My brain’s being rearranged by Gong. It’s no bad thing.
The Radio Gnome trilogy (‘Flying Teapot’, ‘Angel’s Egg’ and ‘You’) is a trip of ridiculous dimensions involving a character called Zero Hero and pixies that fly around in teapots. I know, I know – stupid, right? But I applaud this kind of stupidity, which fits right in with the kind of prankster Illuminati conspiracy expounded by Robert Anton Wilson, as well as the UFO cartoon lunacy of George Clinton’s Parliament. Seeing the pseudonyms given to members of the band, I wonder of Clinton was listening (The Good Count Bloomdido Bad De Grass? Dingo Virgin & Hi T Moonweed the favourite?)
I think Daevid Allen was some kind of genius, regardless (or because of) whatever he was on when he created this stuff. It's all over the place in terms of influence – jazz and rock, yes, but what kind of rock is this? It’s rock in the way that Miles made jazz circa ‘Bitches Brew’.
Nothing settles for long in the ever-shifting universe of the flying pixies. Take the epic title track of the first album as it moves from spaced-out ambience to the chanted lyric, sax solo, funky bass, building intensity, wah-wah guitar, and piano that emerges before it skids to a halt to make way for odd vocalising and free drumming before one more blast.
There’s too much to talk about here without going on for pages.
The thing about all this, despite its absurd Lewis Carroll-on-LSD lyricism, is that ten minutes later you can think you’re listening to the Art Ensemble Of Chicago (‘Inner Temple’), or Chas & Dave as hippies on the sing-song ‘round the ol’ Joanna parody, ‘Givin’ My Love To You’.
On ‘Love Is How You Make It’ the song trips along in a fairly normal fashion about the power of love without impressing, but then at the 2min mark shifts gear to become a truly fantastic, marimba and funky drummer-driven thing.
How about the funky ‘space rock’ of ‘Isle Of Everywhere’ from the final album in the trilogy, ‘You’? Far Out, you would expect, but these (tea)pot heads have no right to be so funky too.
Gong have no right to be as good as this because I didn’t expect it and it’s rearranging my brain. At times they're Prog as I would expect, but what with everything else going on my bias against that is swept aside.
So there’s nothing ‘hip’ about Gong, you might say – maybe you’re right. Maybe the drugs I’m taking for this cold have opened my mind to the idea of pixies in teapots.
I’m not going crazy, honest. There really is a lot of am-a-a-a-zing music here. Just listen to the first part of ‘You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever’ and tell me you’re hearing a bunch of tired old hippies. Listen on, and I might agree, but listen further and something else will happen.
Mingus said jazz was the sound of surprise, well, this kind of cosmic jazz-rock is full of surprises, not least in the fact that I find it so enjoyable.