Gong’s Daevid Allen Dies
Counter-culture hero and role model Daevid Allen of Gong and Soft Machine infamy, died this week aged 77, after a long battle with cancer.
Guardian and ertswhile NME stalwart Everett True paid poignant tribute labeling him the ‘original anti-establishment, anti-capitalist hippie. . . His music is like Sun Ra meets Vivian Stanshall meets DIY punk meets a really big fucking bong,” he wrote. (http://bit.ly/1NTdxCp )
Chatting to Skrufff in 2001 (full interview below), he outlined his inspirationally idiosyncratic design for life that saw him sell an estimated 20million albums despite relentlessly pursuing his passion for experimentation and adventure.
“It’s a lot more fun living by spirit and faith because you don’t have to worry about so many things that others worry about. When you devote yourself to something and throw yourself in the deep end whether you know if you can swim or not, and then find that you can float, it’s incredibly liberating,” he explained.
“Suddenly, everything becomes easier (though) it’s still bloody difficult to pay the rent, especially when you have kids and family responsibilities.”
Fighting cancer initially successfully in 2014, he applied the same philosophy when it returned, he was similarly sanguine upon being given ‘approximately six months to live.’
“I am not interested in endless surgical operations and in fact it has come as a relief to know that the end is in sight,” he wrote in a statement posted online.
“I am a great believer in “The Will of the Way Things Are” and I also believe that the time has come to stop resisting and denying and to surrender to the way it is.
“I can only hope that during this journey, I have somehow contributed to the happiness in the lives of a few other fellow humans.”
Gong: Ambient Music Is Close to The Pure Spirit
Psychedelic ambient experimentalists Gong formed in the late 60s, emerging from the protest communities of Paris’ then thriving counter culture.
Put together by former Soft Machine frontman Daevid Allen in 1967, they immediately gained a reputation as outsiders, which, as their website explains today, never exactly bothered them.
‘Gong is often referred to as a ‘cult’ band, which we have always understood to mean ‘a band which too few people love too much’, it says. “But. . . . .”
Always more popular internationally than just in the UK, the band helped scatter the seeds of experimentation and living life through instinct, not least through the originality and occasional brilliance of their music.
Masters at producing trance inducing psychedelic epics, whether via flute or even just through Allen’s remarkable voice, they helped pioneer the kind of ambient electronic music that would later inspire the likes of Brian Eno and the Orb’s Alex Patterson.
Nowadays splitting their lives between Australia’s Byron Bay and touring, Daevid and Gilli recently passed through London, having been invited to perform alongside the Orb for Dave Gilmour’s Mind Your Head Festival.
Typically hit and miss, the band’s performance occasionally plumbed the depths of cringe inducing psychedelia before concluding with two thrilling anthems of neck tingling energy and power. 33 years after they first started performing, they remain musicians of rare and unpretentious vision.
“The only real way of being secure is to be eternally insecure. One of the most irritating things about being 63 years old is that people expect you to be wise.”
With his long flowing white hair and chiselled, tanned features, Daevid Allen resembles a wizard more than a soon-to-be-pensioner staring into the void.
Charmingly outspoken and refreshingly controversial, he’s sitting in a Covent Garden beer garden, handling press for Gong’s forthcoming shows with The Orb.
Accompanied by his long term collaborator Gilli, the duo provide excellent role models for alternative living appearing happy though Daevid’s enthusiasm for stirring up controversy remains a distinctly dangerous wild card (911 conspiracy theories not withstanding). Today though, chatting to Jonty Skrufff he’s sweetness and (mainly) light.
Skrufff: You’ve been touring for 33 years now, where do you begin when you’re planning a new show?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “We exercise a little of the past and the present and we improvise a little. I’ll tell you ten minutes after we’ve finished. We usually do pick tracks from the past because people like them and we enjoy playing them – they’ve become like jazz standards to us. At the same time we’re constantly producing new material.”
Skrufff: Gong were pioneers of chill out/ambient music in the 60s, why has it become so popular now?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “It’s always been there and of course it’s always very pure and smoothing- it’s close to the pure spirit. There’s also something about its rhythm or lack of it.
One of the things I’ve always found irritating about dance music is the fact that it’s always recorded in 4/4. I find that very irritating, it’s a little like the Sun newspaper – catering to popular demand rather than pushing the frontiers and Gong have always been about pushing frontiers.
When you lose that 4/4 rhythm you’re suddenly in a state of timelessness and I love that. Ambient music will always be there.”
Gong (Gilli Smyth): “I have a different view, though, I think the whole point about four/four dance music is that it allows people to release all the problems and pressures of modern life by dancing. People dance every weekend which is a fantastic thing to do and within that 4/4 beat you’ve still got loads of space to play with. I like that doof rhythm and I find it really interesting.”
Gong (Daevid Allen): “I still think the 4/4 thing is a habit of mind that needs to be busted- just like America. It’s already become a middle class form of conservatism. It’s the new middle classes listening to this four/four music and people become stuck. Africans dance to 5/4 or six or 8. Why the hell can’t we?
Are we so industrially minded, are we so hypnotized by the chain store mentality, by the factory continuum and the click of the clock? Are we so stuck?”
