Following his disbarment from the UK, Daevid Allen (and Gilli) returned to Paris. Initially Daevid played solo around the Left Bank bars, before obtaining a residency at La Wielle Grille. By this time he was working with an eccentric Turk called Tanner, who basically operated an echo chamber. Daevid himself was evolving his "glissando" guitar technique, the eerie slide style he allegedly gleaned from watching Syd Barrett at the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream the previous April.
Even at this stage Daevid was calling the "duo" Gong, but a proper band gradually came into being during the autumn of '67. Gilli joined on "Space Whisper" (frequently in the company of her "soul sister" Ziska Baum) followed by succession of, as Daevid puts it, "about eight of the maddest musicians imaginable". These included Loren Standlee on flute and one Daniel Laloux. He played a large drum with cello strings attached to it. He also played a hunting horn and was prone to reciting a Victor Hugo poem during performances. Daevid later described this period as comprising of "a large number of people improvising around nothing for hours on end, completely stoned".
Despite this (or because of it) the early Gong became very hip, Daevid still had a lot of friends from his early visits, and the Soft Machine connection meant that he was almost a star anyway. People like Yoko Ono and Ornette Coleman went to see them and at the beginning of '68 they were invited to play at the Museum of Modern Art, in Stockholm, with Don Cherry.
Unfortunately this early incarnation of Gong came to an abrupt end during "Les Evenements" of spring '68. Rather than hurl rocks, Daevid handed out teddy bears to the police in the Latin Quarter. At the time they didn't know how to react, but when they saw how dumb they looked on the 6 o'clock news, they did. Daevid and Gilli never knew their time was up and split for Deya less than 48 hours before the police wrecked their apartment.
Deya again proved the ideal spot for rest and recuperation, and another period of songwriting and poetry followed, not to mention planning the next incarnation of Gong and its philosophical base and mythology (of which more in part 3 of this saga). They returned to France and during a period spent at an ashram in the South, "run by the original Banana Ananda, Dr. Mishra", Daevid ran into Didier Malherbe who was to become a core Gong member, on flute and sax. Malherbe was already something of a veteran, having fronted his own jazz outfits around Paris since the late 50's, when he was still a teenager. In the early 60's he hit the road to the mystic East where amongst other things he learned to play a bamboo flute. Via a circuitous route he ended up living in a cave at the bottom of Robert Graves' garden in Deya, where (just to confuse matters) he claims to have met Daevid and Gilli.
By this time Jean (Kastro Kornflakes) Karakos, owner of Byg Records had entered the scene. Without the benefit of a safty net (ie. a signed contract), he advanced Daevid the cash for the first of what was to be a series of three solo albums. The first of these, "Magic Brother, Mystic Sister" was recorded in September 1969 and featured the basic trio plus various guests and/or future Gong members. These included Earl Freeman, a free jazz bass player, who had played with Albert Ayler and whose clothes consisted of two parachutes; Burton Green, a pianist who had played with Didier; Dieter Gewissler, another bass player; and Rachid Houari who, one way or another, was around for several years. The album was unfortunately only recorded on the sound bit of a movie camera and is consequently a tad lo-fi, but the songs are generally excellent and the whole has a freshness and invention that compensates for any lack of polish.
Confusingly it came out as a Daevid and Gilli album (rather than Daevid solo), and in later years (ie. on subsequent reissues) it is referred to as the first Gong album. Also confusing is that Gilli is credited with writing all the songs, which she may well have done, but I suspect that Daevid had a hand in at least some of them.
Shortly after the album was recorded Karakos set up the infamous Amougies Festival, originally scheduled for Paris but, after a court order, hastily reconvened just over the Belgian border. An amazing affair, the acts included Beefheart, The Soft Machine, Blossom Toes, Caravan, etc. etc., the whole thing hosted by Frank Zappa.
The poster for the Festival lists the David(sic) Allen Quartet. In the event the lineup was somewhat larger than four and contained Daevid, Gilli, Didier and Rachid Houari, plus at least three others, who probably included a German acid courier on violin. Traditionally this performance has gone down as the first gig ever by Gong (even Daevid has stated this in the past, cf. the sleeve note for the reissue of the "Magic Brother" album), but as we have seen, Gong had been in existence on and off for two years. Over the next 12 months Gong settled down to being a regular (if decidedly eccentric) band. They also became a genuine family, living in a big old house in the country at Sens, near Fontainebleu. Gigs were a real problem, as at that time there was no real circuit in France (except for society style balls) and gigs that did exist were controlled by the Mafia. Fortunately for the band they acquired the services of two managers. The first was Bob Benanoux (Bob Banana) who had a marvelous sense of fun, a genuine flair for promoting the band and a great head for working out the little details.
