Daevid Allen’s Gong

MemoriesBanana Moon
White Neck BloozeBanana Moon
You Can't Kill MeCamembert Electrique
And You Tried So HardCamembert Electrique
Radio Gnome InvisibleFlying Teapot
Zero The Hero And The Witch's SpellFlying Teapot
Sold To The Highest BuddaAngel's Egg
Prostitute PoemAngel's Egg
A Sprinkling Of CloudsYou
Opium For The PeopleLive Floating Anarchy 1977

Gong photo 4
Gong (1971) back cover photo ‘Camembert Electrique’ by Phil Franks



Gong playlist



Contributor: Alan Haines

I was 14 when I was introduced to Gong by a friend who had a much greater grasp than me on what was happening in the musical world in the early 1970s. At that point I hadn’t got much further than David Bowie, Hawkwind and anything else I picked up on Thursday evening’s Top Of The Pops. I must admit Gong didn’t appeal instantly, but incessant plays of the Daevid Allen/Gong album Banana Moon (1971) made 1972 the year I broke out of the Radio 1 playlist. When I listen to this album now, 50 years on, I am instantly transported back to my mate Dave and his mum’s sitting room in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, where we would play chess, drink appalling white wine (I couldn’t complain, I didn’t buy it) and listen to King Crimson, Soft Machine, Van der Graaf Generator, Kevin Ayers, Pink Floyd and Gong.

Gong’s music has been termed as rock of a progressive, psychedelic, jazz, trip, space type. All very true, and often all of these things at the same time. Gong is of course well known for its role in the legendary Canterbury Scene and the subsequent Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy of albums. This trilogy captures an alternative universe as imagined by Daevid Allen and charts the adventures of arch hippie Zero the Hero in the land of the Pothead Pixies on Planet Gong. If that sounds weird, it was meant to be. Daevid Allen was an Australian avant-garde, eccentric poet who delighted in mocking normal social constraints and gently shocking people. There’s a story that he once walked around with a tin can on a string attached to his belt as a pet that clattered behind him. Although that was most likely just bloody annoying rather than shocking.

I will have to pick at least a couple of songs from Banana Moon to reflect that happy time in Chesham, notwithstanding the wine. And I’m in good company; apparently David Bowie was a huge fan of Banana Moon and included it on his list of favourite albums. So, I’ll kick off with the second track on the album, which is Memories, a song written by Hugh Hopper, a Soft Machine stalwart. He had initially associated with Daevid Allen through their sixties band, the Wilde Flowers. Memories is a slow, mournful song that plays to the strengths of Wyatt’s sad, melancholic delivery. The song has proved popular over the years with many artists covering it, even Whitney Houston in 1982.

Secondly, I’ll plump for White Neck Blooze on which Daevid Allen accurately spoofs the deep-seated vocals and lazy style of his former Soft Machine bandmate Kevin Ayers. I still think it is Kevin Ayers, but everything I read assures me it is Daevid Allen. Whatever the truth, the song could have been lifted straight from Bananamour, the 1973 Ayers album.


In October 1971, Gong released the album Camembert Electrique, their second studio album after Magick Brother (1970). Originally on the French BYG Actuel label, it was reissued in the UK on Virgin in 1974. Part of its appeal for me back then was that it was only 59p and so I was able to increase my album collection for less than half the normal outlay. As this was my first Gong album I played it to death, much to the annoyance of my parents who now thought David Bowie wasn’t so bad in comparison. The album featured Gilli Smyth (Daevid’s partner) on ‘space whisper’ which I thought was completely fantastic. The album featured a chaotic blend of songs that swirled and surged from the sax bursts of Bloomdido Bad de Grasse (Didier Malherbe), Daevid Allen’s guitar riffs, Pip Pyle’s driving rhythms and topped up with Gilli Smyth’s celestial vocals as her alter ego, Shakti Yoni. The whole album is worth a listen but for all of the above in one song focus on You Can’t Kill Me from side one of the LP. For a more accessible contrast try And You Tried So Hard.

In April 1972, the soundtrack to the French film Continental Circus was released with the music credited to ‘Gong avec Daevid Allen’. The film was about road racing on motorcycles, about as far from Allen’s image as you could get. I dutifully bought the album but have to admit it only got a few plays. It’s in almost mint condition!


