Progressive rock musician, guitar
Daevid Allen, the impetus for the success of the classic “Flying Teapot,” was never impressed with and was often daunted by stardom, though success with Soft Machine and Gong made celebrity something he had to confront. When Allen started out as a poet and musician in the 1950s in his native Melbourne, Australia, the scene was full of the energy that he needed. By 1958 when he discovered the legendary jazz artist Sun Ra, Allen’s course was drawn. The inspiration of Sun Ra and the entire mood he brought into the jazz world with his Myth Science Arkestra eventually gave birth to Allen’s pursuit with Gong.
According to an article in the Los Angles, Times in June of 1999, reporter Jon Matsumoto noted that “Gong’s main support base was always in Europe. The band initially kicked up its heels in Paris in 1970. The brainchild of Australian beatnik and ex-Soft Machine vocalistguitarist Daevid Allen, Gong was largely an experimental unit that mixed free-jazz improvisation with trippy psychedelic rock, folk and ambient electronic music.” But for a group and its creator whose names were not wellknown in the United States, Allen managed to survive both obscurity and stardom, still casting his spell with eccentric music for over 30 years.
Allen was born January 13, 1938, in Melbourne, Australia. He talked about his family and upbringing with Mitch Myers of Magnet in 1999. “I’m a third-generation Australian,” he explained. “My great-great-grandfather was brought out from England because he had a reputable wood-cabinet business. He was a drunken maniac and would burn up all his money and then go out and make some more and burn it up again. The family never recovered, and our motto has been, ‘Oh God! No money!’ We’re all very good at spending money, that’s for sure.” Though he seemingly came from an offbeat family, his father did try to steer him into a more normal way of life. When Allen was a teenager, his father placed him in a department store as a junior executive. It had a very particular effect on him, even if it was not the intended one. “All that did was show me that the whole commercial system is a complete illusion,” he told Myers. “My survival kit has always been to stay away from any big-business organization. If I received all the money that I’ve earned according to my contracts over the years, I’d be a millionaire instead of having no house and only half a car. People say, ‘Oh, you’re afraid of money.’ Wrong. I know exactly what I’m doing. Whenever fame comes too close, I vanish, sabotage, whatever. For this reason, I’m known in the business as a very bad bet, and this suits me fine.”
Allen went to England in the early 1960s where he rented a room in Canterbury. The teenage son of the homeowners, Robert Wyatt, would team with Allen a few years later to form Soft Machine. Until then, Allen moved to London where he, Wyatt, and Hugh Hopper started the Daevid Allen Trio, concentrating on free jazz. Few were impressed with the music they created. Though they lost their gigs, they started gaining notoriety. When Allen moved on to Paris shortly afterward, he met some of the famed characters that comprised the Beat movement, and whom writer Jack Kerouac made known through his writings, including the book that was considered the gospel for the some baby boomers, On the Road. In addition to poet Allen Ginsburg, Peter Orlovsky and Brion Gysin—all a part of the Greenwich Village and San Franscisco underground literary movement—William Burroughs had been living in the Beat Hotel. When Burroughs met Allen, he told him he was looking for a jazz band to play during his dramatization of his book called The Ticket That Exploded. Burroughs hired Allen, and the performance happened. According to Allen, “We put on the show and there was the weirdest collection of people in the audience…. Terry Riley [considered one of the “founding fathers” of modern minimalism] came, and we ended up playing together outside in the street with motorscooter motors, electric guitar and poetry. It was wild,” Allen told Myers.
In 1964, Allen met Gilli Smyth, his life partner for many years who eventually joined him in Gong as a vocalist. In 1966, after Allen experienced a mystical vision that
Born on January 13, 1938 in Melbourne, Australia.
Founder, vocalist, and guitarist of groups including Soft Machine (1966-67), Gong (1967-75, 1991-), Planet Gong (1977), New York Gong (1979-80), Gong Maison (1988-91), Magick Brothers (1992-), and the University of Errors (1999-); also recorded several solo albums including Banana Moon, 1971; Now is The Happiest Time of Your Life, 1977; N’Existe Pas, 1979; Divided Alien Playbax, 1981; Alien in New York, 1983; Stop/Don’t (with David Tolley), 1986; Australia Aquaria, 1990; Dreaming a Dream, 1996; and Money Doesn’t Make It (as Daevid Allen’s University of Errors), 1999; has published several books.
