A little more than one year since the departure of her partner Daevid Allen, the “Queen of the Space Whisper” Gilli Smyth has passed away after a long illness.
It all started around 1967 when the Australian psychedelic hippie pied-piper and Soft Machine member Daevid Allen, blocked in France due to some Visa issues, met in Paris the King’s College graduate, poetess, writer and performer Gilli Smyth to spontaneously form the early incarnation of that unique extraordinary musical and cultural saga called Gong.
Gifted with a vivid imagination they merged elements of psychedelia, progressive and jazz-rock experimentation always with their typical ‘freaky’ wit and sense of humor. Between 1970-74, after they had signed to Virgin and gradually joined forces with flaustist/saxophonist Didier Malherbe, guitarist Steve Hillage and drummer Pierre Moerlen, the band produced a run of legendary albums as ‘Camembert Electrique‘ and the ‘Radio Gnome Invisible’ trilogy starting to build the Gong cosmic mythology and imaginary.
Gilli was the ‘good witch’ Shakti Yoni with her infamous personal atonal ‘space whispers’, a way of singing and vocalizing whispered and filtered by echo effects designed by her.
In July 1974, after ‘You’, she left Gong in order to follow her multi-dimentional individual inspirations, but always in close connections with the other members of the band, starting with their first solo album ‘Mother’ in 1978. The same year she formed the Mother Gong and played at Glastonbury Festival, then she emigrated to Australia in 1982 where she released a dozen of LPs with a different line-up and toured the world tirelessly.
Steve Hillage said: ‘Once you join the band Gong, you never leave!’ .
The live performances with members of the Gong family and sporadic reunion continued well into the 21st century with their peaks at The Gong Family Unconventional Gathering in Amsterdam in 2006 (more than 1200 people just for them!) and at the Meltdown Festival, curated by Massive Attack, in 2008.
A cosmic feminist , a counter-culture activist, a poetess (‘Nitrogen Dreams’,1966), a political anti-capitalistic writer (‘Politico-Historico-Spirito’ 1994), a unique singer/songwriter and above all a real woman. In the words of the band:‘her unique stage presence and vocals manifested and determinedly represented a vital, deeply fundamental feminine principle within the Gong universe’.
I have fond and vivid memories of the unforgettable Gong’s 25th Birthday Party gig at the London’s Garage in 1994.
In the early 90’s England there was a sense of unity and collaboration between the techno-trance-electronic community (Eat Static, Banco De Gaia, Planet Dog Records, Tribal Gathering Festival), the Anti-Nazi-League movement gigs by bands like Senser, The Levellers and Back To The Planet and the old/new freak groups like Gong, Hawkwind, Here & Now, Full Moon and Ozric Tentacles. Gilli herself was intrigued, as Steve Hillage with his System 7 project, by techno music, leading her to start the psy-trance/ambient group Goddess Trance/Goddess T with his life partner Daevid Allen and their son Orlando.
I still have clear in my eyes that sense of communion, freedom and happiness, a state of mind that only the music brings, where everything seems possible and ‘all is one’: ravers, hippies, indies, crusties, all dancing with the smile in their face and the band jumping and joking like teenagers.
I still have a big ‘flying teapot’ badge I bought that day attached to my bag…
Good bye Gilli, hope to meet you in another galaxy.