It wasn’t until May 1973 that the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy kicked off with Flying Teapot, followed by Angel’s Egg (December 1973) and finishing with You (October 1974). This period saw Gong personnel come and go and return with increasing frequency, a feature of the band’s history. Crucially it saw the recruitment of Steve Hillage, who became a major figure in the Gong story. The cover of Flying Teapot prominently displayed a large green teapot flying through the sky piloted by a sharp-featured pothead pixie. The convoluted tale of Zero the Hero is less important than the astonishing sound that Gong achieve. They don’t sound like any other prog rock band of the 1970s, even if surreal stories of interplanetary travel and strange other-worldly creatures is often associated with some bands of the genre. It’s best to listen to the five and a half minutes long introduction to the album called Radio Gnome Invisible to get a sense of direction of what’s to follow, and the twelve minutes and thirty seconds of the title track Flying Teapot. What comes across so clearly is the enormous amount of fun the band must have had in playing this album. It’s full of short incidental interludes, flourishes and flicks that initially appear to jar on the ear, but somehow they are all just perfectly placed. For me the highlight of the album is Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell on side two that grows evermore anarchic as the song progresses but includes the softly sung section:

I could swear that I saw it up in the sky
On the eve but I never knew they could fly
It was green as an emerald in the blue
Now I’m wondering if it was really you

To return briefly to Dave’s mum’s sitting room in Chesham – this time in early 1974 – my ability to play chess and the quality of the wine had both improved. I had dropped in after school to find Dave and his friend Pete huddled over an LP. “You’re just in time,” I was told. “We’re unveiling a virgin.” It turned out that Virgin records had placed a sticker over the nude in the moon figure on the Angel’s Egg album cover that needed precision skills to remove. So that was alright then. The album didn’t have any long ten-minute plus tracks but a multitude of shorter songs that swiftly moved along the story of Zero the Hero. I always loved Sold To The Highest Budda (nice pun too) and Zero’s refrain:

Hang on to your head, hang on to your head,
Hang on to your head, hang on to your head
It’s a hassle you know to make rocket ships go to infinity
And I’m sick of God and these bishops that talk of divinity
Now my head’s feeling strange and my codpiece is starting to tremble
And that head in the sky there is starting to look like the devil

There are so many great moments on Angel’s Egg but I have to find room for the completely decadent and atmospheric Prostitute Poem with breathy vocals and French lyrics as sung by Gilli Smyth. Heady stuff for a 15-year-old back in 1973.

You sounds to me much more like a continuation of the Flying Teapot album and has a few lengthy, largely instrumental songs on it. I recommend that people listen to A Sprinkling Of Clouds, the final track on side one. It’s a mesmerising piece showing what great musicians the band members were, something frequently overlooked when their history is reviewed. As Steve Hillage once said: “Gong’s music oscillates from improvisatory passages to tightly arranged sections”. They were always in complete control, even if it didn’t sound or look like it!

After You the classic Gong line up disintegrated and the band carried on as a prog rock/jazz fusion outfit under the direction of Pierre Moerlen. Meanwhile, Daevid Allen pursued a solo career with Good Morning (1976), Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life (1977) and N’Existe Pas! (1979). In-between times, he created the band Planet Gong with Gilli Smyth and members of the Here & Now band. This formation produced a live album, Live Floating Anarchy 1977, and from this came an unlikely punk-like single called Opium For The People (with more than a nod to Karl Marx there).


There is a rich Daevid Allen and Gong story beyond this album which I hope someone else will pick up. I didn’t follow the band any longer after 1978 and I just enjoyed the music I had from them in the 1970s.

As a little bit of a PS though, I did see the latest incarnation of Gong at the Colchester Arts Centre on 5th March 2022. They were incredible and more than worthy of the Gong name. It was fantastic to be able to listen to their legendary music live once again.








Daevid Allen (1938-2015)

Gilli Smyth (1933-2016)


Gong official website

Planet Gong (news & info)

Gong Discography

Gong band members – full list with dates

Calyx (The Canterbury Music Website) – Gong pages

Gong onstage in a cathedral in Montserrat 1973 (YT)

Daevid Allen official website

Gilli Smyth official website

Didier Malherbe official website

Steve Hillage official website

Soft Machine official website

Gong biography (AllMusic)

Alan Haines is now retired and enjoying not going to work but doing things he wants instead, such as reading, listening to music, researching family history and walking the dog.

TopperPost #1,054


  1. Paul Connell
    Jan 11, 2023

    Great choices Alan. I may have gone for some slightly different ones – but as it’s your top 10 well done. This is a great introduction to anyone who doesn’t know Gong – and you are in for a treat if that’s you.
    I have seen the current version of the band twice, once just before then once just after lockdown, and they have been fantastic both times. Try and catch them if they are near you.

  2. Alan Haines
    Jan 15, 2023

    Thanks Paul, it’s funny how the top ten changes as you go through the albums and 12 becomes 13 and you wonder how you could possibly leave that or this track out. But that’s half the fun. And yes, the current Gong are well worth seeing, hopefully I’ll see them again.

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