There aren’t many bands who have enjoyed the longevity that Gong have enjoyed. The Franco-British band were formed back in Paris, in 1967 by Daevid Allen, an Australian musician and Gilli Smyth a professor of the Sorbonne. They were joined by vocalist Ziska Baum and flautist Loren Standlee. This was the first lineup of Gong. However, it wouldn’t be the last.
Over the next six decades, Gong’s lineup was best described as fluid. Around thirty musicians came and went. Some left of their own accord. Others left in acrimonious circumstances. However, in 1967, when Gong were formed almost accidentally, it looked like a brave new world. Four years later, Gong released their debut album Camembert Electrique, which was recently remastered and released by Charly.
In 1967, Australian musician, Daevid Allen, was a member of Soft Machine. Daevid had been spending time in Paris, France. However, the time came to return to London, where Soft Machine were based. When Daevid arrived in London, there was a problem with his visa. He was denied entry into Britain, and returned to Paris where he met Gilli Smyth a professor of the Sorbonne, one of France’s most prestigious universities.
Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth decided to form a band, which they named Gong. The pair, who were both vocalists, were joined by another vocalist, Ziska Baum, and flautist Loren Standlee. This was the first of numerous lineups of Gong, a group who six decades and forty-eight years later, are still going strong. That’s quite remarkable, given their turbulent history.
A year after Gong formed, France was in the throes of a student revolution. Police and students clashed on the streets during May 1968. This was a worrying time for the members of Gong. So much so, that Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth fled from Paris, and eventually, settled in Deià, in Majorca.
This resulted in the first changes in Gong’s lineup. After fleeing Paris, the band’s lineup changed. Rumour has it, that Daevid and Gilli discovered saxophonist Didier Malherbe living in a cave in Deià. He would soon join Gong, when they headed to France to record the soundtrack toJérôme Laperrousaz’s movie Continental Circus.
For the recording of Continental Circus, Gong returned to France. Things were much calmer, than when they had been force to flee the country. On their return, Gong were a very different band.
Since they left France for Deià, the first changes in Gong’s lineup took place. Vocalist Ziska Baum and flautist Loren Standlee. However, saxophonist Didier Malherbe had joined Gong, who were now reduced to a trio. This was the lineup that recorded the soundtrack to Continental Circus.
The Continental Circus soundtrack kickstarted Gong’s nascent career. They were signed to Jean Karakos’ newly formed BYG label, on a multi-album deal. Their first album for BYG was Magick Brother.
Recording of Magick Brother, which is regarded as Gong’s debut album, took place in Paris. Between September and October 1969, recording of Magick Brother, took place at Studio ETA and Studio Europa Sonor. The same personnel that featured on Continental Circus, featured on Magick Brother, which was produced by Jean Georgakarakos and Jean-Luc Young.
They guided Gong through the recording of their debut album. Just like on Continental Circus, Daevid Allen played guitar and added vocals. Gilli Smyth was credited as adding vocals and a “space whisper.” Didier Malherbe played saxophone and flute. Augmenting Gong, were some top session musicians.
With Gong lacking a rhythm section, drummer Rachid Houari was brought onboard. So were Earl Freeman, Dieter Gewissler and Barre Phillips, who played contrabass on various tracks. Free jazz pianist, Burton Greene, a native of Chicago, was also brought onboard. The final piece of the jigsaw, was Tasmin Smyth. Her vocal features on Mystic Sister/Magick Brother. Tasmin and the rest of the guest artists, played their part in Gong’s debut album Magick Brother, which was released in March 1970.
On the release of Magick Brother in March 1970, Gong’s debut album was well received by critics. Gong were hailed as an innovative group, one who weren’t afraid to push musical boundaries. Their music was a fusion of musical influences and genres. Everything from psychedelia, free jazz, pop, rock and prog rock can be heard on Magick Brother. The future Kings of the potheads had made their presence felt. However, as was their want, Gong’s music wouldn’t stand still. continue to evolve. This would result in the first classic album of their career, and their first PhP album, Camembert Electrique.
Camembert Electrique is remembered as the first album in Gong’s PhP phase. The pothead pixies made their debut on Gong’s trailblazing sophomore album.