Shortly after moving to Sens, Benanoux was joined by a second manager, the one and only Giorgio Gomelsky. If Bob was good at the details, then Gomelsky had what Daevid describes as "the Grand Plan". Between the two of them they created a whole network of gigs based on the laws of "Floating Anarchy" (of which more in part 3). There was no overall control, just individuals who looked after each gig (usually universities). This meant that the Mob were unable to break into it. Apart from anything else, the new situation spawned hundreds of great bands who appeared seemingly out of nowhere, having been given somewhere to play and an ever growing audience to play to.
One day Gomelsky turned up babbling about this band he'd seen. Like Gong, they had their own mythology, even their own language - Magma. In due course Gomelsky took them on as well and Daevid got to see them. As he recalls, "Incredible. All these men in black with inverted tantra symbols. Their music took the breath out of your lungs, it was like upside down Wagner. Christian Vander delivered imitation Hitler speeches in the middle of drum solos, and the lead singer looked like a Valkyrie and had a four octave voice. Anyway they were like our shadow. There was Gong, colourful, anarchic, all going in different directions, but trying to pull it together. Magma were all incredible musicians, but totally disciplined, Vander would hit them with a stick if they played a wrong note. It was like Ying and Yang".
Gomelsky put the two out on tour together, alternating the headline spot. It was an inspired idea, but there was never a single night when both bands played well, as Daevid explains, "Either Magma would triumph and we'd play like a bunch of bush-tailed idiots or else we'd create this incredible party atmosphere and everyone would leave energised and sparkling. On those nights Magma would be skulking about muttering curses, totally unable to focus their trip".
At the beginning of '71, Daevid slipped back to England to see his mates. Technically he still had to produce two more solo albums for Byg. Karakos had particularly wanted at least one ex-Soft to be involved, and as it happened, Robert was around, as were other friends, like Archie Legget, Pip Pyle and fellow Gong person Christian Tritsch. After several cases of Fosters and lots of black hash, they decided to book the Marquee studios and cut an album. The result was "Bananamoon", which, if you take it for what it is, ie. totally spontaneous and unrehearsed, is a fine record. Not surprisingly, it's a lot harder than the Gong albums (no Malherbe sax for one thing) although it does contain Robert's reworking of Hugh Hopper's wistful "Memories". Also included is the long "Stoned Innocent Frankenstein and his Adventures in the Land of Flip", the first part of which is about Wes Brunson, and the second (largly a lengthy tape collage) relates to Daevid's experiences during the May '68 revolution in Paris.
Gong were themselves involved in several recording projects in 1971. The first was the soundtrack to "Continental Circus" (Philips, France), a film by long-time friend Jerome Laperrousez about ex-world motorcycle champion Bruce Findlay. Like most soundtrack albums it lacks focus, but one of the tracks, the long echoey "Blues for Findlay", is perhaps the definitive recording by the Gong of this period.
In May '71, Gong (who by this time were basically Daevid, Gilli, Didier, Christian Tritsch on bass and the newly recruited Pip Pyle on drums) backed up French underground poet Dashiell Hedayat on the now extremely rare album "Obsolete" (Shandar SH01). As one might imagine it's a strange record, full of spoken bits (in French of course), tapes (including bits of Burroughs) as well as music. The Gong bits are fine, though, and it's an essential part of the pre-Virgin Gong jigsaw.
The same month saw them start work on what was to become the first "real" Gong album, "Camembert Electrique". Allegedly it was worked on during the full moon phases of May, June and September at the Chateau Herouville in Normandy, aka "The Honky Chateau". In many ways a classic, "Camembert" epitomises the early Gong, ie. stoned loonies having a great time, who also happen to be excellent musicians. It's full of raw energy, more tape loops, space whisper and glissando guitar, topped off with inspired sax playing. The later albums were more sophisticated and polished but they lack the edge and anarchy of "Camembert".
While the album was still in production, the band slipped in for its first visit to England, for the Glastonbury Festival in June of '71. Another oft-told story involving passports with pictures of Buddha pasted over real photos, undocumented equipment, etc. The central part of the story being that it was Daevid's first trip back to England, fearing that he was still and "undesirable alien". In fact, as we have seen, he'd already been back on at least one occasion. Either way they caused a minor sensation at the festival (most if not all of their music on the festival album was not actually recorded there - I believe it comes from a church hall in Belgium) and they resolved to return and tour properly. Thus some five months later they were back, this time with a new drummer, Laurie Allen, another Englishman previously with (amongst others) Formerly Fat Harry and DC & The NB's. This tour gave us the opportunity to savour the full measure of their lunacy, brilliance and theatrics. On several gigs they were joined by Kevin Ayers, notably one fondly remembered occasion at the Roundhouse.
