Daevid Allen (1938-2015)

daevid allen

Daevid Allen, the cosmic, spiritual leader of psychedelic jazz rock band Gong, sadly died on March 13, 2015 in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia. He was 77.

Diagnosed last year with skin cancer, he subsequently underwent radiation therapy and released a statement on February 5, 2015 writing that the cancer had returned to his neck and spread to his lungs, and that he was “not interested in endless surgical operations”.

Born on January 13, 1938 in Melbourne, Daevid was one of life’s colorful, eccentric characters, a free thinking hippie and musical genius. He was an Australian poet, guitarist, singer, composer and performance artist, as well as co-founder of psychedelic rock groups Soft Machine in 1966 and Gong in 1970. His music can be described as improvised, experimental, trippy, whimsical, psychedelic jazz, space rock with ambient landscapes and surreal fairytale lyrics that transport the listener to the fantasy world that he envisioned as the Planet Gong.

Daevid perfected the art of glissando guitar where the sustained sound glides from one pitch to another creating a spacey sound. He never lost his enthusiasm for the transcendent power of the psychedelic experience. He once remarked: “Psychedelia for me is a code for that profound spiritual experience where there is a direct link to the gods.” That he never attained the riches and fame of many of his contemporaries did not concern him.

In 1960, inspired by the Beat Generation writers he had discovered while working in a Melbourne bookshop, Allen travelled to Paris, where he stayed at the Beat Hotel, moving into a room recently vacated by Allen Ginsberg. In 1961 Allen traveled to England and rented a room at Lydden, near Dover in Kent, where he began to look for musicians to work with. After meeting up with William S. Burroughs, and inspired by philosophies of Sun Ra, he formed the free jazz outfit The Daevid Allen Trio (‘Daevid’ having been adopted as an affectation of David), which included his landlord’s son, 15-year-old Robert Wyatt. Together with Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge, they formed the band Soft Machine, the name having come from the Burroughs novel “The Soft Machine”.

Following a tour of Europe, Allen was refused re-entry to the UK because he had overstayed his visa on a prior visit. He returned to Paris where he took part in the 1968 Paris protests which swept the city. Fleeing the police, he made his way to Deya, Majorca, with his partner Gilli Smyth. Here they recorded Magick Brother/Mystic Sister in 1970, the first album under the name Gong. They were joined by flautist Didier Malherbe, whom they claim to have found living in a cave there. In the same year, Allen recorded and released his first solo album, Bananamoon.

1971 saw Gong release the classic Camembert Electrique and play at the second Glastonbury Festival. Forming their own anarchist hippie commune in rural France, in 1972 they were joined by keyboard player Tim Blake, guitarist Steve Hillage, bass player Mike Howlett and drummer Pierre Moerlen to record the Radio Gnome Trilogy – Flying Teapot, Angel’s Eggand You. The band signed with Virgin Records in 1973 (their label BYG Records went bankrupt during the making of Teapot), recording at Richard Branson’s Manor Studio.

At a gig in Cheltenham in 1975, Daevid refused to go on stage, claiming that a “wall of force” was preventing him, and left the band. His partner Gilli Smyth also left the band, she wanted to spend more time with her two children. Daevid went on to record three solo albums, Good Morning (1976) and Now Is the Happiest Time of Your Life (1977) and N’existe pas! (1979).
In May 1977, Allen performed and recorded as Planet Gong, and rejoined the early-70s version of the group for a one-off show at the Hippodrome, Paris, France.

After spending most of the eighties in his native Australia, Daevid returned to the UK in 1988 with a new project, The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, whose revolving cast included the likes of violinist Graham Clark and saxophonist Didier Malherbe, this morphed into Gongmaison in 1989. By 1991, the name Gong was again in use, with drummer Pip Pyle rejoining. The band released the album Shapeshifter in 1992 (subsequently dubbedRadio Gnome Part 4).

In 1994, Gong celebrated its 25th birthday in London, including a performance by most of the ‘classic’ line-up, including the returning Gilli Smyth, bassist Mike Howlett and for a while Pierre Moerlen. This formed the basis of the Gong which toured worldwide from 1996 to 2001 and released the album Zero to Infinity in 2000 (Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Mike Howlett and Didier Malherbe plus new recruits Theo Travis on sax and Chris Taylor on drums). In November 2006 a Gong Family Unconvention was held in Amsterdam, which included a reunion of many former Gong members from the early ’70s line-up.

The reunion I had been waiting for happened on June 14/15, 2008 when Gong re-united with Steve Hillage and played two sold out concerts in London, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank (opening Massive Attack’s Meltdown festival) and The Forum, Kentish Town.

The line-up included Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Steve Hillage, Miquette Giraudy, Mike Howlett, Chris Taylor and Theo Travis. The concerts were a huge success, with the band playing amazingly well and enjoying being back together. They released the brilliant album 2032 in 2009 and toured again, playing The Forum in November 2009 with a very rare live reunion of the Steve Hillage Band supporting.

One final tour with Steve Hillage took place in 2010, playing another fine show at The Forum London in September. Daevid’s final tour with Gong was in 2012 with dates including the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London on November 19, 2012. By this time,only Daevid and Gilli remained from the classic line-up.

On November 10, 2014, Gong released a well crafted and strong album entitled I See Youfeaturing a new line-up, including Dave Sturt on bass, and Fabio Golfetti on guitars. It was recorded and produced by his son, Orlando Monday Allen. Due to Daevid Allen’s illness and an extensive period of recuperation following radiation therapy, Gong toured Europe without him in the fall of 2014 in support of the new album.

On November 10, 2014, Gong released a well crafted and strong album entitled I See Youfeaturing a new line-up, including Dave Sturt on bass, and Fabio Golfetti on guitars. It was recorded and produced by his son, Orlando Monday Allen. Due to Daevid Allen’s illness and an extensive period of recuperation following radiation therapy, Gong toured Europe without him in the fall of 2014 in support of the new album.

Over the years Daevid worked on many other musical projects including leading the bands Planet Gong, Magic Brothers, University of Errors, releasing four albums, and the jazz rock band Brainville with Hugh Hopper from the Soft Machine. I was very lucky to witness a rare UK Brainville gig at the Borderline London on June 3, 2007. It was an excellent musical experience of improvised spacey jazz rock at its finest.

The last time I saw Daevid live was at a low key gig at a pub in Stockwell, London called The Grosvenor on April 21, 2013, where I was lucky to have a long chat with him about music and the meaning of life. Daevid was a friendly person and always had time to chat with fans. It was a very special experience, one that I will always cherish. The world needs unique characters like Daevid Allen to make life that bit more interesting.

Steven C. Gilbert

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