Addresses: Record company —InnerSpace Records, P.O. Box 411241, San Francisco, CA 94141-1241. Website —http://www.gong-gas/GAShome.html.
mapped out his life in detail—including his future musical pursuits—he formed Soft Machine with Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, and Mike Ratledge. Allen was part of the group for about a year, after which time Gong became his focus. When Gong was formed in 1969, the group lived communally while they made their music. Eventually they moved on to rural England, still living in the same arrangement. “Living communally was very important,” Didier Malherbe, Gong saxophonist-flutist, told Matsumoto. “That creates ties on a composition level. It makes things very interesting, obviously. We don’t live communally anymore. I live in Paris with my wife. But when we come back with Gong, those ties are still very vivid and lively, and it’s a pleasure.”
When Gong dissolved in 1980 after a slow dissipation of its momentum, the group still had not realized mainstream success. The breakup process had been gradual, and the group went out with little noise. Allen left for Majorca in 1976 and joined a local acoustic band, Euterpe, on an album called Good Morning. He followed with some solo albums, including About Time, capturing an influence of the newly-emerging punk movement in music. Smyth had left Gong and Allen in 1978 to form her own performance with “Mothergong,” which she said represented the feminine side of Gong. In 1981 Allen made it home in time to see his father in Australia before he died. That same year he dropped out of professional music and drove a cab until 1989.
Though not actively creating music, Allen’s fans followed him in a cult-like adulation that helped to prompt his return. By 1990, he went on to new projects using the Gong name recognition with Planet Gong and New York Gong. In 1992 the group came together for an official reunion and released Shapeshifter, the first studio album they had done in 14 years. In celebration of their 25th anniversary in 1995, they released an album recorded live at their London Forum concert. For Allen, Gong was as much a spiritual journey as a musical group. “Gong has this supernatural quality for me,” he told Myers. “I’ve had this communication from somewhere else that’s been giving me instructions. The instructions say that in the year 2032, there will be a bunch of people from the Planet Gong dimension appearing on [Earth’s] physical plane. One thing about Gong is that there’s a great deal of playfulness. Usually, with spiritual things, everyone is very solemn, but the whole point about Gong is that we maintain this aura of silliness to get rid of the people who are too serious. However, Planet Gong does exist and they run on the laws of music. Everything they do derives from notes, intervals, scales and octaves. It’s very real for me because every day I meditate for hours, and during that period they connect with me and tell me what to do.”
Gong original members, Allen, Smyth, Malherbe and bassist Mike Howlett have been joined by newcomers: Chris Taylor on drums and guitarist Mark Hewins. As with Allen and his University of Errors, the others have continued to pursue music outside of Gong, yet they have continued to tour together. Many changes throughout the years have been a part of the group’s “karma,” Malherbe explained. Allen has also been involved in other Gong incarnations including Gong Maison in the late 1980s and Magick Brothers in the early 1990s.
By 1999 Allen and rock archivist and musician Billy James, also known as “Art-Bee,” became friends. Allen’s work has been the inspiration for James on his own album, Electronic Church Muzik. Also in 1999, Allen continued to make news among his select fans in a small Berkeley, California, club known as Starry Plough. With his “University of Errors,” a group of San Francisco Bay area musicians who also go by the name of “Mushroom,” Allen continues to build on his past vision. His musical legacy has been described as “psychedelic” by those wound into his unique brand of exploration. The group’s drummer Patrick O’Hearn told Myerthat, “The thing about Daevid is that he brings out the best in his musicians, and he also lets us play whatever the hell we want.”
Whatever else may happen with Gong, Allen remains clear about his own motivation. “For me, the most important thing is the spirit and the spark,” he told Myer. “I’m trying to do something unusual, but the actual spirit of what’s happening is consistent. From beginning to end, there’s that silver line of Gong’s spirit that I represent. It remains unchanging, but the clothes do change. I’m all for respecting the inner being rather than getting hung up on the clothes.”