Gong were one of the earliest prog rock bands. Unlike other prog rock bands their music was a fusion of musical genres. Elements of psychedelia, jazz, avant garde, and pop are combined. Other times, the music is ethereal, spacey and atmospheric. Always though, there’s an intensity throughout Camembert Electrique, as Gong take you on a trailblazing journey. The destination is planet Gong. Providing the soundtrack to the journey was the now legendary radio gnome, which dips in and out of Camembert Electrique. Radio gnome plays its part in a truly groundbreaking album which was recorded in 1971.
Gong had some new additions to their lineup when work began in May 1971. The first of the new additions was bassist and guitarist Christian Tritsch. Drummer Pip Pyle slotted into the rhythm section. Eddy Luiss played Hammond organ and piano. They joined guitarist and vocalist Daevid Allen, vocalist and space whisperer Gilli Smyth and Didier Malherbe on saxophone and flute. This was the the lineup of Gong that headed to Michel Magne’s Strawberry Studios, in north west Paris where they recorded Camembert Electrique, which was mostly, written by Daevid Allen.
Eight of the tracks on Camembert Electrique were written by Daevid Allen. He wrote the other two tracks with new additions to Gong’s lineup. Bassist and guitarist Christian Tritsch cowrote And You Tried So Hard. These songs became Camembert Electrique, which Gong began recording in May 1971.
For Gong’s sophomore album Camembert Electrique, Gong headed to Michel Magne’s Strawberry Studios, in north west Paris. Gong couldn’t have picked a better studio. It was stocked with the latest equipment. This was the perfect location for a groundbreaking band. Over ten days in May 1971, Gong recorded what was the basis for the ten tracks that became Camembert Electrique. Two months later, Gong returned to the studio.
In July 1971 returned to Strawberry Studios, to finish recording of Camembert Electrique. Just like the sessions in May, everything was off the cuff. There was an experimental side to Gong. The used tape recorders that played backwards. Tape loops added bursts of laughter. Gong were making music with a smile on their face. To do this, they fused musical genres and influences. Elements of psychedelia, jazz, avant garde, and pop shine through on Camembert Electrique, which was eventually completed in September 1971, when Gong returned to Strawberry Studios. Little did they realise that they had recorded their first classic album, Camembert Electrique.
Camembert Electrique was released in 1971. Critics hailed the album a classic. The album also marked the debut of the pothead pixies (PhP). They made their debut on Gong’s trailblazing, genre-melting sophomore album Camembert Electrique.
Opening Camembert Electrique is Radio Gnome Prediction. Amidst the myriad of sci-fi sounds, sits Radio Gnome. He sounds like a create from another planet. That’s the case, he’s from the planet Gong.
Gong’s new rhythm section get to work on You Can’t Kill Me. They’re joined by searing guitars and Daevid’s vocal. It veers between frustrated, angry and a sneer. Meanwhile, Gilli vamps, and later a scorching saxophone is unleashed. By now, Gong are at their tightest, fusing prog rock, psychedelia and rock. later, the track heads in the direction of free jazz. The saxophone and guitars are unleaded, and go toe-to-toe. They play their part in a track that’s an innovative, lysergic and ambitious fusion of musical genres.
With a church organ for company, Daevid proudly sings I’ve Been Stoned Before. A subtle, sultry saxophone is added. It’s panned left. Later, a scrabbled bass and rolls of urgent drums are combined. By then Daevid’s vocal is a yelping vamp and drops out. When it returns, Daevid delivers an emotive plea. Accompanying him are the saxophone and rhythm section. They drive the arrangement to it’s urgent crescendo.
Straight away, Mr. Long Shanks/O Mother/I Am Your Fantasy has a languid, lysergic sound. The arrangement meanders lazily along, sweeping Gilli’s whispery vocal in its wake. Her vocal is dreamy and ethereal, the perfect accompaniment to the lysergic arrangement.
There’s a sense of urgency from the opening bars of Dynamite/I Am Your Animal. Repeatedly, Daevid sings “Dynamite.” It’s as if he’s delivering a warning shot across the Gong’s bows. The rest of Gong pickup on this sense of urgency, fusing rock, psychedelia and free jazz. Then on I Am Your Animal, Gilli delivers a wailing, teasing vocal. Still, Gong play with an urgency. Their new rhythm section are at the heart of this urgency, aided and abetted by chirping guitars and a wailing saxophone. Together, they play their part in an urgent, mesmeric and innovative track.
Wet Cheese Delirium is another announcement from planet Gong. Radio Gnome makes his pronouncement against a hypnotic backdrop. He returns on Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen’s Heads, a thirteen second track that ushers in one of the spaciest tracks on Camembert Electrique, Fohat Digs Holes In Space.
