Gong Co-Founder Gilli Smyth Dies at 83
Counter-culture pioneer and psychedelica experimentalist Gilli Smyth, who was the original vocalist and writer with Gong, died this week, just 18 months after fellow Gong founder and life partner Daevid Allen also died.
The ambient elecrtronic experimentalists 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 2001 website biog explaied 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 noted, “But. . . . .”
Always more popular internationally than 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.
Chatting to Skrufff in 2001 (together with Daevid Allen in a Covent Garden beer garden on a sunny afternoon just after 9/11) Gilli was both friendly and inspirational, recalling vividly the serendipity that accompanied Gong’s path,
“The extraordinary thing though is that so many magical things have happened. The way Gong started in 196,8 for example,” she recalled.
“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.”
35 years later she remained active in music and was also closely involved in alternative DJ culture.
“I work with an Australian band and we play dance parties frequently,” said Gilli, “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.”
“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,” she added.
“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.”
She also remained fiercely committed to social issues referring to ‘that spirit attitude with Gong.
“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,” she said.
“It’s been that way and it’s still that way with the anti-globalisation movement.”