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A Short Bio:
Not only does Frenchman Didier Malherbe deserve legendary status as keeper of the Gong spirit through the band's many incarnations up to the Pierre Moerlen's Gong era, he is also, along with Elton Dean and Jimmy Hastings, considered the ultimate woodwind player on the Canterbury scene, thanks to his continued involvement in bands such as Pip Pyle's Equip'Out or Short Wave (not to mention the reformed Gong), and his guest live appearances with Hatfield and the North (which he almost joined in late 1972), National Health, Kevin Ayers, Mashu, and many others.
Didier Antonin Malherbe was born in Paris in 1943. Discovering jazz as a teenager, he soon received classical training on the saxophone from a conservatory pupil. For two years, he also learned classical theory, until on one fateful day, aged 15, he followed a beret (!) into a basement at St. Germain-des-Prés and began an initiation into jamming with jazz musicians. Numerous jams at prestigious jazz venues such as 'Le Caveau de la Montagne' and 'Le Chat Qui Pêche' followed in the late 50's. Meanwhile, Malherbe was attending Sorbonne university where he took an interest in philosophy and foreign languages.
In 1962, after hearing the first Ravi Shankar album, Malherbe travelled to India, where he discovered bamboo flute and spend three months trying to play one (and breaking many). Returning to France, he started taking classical flute lessons, on the grounds that transverse flutes, being made out of metal, couldn't be broken. For the next couple of years, he played nothing but classical flute. At that time, Malherbe also formed a band with Pierre Lattès (later Gong's producer) on drums.
In 1963, Malherbe travelled around Morocco, staying at a community in Tanger, playing with other hippie musicians such as guitarist Davey Graham, and absorbing elements of Arabic music. Back in France again, he began playing extensively on the free jazz circuit, while still attending university, learning sanskrit and other languages. While busy fronting his own band 'Les Roule-Sticks', he gigged with the Living Theatre, and performed (in a duo with Stéphane Vilar) the music for a stage show, 'Les Idoles', allegedly the first-ever 'rock opera', featuring Pierre Clémenti and Bulle Ogier.
Malherbe's first contact with the Canterbury scene was his making the acquaintance with Kevin Ayers while on holiday in Formentera, in 1967. The following year, while staying at Robert Graves' house in Deya, where he spent one year practising flute, he made friends with Daevid Allen. Returning to Paris, a busy schedule as a session man (with Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha among others) and club player (notably with expatriate American jazz pianist Burton Green, on whose album "Aquariana" Malherbe played) followed, while Malherbe also led the folk band Morning Calm with violonist Gerry Fields.
In the summer of 1969, Malherbe joined what was to become Gong, rehearsing and recording the material for "Magick Brother". Subsequently, he was the only musician to stay in the band through its many personnel changes, leaving only after the "Gazeuse!" sessions, in late 1976. During Gong's many tours, he became acquainted, and later worked, with such musicians as Kevin Ayers, Cyrille Verdeaux and the members of Soft Machine and Hatfield and the North. After Daevid Allen's departure from the band, he became Gong's joint leader with Pierre Moerlen. His contribution to Shamal (1976), "Bambooji", reflected his many ethnic influences, a direction he was to follow more deeply later on.
After leaving Gong, he remained in contact with Pierre Moerlen, guesting at several gigs in 1977 and on the "Downwind" album in 1978. He was also, of course, on stage with his former colleagues at the big Gong party at the Hippodrome de Pantin in Paris in May 1977. During that 12-hour event, he also performed with an improvised band with Patrice Lemoine and percussionist Sam Gopal. He was not to follow this direction very long, however, as he then formed Bloom, a band also comprising Yan Emeric (guitar), Peter Kimberley (vocals, ex-Bachdenkel), Winston Berkeley (bass) and Jean Padovani (drums). Bloom played its debut concert in November 1977 at the Fête du Parti Socialiste in Paris, sharing the stage with National Health and Daevid Allen among others.
Bloom recorded an eponymous album in 1978, and toured France several times (April to June 1978 and September to November 1979). During that period, Malherbe worked with Cyrille Verdeaux on the Clearlight album "Visions", alongside violonist Didier Lockwood. There were plans for a live band to be formed at the time of the album's release, but the one gig played by this prestigious line-up (in April 1978) was surprisingly met with indifference from the critics and labels. In May 1979, Malherbe jammed with National Health during the band's series of Paris concerts. During that period, he also worked with Gilli Smyth on several Mother Gong projects and tours.
After Bloom's breakup in 1982, Malherbe toured with blind synth player Jean-Philippe Rykiel (formerly of Tim Blake's Crystal Machine, Steve Hillage's band and Christian Boulé's band) as a duo. The following year, he started a fruitful collaboration with guitarist Pierre Bensusan, playing on two of his albums - "Solilai" (1982) and "Spices" (1988) - and touring the US as a duo. Fifteen years later, they still play the occasional gig or tour together. In 1984-85, he was also a member of his former Gong colleague Pip Pyle's jazz band L'Equip'Out, playing on its debut album. More lasting, though, was his association with former Magma and Zao pianist Faton Cahen. It started in 1982 as a trio with François Causse (a percussionist who had worked with Gong, but after Malherbe's departure), then evolved into a band with Malherbe, Cahen, Rémy Sarrazin (bass) and Pierre Moerlen (drums). Unfortunately for fans of the latter, by the time the band - now named Faton Bloom - recorded their eponymous debut album, Moerlen had been replaced by Eric Béloucha, while a percussionist, Roger Raspail, was added. The music of Faton Bloom is rooted in jazz, in a colourful, joyous and sometimes exotic way. Many gigs and performances at various jazz festivals followed until Malherbe and Faton went their separate ways in 1988.
In the meantine, Malherbe had started playing in singer Jacques Higelin's backing band, which at the time (mid-80's) also featured many former Magma and Weidorje members. Later in the decade, he toured with Yowel Wicenmecker under the collective name Ichtyornis, and guested on albums by Higelin, eccentric French singer Brigitte Fontaine and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Forgas. In the summer of 1988, he joined Gong Maison, Daevid Allen's new band, which mixed acoustic songs with modern electronic beats, and eventually evolved into a new Gong line-up which recorded the "Shapeshifter" album in 1992.
The nineties have seen Malherbe work on various solo projects : Fetish (1991), Fluvius (1993), Hadouk (1995)... These works see him experiment with elements of Indian and world music and use all manner of wind instruments. In 1991, he was also invited by Hugh Hopper to join a new band venture which eventually became Short Wave and toured France regularly in the following years, recording an album in 1993. More Gong activity also took place, following the 25th Birthday gig in London in October 1994, and the band has been touring the world regularly since 1996 (Malherbe's current status in the group is that of an occasional member, with Theo Travis being the 'permanent' sax/flute player).
Malherbe's collaboration with Loy Ehrlich has continued with Hadouk Trio, which saw the addition of percussionist Steve Shehan for the acclaimed "Shamanimal" (1999). The trio has toured extensively, but in July 2000, due to Shehan's other commitments, Malherbe started another trio, with Patrice Meyer (acoustic guitars) and Philippe Foch (percussion), sometimes a quartet with Ehrlich. Both bands have alternated on Malherbe's gigs since. Hadouk Trio has gone on to release Now! (2002), the double-live release, Live A FIP (2004) and Utopies (2007).
Malherbe was also a member of Annie Whitehead's SoupSongs group, formed to perform Robert Wyatt's music at various music festivals from 1999 to 2001. (There have been other performances since, but without Malherbe).