Some slightly scatological words and pics from Alan Dearling (with Thom the World Poet)
Gong Appreciation Society (GAS): https://www.planetgong.co.uk/
(If you are interested in buying this 64 pp book and 4 x CDs – you can view a video of Harry Williamson receiving his copy – Do try and buy from GAS, not through the usual suspects online – and it may be a lot cheaper!)
This book with its cartoon strip, words, lyrics, photos and much much more, is a ‘collectors’ item’.
The Gong ‘family’ and Planet has always been a complex and peculiar one to engage with. You might even say ‘Gong’ is something that you ‘live in’ or ‘inhabit’. Conceptual and mind-bending. It’s certainly habit-forming. Daevid Allen was definitely the founder member, the original patriarch. But Gilli Smyth fulfilled the role as ‘Mother Gong’, but in fact the two founders of Mother Gong, were Gilli with her 1979 partner, Harry Williamson, complemented by an ever shape-shifting group of musicians and poet friends from France, Australia and Deia in the Balearics. Before ‘Robot Woman’ they had already recorded and released ‘Fairy Tales’ as Mother Gong – a poetic journey in story-telling and music.
Here’s a link to Wassilissa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tclO7t1O1EE
Earlier in 1976, Harry had also collaborated with Gilli, Nik Turner, Sting and friends as the Radio Actors on ‘Nuclear Waste/Digital Love’. All proceeds went to the Ecological Party which later became the Green Party. To my mind, that was perhaps the birthplace of Mother Gong. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9Z00hKM8nY
The new Mother Gong collection brings together the three ‘Robot Woman’ albums on CD for the first time plus a fourth CD of out-takes, oddities and dub mixes chosen by Harry. Indeed, Harry Williamson son of Tarka author, Henry, is the curator of the entire package with some able help especially from Gong aficionado, Rick Chafin in 2017 from Kansas City. It’s a predictably odd experience. A bit like going to a Musical Circus. All life is here, Human, Alien and Artificial Intelligence. It’s a mad mix of story-telling, science fiction, theatre, and some fine musicianship. It’s all over the shop, uneven, a slippery jello ‘concept’ to try and clutch hold of.
All things Gong are most definitely Wyrd and Wunderful. And the Witchy Gilli with partner Harry take the lyrics and music into a diverse range of curious musical genres overlaid with poetic images of ‘robots for your personal use’! There’s myriads of machine music, beatific melodies, layer upon layer of sounds, rhythms, static, noise, intergalactic symphonies with additional space whispers! Folk whimsy melding with Artificial Intelligence. Here’s a wee sample of the title track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fx4XSuoFj74
But, after a listen to the whole of the 4 albums, it is the themes of ‘identity’ and the ‘roles’ women are forced to play, that resonate. A lot of ideas about Machines and Artificial Intelligence. Plus the dangers posed by Humans, fascism, capitalism and greed, ravaging organic Earth/Mother Earth. A glimpse of ‘Things to Come’! Super Hero, Gilli, is Beta the Robot Woman. She has transmogrified and feminised the mantle originally worn by Daevid’s Zero the Hero. From CD3, ‘It’s you and me baby”:
Beta: “I’m not your mother and your lover
I’m not your doll or your moll”
Chorus: “Don’t have to be a womanly woman or a manly man”
It’s quite a challenge to describe the indescribable! It all starts with a circus ‘barker’, in Frank Zappa early-Mothers of Invention style, telling us to… “Roll-up, Roll-up, Welcome to the Disco at the End of the World…Big laughs, cheap thrills with the robot girls…
With everyday problems like…
How to stop your robot wife from thinking for herself and wrecking your automated house.”
It’s a bumpy ride. A sardonic and sometimes bitter travail with Man as the subjugating force and Woman as the potential Saviour. Harry Williamson writes of the Mother Gong during 1979-81 period:
“We were a living mix of Electric Cool Aid and Blade Runner.” To which Rick Chafin adds:
“About the only prediction from ‘Robot Woman’ that hasn’t been realised yet is the comforting fact that ‘They’ are not charging for air.”
