A Short Bio:
For more than a decade, and in many ways ever after, the partnership of Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth was the driving force behind Gong and its many related projects. Her contribution to Gong between 1968 and 1974 was her vision of the 'yin' side of things in lyrics and vocal sounds. She developed this with her own band Mother Gong which existed through several line-ups from 1978 to 1994. The 'classic' Gong band came together again with the 'Family reunion' Birthday Party weekend at the Forum in 1994, and has been touring again yearly since 1996,with Daevid Allen, Mike Howlett, Didier Malherbe, and various other members such as Steffie Sharpstrings, Pierre Moerlen, Pip Pyle, Mark Hewins, Theo Travis, Chris Taylor, Gwyo de Pix, etc. Gilli contributed lyrics and voice to the "Zero To Infinity" Gong album, which came out in 2000 with Snapper Records, and to the "Subterranea" and subsequent DVDs. In February 2003 the you'N'gong band (Kawabata Makoto and Cotton Casino from Acid Mothers Temple (guitars, synth & voice), Josh Pollock (guitar) from University of Errors, Daevid, Gilli, Orlando Allen (drums) and Dharma Bradridge (bass), gathered in Australia to record some tracks for a projected album, and eventual tour (playing a very spontaneous, but exciting, gig on the full moon, February 7th).
During her childhood Gilli had several seminal stage experiences (such as realising the strength of audience energy), through school plays, piano playing etc, and became familiar with performing. In her late teens she married briefly, went to college, wrote a thesis and had a baby, Tasmin, at the same time, then went to France, leaving behind a certain notoriety from her published college feminist writings, lambasted by the tabloids.
There Gilli started living and working with Daevid Allen, performing, travelling, busking, in the 60's. There was the Soft Machine time (l966/67), and then the first Gong band in l968, that blew apart in the 68 Paris revolution. It was here that she developed 'space whisper' with another singer, Ziska, in gigs in Paris and elsewhere, as in several days in the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, with Don Cherry.
She had been writing since arriving in college, where she edited the college magazine, and published her first poetry book "The Nitrogen Dreams of a Wide Girl" in l966, then a collection of poems for Outposts Publishing, and "The Mindbook". In 1969 the first Gong album, "Magick Brother", came out, and the Gong band started gigging, with the Amougies Festival. This was filmed by Jérôme Laperrousaz, who also made "The Nightmares of Mr. Respectacle", based on Gong music, and the band also composed and played music for several other films.(Le Chat (Martial Raysse), "Je tu elle (Peter Foldes), and several commercials, including a famous one Gilli did with Kevin Ayers for the perfume "Chamade". She was also the voice behind the curtain in "Barbarella".
Then in l970 the band, at that time Rachid Houari (drums), Christian Tritsch (bass), Didier, Gilli and Daevid, moved to a big house in the forest near Sens and went on to record "Camembert Electrique", "Obsolete", etc., and be voted by Actuel magazine as, with Magma, the 'best alternative band' in France. The band was happening and they played constantly, opening up the Maisons de la Culture and Maison des Jeunes gig circuits. Gilli wrote lyrics and vocal improvisations for the early albums,and afterwards for "Flying Teapot", "Angel's Egg" and "You". She was "always exploring sounds, particularly atonal, the millions of notes between notes, that go into the body and stir the emotions".
During this time Gilli gave birth to two sons, but continued working practically non-stop ( she did a gig at the London Lyceum on the day the youngest was due to be born,and was on the road three weeks after the first one). In the end this was too hard, and also by late l974 she wanted to develop her own particular ideas more fully and left to experiment with a solo career, the first manifestation of which was the "Mother" album of l978, produced by Daevid Allen. The UK tour, with French musicians, to promote this album, was labelled "Mother Gong" and the name stuck.
She participated in the Floating Anarchy tour of l977, and the Gong Reunion in Paris in 1977. In l978 she broke up with Daevid, although they continued to work together. Her own unique vision was expressed with a wide variety of musicians under a loose Mother Gong umbrella, including Didier Malherbe, Harry Williamson, Yan Emeric, Guy Evans, etc. With them, and with Jean-Philippe Rykiel from Bloom, she did a Robot Woman UK tour in l980, and played the Trondheim Festival ('81) and Glastonbury Festival ('79 & '81). With Harry, she wrote the "Fairy Tale" album released in l980, three stories with music by the then current Mother Gong band, including Didier.
Williamson's sympathetic guitar and keyboards to Gilli's words and vocal improvis-ations was a positive, uplifting mixture and the affinity between them became a personal relationship. They produced ten or more CDs, mainly through Voiceprint Records, Butt/Shanghai records, Tapestry Records (U.S.) Cleopatra. In 1979 Giorgio Gomelsky promoted the grand 'Manifestival' in New York, and subsequent US tour, with Daevid Allen's New York Gong, Mother Gong, Material, Yoshko Scheffer etc., the famous coast to coast in the old yellow school bus. Gilli wrote the Robot Woman lyrics for this tour, which afterwards became the Robot Woman trilogy. It was inspired by the movie "Stepford Wives", and reflected (humorously) the anger in the feminist and related movements at the restrictions of the prevailing discrimination, not only towards women but marginalised groups in general. For Gilli the anger was necessary to shift "stuck" cultural patterns, but was directed towards what was an oppressive system both for women and men, and not just towards men, many of whom supported the movement.
