Prolific. That’s a good way to describe the various lineups of Gong. Since Gong formed in 1967, Gong and the various offshoots of Gong have released thirty-four studio albums. Of these albums, three standout from the crowd, the Radio Gnome Trilogy. The last instalment in the Radio Gnome Trilogy was You, which was released in 1974. It was the recently released by Charly, and concludes what was a groundbreaking trio of albums. No wonder. Gong were a pioneering group, featuring musical mavericks and innovators. Their story begins in France, in 1967,
That’s when The Franco-British band were founded 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.
Since then, Gong’s lineup is best described as fluid. Around thirty musicians have come and gone. 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.
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 to Jerome Laperrousaz movie about motor cycling, Continental Circus.
For the recording of Continental Circus, Gong returned to France. Continental Circus was the soundtrack to Jérôme Laperrousaz’s film about motor cycle racing. By the time Gong arrived in France, things were much calmer. It was a different country to one the one that Gong had been forced to flee from.
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 sessions took place at the Château d’Hérouville in France. There, Gong recorded the four tracks that became Continental Circus. One of then, What Do You Want? was familiar to anyone who had bought Camembert Electrique. It seemed to have been “inspired” by Fohat Digs Holes in Space. However, once recording of Continental Circus was complete, and Gong returned home. they were a very different band. Sadly, the release of Continental Circus was delayed. However, at least Continental Circus soundtrack kickstarted Gong’s nascent career. Record labels started to take an interest in Gone.
They were signed to Jean Karakos’ newly formed BYG label, on a multi-album deal. Their first album for BYG was Magick Brother. However, it would be a while before Continental Circus wars released.
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. It’s now regarded as a cosmic rock classic, that marked the debut of the pothead pixies (PhP). They made their debut on Gong’s trailblazing, genre-melting sophomore album Camembert Electrique. As debut albums go, Gong had released one of the most groundbreaking. Now somewhat belatedly, Continental Circus was released.
Continental Circus was released in April 1972, and was the soundtrack to Jérôme Laperrousaz’s film about motor cycle racing. There was air of mystery about the album. No musicians were listed on the cover of Continental Circus. Instead, it was credited credited to Gong avec Daevid Allen. However, it was obvious that this was a Gong album.
Especially to the critics. Gong’s adventurous, innovative streak shawn through. On Continental Circus World, Gong combined dialogue and sound effects. To that they add looped snipped from the film. It plays throughout the track. This was just another example of Gong at their innovative best. They were determine to push musical boundaries. Despite this, reviews of Continental Circus were mixed. Some critics were won over by the music on Continental Circus. However, the music went over the head of other critics. They didn’t “get” Gong. That had been the case with Camembert Electrique. So what would they think of Flying Teapot, the first album in the Radio Gnome trilogy?
Flying Teapot marked the start of a trilogy of truly groundbreaking albums. Over a two year period, Gong released the Radio Gnome trilogy. These three albums would see Gong become part of musical history.
When work began on Flying Teapot, Gong were a very different band. Their lineup featured eight musicians, including guitarist Steve Hillage and Tim Blake. However, still, Daevid Allen penned most of the six tracks. He wrote two tracks and cowrote three other tracks. Gail Smyth cowrote Witch’s Song/I Am Your Pussy with Daevid Allen. Other members of Gong played a part in the songwriting process. Especially, Tim Blake. He wrote The Octave Doctors And The Crystal Machine and cowrote Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell with Daevid Allen and Christian Tritsch. These songs became Flying Teapot.
Recording of Flying Teapot began in January 1973, at The Manor Studios, Oxford with producer Giorgio Gomelsky. The newly expanded lineup of Gong combined their combination traditional instruments, sound effects and tape machines effectively. The result was an album that would become part of Gong mythology.
When Flying Teapot was released on 25th May 1973, the album was hailed as one of the most ambitious, groundbreaking albums of 1973. Psychedelia, prog rock and space melted into one on Flying Teapot. It was a meeting of the sixties, seventies and 21st Century cosmic music. The album that had been inspired by Russell’s teapot would late become both a cosmic rock and prog rock classic.
Having released one of most ambitious albums of 1973, Gong returned back to the studio almost straight away. This time, Gong headed France, in August 1973, where they used the Manor Mobile at Pavillon du Hay.
A total of fourteen songs were to be recorded. Many were just short, musical sketches, lasting a minute long. They had been penned by the various members of Gong. Just like previous Gong albums, Daevid Allen played an important role. He wrote two tracks and cowrote five other tracks. Other members of Gong were beginning to play a more important part of the songwriting process. Especially Steve Hillage, who wrote two tracks and cowrote two others. These songs came to life thanks to Gong and their myriad of instruments, effects and producer Giorgio Gomelsky. Once the fourteen songs were completed, they were mixed at The Manor, in Oxfordshire. Angel’s Egg was released as 1973 drew to a close.
