By way of tribute to Daevid Allen, whose death was confirmed earlier today, we thought we’d post John Lewis’ Gong feature from Uncut, issue 149. Featuring an extensive interview with Allen, as well as other key players in the Gong story, it’s a predictably whimsical, meandering trip through Allen’s mind.
France, the late ’60s. A motley international band of beat poets, “space whisperers” and potheaded pixies set up a commune in the woods outside Paris. Here, they drop LSD, duet with kettles, watch out for UFOs and begin an extraordinary musical trip that has lasted 40 years. Bonjour, GONG…
“The problem always is that when aliens appear on Earth, most people are just going to be scared and they’ll want to kill them. This is why aliens have tried to prepare the way through my music, by creating a strange, new sound.”
This could be the ramblings of a Lee Scratch Perry, a Sun Ra, or a George Clinton. But the words are coming out of the mouth of Daevid Allen, an entirely plausible-sounding Australian, nursing a half-pint of lager while explaining the philosophy of his band, Gong.
“It sounds bonkers, but I always had a sense of being contacted by another planet of intelligent beings, who wanted to help the Earth people. They figured the way to do this was to find certain bands, use them as a vehicle for their strange noises, and prepare the way for a peaceful arrival. So, when they appear in the year 2032, if you’ve been listening to our music, there’s no reason to be afraid of them.” This strange mix of conspiracy theory and surrealist whimsy is classic Gong, a band who provide the missing link between vintage psychedelia and latterday rave culture. For the past 40 years Daevid Allen – together with a cast of sidekicks that’s almost as large as the alumni of the Fall – has sung about flying teapots and pothead pixies, about magic bananas and Foster’s lager, about aliens and electric cheese. It’s all been set to a strange and highly musicianly blend of psychedelia, beat poetry, jazz improvisation, tape loops, prog rock and Indian drones, and has proved enduringly popular to three generations of revolutionary socialists, anarchists, occultists, UFOlogists, hippies and crusties. Four decades after their birth, Gong find themselves headlining at Massive Attack’s Meltdown, and playing a pulsating, three-hour set at the Glades stage at Glastonbury in front of thousands of ravers.