The third album of the Robot Woman trilogy came out after Smyth and Williamson had moved to Australia, where Mother Gong flourished, particularly with the l987-94 lineup. This was Robert Calvert (sax, previously with John Stevens' Away band), Rob George (drums), Conrad Henderson (bass), Harry Williamson (guitar, synth) & Gilli (vocals). There were many gigs and Festival tours, and albums like "Every Witch's Way", "She Made the World,", "Wild Child", "Tree in Fish" , "Radio Sessions" "Eye", "Owl in the Tree" (shared with Daevid Allen). With him they also recorded "Magenta" and "Stroking the Tail of the Bird" in Melbourne, at Harry's studio.
Many of the apparently composed pieces on these recordings were culled from 'spontaneous composition' sessions. Smyth would present the others with poetic images and ideas for atmosphere and musical themes, they would feel it out, and then tapes would roll. "Wild Child" is perhaps the epitome of this elegant and emotionally moving process, recorded in a few wild full moon days in a studio in Wales prior to the l989 U.K. tour with this band. During the early 1990's Gilli toured solo several times on the well-trodden US circuit as did Daevid, Kevin Ayers, Tim Blake, Caravan of Dreams (with whom she did some double-bills). She used backing tapes and "dissolving" light show, to create magical atmospheres, and played Avalon Field Glastonbury, in '92, '93 and '94., solo and with the Kangaroo Moon band.
In 1991 Rob Calvert and Harry joined her for a trio US tour, including venues like I-Beam in San Francisco (supporting Big Brother & Holding Co.) and Midland Theatre Kansas (supporting Bob Dylan). She returned to the U.S. as a duo with Rob Calvert in l994 and toured coast to coast, also playing solo at the "First International Goddess Festival" in Santa Cruz, organised by the well known writer Z Budapest.
During this time there was a 'mini' Gong reunion with the Central TV programme on "Bedrock", for which Gong made a one hour video at their studio in Nottingham. During the 1980's Gilli often played with various other bands in Melbourne, including art theatre "Stillborn Frog", with John Howley, and a "noise" band called "Mouth" at a regular St. Kilda venue. She also produced an hourly radio programme for 3CR every week for five years, and did many solo/spoken word gigs.
In l995 Gilli was involved in a duo project with Here and Now and Gong multi-instrumentalist Steffie Sharpstrings called GLO (Goddesses love Oranges), doing some "rave" gigs at Whirligig in London, Bath Festival, Hanover Club etc. and eventually releasing their CD "Even as we..." (GAS). Another ambient trance album was recorded live on New Year's Eve l996 in Byron Bay with the Goddess T band.
There was a track "Cyberwhale" for the Gong CD "Family Jewels" with Orlando Allen, who produced subsequent CDs "Electric Shiatzu", and "It's all a Dream". He composed most of the music, with Gilli's lyrical themes. Gilli was commissioned in l999 by Jen Delyth, the visual creator of the DVD "Taliesin and the Ninth Wave", to speak the ancient Celtic poems on it,(and some of her own), that interweave with the intricate and beautiful designs. This DVD was released in 2002 in San Francisco.
At the same time, also in San Francisco, she started playing with a group of musicians, Pierce (Bass), Aryeh (electric violin, harp, mandoline), James (synth.) Steff (percussion) quite spontaneously, and it felt good, so they went on to record tracks which will be released later this year as a Gong Matrix CD "It Just is". It's a very different band to Mother Gong, but in the same tradition of 'spontaneous composition', and has gigged when possible in San Francisco (Progfest '99, Cellspace, Hush Hush Club, etc.).
During the last few years several of Gilli's books have been released by GAS, some mainly of lyrics from CDs, such as "We Who Were Raging in the Late Sixties and Early Seventies", "Godly Talk" and "Vagaries of Godly Thought", some historical such as the "Historico-Politico-Spirito", or fantastical such as the "Mind Book". She has also edited/produced several CDs, such as "The Best of Mother Gong" (Voiceprint/Pangea International) "Eye",(Mother Gong); the compilation from 2001 live Gong gigs "OK Friends" (GAS), and some re-releases from Voiceprint, including "Battle of the Birds" with Gilli, Harry Williamson, Antony Phillips, and Didier Malherbe, which was recorded in l980 but with limited release; "Tree in Fish" (originally Tapestry Records) and others to come.
In early 2002 Luc Pilmeyer of Sobek Video Animations created an official Gilli Smyth website. Projections include some additional tracks for "It's All A Dream", an album of Gong stories (for Voiceprint) narrated by Gilli Smyth and Daevid Allen for the end of the year; you'N'gong, finishing the Gong Matrix album, classic Gong tours (and always chasing those elusive sounds that disappear into the worlds of imagination and mystery)...