Gilli Smyth, a co-founding member of the influential psychedelic and space-rock ensemble Gong, died Monday. Her son, Orlando Allen, reported the news on Facebook, saying she’d been battling pulmonary pneumonia. She was 83.
Smyth is credited with helping pioneer Gong’s unusual, atonal approach to vocals, which they described in the liner notes to their albums as “spacewhisper,” or as her website describes the singing style, “musical landscaping.” She developed this with another singer, Zizka Baum, in late 1967 and 1968 around when the group formed in Paris.
Smyth was born on June 1st, 1933 and grew up in a musical household. She received three degrees from London University’s Kings College, where she wrote political articles, edited the school magazine and participated in readings and musical and theatrical performances. She moved to Paris in the late Sixties and met Daevid Allen, with whom she formed the first Gong lineup; the couple would later have two children, including Orlando, according to Ultimate Classic Rock.
After a hiccup in 1968, when Smyth and Allen had to leave France because of a student revolution and subsequently performed with the Banana Moon Band, Gong re-formed in 1969. She remained in the group – sometimes performing under the name Shakti Yoni – through July 1974, after recording the group’s celebrated space-rock excursion You album.
She released a solo album, Mother, in 1978, after which she co-founded a new ensemble known as Mother Gong. The group played the main stage at Great Britain’s Glastonbury festival in 1979 and in 1981. She relocated to Australia in 1982 and assembled another Mother Gong lineup; at one point, the group opened up for Bob Dylan.
She reunited with the original Gong in 1994 and embarked on many tours with the group in subsequent years. Smyth also embraced techno music after learning that her voice had been sampled by some artists who failed to credit her, leading her to form her own projects, Goddess Trance and Goddess T. She simultaneously continued to tour with Gong, having made her last appearance with the group in 2012. Gong’s other co-founding member, Daevid Allen, died of cancer at age 77 in 2015.
“Her unique stage presence and vocals manifested and determinedly represented a vital, deeply fundamental feminine principle within the Gong universe,” the band wrote in a statement. “We will miss her. Love to the Good Witch and all who feel her loss.”