G-WAVE RECORDS / ORCHARD 5th November 2021
Not only is The Melkweg one of the best venues in Europe (where else can you get coffee and apple pie at two in the morning) but this reunion was really special for all sorts of reasons. Recorded in 2006, this was the first time this line-up of Gong had shared a stage since 1975. Add to that the chemical enhancements available in Amsterdam for the audience, this will have been a mind-melter. Originally released on DVD only, a re-release on CD is very welcome for more regular listening.
A much-loved British institution; Gong are a prog band that doesn’t take itself seriously and the best known songs feature pot-head pixies, cups of tea and flying teapots. Founded by Daevid Allen, an impish sparkle pervades the band’s output and his dress sense for performances was more flamboyant than Rick Wakeman, reflecting his self-appointed position as court jester to the hippies. This was part of his deep dedication to psychedelia as a means of personal transformation; “Psychedelia for me is a code for that profound spiritual experience where there is a direct link to the gods.” The band was never all about him though, and he wasn’t even in the band for some time (after an invisible forcefield prevented him from taking the stage one night). Gong still exists, currently as a four-piece with none of the original members and is going strong. The personalities in this classic line up were strong, as was the commitment to the group-mind. Sorbonne professor, Gilli Smyth, co-wrote many of the classics and adopted many archetypal female personas as part of spreading cosmic awareness. Steve Hillage has legendary guitar status and his contributions are the essence of progressive rock. Mike Howlett’s bouncy bass plays a large part in keeping things moving. Flute, sax and vaguely Middle-eastern sounds form a signature sound and come from long-time member Didier Malherbe. It was a nine-piece band and the sound varies from busy to spacy.
Songs are drawn from a mere six classic albums, all from some time ago but complete crowd-pleasers and representing the core essence of the band, from which other aspects flowed. As you’d expect, the classic line-up nails the spirit of the songs and the love radiating from the crowd will have been part of that. There are spacey talky bits of hippy nonsense and great big music jams, all figure-headed by the irrepressible enthusiasm of Daevid Allen and the high-priestess invocations of Gilli Smyth. Sadly neither Gilli or Daevid are with us any more but this shows them in full flow, even later in life (he was in his mid-sixties and she in her mid-seventies here). The two and a quarter hour show doesn’t drag, thanks to the song selection and the twist, turns and immersive feel capture the band in a format that lends itself to repeat listening
Whether you come for the wonderfully hippy songs or the jamming, intricate, multi-patterned music, this slice of history is a perfect essence of Gong, better than any compilation you might find.