[Around Prog #13] Gong pt. I

Gestation and Pre-Gong [1961-1967]

Daevid Allen, founder and leading member of Gong, was born in Melbourne, Australia on January 13, 1938. He moved to Canterbury in 1961 and met a very young Robert Wyatt. At the same time, moving between London and Paris, he began collaborating with Terry Riley and in some performances with William Burroughs. He, therefore, created the Daevid Allen Trio, composed by him, Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper, with whom he performed since 1963 at the Marquee in London. Mike Ratledge was added to the trio occasionally, and they offered Free Jazz concerts, whose recordings were released in 1993 under the title “Live 1963.” During the full moon of the 1966 Easter, he had a vision, according to which he was an experiment under the supervision of supernatural forces which he called the doctors of the octave, who fed all life through music. It was thanks to this vision that I began to elaborate the philosophy and mythology of Gong. Also in 1966, together with Robert Wyatt they founded Soft Machine, and developed a glissato technique used and elaborated as well by Syd Barrett. Both Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, in fact, in this period performed in one of the first psychedelic clubs in London, the UFO Club, frequented by well-known musicians, including Paul McCartney. In 1967, the band’s first demo tapes were produced, thanks to Giorgio Gomelsky, published in 1972 entitled “Faces And Places Vol. 7.” He also finances a summer tour of the band in France, which achieved enormous success. In August of the same year, Allen is blocked for problems with documents and sent back to France.

The First Steps and the Debut [1967-1969]

In November 1967, he created the first core of Gong with his partner Gilli Smyth, a London professor with a professorship at the Sorbonne and the Turkish Tanner Celensu as a sound engineer. The sound, already in these early stages, was characterized by Allen’s glissando and Smyth’s space whispers, a vocal technique whispered with echo effects, introduced by her. Thus began an intense live activity that sees them collaborating in Session with different musicians, as well as performing every night at the famous restaurant La Ville in Paris. We are in 1968 and Allen, Smyth together with Patrick Fontaine and Marc Le Blanc created the Bananamoon Band, with which they perform live around the Paris area. During the French May, Smyth and Allen are contacted by Jerome Laperrousaz, a well-known director, who offers him to record a video about a street show. Even though recordings undergo a daring interruption, with even police intervention, the saved images can be found on the film by the director “Nightmare of Mr. Respectable.” Following this episode, the two are considered socially dangerous subjects, and so they decide to retire to Mallorca, in the Spanish city they begin to strike up the philosophy and the Gong mythology. Thus began to baste the material for the first album “Magick Brother, Mystic Sister.” They thus make the acquaintance of another particular artist, the saxophonist Didier Malherbe, who lived inside a cave in Deià, a village that will then be considered the cradle of Gong. Didier, enthusiastic about the ideas of Allen and Smyth, decides to take part in the project, and they begin to shuttle back to France, where they hold several concerts. At the end of 1968 Bananamoon Bandincide its first two demos, which will merge, together with the Gong material, into the compilation “Je Ne Fume Pas Bananes,” published in 1993. These works were recorded under the massive effect of hallucinogens and alcohol, being not a noteworthy production. Thus, it was that in 1969 the band broke up and began to devote themselves to the Gong project, which officially took life.

The first publications and festivals [1969-1973]

