planet gong gigs

Gong at the Stoneground, Gorton

Little Plum & The Bushmaster

It was a dark and stormy night in London town where in our fledging commune, the Sleeping Sun's squat, one man said to another, 'tomorrow we should hit the road and go see Gong'. Well I didn't need much persuading on that front and knowing that we had a friend up there - the gig was in Manchester and some hits of LSD - notorious black micro-dots, I told the Bushmaster 'count me in' and so we shook on it. People didn't high five in those days. It was 1975 [1973? Ed.]. The friend was called Gus and he'd come to visit us as he knew some of the females in the commune who came from Lancashire. The Sleeping Sun was a very British affair, all the girls were English, all the males were from Inverclyde. Gus did not come empty handed either. He brought Brenda with him and while he went back north, Brenda stayed and we got to know her pretty well. Gus being from Manchester was much more liberated than us. We were repressed, conventional, uptight Scots, pretty typical of our race at that time.

Now is tomorrow afternoon and off we went. Having no transport hadn't even crossed our minds we just got the tube to Hendon and walked to the slip road at the start of the M1. We got a lift almost straight away and soon we were heading past the sign reading 'Hatfield and the North'. The driver put his foot down so in a few hours we were nearly in Lancashire. It was time to neck the acid. We landed somewhere in the outskirts and not knowing the city we blundered about asking directions. By this time it was starting to get dark and we were getting that metallic taste that signals you were about to change perception never mind direction but eventually we found it.

There was something foreboding about that venue, it sat on its own in a patch of wasteland looking like it wouldn't have been out of place in a Hammer film. The mixture of dusk, the drugs and the city, it being our first time there, etched that place in both our minds forever more, it was like arriving in Mordor. Knowing now that 'I Bin Stoned Before' and Fohat Digs Holes' from Camembert Electrique are actually anti-drug songs was no help to us back then as we did our usual acid test to determine that yep, we were both seeing car brake lights tracking. So with a little trepidation we entered the venue. It was called the Stoneground and decades later I can't believe the timing of our entry. From London to Manchester by hook and by crook we had arrived just as the lights were going down. Tripping strongly but far from peaking we stumbled in as the band led by Daevid were emerging from a door to our right. Dressed in a night shirt complete with pointy night-cap and holding candles and notes for the evening's performance, I somehow managed to barge straight into Mr Allen who dropped the candle and notes before the Bushmaster grabbed me and led me to the front of the stage. Oblivious of totally destroying the atmosphere the band were attempting to create, I sat down while the band regrouped and made their way to their instruments. Somehow it was just meant to happen - consider the timing, the randomness, the drugs - they were strong in those days some never made it back from those trips. The Bushmaster's young brother was and still is one case, Syd Barrett another and even though it may have ruined the start of the gig Gong just got on with it, they'd probably seen it all before.

Apart from my close encounter with Daevid what I remember most that night was sitting about ten feet in front of Pierre Moerlen's Ludwig kit his sticks tracking in a blur and the sound off it, was the sound of Illinois wood, it was the sound of gods, the phasing, the flanging, the total mastery of his instrument. Both myself and the Bushmaster were drummers but Pierre was something else. No intranet in those days so we had no idea that he had won first prize at the Conservatoire Regional de-Strasbourg and had simply showed up at the Gong commune in Voisine. He would later lead the band and sadly, died in 2005. We did know Gong though - our favourite recording was the Gong side of the triple Glastonbury LP the cover of which was on our living room wall.

The dozen people that made up Sleeping Sun commune in 1972/77 had eclectic taste in music. We had Obsolete, Continental Circus, Magic Brother, Mystic Sister, early Soft Machine as well as Kevin Ayers, Stockhausen, Han Bennick, Kraftwerk (the first double album) Terry Riley, John Stephens, Amon Duul and Can in the record collection. Two of the commune would later make the front page of Melody Maker under the names Leer and Rental. We also had Basil living with us for a short time who after he left us, joined Gong...

Outside it suddenly dawns that it's dark, you're in a strange city and you're only half way through your trip. We had to find sanctuary and it was Bushmaster who led the way and somehow got us to Gus's flat. I was in a bit of a state and drifting towards edge city which can lead to a place called bad trip but Gus being straight, knowing the score and an all round good hippy, sat me down with a cup of tea, a spliff and a copy of John Martyn's Bless the Weather after which the universe realigned itself and all was right with the world. It was such a strong trip that anytime I listen to that record now I get flashbacks and am transported right back there. The Stoneground is long gone but for about ten years, anytime I was in Manchester I'd sometimes see it and a shiver would go up my back. Same thing happened when I thought of Brenda who lived in Salford where I continued to visit her for a time.

Many years later when I'd returned to Scotland after seeing something of the world, I summoned the troops for a reunion as Gong were going to play at the Renfrew Ferry on 2nd November, 2001. The Ferry is a fully functional boat and was moored on the Clyde at Glasgow. It was a really great night as there was the Bushmaster, his sister and a handful of friends enjoying almost the same Gong to 25 years ago. I think the drummer was the only change, Pierre having died. The first thing he said on stage that night was, 'Glasgow, have a cup of tea. Have a cup of mushroom tea.' Another decade dissolved and on 09.09.10 they played another great gig at the ABC in Glasgow. I couldn't resist as Nick Turner's Hawkwind was supporting. I noticed this time that although there were signs of aging, the music had not lost any of its magic and again the line-up had hardly changed at all. This time Daevid's opening gambit was, 'No I'm not on f'ing facebook.' So as long time Gong devotees from Magic Brother to 2032 and from free gigs under the flyover at Portobello Road in seventies London to Glasgow in 2010, we're all going to miss the Mr Allen, the Master Builder When I say all, three of us are no longer here but that's alright as in the end we've all got to return to the stars from which we came. Down the oily way my friends, 'it's not the milky way, it's not the only way, it's not the english way.' Captain Capricorn, now you're here and now you're gong.

Going to miss that aluminium croon.