October 22nd, 2005
Assembly Rooms, Glastonbury, England
A couple of months ago a 'GONG UNCONVENTIONAL GATHERING '05' was announced.
This was originally going to be a collection of the various ex members of GONG's current bands (for example Steve Hillages techno dance act - 'System 7' and a Tim Blake solo performance) playing to a maximum 200 ticket holders. But then things started to mushroom. A new headline act was announced - something called 'UN-CON JAM'. And then the rumours started spreading the net.... With so many ex members there.....
To me GONG are just as important in the world of 'Progressive Rock' as any of your Genesis , Yes, Pink Floyds etc.
They have a unique sound, a 'spiritual' space- jazz-rock frenzy rarely copied (although Ozrics Tenticles are an example) and never surpassed.
They were a band I personally discovered at the age of around 16 (a year after the original line up broke up) and have been a constant fan ever since. But of course, no matter how many times I have seen different version of GONG throughout the years, my constant regret is that I never saw Hillage with Gong (for a 'Prog' equivalent read Gabriel with Genesis).
So this was the crux of this trip, nay, 'pilgrimage'. Because the promise was that UN-CON Jam would see Steve Hillage performing with Gong for the first time in 30 years!!
Steve is one of my all time guitar heros - but the trouble is for the past twenty odd years he seems to have abandoned its use to concentrate and in fact in many ways invent the 'Trance' 'Techno' 'dance culture' that swept the UK in the last decade. Financially I am sure he has made a lot of money in that field but in my mind this has been the biggest waste of talent in the history of progressive music ever. Hillage , like Zappa, Hendrix, Gilmour, is one of the few truly unique innovators of Rock guitar, having an unmistakable sound totally of his own invention.
I don't know exactly what happened but it appears that as Hillage was getting fame as a 'guitar hero' something happened that made him deliberately take a right turn from fame and hide himself first behind studio production work then later behind a keyboard and DJ booth.
But this weekend was going to be different!
To cut a long story short, after a full weekend of GONG 'family' bands (including Hillages 'System 7' and a nice Tim Blake solo set (including Hawkwinds Spirit of the Age and being joined later by Hillage for a couple of ambient Keyboard / guitar pieces)), at 11.30 pm on Saturday night the following people took to the stage, collectively as GONG, for the first time in 30 odd years:
They played for about one and three quarter hours, opening with a powerful improvised ambient jam which led into the moment we had all been waiting for - Gongs Masterbuilder. To hear Hillage play that magnificent riff again was pure magic. Although the band was very loud, at the moment the number finished I swear that the foundations of the venue shook with the applause , screams and cries of 'release' from the audience!
Many of us had been waiting most of our music life to be 'one' with this moment.. And that can only happen and be understood if you have ever been wrapped up in the unique musical cult that is GONG. They are the only band on the planet where the audience, "the fellow traveller's" as the band terms them, are just as much a part of the performance as the musicians themselves as they unlock the gates and take your mind body and soul, for an hour or two, to a different world - All you have to do is drop your barriers and open up to it. ( And before youy think it - I have been into this band way before I discovered any stronger stimulant than orange juice ;-) )
I have seen GONG play tighter and better, I would have liked to have seen Hillage play more lead guitar rather than 'gliss' in the set, the set wasn't anywhere near long enough, but for pure emotion atmosphere, excitement and energy this was one of the best musical experiences of my life.
But there was another highlight to the evening. After all the emotion of getting together for this 'secret gig' Mike Howlett announced that there are plans next year to do a final curtain call - the official final GONG farewell. This will be held over three days next November 3-5th in the Melkweg in Amsterdam. Every associated 'family' member of GONG throughout the last four decades will be invited to perform - so this could see performances by Soft Machine - Hatfield and The North - National Health etc etc climaxing in the final GONG performance ever.
Daevid Allen wasn't there on Saturday as he is currently in ill health at home in Australia, original drummer Pierre Moerlen died last year so I think sadly what has brought this planned 'final farewell' on more than anything, is that for many GONG members (now in their late 60's) its now or never...
Anyway I certainly will be there!
NOTE: after reading this review the band has assured that the Full Moon weekend in Amsterdam 'officially' WON'T be the final ever Gong date (but who can tell)
A Spinkling of Clouds
The Isle of Everywhere
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