This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site which was abandoned for its current site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
Album #21 is not going to win me many new fans, in fact some of you may shake you heads in bewilderment.
It features a group that is very much a genuine ‘fringe group’ – that in some ways makes ‘left field’ look like the ‘Field of Dreams’. I am talking about Planet Gong, and in particular their first album, released in 1971, called “Camembert Electrique”.
Released on Virgin Records (VC502), it was the first of THIRTY FOUR albums by various incarnations of this group and that doesn’t include a further 19 live albums and 7 compilations.
The kicker is, that there have been so many variations of this group in fact some four distinct variations and then there have been a further more minot 33 variations in line-ups!
This makes it almost impossible to discuss the group in any detail, EXCEPT!, in my mind there really was only one true version of Planet Gong, and that was with Australian guitarist Daevid Allen!
However, even here it gets messy because there were 11 variations of Planet Gong with Allen, again far too unwieldy to deal with but as I really believe the first album, this one that is being reviewed, was indeed the best and most bizarre I will stick with this line up.
Fortunately someone did have the ‘stick-ability’ to make sense of the evolution of this group, and I found a great diagram on Wikipedia.
So before discussing the album and the music, here is the lineup for this album:
|Bloomdido Bad De Grasse ^||Tenor Sax & Flute|
|Submarine Capt. Christian Tritsch||Aqualung Bass|
|Pip Pyle||Drumns* & Breakage|
|Bert Camembert**||Local Vocals & Lewd Guitar|
|Shakti Yoni#||Space Whispers|
|Venux De-Luxe||Switch Doctor & Mix Master|
^ Didier Malherbe
* That’s how it is spelt!
** Daevid Allen
# Gilli Smythe
Having attended the Glastonbury Festival, and a short tour in the UK with Kevin Ayers, Gong returned to France in 1971 and set up in the “Honkey Chateau” Studio Normandy to make this, their first recording.
So, why is this album so important? Look at the year! 1971!
At this time the only real group producing good ‘cosmic’ ‘spaced-out’ music was Pink Floyd.
Across the English Sea, Kraftwerk and various other German electronic groups were beginning to get their chops together. The way they used electronic instruments (early analogue synths, sequencers and a variety of other keyboards such as organs), resulted in music was either classically Germanic, that is – hard, precise and clinical, or at the other extreme it was ‘wishy-washy’ sound washes.
In fact, the term ‘noodling’ would be doing some of that music a favour it didn’t deserve! – the Germans just couldn’t cut the real ‘space’ music genre.
Now there is no debating the quality of the Floyd, however, whilst they immersed themselves in rich, sonically pleasing sounds, when it came to straight out “Psychedelic Rock” and totally “Off- The-Planet Space” sounds, then Gong wipes the floor with Floyd.
The closest Pink Floyd may have come is if Syd Barrett had been able to stay with the group, instead of totally wiping his mind with psychedelics. You get some idea of his influence with the Floyd LP, ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’. Post Barrett, the Floyd tightened up and the rest is history.
Planet Gong went the opposite direction, especially under the stewardship of Daevid Allen. In fact after his departure the group failed to maintain that critical edge of hovering between bizarre and spectacular weirdness and, inanity.
As one reviewer wrote about Gong with Daevid Allen at the helm, “ . . . oh the sounds, oh the sounds. Pure sonic bliss.” Another reviewer said, “The music of this band is damn near impossible to describe . . .”
Post Allen, it went inane, and boring.
So, here is a list of tracks on the album.
- 1. “Radio Gnome Invisible” (Daevid Allen) – 0:26
- 2. “You Can’t Kill Me” (Allen) – 6:23
- 3. “I’ve Bin Stone Before” (Allen)– 4:53
- 4. “Mister Long Shanks” / “O Mother” / “I Am Your Fantasy” (Allen,Gilli Smyth, Christian Tritsch) – 3:41
- 5. “Dynamite” / “I Am Your Animal” (Smyth, Tritsch) – 4:32
- 6. “Wet Cheese Delirium” (Allen) – 0:29
- 1. “Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen’s Heads” (Allen) – 0:13
- 2. “Fohat Digs Holes in Space” (Allen, Smyth) – 6:24
- 3. “And You Tried So Hard” (Tritsch, Allen) – 4:39
- 4. “Tropical Fish” (Allen) / “Selene” (Allen) – 7:36
- 5. “Gnome the Second” (Allen) – 0:26
So where the hell to begin?
“Radio Gnome Prediction” is a short introduction that just makes certain (if you are listening for the first time), that you know what you are about to get.
This is not Laura Nyro!
It’s not the only reference to Gnomes, and from this album onward there is a constant reference to ‘Pot Head Pixies’. Let’s face it, if you don’t understand ‘Pot Head’ by now, don’t mess with it!
Pixies and Gnomes, cups of tea and cheese. These seem to be meaningless terms, but they play an important part, almost the cosmic glue, that binds many tracks together.
Radio Gnome Prediction
If you want high energy ‘rock’ (and I use that term loosely), then you cannot go past “Dynamite”. By name or by nature, this track is that. It explodes it has an amazing guitar break and the blood will literally pulse through your veins as the band (who must have been amazingly stoned), don’t just hold it together, but get very clever with the arrangement and its manifestation.
Like a good fantasy? (and who doesn’t), then let Shakti Yoni breath all over you and while the music washes your soul, you may very well rise to the occasion as Gilli (sorry, Shakti) whispers into your ear.
Mister Long Shanks / O Mother / I Am Your Fantasy
Maybe you enjoy a good flight through the cosmos with a toe tapping piece of ‘galactic rock‘ . . . and, with good vocals, great guitar, powerful brass and punchy bass.
But then have it drop into a good old fashioned trip?
if so you can’t go past “Tropical Fish/Selene” (which also makes mention of Allen’s roots back in Oz), and includes some more of Gilli’s excellent ‘space whispering’.
“Well shady lady whats your problem
Trying to buy a brand new husband ?
All I want to know is what happened
To your latest ancient wisdom ?
She seems like a typical witch to me
She seems like a tropical fish to me
But you can’t kid me its like that back in Sydney
Stranger & stranger why do you dooo-oo it!
But you can’t kid me its like that back in Sydney
I couldn’t believe my eyes
Believe my ears
Kiss your lady goodbye
Baby baby don’t cry See the submarine fly
Hear the angels sing
Spirit of the moon
Spirit of the moon
My mind is made of you
Tell me what to do
Tropical Fish / Selene
Then the whole ‘cheesy’ trip ends with – “Gnome the Second”; they don’t make endings to an album like this anymore!
So, listen, learn – what else can I say? This is good old fashioned tripping out of ya head, space cadet, zonkingly good, clever, entertaining, bizarre and, not for the faint hearted!
Gnome the Second
For those of us who have been at the same ‘tea parties‘ with Gong from those early years, and for those of us who just woken up to the brilliance of this group, there is one other true Planet Gong album of worth, and that is the 1973 “Flying Teapot“ album, which was their second album. If we rate Camembert Electrique as a 10, then Flying Teapot is a close 9!
So in closing, I say to you – even if you have the slightest predilection for bizarreness in music, you must have one or other of these albums.
Do pay appropriate homage to a genuine underground group that really did ‘cut the cheese’ in a most unique manner!
It is so good to be able to see some early gong, in all their spender desapite them being black & white.
I Never Glid Before
Gong on French TV – Witches Song
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
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