One of the founders of the independent label BYG Records, Jean Karakos, reached an agreement in 1969 with the Gong to release three albums. Thus comes out “Magic Brother, Mystic Sister,” the band’s first real record, for BYG and dated 1970. The line-up was composed of: Allen, Smyth, Malherbe (Wind instruments), Houari (Drum) and other musicians who after abandon the project. An album tied to psychedelia, but still far from the sounds that characterize the band. On the record is the first narration of the planet Gong and its head pixies, a prelude to what will be the mythology of the band. They publish the first 45 rpm “Garçone Ou Fille,” where Christian Tritsch appears for the first time at low point in 1969 they organize a festival in Belgium, after the French authorities had forbidden it to take place in Paris. The festival featured prominent artists such as Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Archie Shepp, Colosseum among others, and was the first official Gong live. After the release of the album, a record of the week in France, an intense concert activity follows, besides the recording of some demos “Camembert Electrique” and “Bananamoon,” published only in 1995 by GAS Records with the name “Camembert Electrique.” The second album was born in London, thanks to the manager of the group of Bob Bènamou, who convinces Allen, in the English capital for a live, to record with Robert Wyatt. Tritsch, Archie Legget on Bass, Nick Evans on Trombone, Gary Wright on Piano and Pip Pyle on Drum also collaborate on the project. Thus, it was that they published “Bananamoon” in 1971, initially sold under the name of Gong, to then become “Banana Moon” and be attributed only to Allen. He joins Gong Tim Blake project, which will follow the guitarist in France, where Leperoussaz proposes another film shoot for the band. Thus was born the soundtrack for the film on the motorcycling champion Jack Findlay, for Philips entitled “Continental Circus.” In the same year they also collaborated with the poet and musician Dashiell Hedayat in the recording of “Obsolete,” including William Burroughs and Sam Ellidge, son of Robert Wyatt Kevin Ayers joins as an occasional member and with the consolidated line-up they record “Camembert Electrique.” Produced by Karakos for BYG Records in 1971, recorded in the full moon phases of May, June and September in the castle of Hérouille in Normandy. The lineup was so composed of Allen, Smyth, Malherbe, Tritsch and Pyle. It is published by Virgin in the English version, whose price was 59 pence to move sales, being banned from the charts for the reduced price. In this work a more mature sound is expressed, taking up the themes of the Gongian mythology bought me as “Radio Gnome,” Tropical Fish: Selene “and” Gnome The Second.” Take part in the second Glastonbury Festival, appearing in the event album” Glastonbury Faire 1971 “along with other artists involved in the event. 1971 of 1972 several artists, including Laurie Allan, alternate as drummer. Meanwhile, the BYG label collapses due to economic problems, and the band passes into the hands of the producer Giorgio Gomelsky decided to return to England, to sign for Virgin, thus opening a dispute with the previous label, losing a significant amount of royalties from the previous records point Virgin manager, Richard Branson, sets the priority for use of the engraving studio by Gong, even before Mike Oldfield, previously the band accused Oldfield of plagiarism, this was probably the reason for the choice. Tritsch meanwhile is more at ease on the guitar and decides to change instrument, then bass by Francis Moze ex Magma. On the occasion of a French tour, aggregate the guitarist Steve Hillage ex Kevin Ayers, at the end of which he adds himself outright. Even Tim Blake as a sound engineer also becomes a keyboard player, playing the synth as well. In 1973 the limited edition “Greasy Truckers-Live at Dingwalls Dance Hall” collaborates in a limited edition with Henry Cow, Camel and Global Village Trucking Company. However, the Gong songs were from a live at the “Tabarka Festival” in Tunisia and another in Sheffield, England.

The Second part will be published on the Around Prog #14 editorial.

Band Members


Daevid Allen / Vocals, Guitar
Ziska Baum / Vocals
Gilli Smyth / Vocals
Loren Standlee / Flute


Daevid Allen / Vocals, Guitar, Bass
Gilli Smyth / Vocals
Rachid Houari / Drums, Percussion
Didier Malherbe / Saxophone, Flute
Christian Tritsch / Bass, Guitar


Daevid Allen / Vocals, Guitar, Bass
Gilli Smyth / Vocals
Didier Malherbe / Saxophone, Flute
Christian Tritsch / Bass, Guitar
Pip Pyle / Drums, Percussion

1972 (Musicians who participated in various lineups)

Daevid Allen / Vocals, Guitar, Bass
Gilli Smyth / Vocals
Didier Malherbe – Saxophone, Flute
Christian Tritsch / Bass, Guitar
Laurie Allan / Drums, Percussion
Mac Poole / Drums, Percussion
Charles Hayward / Drums, Percussion
Diane Stewart / Vocals
Tim Blake / Synthesizer, Vocals
Francis Moze / Bass
Rob Tait / Drums, Percussion
Laurie Allan / Drums, Percussion
Steve Hillage / Guitar
Rachid Houari / Percussion

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Author: Jacopo Vigezzi

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