Pot Head Pixies. The Good Witch Yoni. Zero the Hero. Good luck decoding a narrative from Gong’s concept works of the early 70s.
Instead, simply applaud the sheer invention of Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You – the fabulously bizarre albums that constitute the Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy. Landing at a time when glam had lost its glitter and the music scene was awash with lumpen denim-rock, these records were a reminder that the 60s ideal was, in some quarters, still very much alive. Gong offered a glowing alternative to the dour cynicism of Three-Day Week Britain, spreading sci-fi cheer and gnomic utterances everywhere.
Issued by Virgin in the early summer of ’73, Flying Teapot detailed leader Daevid Allen’s absurdist vision of an anti-hero who seeks out a bunch of little green men from the Planet Gong in the quest for spiritual enlightenment. It’s an often delirious work that operates at the nebulous interface of free jazz, prog and avant-rock. This is how The Goons might have sounded had they decided to make pop music: it’s akin to a hallucinogenic trip of fractured rhythms, lyrical space-babble and time signatures that refuse to behave.
The 60s ideal was very much alive in Three-Day Week Britain.
By the follow-up, Angel’s Egg, released in December that year, Gong had fully assimilated new members Steve Hillage (guitar) and Tim Blake (synth). Both make their presence felt, most keenly on Hillage’s enervating I Never Glid Before (featuring a stupefying solo) and Blake’s co-write with Allen, Other Side Of The Sky, which sounds like a transmission from a rogue pulsar. There’s even the odd concession to a conventional rock song – sort of – in the form of Oily Way.
In 1974 You found Allen becoming increasingly ostracised by the band he founded in 1967, the others now favouring open-ended space jams over bonkers rock. That’s not to say it’s any less enjoyable, particularly the epic rumble of Master Builder (later recast by solo Hillage as The Glorious Om Riff) and nine-minute odyssey A Sprinkling Of Clouds.
The release of You, coupled with the success of Virgin’s budget-priced reissue of Camembert Electrique – for a princely 59p – meant that Gong enjoyed a popularity spike in 1974. Allen, alas, was already looking for the exit, and eventually he quit during a gig in Cheltenham the following year.
This sumptuous package, stuffed with rare photos, full-colour booklet and facsimiles of original sleeve notes, is rounded off with an extra disc of rarities, among them 1970’s French-only debut single, Est-Ce Que Je Suis? Allen may no longer be with us, but the digressive joys of the green planet are still there for the taking.