System 7′s Steve Hillage on Gong’s Daevid Allen
System 7 ambient- tech electronic guru Steve Hillage first made his name in the early 70s when he joined Daevid Allen’s seminal alternative experimental band Gong.
Taking part in the recording sessions for Gong’s Flying Teapot, the first instalment of the “Radio Gnome” trilogy in January 1973, he rapidly joined the band fulltime, completing what became recognised as Gong’s ‘classic’ line-up which recorded two more albums Angels Egg and You before they split in 1975.
Concentrating largely on electronic music since forming System 7 with Miquette Giraudy in the early 90s, he partially re-joined a reunited Gong in November 2006, performing occasional live shows with the band and producing Gong’s album 2032 in 2009.
Skrufff asked Steve about his experiences of working with Gong’s infamously charismatic leader Daevid Allen, who died several weeks ago, at the age of 77, following a long battle with cancer.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): What was it about Daevid and Gong’s music that made them stand out so much from everybody else of that era?
Steve Hillage: “For me and my friends in the early 70s Daevid was a shining light who had kept the torch of pure psychedelic music burning after the post-Altamont decline and fragmentation of the original 60s psychedelic boom.
In 1966-67 I was still at school and too young to be an active participant in a movement that nonetheless I found captivating. By 1971-72 I was an aspiring musician with my own band, but I found what Gong were doing was fascinating and I became a bit of a fan. And then in Jan 1973 I achieved every fan’s dream:- I got to join my favourite band!”
Skrufff: How big an influence did Daevid have on your life and approach to music? What were the key lessons you learned from him?
Steve Hillage: “Right from an early age I had a general concept of trying to permeate music with spiritual energies, and working with Daevid who had advanced this a lot further was a big influence on me. The experience of being in Gong provided me with a philosophical grounding that remains pretty much in tact to this day.
On a more personal level, Daevid was an extremely charismatic person, as we all know, but he did have a bunch of internal contradictions buried in his psyche and also suffered from fierce mood swings that could be very hard for those around him to handle.
I think all of us who had a long-term relationship with him have come to an understanding where we were able to focus on his positive and unique qualities, and also find a way to use the relationship with him as beneficial learning experience. In this way he was a teacher. But there were some who just couldn’t find this understanding and would have to go off on their own separate ways.”
Skrufff: I understand the two of fell out in later years: how did that happen?
Steve Hillage: “It’s not true that we fell out. We had our disagreements over the years, mostly on practical issues – like when I didn’t agree to play with Gong in 1994 at the 25th Anniversary show (preferring to concentrate on System 7) and more recently when Daevid insisted on reconstituting the band after the 2032 album in a way I couldn’t go along with.
But we always maintained a mutual long-term respect, and at our last meeting (Nov 2013 in Japan) we had a long, deep and profoundly cordial discussion. Photo attached from that last meeting.”
N+X’ by System 7 & Mirror System is out now on A-Wave Records.