Gong is a progressive/psychedelic rock band formed by Australian musician Daevid Allen. Their music has also been described as space rock. Other notable band members include Allan Holdsworth, Tim Blake, Didier Malherbe, Pip Pyle, Gilli Smyth, Steve Hillage, Mike Howlett and Pierre Moerlen. Others who have, albeit briefly, played in Gong are Bill Bruford, Brian Davison and Chris Cutler.
Gong formed in 1967, after Allen—then a member of Soft Machine
—was denied entry to the United Kingdom
due to a visa complication. Allen remained in France
where he and a London
professor, Gilli Smyth
, established the first incarnation of the band. This line-up fragmented during the 1968 student revolution
, with Allen and Smyth forced to flee France for Deià
They allegedly found saxophonist Didier Malherbe living in a cave in Deya, before film director Jérôme Laperrousaz invited the band back to France to record the soundtrack of his movie Continental Circus. They were subsequently approached by Jean Karakos of the newly formed independent label BYG and signed a multi-album deal with them (Magick Brother, Mystic Sister, "Camembert Electrique" and Allen's solo album Bananamoon were all released on BYG).
Gong played at the second Glastonbury Festival in June 1971, which they followed up with a UK tour the following Autumn. They were subsequently (late 1972) one of the first acts to sign to Virgin Records, getting first pick of the studio-time ahead of Mike Oldfield. By now, a regular line-up had established itself and Gong released their Camembert Electrique album. After the band signed with Virgin, subsidiary Caroline Records "Camembert" was given a belated UK release in late 1974. It was priced at 59p (that is, the price of a typical single rather than an album), ensuring that sufficient numbers were sold for the album to chart had it not been barred from the charts for being so cheap.
Between 1973 and 1974, Gong, now augmented by guitarist Steve Hillage
, released their best-known work, the Radio Gnome Trilogy
—three records that expounded upon the (previously only hinted at) Gong mythology. At a gig in Cheltenham
, in 1975, Allen refused to go on stage, claiming that a "wall of force" was preventing him, and left the band. With both Smyth, who wanted to spend more time with her two children, and synth wizard Tim Blake
having jumped off in previous months, this marked the end of the 'classic' line-up. The band continued, touring the UK in November 1975 (as documented on the 2005 release Live in Sherwood Forest '75
) and working on their next album Shamal
, but Hillage, who had been the band's de facto leader since Allen's exit, and his partner Miquette Giraudy
, who had taken over from Smyth in late 1974, left before Shamal
was released in early 1976. They re-joined the band briefly for a 1977 live reunion in Paris.
Pierre Moerlen's Gong and other off-shoots
Drummer Pierre Moerlen
, who had been persuaded by Virgin to rejoin Gong as a co-leader with Malherbe (after his spell with the French contemporary ensemble Les Percussions De Strasbourg) in 1975, gradually took over the band's leadership. When Malherbe, the only remaining founding member, finally left in 1977, Moerlen
formed a new percussion-based line-up with American bassist Hansford Rowe and percussionists Mireille Bauer and Benoit Moerlen. To avoid confusion, it became known as Gong-Expresso, and from 1978 on, as Pierre Moerlen's Gong
Allen, however, continued to develop the Gong mythology from the late seventies up until the nineties in his solo work, and with bands such as Euterpe and Planet Gong (which comprised Allen and Smyth playing with the British festival band Here & Now), while Smyth formed a separate band: Mother Gong.
Reunions and Acid Mothers Gong
After spending most of the Eighties in his native Australia, Allen returned to the UK in 1988 with a new project, the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, whose revolving cast included the likes of Harry Williamson, violinist Graham Clark
and Didier Malherbe
. This morphed into GongMaison and by 1992, the name Gong was again in use, by which time original drummer Pip Pyle
had also rejoined. The band released the album Shapeshifter
(subsequently dubbed Radio Gnome part 4), followed by extensive touring. In 1994, Gong celebrated its 25th birthday in London, including a performance by most of the 'classic' line-up, including the returning Gilli Smyth and Mike Howlett. This formed the basic of the "Classic Gong" band which toured worldwide from 1996 to 2001 and released Zero to Infinity
in 2000 (by Allen, Smyth, Howlett and Malherbe plus new recruits Theo Travis and Chris Taylor).