Gong (Gilli Smyth):”There’s always been that spirit attitude with Gong but we’ve always been political, in the sense that the band started during the revolution in France and one of the reasons we developed such a strong reputation there was because people felt we were on that side- standing up to a very harsh right wing government. It’s been that way and it’s still that way with the anti globalisation movement.”
Skrufff: Pink Floyd’\s Dave Gilmour is also playing at the Festival hall in the same festival, is he someone who you cross paths with much?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “I don’t like Pink Floyd at all, I’ve always thought of them as a bunch of lounging rich kids. The only time I liked them was when Syd Barrett was still with them (until 1968). The last time I saw him he was scowling in a corner going through his paranoid phase.”
Skrufff: How solid is today’s Gong line-up?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “As solid as human beings can be (chuckling). We’re enjoying each other’s company though we’ve always had trouble with drummers. Our current drummer Chris is the best, he’s such a sweet man and previously played with Soul 11 Soul. I’m in love with his playing. I know human beings are very fallible though so it could end at any time.”
Skrufff: Which contemporary DJs and or electronic producers do you rate?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “I’m very keen on Simon Posford right now (Psi-trance pioneer producer best known for his Hallucinogen persona). Gong has always been known as a contrast band and he contrasts his own music really well. I also love the Future Sound Of London, they’ve done the best acid trip album.”
Skrufff: how about you Gilli, how much are you tied in with DJ culture?
Gong (Gilli Smyth):”Very much actually, because I work with an Australian band and we play dance parties frequently. The band was previously called Goddess Trance then Goddess T, because trance was too limiting. We did a mixture of dance and ambient music – I’m much more enthusiastic about dance music than Daevid is.”
Gong (Daevid Allen): “I do like dance music, I enjoy listening to it and I like dancing to it, but I’m always impatient to keep things moving along. I really like change. I’m a pusher of rivers.”
Skrufff: How much has the internet changed your day to day life?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “Enormously, it’s made things possible now which weren’t before, because we don’t want to have anything to do with the major labels. We don’t want to have anything to do with the music industry in general so the net has been our salvation. Yes, we have to get our fingers a little dirty from time to time and work with the Great Satan and we do that, just as little as possible. But the internet keeps us alive – absolutely.”
Gong (Gilli Smyth):”It’s particularly helpful for touring, when you can advertise all your gigs on the net it makes loads of difference to the number of people who come because in the old days of just posters and radio, many people didn’t know about gigs. It’s been enormously useful.”
Skrufff: Your website refers to Gong’s original vision from when you formed in the 60s, how relevant is that vision today?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “It’s still relevant because the end vision was that we’d be touring after there had been some kind of political cataclysm and we were driving around a city’s streets while people were looting shops. Our equipment was locked into the theatre we’d played in the night before and we couldn’t get in. In the end we drove away and I found myself hitch-hiking through France. This was the final vision. Most of the visions I’ve had, certainly where they’ve been of that particular intensity, have come true. Even the vision of being onstage with lights.”
Skrufff: Were the visions LSD enabled?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “This was one of my early acid trips, it would be very carefully timed and very specially dedicated to a vision- it was over the equinox full moon and I prepared for the experience for ages. I didn’t know where the acid was coming from but the guy who brought it in the end came directly from Owsley (famous 60s LSD producer).
It seemed like everything was set up, which is why I followed the vision through. Lots of people would be sceptical because acid was involved (in the vision) but I’ve always believed that even if I hadn’t taken the acid, some other version of the same image would have come.”
Skrufff: In practical terms, how easy has it been to live your life based on visions and instinct?
Gong (Daevid Allen): “It’s a lot more fun living by spirit and faith because you don’t have to worry about so many things that others worry about. When you devote yourself to something and throw yourself in the deep end whether you know if you can swim or not, and then find that you can float, it’s incredibly liberating.
Suddenly, everything becomes easier. It’s still bloody difficult to pay the rent, especially when you have kids and family responsibilities. There’s always a part of you that lives in the real world and needs to. It’s a very schizophrenic existence.”
Gong (Gilli Smyth):”It’s also different in material terms when you have kids because you don’t have a pay packet. So you have to live as you live, maybe feeling like a hunter/ gatherer, staying in a den then finding some way to go out and feed them.
The extraordinary thing though is that so many magical things have happened. The way Gong started in 1968 for example. We were in this club in Paris with lots of famous people, and we just went down to the cellar and started playing.
We got offered a Sunday afternoon slot immediately and a television producer who happened to be there, offered us a slot on TV. Suddenly, without rehearsing, we had this gig that became every day. That was magical but then after it happened we had to flee from the French police because we were wanted. We didn’t go back to France for a year and though it was tough at the time, it also gave us a reason to continue.”
Gong (Daevid Allen): “The only real way of being secure is to be eternally insecure. One of the most irritating things about being 63 is that people expect you to be wise. That’s why I have this band University Of Errors which is all about making lots of mistakes, then you’ll be alright. I’ve got two sides to my personality; one is to destroy; one is to create and Gong is most certainly a peaceful band, rather than a stirring up trouble band.”
Gong’s latest album Zero To Infinity is out now on Snapper Music. We’d also strongly recommend one of Daevid Allen’s solo tracks Euterpe Gratitude Piece, a hauntingly beautiful chillout track using samples in a way that predates acid house by a good decade.
Jonty Skrufff (2001)