really liked it, it was beautiful, but he couldn't play it at all. So we never played it. So it ended up as the middle section. And I did all this tape stuff with this bloke that used to work at the BBC, I remember. Which was supposed really be interlain in all that but ended up being the "Stubbs Effect", cause it kind of didn't work. We tried to put the two things together and they didn't work, so then I started working on that as a separate thing.