Wise Old Men

Who remembers Catweazle? When Daevid Allen entered stage yesterday where his band Gong was already playing, he was clad in his skull covered suit, a long glittering cloak, and a pointed hat. I thought of Catweazle at first, that crazy sorcerer from the middle ages who time travelled into contemporary England by accident.


 
What on earth does this guy (who will turn 72 soon) do to be so obviously healthy, full of positive energy, and so much power and stamina at this age? he jumped and danced around on stage all night long, he played electric guitar and sang as energetically as ever, laughing often and having the time of his life. I looked into his old wise eyes from quite near the stage and found that there was a considerable amount of presence and charisma around him. Remarkable.


 
Gong and their guitarist Steve Hillage were heroes of my youth. Here’s a photograph of my table in a room in a Cambridge college where I spent a week or two back in 1975 to work on my English. The Camembert Electrique LP by Gong (“holy cheese!”) was one of the items that I bought there, completing my early Gong record collection that already contained the “Radio Gnome Invisible” trilogy – a mythology about a planet called Gong, inhabited by the peaceful and spiritually evolved Pot Head Pixies that visit Earth in their green flying teapots. (I learned yesterday that the flying teapot theme was inspired by an analogy by philosopher Bertrand Russell.)

I was delighted to finally see the reunion lineup of this band that has been together since 2006 – Mike Howlett was not with them yesterday but at least there were Gilli Smyth (still doing her psychedelic witch singing at 76, maybe more convincing than ever), Canterbury scene guitar hero Steve Hillage, and his longtime partner, synth wizard Miquette Giraudy, along with a wonderful backing band (drums, bass, and sax/flute – I knew none of them before but they were all technically outstanding).

The Steve Hillage band played as openers before Gong, warming us up with Hillage’s psychedelic old songs – even some of the complex pieces of his Fish Rising album. They played quite energetically, less playful than I remember them – “less bubbles” as Michael Frank commented. I liked them a lot. Where would I be as a guitar player if I hadn’t been inspired by his echo guitar and his ethereal screwdriver glissando technique? (The technique was invented by Syd Barrett but I learned it from Steve Hillage who also used it extensively.)

The Pot Head Pixies that visited Earth 35 years ago are still alive and more active than ever, it seems. I bought their new album “2032” yesterday. It says that 2032 will be the year when “the existence of Planet Gong will be officially recognized by astronomers on Earth and will signal the first public arrival of these space visitors”. Something to look forward to!