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Gong - The Peel Sessions 1971/1974 CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

3.93 | 30 ratings

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4 stars Canterbury from outer space

Maybe not too surprisingly, Gong sit at the very top of my Canterbury related bands. The thrilling concoction of space rock, at times akin to Krautrock, and strange British fusion with an interstellar Monty Python humour- more than adequately fits my tastes. As a matter of fact it just might be the perfect match for folks like myself with an affinity for the quirky, mad and spacey.

This 'live' document spans over a period of 4 years, which subsequently gives you access to the famous and much lauded Teapot trilogy and the time leading up to it. The shift that brought them close to the spacey British Krautrock didn't happen over night, and an album such as Camembert Electrique clearly shows signs of the impending psychedelic caterpillar about to immerse from its cocoon.

Some of the biggest, and also some of the most obscure artists, got to play on these (in)famous Peel Sessions, which basically just mean a BBC based live recording of a band - preferably during their heyday. This is very much the case with this one, and apart from the wonderful sticky and tight psychedelia of the latter tunes on feature here, we also get served the only tracks ever recorded with Kevin Ayers during his brief stint in Gong. Magick Brother that opens up the party - Clarence in Wonderland which is a composition by the man himself, as well as the jamming eccentricities of the dual track Tropical Fish/Selene, where Ayers gets to flex his guitar skills beyond what one would expect from the guy. He was actually a pretty saucy axeman - and these three historic recordings are testimony to that. Furthermore, these early live documents are actually the first real snippets of Gong to appear in Britain, as the band were based in France at the time.

The rest of this record is just a cornucopia of musical bliss that quite effortlessly conveys the true nature of the band. Much like the preceding decade's psych instrumentalists from the San Franciscan music scene did, the feel of Gong is rooted in the haphazardly and esoterically boosted jam. The free flight of a musical Icarus that speeds up and down in its intense drop towards the ground - gathering all kinds of unforeseeable pleasures on its way.

To those of you who are new to Gong, the music they wield is a combination of quirky sung bits, that not unlike the other Canterbury groups revolve around a distinctive British humour - some times coming off rather peculiarly. Whimsical is perhaps the best wording for it, but when you finally get your head around the mad ramblings of head honcho Daevid Allen - you suddenly get hit in the head with floating almost beautiful sections of music - that literally shoot you out into the solar system. The psychedelic guitar antics of Steve Hillage and the swarming oozing spaceyness of Tim Blake's electronics countering the steady and powerful drumming of either Pip Pyle or Pierre Moerlen - each of them having a way with rhythms that is so ingrained in- and integral to the band's sound. On the sideline you find the ethereal spacewhispers of Gili Smythe as well as the always impeccably played saxophone by Didier Malherbe, which ornaments the music when the moment calls for the effervescent and flying.

The quality of this thing is amazing! You can say a lot about the BBC, but the sound engineers back in those days really knew their way around intimacy, ambiances and microphone set-ups. -Which is why, I find it strange - no strike that - downright bizarre, that those first two Ayers' fuelled tunes sound like they were recorded from the insides of a plastic bathtub with equipment made out of cardboard and bark. Man what a bummer! Allright, you can hear what's going on - and who's doing what to what, but the closed and contained feel of the whole thing, betrays the band in a nasty way. Gong's music deserves open spaces - you need to hear it on a stereo in a huge room - or preferably out in a field on a banging sound system. There's a lot of 'space' in the music too, and though you're probably thinking about spacerock and psych right now, you couldn't be further from the truth. Here I am talking about the actual pauses between the chords, strikes and blows - where the instruments listen to one another, and a certain feel and mood suddenly blooms - it is here the real Gong shows itself like a regular sound of silence.

Apart from that little sonic mistake, this is truly a must for Gong fans, and a highly recommended entry for the uninitiated, Gong - The Peel Sessions should please either one of those camps like an avocado rubdown or a quick visit to the playground. 4.5 stars for this magnificent live document. You need this baby!

Guldbamsen | 4/5 |


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