Straight away, Fohat Digs Holes In Space has a spacey, triply sound. The arrangement is constantly panned. Washes of subtle, but futuristic sounds almost hypnotise. Meanwhile, Gong’s rhythm section provide an equally hypnotic heartbeat. However, things are about to change. A saxophone is added. Daevid then adds his unique brand of lyrics. They’re akin to a proto-rap, where he combines humour, surrealism and social comment. Bursts of soaring harmonies and a scorching guitars and thunderous bass are added, as Daevid hollers in the distance. It’s a very different track. Indeed, Fohat Digs Holes In Space is more like two separate tracks, where we very different sides to Gong.
Chiming guitars open And You Tried So Hard. Soon, the rhythm section are playing softly. Daevid’s vocal, when it enters, is laid-back and dreamy. There’s a West Coast influence to the track. Then it’s all change. Blistering guitars are added, and an edhy rocky track unfolds. From there, they veer between the two different sides, showing Gong’s versatility. Later, Gilli adds a dreamy, lysergic vocal, taking this captivating musical adventure into yet another direction.
Tropical Fish/Selene literally bursts into life. The rhythm section and scorching guitars kick loose, driving the arrangement along. Accompanied by a braying saxophone, David delivers an urgent vocal. It’s not unlike a stream of consciousness. When his vocal drops out, Gong enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs. They jam, fusing prog rock, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Then when Daevid’s vocal returns, it’s lysergic. Briefly it drifts in and out, as Gong jam. Later, Gilli delivers one of her trademark space whispers. After that, the arrangement and vocals become choppy, as Gong continue their mission to innovate.
Camembert Electrique closes with Gnome The Second. This is the final pronouncement from Radio Gnome. A gong sounds, and Radio Gnome delivers a short, futuristic sounding speech. After twenty-six seconds, he returns to planet Gong.
Camembert Electrique, which was recently reissued by Charly, was the first classic album of Gong’s forty-eight year career. It was a trailblazing and ambitious album. No other prog rock band had released such an ambitious album. That’s not surprising.
Gong were one of the earliest prog rock bands. Unlike other prog rock bands their music was a fusion of musical genres. They fused prog rock with psychedelia, jazz, avant garde, and pop. As a result, the music is atmospheric, challenging, ethereal, languid, lysergic, spacey, surreal and trippy. Other times, it’s jazz-tinged, rocky. It’s a true musical magical mystery tour. However, throughout Camembert Electrique the music has an intensity. That’s the case from the opening bars of Radio Gnome Prediction, right through to the closing notes of Gnome The Second, when legendary radio gnome makes his pronouncements. He’s part of this trailblazing journey to planet Gong. It’s a journey that must be experienced.
No wonder. Camembert Electrique is one of the most innovative, and ambitious albums of the early seventies. Seamlessly, musical genres and influences melt into one on Camembert Electrique. Gong continually push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. This was risky. They risked alienating their audience.
Neither Gong, nor their record company BYG Actuel, need have worried. When it was released in France in 1971, it was to widespread critical acclaim. However, in Britain, music lovers didn’t get the chance to hear Camembert Electrique until 1974.
Virgin Records reissued Camembert Electrique in Britain in 1974. To encourage record buyers to purchase Camembert Electrique, Virgin Records sold copies for 59p, which was the price of a single. The theory was, that having discovered the artist, record buyers would continue to buy their back-catalogue and new albums. This marketing strategy had worked well for Virgin Records a year earlier, when they released Faust’s 1973 album The Faust Tapes. It worked well for Faust and a year later, worked for Gong. There was a problem though. Albums sold at a discounted price, didn’t qualify for the British charts. However, at least many record buyers discovered Gong’s music. For many, it would be the start of a lifetime love affair with Gong’s music.
That’s why, when many people are asked what their favourite Gong album is, many will say Camembert Electrique. For them, Camembert Electrique was their introduction to Gong. Camembert Electrique was Gong’s first classic album. However, it wasn’t their last. They were about to release the Gnome Trilogy. It started with Flying Teapot and Angel’s Egg in 1973. The last in the Gnome Trilogy was 1974s You. Just like Camembert Electrique, they’re Gong classics. However, Gong, who will forever will be remembered as a trailblazing group, who released innovative and genre-melting music, including their first classic album, Camembert Electrique in 1971.