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GONG, Manchester Academy
10 September 2010

Gong, photo by Keith Thompson

While David Gilmour famously told us he "fell out of love with noodlings" Daevid Allen was still offering a whole new selection of noodle dishes in 2010. Together with Hawkwind, Gong first took us further to the outer limits during what was reputed to be the late 60's and early 70's.

Tonight at Manchester Academy, I must admit some savage curiosity as to whether Gong could, after all these years, translate those joyous noodles into a decent live show.

Special guests Space Ritual were first to abduct us with an eight song set which celebrated Space Ritual's achievements from fine albums like 'Otherworld' rather than a set of Hawkwind's greatest.

Nik Turner's troopers do have more original members of Hawkwind than the current line up, so they could have been forgiven for people pleasing. Inevitably Master of the Universe and Brainstorm got the biggest cheers of the evening and overall this was a fine hors d'oeuvres beautifully presented, as they say on 'Britain's Best Dish.'

Gong, photo by Keith Thompson

So Gong landed with Daevid Allen, resplendent in white horned space costume, closely followed by Gilli Smyth. Both in their 70's, this would surely be a short set then right? Wrong. For two hours both artists showed that ancient wisdom can translate itself as well to live music as well as books, art and film.

At times it was difficult to discern what that wisdom was though. But to divide Daevid's lyrics up into some kind of conceptual analysis, like you can with say Roger Waters, is defeating the object of the exercise. Gong is a sonic experience first and foremost.

Gong, photo by Keith Thompson

It is difficult to imagine Gong selling out as it did tonight though without its legendary guitar hero, Steve Hillage who remains one of the most respected composers to come out of the UK.

Unassuming in stance it was Hillage's mastery of the art that held the whole set together, ably assisted by rhythm section Dave Stuart and Chris Taylor with Miquette Giraudy (Synthesizer) and Ian East (sax and flute).

Much of the material came from the iconic 'Camembert Electrique' (got the T-shirt) and the Radio Gnome triumvirate 'Flying Teapot,'' 'Angel's Egg' and 'You.' Without access to a set list, this anorak found it difficult to discern which track was which. No matter at a Gong gig methinks. The excellent light projections did offer some clues for us non dancers.

Gong, photo by Keith Thompson

'Dynamite' from Camembert was, for example, delivered in its original arrangement. I was in the photographer's pit for the first three numbers and you can see the joy of the audience's enthusiastic responsive in to the faces of Hillage, Smyth and Allen. This had clearly been a good decision to fire up Radio Gnome again.

The seminal 'Master Builder' from 'You' was highlight from me. The hypnotic chants becoming far more poignant in a live setting than they are on a crackly piece of vinyl from 1974. 2032, the first collaboration between Hillage and Allen since that of the three majors depicted a glimpse of the future.

Gong, photo by Keith Thompson

A word for the wonderful Gilli Smyth whose voice is truly unique. I don't think she sang more than three words in a logical line, but her spacey wailings added a je ne sais quoi which is difficult to define. Magic Mother Invocation would thus be rendered useless, even with or without the genius of Steve Hillage or Allen's poetry. My Space Ritual lighting buddy, Johnny Teach agreed.

So it was a strange gig and not for everyone. Many of my friends had questioned my sanity but I am glad I went. Gong are a quirky yet essential addition to the genre we loosely called rock. File under naughty noodles. Ozrics, Hackett and Hawkwind coming up!

Review and photos by Keith Thompson

Keith presents 'Rockwaves' on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 21:00 More information

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