Yet! Or, maybe they are, in a time when clean air is at a premium.
There’s also a lot of mayhem, love and hopefulness. Musical styles chop and change. Hippy Whimsy and Joy even. Science Fantasy. From the ‘Moving Walkway on CD2:
“Take your place on the moving walkway, please
We are happy to present an overview of the Astral Realms.”
And barbed critiques of Capitalist Society, as in ‘The Surreal Crazy Town’ served up to a carnivalesque-circus beat:
“The fat cats on fur mats
Electric clocks on Bowler hats
People frown in crazy town, crazy town is burning.”
Here’s another sample from CD2, ‘Machine Song/The Sea’:
“Any robot showing signs of self-motivation must be erased immediately.”
Rock, prog, electronica, poetry. Improvisation: Especially on what I would call the Australian album, Robot Woman 3. I’m biased though. I have lived in Australia a few times with Mook and Shanto, the Nimbin Silly Symphony (Bee Bop, Brenda, Paul, John, Peter, Julie Butterfly, Lisa, Souza and Bruce), I’ve visited Daevid in his coastal retreat, shared poetic visions with Thom the World Poet, the Nimbin AllStars, Liz and Kim and many of the Terania protestors were my friends and acquaintances – poets and musos all, including Daevid Allen. Indeed they are part of my life too – so many tracks on this CD sound familiar and familial, because they are! Here’s one of Mook’s cartoon’s from ‘way back then’ in Nimbin Hippy Central! (He was Bee-Bop at that time, but composed music as Brendan Hanley).
Lots to make one smile too on Robot Woman 4. ‘Evidance’ the instrumental that kicks off the album is Pied Piper music – fairy tale jazz-folk sounds leading us in Medieval dance, featuring Didier Malherbe and Jan Emeric. Robot Woman 4 also reminds us that Mother Gong was an amorphous group of creative beings. Lots of members of the extended Gong dynasty. So many great musicians in addition to Gilli, Harry and their children, especially Orlando, including Guy Evans; Steve Hillage; Nik Turner; Mike Howlett; Didier Malherbe; Dave Cranenburg and Robert Calvert. There were many more…(and apologies to those I’ve missed…)
It’s all Certifiably Bonkers, of course!
And as Thom intones in ‘War is Over – Armageddon – Wassillissa Flute’:
“Step right up for your Personal Holocaust!”
My friend, Thom the World Poet, was a contributor to both Mother Gong and Gong. He has just told me, and now us, (from his somewhat errant, but always illuminating, Gong-memory):
“Robot Woman features the poetry of Gilli Smyth, accompanied by Harry Williamson and Rob Calvert. Mother Gong was a poetry and music buffet that performed in Australia and England, and toured America in 1991.The materials on Robot Woman were also on LIVING ON THE BRINK and MOTHER GONG LIVE 1991.Gilli used SPACE WHISPER to maximum effect, and personified a ROBOT WOMAN who rebels against the housewife /slavery stereotype. I had worked with Gilli and Harry at LIVING ROOM THEATER in Richmond, CAFE YARTZ in High St Northcote and Carringbush Library for the LION &THE BUTTERFLY readings.
We had also worked with Harry and sometimes Daevid Allen on PEOPLE IN PERFORMANCE on 3CR Community Radio – sometimes Midnight to Dawn. And there was CAFE JAMMIN in Middle Park,close to where they lived in St Kilda – this venue was started by Daevid and became a base for Nimbin poets and musicians touring. I mention these venues, as the material on ROBOT WOMAN was honed and sharpened at spaces like this. Harry continues his excellent sound engineering projects, and the 4 CD set is his wondrous work. The theme is timely – the performances catchy – the results for your eyes and ears astounding-ENJOY!
Loved these people Alan – they were great influences and good exemplars of harmonic futures-adding visions, dreams, laughter, goodwill, community and joy in every moment – THANK YOU for letting more people know of their Light!”
Thom in full-life-force-flow: ‘Call Yourself Poets’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkCRrAfcI5E