Gong - Love From Planet Gong

Gong – Love From Planet Gong: The Virgin Years 1973 -1975

Released as part of this alternative rock band and musical institution’s 50th anniversary, Universal/Virgin send us this large box of enticing shiny things from Planet Gong, approaching us in a descending orbit around our burning planet. It’s landed over there somewhere, and is emitting psychedelic afterburn. Let’s go see what the fuss is about…

Curated by Steve Hillage and with the involvement of the other surviving members of this wilfully unique collective, the compilation of this box is a bit odd in that it excludes the album that was every British schoolboy’s (and girls, but mostly boys I’ve no doubt) introduction to the band, and the album that broke them in the UK, the marvellous Camembert Electrique, one of those bargain Virgin LPs released in 1973 for the price of a single. It remains my favourite Gong album, and it is a real shame it is not here. The original version of Camembert… was on the French label BYG Actuel, so that’s probably the reason for its non-inclusion. In its place we get the Shamal album, an odd choice, as for all in tents and porpoises it’s a different band, Daevid Allen and crew having left, and the following two albums, also on Virgin, are not here either. If they couldn’t include Camembert… then the box would have felt more thematically complete if it had simply concentrated on the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy and the attendant live releases.

Those live albums, all eight of them, and all mixed by Gong veteran Mike Howlett are what attracts the casual fan, and the many fabulous live renderings of classic era Gong faves are far too many to go into here. Suffice to say, if the version of I’ve Bin Stone Before/Mr. Longshanks/Oh Mother from Hyde Park 1974 doesn’t put a smile on your face, give yerself a slap. However the Gong loony may simply shrug in an affected Gallic fashion, as I believe some if not all of these live albums have been previously available elsewhere, legally and otherwise, although I’d bet the sound quality on these editions is a vast improvement. The real draw for the rabid Pothead Pixie is the previously unreleased Pye and Westlake quad remix of the You album, here converted to 5.1 surround sound. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what that sounds like as the review downloads do not include it. Ho-hum…

The studio albums are all remastered by original engineer Simon Heyworth, and they sound great. This includes a first CD release for the original masters of Flying Teapot and Shamal. Another plus is that the touring band still included a lot of Camembert… in the earlier sets of this time, documented on the aforementioned live albums, which goes some way to quelling the annoyance factor of the studio album’s absence.

All the studio albums here have bonus tracks, some previously unreleased, but on my first trawl through this massive sound library, I simply stuck to the integrity of the original album tracks. If you know anything about Gong, then you will probably know all the Radio Gnome trilogy albums, so I won’t bore you with reviews of these, other than to say Flying Teapot is as annoyingly twee as it ever was, but the other two somehow seem more substantial than I remember them. Back in the day I always found Gong a bit hard to listen to, as, in a similar fashion to Zappa, the comedy, or in Gong’s case, hippy-fried larking about seemed to me to be an intrusion rather than an addition to some fabulous music, although never on the scale of Zappa’s painful and far too frequent scatological interruptions. Being too young at the time, I never got to see classic Gong in a live setting, then the penny might have dropped, but those early prejudices are hard to shake off!

Being very much of their time, or so I thought, I had not sat through these three LPs in many years. With the benefit of hindsight, Angel’s Egg is something of a space-prog masterpiece, and even the daft hippy filter through which the otherwise serious subject matter of Gilli Smyth’s Prostitute Poem is viewed, and Daevid’s similarly frozen in time and in character stoned pixie musings are bearable within the psychotropic conceptual shenanigans. Angel’s Egg is also the first album with a full contribution by Steve Hillage as he arrived too late during the recording of Flying Teapot to make a significant difference. The four tracks Flute Salad/Oily Way/Outer Temple/Inner Temple, along with Hillage’s I Never Glid Before remain the sonic calling card for the band to this day. I am reminded how insipid, not to mention truncated, the studio versions are in comparison to some belting live escapades, both those included within this box, and played live by the modern version of the band, the latter witnessed with my own ears.

