Daevid Allen - Biography

Poet, trickster, shaman, imp, faerie, author, hipster, Krautrocker, hippie, muse, beatnik, provocateur, prog-rocker, protopunk, magician, pothead, acidhead, headhead, gnome: Daevid Allen has been all of it and more, in a sprawling, kaleidoscopic array of bands, collaborative efforts, collectives, performance-art troops, and hazy, gauzy, pixie-dust bafflements. He ran around with William Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Byron Gysin and the like at Paris’s notorious Beat Hotel; he, with the equally legendary Robert Wyatt, co-founded the band Soft Machine, arguably the greatest prog-rock ensembles of the 1960s (take that, Pink Floyd); he descended to Earth from mythical Planet Gong to save us miserable Earthlings from ourselves. He has, quite possibly, inhaled. He owns the international franchise on Weird, and evidently has no intention of relinquishing it, in this lifetime, or the next. Daevid Allen is the Little Green Man of rock ‘n’ roll, and he’s got a message for the humans: Please mind your fobs and pocket watches. The spaceship departs on schedule.

Allen was born in 1938, in Melbourne, Australia. Working in a bookshop wasn’t enough; in 1960 he took a pilgrimage to the notorious Beat Hotel in Paris, where he genuflected before his literary idols, and struck up friendships with the likes of minimalist composer Terry Riley. Soon, Allen was providing musical accompaniment to performance pieces by William S. Burroughs and performing in an eponymous free-jazz trio. Apres France, Canterbury, that city synonymous with peculiar, Middle Earth-style folk and prog. He let a flat; Robert Wyatt lived downstairs. Wyatt was only 16 when the two started Soft Machine. Then it was back to France, a run-in with the law, then the Mediterranean, Majorca, and the formation of Gong. The first Gong album, Magick Brother, Mystic Sister (1969 BYG Actuel), remains a bewildering froth of giggles, titters, studio tomfoolery, abject hippie strum, amateurish arrangements, outer-space imagery, twee vocalizing and psychedelic shmush.

Allen really nailed it on his next album, Camembert Electrique (1969 BYG Actuel). There are seemingly infinite permutations of Gong, and vast constellations of recordings, but Camembert Electrique is the one on which Daevid Allen’s reputation hinges. This is an absolute classic of progressive-rock insanity, and it’s easily as inventive (read: psychotic) as anything by more popular acts like King Crimson. It has a harder edge than its predecessor; it stutters between jazz, rock, space-folk languidness, and bizarre, Krautrock thump. A recently formed label called Virgin Records promptly snatched up Camembert Electrique, and re-released it in 1973 as a budget item, a route that had worked with considerable success a year earlier with Faust. Allen then released a series of solo albums, starting with the stellar Banana Moon (1971 BYG Actuel), which featured Robert Wyatt on drums and Spooky Tooth’s Gary “Dream Weaver” Wright on keys.

The deal with Virgin launched a series of fabulous albums, dubbed the “Radio Gnome Trilogy”: Flying Teapot (1973 Virgin), Angel’s Egg (1973 Virgin), and You (1974 Virgin). This is where Daevid Allen defined the self-contained Gong Mythos, a nutty amalgamation of creation fable, Lovecraftian backstory, and space-opera fantasy. He then set aside the Gong moniker for a series of solo albums, including Good Morning (1976 Virgin), Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life (1977 Virgin), and N'existe pas! (1979 Virgin). In the 1980s, Allen’s activities blossomed exponentially, as various Gong-related offshoots spread like mold. Allen worked with Bill Laswell; he initiated groups including Opera Company of Tibet, University of Errors, Brainville 3, Spirits Burning, and Magic Brothers; he moved back to Australia and started jamming with the dudes from Japan’s Acid Mothers Temple (a really good fit, actually). Daevid Allen continues to broadcast strange transmissions from inscrutable permutations of Universe Gong, and seems determined to be the Last Hippie Standing — albeit on happily stoned, unsteady feet.

Steve Earle and the Dukes
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