Daevid Allen, a founding member of the influential jazz outfit Soft Machine and the driving force behind the prog-rock group Gong, died on Friday following a battle with cancer. He was 77. “Daevid passed peacefully in Australia today, Friday 13th at 1.05pm, surrounded by his boys,” a message posted on the Planet Gong site read. “Everything has stopped here in a house of tears. Tears first, celebration later.”
“It is with great sadness that we report the passing away of the great Daevid Allen, for many years the leading light in the anarchic collective Gong. Daevid lost his long battle with cancer, and the world is a little less sunlit as a result,” a spokesperson for Allen said in a statement. “Although Daevid Allen’s death at the age of seventy-seven is a sad loss, his lasting legacy – an unapologetic desire to live, explore, entertain and inform through his remarkable body of work, outside of the world of the everyday – will live on.”
Allen was forthcoming in his cancer battle, telling fans in February that he only had six months to live and to begin “starting the process of letting go of me, of mourning then transforming and celebrating this death coming up” after a round of tests revealed that, despite a surgery that removed much of the cancer, the disease had spread. Rather than undergo more surgeries, Allen gracefully resigned himself to his fate.
“I am not interested in endless surgical operations and in fact it has come as a relief to know that the end is in sight,” Allen wrote on the Planet Gong page. “I am a great believer in ‘The Will of the Way Things Are’ and I also believe that the time has come to stop resisting and denying and to surrender to the way it is. I can only hope that during this journey, I have somehow contributed to the happiness in the lives of a few other fellow humans.”
Born in Australia, Allen migrated to Europe in the Sixties after being influenced by the Beat movement. The guitarist, along with drummer Robert Wyatt and bassist Hugh Hopper, formed the free-jazz Daevid Allen Trio, which got its start providing the score for staged interpretations of William S. Burroughs’ The Ticket That Exploded. Burroughs’ The Soft Machine would also inspire Allen to name his next project Soft Machine, which in its first of many incarnations featured Allen, Wyatt, bassist Kevin Ayers and organist Mike Rutledge.
After forming Soft Machine in 1966, the band recorded one single — “Love Makes Sweet Music” backed by “Feelin’ Reelin’ Squeelin'” — before embarking on a much-hyped tour of Europe, including a string of breakout appearances in Paris. However, upon returning to the U.K., the Australian Allen was denied entry back into the country due to visa problems, forcing the guitarist’s departure from the outfit he founded. In 1968, without Allen, Soft Machine would hit the road as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s opening act.
Having relocated to Paris, Allen formed the progressive rock band Gong in 1967 alongside singer Gilli Smyth. The group released their first album Magick Brother in 1970. Three years later, Gong recorded their most famous work, the three-LP mythology-building Radio Gnome trilogy, comprising the albums Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and 1974’s You. The following year, Allen would leave Gong and become a solo artist, releasing a string of albums throughout the Seventies and Eighties.
Gong would see a revolving door of members throughout the decades, leading to a handful of spin-off groups like New York Gong and Mother Gong. Allen rejoined the original incarnation in 1991 and remained a near-constant present with the act until his illness slowed him down in 2014. Allen’s son Orlando, who became Gong’s drummer in the early half of the 2000s, said of his father’s passing in a Facebook post (via the Guardian), “The gong vibration will forever sound and its vibration will always lift and enhance. You have left such a beautiful legacy.”