This has been a rough winter for fans of the cosmos. First Edgar Froese. Then Spock (supposedly actor Leonard Nimoy, but facts are unclear as to whether Spock is real or not) and now Daevid Allen. Although Daevid is the least well known of the three, he made a fairly large imprint on the minds of impressionable space rock aficionados across the planet as he wove his magic from the late 60’s up to the current decade. Six decades by my reckoning.
This month (March) had brought the sad news from the Gong camp that Daevid Allen was not doing well health-wise. He had made the decision to quit all radical chemo and radiation therapies and let nature take its course. Although this should not have been that surprising (he was born in 1938), Daevid Allen has been such a constant in many people’s lives that they were taken completely unaware. Because for my whole life of following bands and collecting records, Daevid Allen was always there, lurking in the background. The elusive Flying Teapot trilogy was legendary in the late 70’s, and nearly impossible to find in record stores. I remember getting Angel’s Egg in an import store in Boston when my parents refused to help me shell out the nearly 20 bucks a Japanese copy of Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan commanded. (It was released within two months to the US market at a much more sensible six dollar price point). But with Flying Teapot already in the collection, Angel’s Egg upped the weirdness quotient exponentially, if that is even possible. How to describe the mythological weirdness that floats around Gong? A coterie of green pointy headed aliens with propellers on their heads, known as Pot Head Pixies, fly from their home planet, Gong, to visit Earth. From here the story gets a little murky. The pixies come to earth in flying teapots from across the galaxy to offer earthlings tea. Said tea will promote wisdom, peace, enlightenment and mischief. They broadcast to us via a cross galaxy station known as Radio Gnome. The healing vibes of Planet Gong….uhhh…..well Daevid was not quite clear about this part. But you get the idea perhaps. Drugs clearly are a big part of this. Gong as a band were inveterate stoners, and LSD was sprinkled in liberally to tighten up the recipe. Pot Head Pixies, from Flying Teapot is a paen to their drug of choice:
David started his bohemian existence in Australia in the late 1950’s, the beatnik era. (Daevid was considerably older than his contemporaries). Stints in Paris and London in the early sixties led him to a musical pathway. Along this path he left no turn unstoned, and spread his burgeoning mythical vibes. He hooked up with William Burroughs to do soundtracks to live plays, lifting the band name ‘Soft Machine’ from a Burroughs novel. These free jazz experiments and lifestyle lay the foundations for some incredible moments: Allen overstaying a visa meant he was unable to return to the UK after Soft Machine’s first Europe tour, and was bounced from the band. (the other famous early member of Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, chose to quit the band to hang out on the beaches of Spain and soak up sun, champagne, drugs and bang rich and bored European heiresses) David shifted to Paris in time for the commune revolts that spread in the spring of 1968 and nearly toppled the government. Now a borderline revolutionary, Daevid was getting close to being persona non grata in two of the largest European countries. It was in France that the seeds of Gong were planted. Gilli Smyth came on board as muse and space whisperer. Daevid perfected his glissando guitar techniques that he used until his dying day: sliding a metal bar over guitar strings yielding an astral sound of the galaxies and beyond. This was a sound that was integral to Gong’s whole ethos-bubbling synthesizers from Tim Blake, echoing leads piercing the sky from Steve Hillage, and an underpinning of galactic gravy gliss from Daevid to hold it all together. Gong famously sprinted from France to England to perform at the 1971 Glastonbury Fayre Festival. Their side long contribution-Glad Stoned Buried Fielding Flash and Fresh Fest Footprint in My Memory-is a classic of space rock and an indelible part of the hippy culture of England in the early 70’s.
Gong was signed to Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin label in 1972 in the wake of the massive success of debut labelmate Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Their communal lifestyle and music drew druggies to them like moths to a flame. Much like the Grateful Dead had Americans follow them everywhere while imbibing improbable amounts of psychedelics, and Hawkwind had a likewise following in the UK, Gong drew in the French hippies en masse. Concerts were like tribal family gatherings, and the line between band and fan was not always clear. Success bred insanity, break ups, reunions, line up shifts and a colorful tapestry of alternative living, with an undercurrent of ‘better living through chemistry”. Three albums later, Daevid quit Gong while onstage. During the 1975 tour for the third album of the Teapot trilogy, You, he was watching a jam from offstage waiting for his cue to return. But the vibes were not right. He said “I felt a wall, invisible but real, form while I stood side stage. I decided to leave through the stage door, and walk out into the night, still dressed in my psychedelic stage costume. I left Gong forever that night” Solo Daevid Allen albums became more pastoral and gentle as he honed his philosophy. Woodland critters and gentle streams and breezes informed his new work.Then a punky phase from New York. Then a stint with Here and Now, one of the only Gong influenced bands on the planet (Ozric Tentacles would be the other one) He continued to be prolific throughout the nineties and millenium. I met Daevid several times in the nineties, once at a solo show where gliss guitar filled the air, and once at a full blown Gong reunion show in Boston. A white haired wizard, he had not lost a step in wits or in cosmic attunement.
In retrospect, Daevid Allen was a unique synthesis of talents. A mystic, a mime, a musician, an artist, a visionary. Only Vivian Stanshall and his work in the Bonzo Dog Band is a close reference point. Job descriptions blurred as Daevid took the stage. Performance art, rock, cosmic experiences, theater, jazz–it all blurred into one glorious experience, with Daevid as the psychedelic mastermind. From his busking daze in Australia to proto agit prop firebrand in France to elder statesman of space rock, Daevid carved a genuinely low key and delightfully positive path through the world. Would that were more folks like that in the rock world. I am sure Daevid would agree. If you point your antennae to the stars and can locate an obscure alien transmission known as Radio Gnome, you might just get an answer. The teapot taxi will not be visiting any more. But I will still be pointing my dish towards the galaxy, hoping to pick up a transmission. “You are I and I am you”.