However, 2003 saw a radical new line-up called Acid Mothers Gong, including Acid Mothers Temple member Kawabata Makoto and University Of Errors guitarist Josh Pollock. Allen and Smyth's son Orlando Allen drummed on the album Acid Motherhood but the drummer on most of the band's live dates was Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida.
While the "Classic Gong" line-up retired from regular touring in 2001, there have been one-off reunions since, most notably at the "Gong Family Unconvention" (Uncon), the first of which was held in 2004 in the Glastonbury Assembly rooms as a one day event. The 2005 Uncon was a 2-day affair featuring several Gong-related bands such as Here and Now, System 7, House of Thandoy and Kangaroo Moon. The most recent Uncon was a 3-day event held at the Melkweg in Amsterdam on 3-5 November 2006, with practically all Gong-related bands present: classic Gong (with Allen, Smyth, Malherbe, Hillage, Blake and Howlett, plus Miquette Giraudy, Chris Taylor and Theo Travis), System 7, Steve Hillage Band, Hadouk, Tim Blake & Jean-Philippe Rykiel, University of Errors, Here & Now, Mother Gong, Zorch, Eat Static, Acid Mothers Gong, Slack Baba, Kangaroo Moon and many others. These events have all been compèred by Thom the Poet. More recently in June 2008, Gong played two concerts in London: Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank (opening Massive Attack's Meltdown festival) and the Forum, with Allen, Smyth, Hillage, Giraudy, Howlett Taylor and Travis among the lineup.
Flying Teapot (1973): Radio Gnome Trilogy, Part 1
Gong mythology is a collection of recurring characters, themes, and ideas that permeate the rock albums of Daevid Allen and Gong and to a lesser extent the early works of Steve Hillage. The story is based on a vision Allen had during the full moon of Easter, 1966 in which he claims he could see his future laid out before him. The mythology is hinted at through all of Gong's earlier albums but is not the central theme until the "Radio Gnome Trilogy" (1973-1974).
The story begins on the album Flying Teapot (1973) when a pig-farming Egyptologist called Mista T Being is sold a "magick ear ring" by an "antique teapot street vendor & tea label collector" called Fred the Fish. The ear ring is capable of receiving messages from the Planet Gong via a pirate radio station called Radio Gnome Invisible. Being and Fish head off to the hymnalayas of Tibet (sic) where they meet the "great beer yogi" Banana Ananda in a cave. Ananda tends to chant "Banana Nirvana Mañana" a lot and gets drunk on Foster's Australian Lager.
This latter development mirrors the real-life experience of band members Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth who met their saxophonist, Didier Malherbe, in a cave in Majorca.
Meanwhile, the mythology's central character, Zero the Hero, is going about his everyday life when he suddenly has a vision in Charing Cross Road. He is compelled to seek heroes and starts worshipping the Cock Pot Pixie, one of a number of Pot Head Pixies from the Planet Gong. These pixies are green with propellers on their heads, and they fly around in teapots.
Zero is soon distracted by a cat which he offers his fish and chips to. The cat is actually the Good Witch Yoni, who gives Zero a potion. This concludes the first album of the Radio Gnome Trilogy.
Angel's Egg (1973): Radio Gnome Trilogy, Part 2
The second album Angel's Egg
(1973) begins with Zero falling to sleep under the influences of the potion and finding himself floating through space. After accidentally scaring a space pilot called Captain Capricorn
, Zero locates the Planet Gong, and spends some time with a prostitute who introduces him to the moon goddess Selene
Zero's (drug-induced) trip to the Planet Gong continues, and the Pot Head Pixies explain to him how their flying teapots fly (a system known as Glidding). He is then taken to the One Invisible Temple of Gong.