Angel’s Egg was released on 7th December 1973. It wasn’t just the music that was groundbreaking. Gong decided that the album should come complete with a booklet introducing record buyers to the world of Gong. In the booklet, was a in-depth explanation of Gong mythology. The booklet was akin to a who’s who of Gong. It also included Angel’s Egg’s lysergic lyrics. Then there was the cast of characters and their backstory. Finally, there was an introduction to Gong speak. All this was wrapped in a gatefold sleeve. While this impressed record buyers, what the critics were interested in, was the music. How did Angel’s Egg compare to Flying Teapot?
Gong had set the bar high with Flying Teapot. However, Angel’s Egg, which introduced record buyers to Bloomdido Bad De Grass, Shakti Yoni, Sub. Capt. Hillage and Pierre de Strasbourg. These were the names that members of Gong adopted on Flying Teapot. Just like Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg was hailed as a genre classic by critics. They embraced Gong’s ability to push musical boundaries, and open the doors of perception with their fusion of psychedelia, prog rock and space rock. The second instalment in the Radio Gnome Trilogy was given the seal of approval by critics and released on 7th December 1973. Now the pressure was on Gong to complete the Radio Gnome Trilogy with a fitting followup to Flying Teapot and Angel’s Egg.
In the summer of 1974, Gong began work on the final instalment in the Radio Gnome Trilogy, You. It featured eight tracks that the members of Gong had written. Thoughts for Naught, A P.H.P.’s Advice, A Sprinkling of Clouds, Perfect Mystery and The Isle of Everywhere were written by Daevid Allen, Tim Blake, Steve Hillage, Mike Howlett, Didier Malherbe and Pierre Moerlen. Magick Mother Invocation, Master Builder and You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever were penned by Daevid Allen, Tim Blake, Miquette Giraudy, Steve Hillage, Mike Howlett, Didier Malherbe, Benoit Moerlen, Pierre Moerlen, and Gilli Smyth. The eight songs were recorded at The Manor Studios, in Oxfordshire.
That was where Gong began work on the recording of their fifth album You. The rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Pierre Moerlen, bassists Mike Howlett and guitarists Steve Hillage. They were joined by percussionists Mireille Bauer and Benoît Moerlen, while Didier Malherbe took charge of wind instruments and vocals. Tim Blake played Moog and EMS synthesisers and Mellowdrone and Miquette Giraudy added backing vocals. Founding members Daevid Allen added vocal guitar and Gilli Smith poems and space whispers. Bringing all this together, was new producer Simon Heyworth. Once the eight tracks on You were complete, the album was mixed.
Rather than mix You at one studio, two were used. Side one was mixed at Pye Studios, Marble Arch and side two at The Manor. Once You was complete, it was ready for release in October 1974.
Some critics felt Gong had kept the best until last. You was the third instalment in the Radio Gnome Trilogy. It found Gone at their most innovative and inventive. Genres were combined, and melted into one. Elements of psychedelia, prog rock, space rock, jazz, pop and rock shine through, as Gong deploy their unique and unmistakable combination of instruments and effects. This creates an album that’s totally unique and unmistakable.
After all, what album featured a gnomic narrative, where pothead pixies and octave doctors are introduced to flying teapots. Then there’s the journeyman Zero the Hero. They’re a figment of Gong’s collective fertile imagination. They come to life thanks to narrator and vocalist Daevid Allen and space whisperer Gilli Smyth. Along with the rest of Gong, they take the listener on a genre-jumping, lysergic journey. While each and every member plays a part in Gong’s Magnus Opus, two members of Gong stand out.
Guitarist Steve Hillage is at the heart of the action. Having settled into his role in Gong, he unleashes inventive, virtuoso performances. His barnstorming solo cut through arrangements. They prove the perfect accompaniment, and foil to Didier Malherbe. The French multi-instrumentalist drenches some of You’s arrangements with musical hailstorms. Steve and Didier stand shoulder to shoulder, as Gong record their finest hour.
Meanwhile, the rest of Gong combine drama, surrealism and urgency. Like much of the rock music released in 1974, there’s a sense of theatre. However, where Gong differ, is they’ve a sense of humour. They’re determined not to take themselves too seriously on You, third and final instalment in the Radio Gnome Trilogy.
Gong had kept the best of the Radio Gnome Trilogy until last. While Flying Teapot and Angel’s Egg were groundbreaking albums, Gong went one better on You. It featured Gong at their most ambitious, innovative and inventive. That’s why You is considered one of Gong’s finest albums. Fittingly, the three instalments in the Radio Gnome Trilogy, Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You have recently reissued by Charly. This trilogy features the musical mavericks as they transform a recording studio into a laboratory.
Just like with Flying Teapot and Angel’s Egg, the music on You was experimental. Much of the music was off the cuff. They used tape recorders that played backwards. Tape loops added bursts of laughter. Whispery and theatrical vocals were added. So were effects. These effects transformed the sound of the original instrument. When all this was brought together by producer Simon Heyworth, the result was a prog rock classic.
You however, features more than prog rock. As Gong make music with a smile on their face, they fused musical genres and influences. Elements of avant garde, cosmic rock, experimental, free jazz, pop, psychedelia and space rock. When this is combined, the result is music that unique and inimitable, and could only have been recorded by a group a group of musical mavericks like Gong. Their 1974 Magnus Opus You, is a fitting finale to the Radio Gnome Trilogy, which features Gong at their innovative and inventive best.