After the tour Laurie Allen departed, leading to a bewildering sequence of percussionists over the next 10 months, including Mac Poole, Charles Mayward, Rob Tait and Di Bond. All in their own way were exceptional, Gong managing to attract the cream of the avant garde school of British drummers. The most interesting was probably Allen, since he played every gig differently, perpetually challenging the others and instinctively responding to anything they played. Unfortunately when he felt that he knew the set too well, he got bored and left. Moreover he returned for another short stint at the end of '72.
Also getting restless was Daevid himself, partly due to fact that Gilli was about to give birth and so less and less involved with the band. Daevid wanted to leave but was persuaded by the management to stay, partly by promising that they could get the band a decent deal in the UK - Byg (never a major outfit) having virtually gone down the tubes by this time.
Around the same time (December '72) most of the Gong turned up at a gig near their home base at Fontainbleu. They'd gone to see Kevin Ayers' band, whose guitarist at the time was Steve Hillage. Didier got on stage to play and it became obvious to Hillage (unhappy with Ayers at the time) that this was a man he could play with.
With a new deal in the offing, and a new guitarist, Gong were about to enter a new phase, details of which (along with other bits and pieces) will be found in part 3.
At the end of 1972, Gong entered a new phase of development. Daevid Allen was persuaded to stay, partly because the band were offered a new record deal and partly because of the possibilities offered by working with new member Steve Hillage.
The record deal came from Virgin and certainly offered more than they'd ever had in terms of financial backing and distribution. The problem was with the old Byg contract - which although Karakos had all but vanished and the label with him - still existed. Despite this possible problem Virgin went ahead and signed the band.
Hillage was not the only new band member. Needless to say drummers were coming and going at a rate of knots (at this time Laurie Allen was back for a second spell), Christian Tritsch moved from bass to guitar for a brief period before leaving and a new bassist, Francis Moze, was recruited from Magma (presumably fed up with black outfits and inverted tantra symbols). A completely new addition was a synthesiser, the sound of which, perhaps more than anything else, helped to give Gong the "other-worldly" sound with which they became associated. It was played by Tim Blake and although the instrument was new to the band, he was not. During the recording of "Banana Moon" Tim, then a studio engineer, was introduced to Daevid, as a result of which he was invited back to France to act as the band's sound mixer. Shortly afterwards he bought his first synthesiser and became so fascinated with it that he kept missing gigs, so he was fired. Armed (if that's the right word) with his new instrument, he duly joined the remains of an Italian group, Musica Electronica Viva, who were living in France at the time. Gigs were hard to come by and he drifted into studio work, which ironically included some sessions with Gong and by late '72, without having planned it that way, found himself a member of the band.
The "new" band entered the studio and cut the first of the "Radio Gnome Invisible" trilogy albums, "Flying Teapot". Although "Camembert" had utilised part of Daevid's "Gong Mythology", this was the first complete adaptation of it onto vinyl.
So what was the mythology and more to the point, what were Daevid's original reasons for forming the band in the first place? On certain levels it's pretty complex stuff and reflected Daevid's profound interest in distributing the spiritual awareness and knowledge he'd acquired. The knowledge relates to the attainment of higher states of being and communication and has much in common with the various Mystery Schools that have beoen around for over a thousand years. The word "occult" has some relevance here, but that has so many overtones these days of Black Magic and mumbo jumbo that to apply it too closely to Daevid's ideas would be misleading.
One aspect that links many of these schools together is their use of initiation rites and quite often that involved the use of various kinds of dope - especially hallucinogens.
Not surprisingly it was a tool that Daevid favoured for many years. One thing he realised very quickly, though, was that to get his ideas across in a straightforward or overt way was a non-starter. Rock musicians who used "profound" lyrics looked like berks. Humour seemed like his best solution - not the Zappa way of laughing at people, but laughing with people. So he chose a deliberately silly story as a way of opening up people's heads.
The other aspect of Gong ideology was just as serious and just as silly - Floating Anarchy. Anarchy has rarely been tried as a serious political or rather anti-political system. People find the idea of an essentially structureless society, with nobody having any more power than anybody else, and in which states and governments disappear, rather hard to deal with. But if you believe that in the last analysis that authority, whether left, right, or centre is always wrong, then maybe you're closer to being an anarchist than you thought.
Daevid sums the whole thing up saying, "My whole reason for making music is to be able to put that message over and have people experience it direct, rather than have them read about it or have someone tell them about it. The idea was to set up a giant workshop which people could get into by laughing or being silly".
