For all the classic recordings that Gong produced over the numerous decades of their existence, the Radio Gnome Trilogy remained their magnum opus. Based on a vision that lead singer/guitarist Daevid Allen had experienced during a full moon while living in Deià, Mallorca, and correlating loosely with Buddhist tenets, Flying Teapot (released in May 1973), Angel’s Egg (December 1973) and You (October 1974) collectively told a complex and idiosyncratic fable that related the adventures of Zero The Hero and The Pot Head Pixies from Planet Gong. It was peopled with a bizarre cast of characters that included beer yogis, moon goddesses, switch doctors and shamans.
The band sporadically returned to the fable over the years, including on the 1992 album Shapeshifter, but 2032, recorded at London’s A-Wave studio, marked their most fully realised re-immersion in the Radio Gnome mythology. To add to the excitement generated upon its release on 21 September 2009, the album also heralded the belated return of many of the original Gong line-up, with sometime leader Daevid Allen joined by Steve Hillage (who also produced the record), Gilli Smyth, Miquette Giraudy, Mike Howlett and Didier Malherbe.
Inspired and typically inventive form
But the best news for Gong fans was that the album found the reunited collective on inspired and typically eccentric form. With the narrative brought forward to the year 2032, the story of how the formerly invisible Planet Gong finally made contact with Earth unfolds to an accompanying soundtrack which pixie-dances across a variety of genres. ‘How To Stay Alive’ finds Daevid Allen’s space raps underpinned by funky grooves and tabla beats; ‘Dance With The Pixies’ is a jolly, Gilli Smith-led jazz-rock romp that morphs midway into a Celtic jig. ‘Waccy Backy Banker’, meanwhile, finds Allen delivering his cheeky-chappy vocals with a Sex Pistols tone.
Elsewhere, ‘Robo-Warriors’ channels techno while ‘Guitar Zero’ glides by on a motorik groove. Best of all, though, were the album’s two closing tracks: ‘Pinkle Ponkle’ combines Middle Eastern scales and tribal drumming to hypnotic effect, while the instrumental ‘Portal’ mixes cascading ambient bleeps with Steve Hillage’s electrifying guitar shreds. With Gilli Smyth’s iconic “space whisper” prevalent throughout, Didier Malharbe’s sax adding a wild note, and Steve Hillage and Daevid Allen delivering first-rate guitar performances, 2032 presented a fresh take on the band’s best-loved work.
The Love From Planet Gong: The Virgin Years 1973-75 box set is released on 27 September. Pre-order it here.