My first live encounter with Daevid Allen — a founding guitarist of the British band Soft Machine and the singer-guru of Anglo-French-galactic dada-rock institution Gong — was his New York debut: in October, 1978, when Allen headlined a marathon festival of progressive rock, free-improvising and No Wave bands, the Zu Concert at the Entermedia Theater, across the street from the former Fillmore East. Allen’s latest versions of Gong – Mother Gong with his vocalist-partner Gilli Smyth and New York Gong, combining musicians from Britain’s Henry Cow and local explorers Material — didn’t get on stage until after midnight, then played past 3 a.m. When the theater’s management pulled the plug and the law arrived to close the house, Allen persevered, leading his troupe in an unplugged drum circle and singalong. It was as if Allen had dropped a druid service at Stonehenge in the middle of 2nd Avenue.
Allen, who died on March 13th at 77 of cancer, was a tireless and expert conjuror who passed through major cultural uprisings of the Sixties and Seventies — the Beat Generation, the rise of British acid culture, the Paris student riots of 1968, progressive rock, primal electronica and punk – and, in turn, passed his delight and revelations into an irrepressibly ecstatic, futurist rock that he played until the end of his life. Allen was a member of Soft Machine only long enough to play on their early demos and first single, 1966’s “Love Makes Sweet Music.” But he was furiously prolific on record, right away, with Gong, constructing a giddy mythology of pixies, space-kettle travel and spiritual healing across an early-Seventies series of LPs that peaked with the 1973-74 trilogy, Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You. Allen’s parade of collaborators in Gong and beyond, across more than four decades, included guitarist Steve Hillage, jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, New York producer Kramer, Japanese heavy-psych collective Acid Mothers Temple and Allen’s drummer-son Orlando, who played on Daevid’s last Gong album, 2014’s I See You.
What follows is just a dip into Allen’s trip, a lifelong pursuit of the ultimate highs — literate surrealism, playful storytelling and collective elevation. Radio Gnome is forever on the air.