The story as it evolves over the trilogy involves Planet Gong, an idealised version of what Earth could become, Zero (the Hero) an everyman figure whose progress we follow, and several ancilliary characters like Pot Head Pixies and Octave Doctors - not forgetting Radio Gnome Invisible, "a telepathic pirate radio network operating brain to brain by crystal machine transmitter direct from Planet Gong". A further addition to the lunacy stakes was the adoption by the entire band of silly names. Thus Daevid Allen was variously Bert Camembert, Captain Capricorn, the Alien Australian, etc.; Didier Malherbe became the Good Count Bloomdido Bad de Grass; Gilli was Shakti Yoni; Tim Blake became Hi T Moonweed (the Favourite), etc, etc.
It has to be said that a lot of people, particularly the Brits with their literal minds, found much of the mythology just plain silly, rather than profound or mysterious. Equally they did acquire legions of British devotees who thought is was all wonderful and took to wearing tea cosies on their heads (and still missed the point - not that that fazed Daevid particularly). The French, by contrast, realised that something was going on behind the jokes - but then the French have always taken philosophy and culture more seriously than the English - but we digress.
"Flying Teapot", not surprisingly, bears the strongest resemblance of the trilogy albums to the earlier Gong records. Partly this was due to the fact that the bulk of the numbers were written by Daevid and partly because he was still very much in control of the band's musical (and philosophical) direction. The addition of Steve Hillage's excellent guitar playing gave the band much more depth however, and the synthesiser, as noted, added that distinctly "other-worldly" feel.
It should have been the perfect combination - the Gallic energy and the new musical dimensions - and in some ways it was, but if nothing else the album was somewhat let down by rather poor production.
Unfortunately things were not quite right in the Gong camp. Towards the end of the album sessions, Francis Moze left and was replaced by Fiji-born Mike Howlett (discovered playing in a King's Road nightclub). Then, after the album was completed, Daevid and Gilli left as well. >From March to May '73 the remnants of the band (Blake, Hillage, Howlett, Malherbe plus new drummer, the classically trained Pierre Moerlen) toured Europe as Paragong. Their only legacy is one track on the Virgin "V" compilation. By June, however, their former leader was back and Gong entered its most stable (ignoring Moerlen's frequent departures and returns) and most commercially successful period. The music was definitely changing, though. The band, particularly Hillage and Moerlen, began to assert themselves musically. The result was a shift towards long, improvised, yet highly structured, pieces (if that isn't a contradiction) and away from Allen's Gallic spontaneity. The mythology remained in the songs, but it became a diminishing factor overall.
A balance (or compromise) was struck over the second of the trilogy, "Angel's Egg", which with its clearer production, is perhaps the best of the three. The band - both live and on record - was without doubt at its most "professional" around this time (late 73/early 74) and rightly or wrongly, people responded to that aspect of the band more than any other. On whatever level you appreciated them, however, they were a pretty astounding musical experience.
The music for the last album of the three, "You", was worked out and rehearsed around May of '73, and according to Daevid went very easily. Between then and late summer when it was recorded, things began to get altogether heavy. Amongst other things Daevid had given up drugs and was trying to persuade the others to do so. Some of the youger members (at least one of whom barely touched the stuff before joining) became so zealous in their consumption, that a serious rift was inevitable. Daevid realised that things were getting weird when roadies started turning up with suitcases full of cocaine (paid for, one way or another, by the band). Also, one of the band members (again one of the younger ones) started freaking out. He'd been a genuinely gentle person when he'd joined, but whereas prolonged drug use (particularly coke) barely affects some people, others shouldn't do it at all, let alone to excess. This individual became increasingly violent, but the overall philosophy of the band being what it was, the others chose tolerance over action and essentially refused to believe what was happening.
"You" is undoubtedly the most sophisticated and best produced Gong album, but with everything that had gone on with the band between rehearsing the material and actually recording it, it was a real struggle to produce, at least for Daevid. If nothing else it shows a band all but abandoning its one time leader. He stuck it out until the following spring, when after a memorable gig in Cheltenham, at which he was forcibly prevented from going on stage, he decided it was time to go.
Gong continued, largely under Pierre Moerlen's guidance and became increasingly techno-orientated and lacking in either fun or passion.
Daevid and Gilli, although broke when Daevid left the band, were "rescued" by French TV News, who began using part of the "Continental Circus" soundtrack as their theme music. It enabled them to retire, once again, to Deya, to assess their future which, almost needless to say, has proved as wacky and convoluted as the period covered by this series.