I've been getting increasingly excited about seeing Steve Hillage reunited with Gong, currently on tour and playing tonight at the O2, Oxford. There's a new album, 2032 (2012 heads take note - here is your get-out), overseen by Hillage with his trademark guitar but in the last few weeks I've been pretty much listening to nothing but the classic Gong albums: Camembert Electric, and the Flying Teapot triology.
It's hard to overestimate the influence Gong have had on me. I first heard them at school when a group of sixth formers performed an avant-garde dance piece to 'Flying Teapot.' I was immediately gripped, not by the dancing which was as toe-curling as it sounds, but by the music. The strangest thing I'd heard, at once it evoked a spiritual yearning and a Dionysian terror, the illicit thrill of dissolution. Yet to encounter anything more mind-altering than cheap bottles of cider, Gong were genuinely psychedelic - they blew my mind.
I've read that they never made any appreciable impact in America, their blend of Eastern scales, jazz-inflected rock and spiritual-dadaism proving baffling across the pond. Why sing about the spiritual quest, only to lampoon it at the same time? But it was exactly this mix, of serious (almost militant) hippy philosophising (Bertrand Russell's flying teapot filled with a heady brew of mysticism and theosophy), together with a trickster's refusal to take anything too seriously that I found so appealing.
Take this, from You's 'A PHP's advice':
'If you're a believer, what do you believe? Why do you believe it? Doncha ever wonder if it's really true?' Pretty much my mission statement.
Add to this, Hillage's heaven-bound glissando guitar, Didier Malherbe's gnomic sax and flute solos, Tim Blake's VCS3 warblings, Gilli Smyth's space whisper, and Daevid Allen's impish invocations and you have the perfect infusion. Allen is now in his 70s but I hear that Gong not only still cut it, but knock the stuffing out of bands half their age.
I shall be up the front, praising the Pot Head Pixies, sliding and gliding down the Oily Way and doing my damnedest to Blow my Trip forever.