I find You also, and surprisingly, similarly engaging, but by this time it could well be that all these sound waves from Planet Gong have prodded my long dormant stoner synapses into, or come to think of it, out of a stoned reverie. Master Builder is another signpost on the Gong road that needs to be heard, and at shuddering volume, of course. The Great Om Riff will conquer all! I have to admit that by the time of the 10-minute plus noodling drift of The Isle Of Everywhere my stamina is struggling, then rescued by the good sax blowin’ of Didier Malherbe, and Hillage’s best fret-mangling on the album. The live version on that aforementioned 1974 Hyde Park album stomps all over it, showcasing Pierre Moerlen’s* fabulous drum skills as well as Hillage’s searing and soaring guitar work.

[*A side note – Pierre Moerlen left and re-joined the band so many times around that time I can’t work out who was on the drum stool for this gig! Also, the gig is listed as “28th June 1974”, but all external references point to it actually being on 29th June, just to confuse my research further. Gong were never straightforward!]

Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, as they later came to be known, turned in some rather fine jazz fusion on Shamal, which is actually a very good album, although stylistically miles apart from the pothead pixie trilogy. Produced by Nick Mason, it’s a shame the Floyd skin basher never brought some of his fusion influences – see his Fictitious Sports for further evidence – to bear on his day job.

Another draw is the 64-page hardback book in a slipcase, and a 32-page self-assemble lyric sheet (err… wot?). All this includes hitherto unseen art by Daevid Allen. The hardback book I can tell you nowt about, but I have the lyric book in pdf format, and I’d imagine the large scale printed version looks fabulous.

Priced at a minimum of £95 on pre-order, this looks like a great set if you have never heard any classic era Gong before, and have too much spare cash (or a willing partner who will buy it for you for Xmas), and admittedly the artwork is marvellous, and the 5.1 DVD might well be fab too, but like all of the growing mountain of nostalgia boxes, it would probably get played once all the way through and then gather dust on a shelf. I think I will stick with the original albums. I still play Camembert… more than any of the others anyway.

Addendum – It seems that the four studio albums are also being released as two-CD versions, with the second CD being a live gig. For those of less resources, buying your favourite of those seems to be the more sensible solution.

CD 1 – Flying Teapot

01. Radio Gnome Invisible
02. Flying Teapot
03. The Pothead Pixies
04. The Octave Doctors And The Crystal Machine
05. Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell
06. Witches Song / I Am Your Pussy
07. Radio Gnome Invisible – Rough Mix
08. Radio Gnome Premix – Story Narration
09. Flying Teapot – Mix 21
10. The Pothead Pixies – Second To Last Mix
11. Flying Teapot – Rough Mix

CD 2 – Angel’s Egg
01. Other Side Of The Sky
02. Sold To The Highest Buddha
03. Castle In The Clouds
04. Prostitute Poem
05. Givin’ My Luv To You
06. Selene
07. Flute Salad
08. Oily Way
09. Outer Temple
10. Inner Temple
11. Percolations
12. Love Is How Y Make It
13. I Never Glid Before
14. Eat That Phone Book Coda
15. Other Side Of The Sky
16. Ooby-Scooby Doomsday Or The D-Day DJ’s Got The D.D.T. Blues
17. Love Is How Y Make It
18. Eat That Phone Book Coda

CD 3 – You
01. Thoughts For Naught
02. A P.H.P.’s Advice
03. Magick Mother Invocation
04. Master Builder
05. A Sprinkling Of Clouds
06. Perfect Mystery
07. The Isle Of Everywhere
08. You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever
09. A P.H.P.’s Advice
10. Where Have All The Flowers Gone

CD 4 – Shamal
01. Wingful Of Eyes
02. Chandra
03. Bambooji
04. Cat In Clark’s Shoes
05. Mandrake
06. Shamal
07. Bambooji
08. Chandra
09. Wingful Of Eyes

