Gong on life after Daevid Allen
The idiosyncratic vision of Daevid Allen defined Gong for almost half a century. Now a whole new group are continuing as Gong with Allen’s blessing – and some pretty weighty expectations…
Kavus Torabi is addressing the somewhat incredible situation that he and his bandmates in Gong find themselves in. “You really have to not think about it because otherwise you become too reverential,” he says. “We’re going to have to do this our way.”
Gong fans will be familiar with what this situation is, but for those who aren’t, it’s quite a story. Over the past few years, Gong have been undergoing something of a musical renaissance, with leader Daevid Allen assembling a new line-up of the band, including Brazilian guitarist Fabio Golfetti (from Violeta de Outono) and bassist Dave Sturt (whose credits include Jade Warrior and Bill Nelson). In 2014, Allen recruited Torabi as an additional guitarist, despite having never heard the Knifeworld, Guapo and ex-Cardiacs man actually play.
But only a few months later, Allen announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer and would be unable to fulfil the world tour booked to promote I See You, the album they had just recorded. Reluctantly, but with Allen’s full encouragement, the rest of the band agreed to do the shows without their leader. And to their surprise, a new chemistry developed within the Allen-less Gong.
“Each night, we sent Daevid recordings or links to YouTube footage and from his sick bed in Australia, he wrote gushing praise about what had happened to the band and how this was exactly what he had hoped,” explains Torabi. “By the end of the tour, and with the full blessing of Daevid, we decided to carry on.”
Allen had clearly been planning his legacy carefully, and had every intention that Gong should live on without him. “For the last few years, he was always talking about a continuation; he was always looking for a new direction,” says Sturt.
We’re not one of those bands where you’ve got one original member and a load of young dudes playing the old material.
Allen died in March 2015, but the people he had entrusted with taking Gong forward had been well chosen, with each member strongly identifying with the ethos of the band, as well as its unique sound. Sturt was attracted to the “craziness mixed with musical complexity”, while for Golfetti, it was hearing Gong in his teens that made him want to be a musician in the first place. Torabi was another teenage Gong obsessive. “When I first heard Flying Teapot, it was everything I’d been looking for,” he says.
Gong’s outsider, countercultural stance was also hugely important to Torabi. “Absolutely,” he confirms. “It’s only when you start meeting bands that you realise how few actually think that way.”
“It’s never conformed, which is probably why it’s never made any money,” comments Sturt, with characteristic dry wit.
Gong’s decision to continue without either its founder or any original members isn’t without precedent – Golfetti cites the Sun Ra Arkestra, and Torabi mentions Napalm Death – but what’s different is their commitment to strike out on their own terms, respecting the band’s heritage but determined to take it somewhere new.
“We were all fairly sceptical,” says Torabi about the thought of Gong continuing. “But we’re not one of those bands where you’ve got one original member and a load of young dudes playing the old material. It’s kind of a brand new band, but with this blueprint to draw from and create stuff in the style of. It’s more like a political party… one that’s getting more extreme!”