Gong – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Thursday November 8
Old age sits well with Daevid Allen, the 74-year old leader of Gong, who has steered his ever-fluctuating troupe of psychedelic space-rockers for most of its 43 years on Planet Earth. White-haired and twinkly-eyed, he cuts something of a hippy Gandalf figure these days; indeed, it’s hard to remember him any other way.
Gong were last heard of three years ago, when Allen reunited with guitarist Steve Hillage for 2032, the band’s strongest album since their 1970s glory days. Hillage has moved on since then, and a new line-up has been recruited, including Allen’s son Orlando on drums. Orlando’s mother Gilli Smyth, better known to Gong fans as Shakti Yoni, was also billed to appear, but illness sadly prevented the 79-year old poetess from adding her unique “space whisper” to the five-piece line-up.
Shorn of female energies, and also devoid of the floaty synthesiser burbles that helped to define their sound, the band headed in a more muscular, rock-based direction. But although this was a very different Gong from the incarnation that toured in 2009, the players did full justice to Allen’s back catalogue, performing two lengthy sets that took us on a journey through their celebrated Radio Gnome trilogy, interspersed with older and newer selections.
Tracks from Flying Teapot, the first part of the trilogy, dominated the first set, combining whimsical mythology with almost nursery rhyme-like chants and refrains. (“Banana, nirvana, mañana… “) Excerpts from the next episode, Angels Egg, closed the first set and opened the second, preparing the way for the epic, hypnotic intensity of Master Builder from the concluding chapter, You.
From there, we spun back in time to the classic Camembert Electrique album, then hopped forward to Gong’s 1977 punk-inspired single Opium For The People: rarely performed in recent years, and an utter treat to behold. This segued into the blistering mantra Dynamite, which mutated into calls to “free Bradley Manning, free Julian Assange, free information” – a reminder that Allen’s counter-cultural revolutionary spirit has remained undimmed by the passing of time. Cocking a cheerful snook at the 11pm curfew, the band concluded with You Can’t Kill Me, a defiant ode to survival that suggests that Allen fully intends to carry on space-rocking into his eighties, and well beyond.