CD 5 – BBC Radio 1 Sessions And Edinburgh Live
01. You Can’t Kill Me
02. Radio Gnome Direct Broadcast
03. Other Side Of The Sky
04. Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell
05. Flute Salad
06. Oily Way
07. Outer Temple
08. Inner Temple
09. Castle In The Clouds
10. 6/8 Tune
11. Radio Gnome Invisible
12. Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell
13. Flying Teapot

CD 6 – Paris Bataclan Live, 20th May 1973, Pt.1
01. Other Side Of The Sky
02. Dynamite / I Am Your Animal
03. 6/8 Tune
04. I Never Glid Before
05. Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell
06. Ooby-Scooby Doomsday Or The D-Day DJ’s Got The D.D.T. Blues
07. Est-ce Que Je Suis?
08. I’ve Bin Stone Before
09. Mr Longshanks / Oh Mother
10. I Am Your Fantasy
11. You Can’t Kill Me

CD 7 – Paris Bataclan Live, 20th May 1973, Pt.2
01. Flute Salad
02. Oily Way
03. Outer Temple
04. Flying Teapot
05. Dynamite
06. You Can’t Kill Me
07. I Never Glid Before

CD 8 – Roanne – Club Arc En Ciel Live, 17th Aug 1973, Pt.1
01. Other Side Of The Sky
02. Dynamite / I Am Your Animal
03. 6/8 Tune
04. I Never Glid Before
05. Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell
06. I Am Your Pussy

CD 9 / Roanne – Club Arc En Ciel Live, 17th Aug 1973, Pt.2
01. I Am Your Pussy
02. You Can’t Kill Me
03. Ooby-Scooby Doomsday Or The D-Day DJ’s Got The D.D.T. Blues
04. Flute Salad
05. Oily Way
06. Outer Temple
07. Inner Temple
08. Radio Gnome Invisible

CD 10 – London – Hyde Park Live, 28th June 1974
01. A Sprinkling Of Clouds
02. I Never Glid Before
03. I’ve Bin Stone Before
04. Mr Longshanks / Oh Mother
05. The Isle Of Everywhere
06. I Am Your Fantasy
07. Master Builder

CD 11 – London – The Marquee Club Live, 9th & 10th Sept 1975, Pt.1
01. Aftaglid
02. Flute Salad
03. Oily Way
04. 6/8 Tune
05. Solar Musick Suite
06. Bambooji

CD 12 – London – The Marquee Club Live, 9th & 10th Sept 1975, Pt.2
01. Bambooji
02. The Isle Of Everywhere
03. Wingful Of Eyes
04. The Salmon Song
05. Master Builder
06. Drum Solo
07. Flying Teapot
08. I Never Glid Before

DVD – You Quad Surround Sound
01. Thoughts For Naught
02. A P.H.P.’s Advice
03. Magick Mother Invocation
04. Master Builder
05. A Sprinkling Of Clouds
06. Thoughts For Naught
07. A P.H.P.’s Advice
08. Magick Mother Invocation
09. Master Builder
10. A Sprinkling Of Clouds
11. Perfect Mystery
12. The Isle Of Everywhere
13. You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever

Total Time – Time, like borders, is a restriction invented by men, to keep us in line… maaan. 🙂

Daevid Allen – Vocals, Guitar, Glissando Guitar
Gilli Smyth – Space Whisper
Tim Blake – Synthesizer, Vocals
Didier Malherbe – Saxes, Flute
Steve Hillage – Guitar
Christian Tritsch – Guitar
Francis Moze – Bass Guitar, Piano
Laurie Allan – Drums
Rachid Houari – Congas
Mike Howlett – Bass Guitar
Pierre Moerlen – Drums, Vibes, Marimba
Mirelle Bauer – Glockenspiel
Miquette Giraudy – Vocals
Benoit Moerlen – Percussion
Patrice Lemoine – Organ, Piano, Synthesiser

~ Might be a few I’ve overlooked!

Record Label: UMC – Virgin
Date of Release: 27th September 2019

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