Like his master inspiration, Sun Ra, Allen has stayed open to his dream with little regard to what outside forces or audiences would try to do to influence him. His scope pierces deeper and deeper into the essence of a truth he has seen very clearly. He told Jason Rubin in a 1991 interview, as quoted in Contemporary Musicians, volume 24, explaining the Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy, “There was the first level, which was the playful silliness and just having fun. But it is also the code both for a political manifesto and a spiritual teaching. But what is interesting is that while the story that we told originally appears to be just talking about little green men with pointed hats, every single thing in the Planet Gong mythology has a deeper meaning for those who want to peel away the layers and get to the chocolate center.”
Banana Moon, BYG/Virgin, 1971.
Good Morning, (w/Euterpe), Virgin, 1976.
Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life, Affinity/Charly, 1977.
N’existe Pas! Charly, 1979.
Divided Alien Playbax 80, Charly, 1981.
The Death of Rock and Other Entrances, (EP), Shanghai, 1982.
Alien in New York, Charly, (EP), 1983.
Stop/Don’t (w/David Tolley) Shanghai, 1986; Demi-Monde, 1990.
The Australian Years, Voiceprint, 1990.
Stroking the Tail of the Bird (w/Harry Williamson, Gilli Smyth), AMP, 1990.
Australia Aquaria/She, Demi-Monde, 1990.
Seven Drones, Voiceprint, 1991.
Live at the Witchwood 1991 (w/the Magick Brothers) Voiceprint, 1992.
Who’s Afraid? (w/Kramer) Shimmy Disc, 1992.
Twelve Selves, Voiceprint, 1993.
Je Ne Fum’ Pas Des Bananes (w/Banana Moon Band, Gong) KZL/Legend, 1993.
Voiceprint Radio Session, Voiceprint, 1994.
Daevid Allen Trio: Live 1963, Voiceprint, 1994.
Hit Men (w/Kramer), Shimmy Disc, 1995.
Dreaming a Dream, GAS, 1996.
Eat Me Baby, I’m a Jelly Bean, GAS, 1999.
22 Meanings (w/Harry Williamson), Gliss, 1999.
The Children’s Crusade, (as Brainville) Shimmy Disc, 1999.
Money Doesn’t Make It (as Daevid Allen’s University of Errors), Innerspace, 1999.
Allen, Daevid, If Words Were Birds, Outposts Publicaations, 1964.
Allen, Daevid, Gong Dreaming part 1, Gong Appreciation Society, 1995.
Allen, Daevid, Gong Dreaming part 2, Gong Appreciation Society, 1996.
Allen, Daevid, A Pocket Introduction To The Planet Gong, Byg, 1971.
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 24, Gale Research, 1998.
Cutler, Chris, File Under Popular, Autonomedia, 1994.
Joynson, Vernon, Tapestry of Delights: The Comprehensive Guide to British Music of the Beat, R&B, Psychedelic, and Progressive Eras, 1963-1976, Borderline Productions, 1996.
King, Michael, Wrong Movements: A Robert Wyatt History, S.A.F., 1994.
Miller, Bill, Listening To The Future: The Time of Progressive Rock 1968-1978, Open Court, 1998.
Smyth, Gillian, The Nitrogen Dreams of A Wide Girl, Outposts Publicaations, 1966.
Thompson, Dave, Space Daze: The History and Mystery of Electronic Ambient Space Rock, Cleopatra, 1996.
Woodstra, Chris, editor, The All Music Guide to Rock, Miller-Freeman, 1995.
Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1999.
New York Times, Sept. 4, 1998; Sept. 8, 1998.
Village Voice, New York, Sept. 22, 1998.
“Daevid Allen, “http://www.alpes-net.fr/~bigband/musicians/daevidallen.html (April 2000).”
“Daevid Allen” NetBeat, http://www.netbeat.com/artists/daevid_allen_467.html (April 2000).
“Daevid Allen,” Spaceboy Music, http://www.spaceboymusic.com (April 2000).”
“Daevid Allen discography,” CDDB, http://www.cddb.com (April 2000).
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