Inside the temple, Zero is shown the Angel's Egg -- the physical embodiment of the 32 Octave Doctors (descendants of the Great God Cell). The Angel's Egg is the magic-eye mandala that features on much of the band's sleeve-art. It is also a sort of recycling plant for Pot Head Pixies.
A grand plan is revealed to Zero. There will be a Great Melting Feast of Freeks which Zero must organize on Earth. When everyone is enjoying the Feast, a huge global concert, the Switch Doctor (the Earth's resident Octave Doctor, who lives near Banana Ananda's cave, in a "potheadquarters" called the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet (C.O.I.T.) and transmits all the details to the Gong Band via Bananamoon Observatory) will turn everybody's third eye on, ushering in a New Age on Earth.
You (1974): Radio Gnome Trilogy, Part 3
In the third installment You
(1974), Zero must first return from his trip. He asks Hiram the Master Builder how to structure his vision and build his own Invisible Temple. Having done this, Zero establishes that he must organize the Great Melting Feast of Freeks on the Isle of Everywhere, Bali
The event is going well, and the Switch Doctor switches on everyone's third eyes except for Zero's. For Zero is out the back, indulging in Earthly pleasures (fruitcake).
Zero has missed out on the whole third eye revelation experience and is forced to continue his existence spinning around on the wheel of births and deaths and slowly converging on the Angel's Egg in a way which, to a certain extent, resembles Buddhist reincarnation.
In episode four in the album Shapeshifter
(1992), Zero meets an urban shaman
who agrees to take Zero to the next level of awareness on the proviso that Zero spends nine months on an aeroplane travelling where he wants but not using money or eating anything other than airline food. Zero eventually dies in Australia
under mysterious circumstances.
Zero to Infinity (2000)
The last installment in the album Zero to Infinity
(2000) sees Zero's spirit enjoying a body-free and virtual existence. During the course of this he becomes an android spheroid
Zeroid. With the help of a strange animal called a gongalope, he learns that all the wisdom of the world exists within him and practices Lafta yoga
and tea making. At the end he becomes one with an Invisible Temple and has a lot of fun.
As can be seen, the mythology is not universally serious. Great amounts of the story pertain in some way to the production and consumption of tea
(perhaps suggesting mushroom tea
however, but the word tea has also for long been a word to describe cannabis, especially in the 1940s and 1950s). The characters of the story are often based on or used as pseudonyms
for band members.
- 1969: Magick Brother
- 1971: Bananamoon (Daevid Allen solo)
- 1971: Glastonbury Fayre (Gong contribute one side to this live triple album)
- 1971: Camembert Electrique
- 1971: Continental Circus
- 1971: Obsolete (with Dashiell Hedayat)
- 1973: Flying Teapot (Radio Gnome trilogy, part 1)
- 1973: Angel's Egg (Radio Gnome trilogy, part 2)
- 1973: Greasy Truckers Live at Dingwalls Dance Hall
- 1974: You (Radio Gnome trilogy, part 3)
- 1975: Shamal (Produced by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd)
- 1977: Gazeuse!, also known as Expresso
- 1977: Gong est mort, vive Gong! (French live album)
- 1977: Gong Live Etc (UK live album)
- 1977: Floating Anarchy Live (as Planet Gong)
- 1978: Expresso II
- 1979: Downwind (as Pierre Moerlen's Gong)
- 1979: Time is the Key (as Pierre Moerlen's Gong)
- 1980: Pierre Moerlen's Gong: Live
- 1980: About Time (as New York Gong)
- 1981: Leave It Open (as Pierre Moerlen's Gong)
- 1986: Breakthrough (as Pierre Moerlen's Gong)
- 1989: Gong Maison (Gong Maison)
- 1992: Shapeshifter
- 2000: Zero to Infinity
- 2001: Live to Infinity (UK live album)
- 2003: The World of Daevid Allen and Gong (3 CD compilation including almost all of the Radio Gnome trilogy & early album tracks)
- 2004: Acid Motherhood
- 2005: I Am Your Egg (Mother Gong)
- 2006: Acid Mothers Gong Live Tokyo
- 2007: Mothergong O Amsterdam (Mother Gong)