By Ian McFarlane
DAEVID ALLEN – Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life (1977) / DAEVID ALLEN – Australia Aquaria / She (1990)
Vale Daevid Allen (13 January, 1938-13 March, 2015)
Australian poet, guitarist, singer and composer Daevid Allen (born Christopher David Allen, in Melbourne) has died at the age of 77. As well as having adopted his stage name of Daevid Allen by the early 1960s, he often utilised a range of alias such as Bert Camembert, Dingo Virgin, Divided Alien, Dingbat Alien, Daffyd Allen etc. One might say he was a mischievous musical wizard with a wildly eccentric yet charismatic disposition.
Certainly during the 1960s and 1970s, Allen was one of the most respected rock/avant-garde/jazz musicians working on the UK and European scene. His work with the original Soft Machine and Gong is still highly regarded by aficionados, yet in Australia he remains a relatively unknown cult figure.
Beatnik poet and musician Allen left Australia in 1960 to travel around Europe. You could put him in the same category as the likes of Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer, Martin Sharp, Richard Neville, Clive James, larger than life personalities who ventured into the wider world because Australia was unable to nurture their talents. While in Paris he came into contact with the likes of poets Allen Ginsberg and Robert Graves, plus novelist William S. Burroughs. He provided the music for a theatrical dramatisation of Burroughs’ The Ticket That Exploded.
By 1963 Allen was living in the UK where he started playing with a group of Canterbury musicians which eventually led to the formation of The Soft Machine in 1966. Being an experimentalist of some note already, Allen brought the influence of Terry Riley (free-form improvisation and tape-loops) into the band. The Soft Machine was named after the Burroughs’ novel (part of The Nova Trilogy) and Allen is credited with contacting the author to obtain permission for its use. The band was at the forefront of the British psychedelic movement alongside Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Tomorrow and Dantalion’s Chariot.
Allen recorded only one single with The Soft Machine, ‘Love Makes Sweet Music’ b/w ‘Feelin’ Reelin’ Squeelin’’ (February 1967). Demos recorded around this time, for impresario Giorgio Gomelsky, eventually appeared in the 1970s under a ridiculous variety of titles in different territories: Faces and Places Vol. 7, Jet-Propelled Photographs, At The Beginning, Memories, Soft Machine 1967 Demos and simply Soft Machine.
Following the band’s temporary move to France in late 1967, Allen was refused re-entry into England (due to an expired visa and appearance deficiencies apparently!) and Soft Machine continued as a three piece unit. In Paris, Allen set up a community of musicians that included his partner Gilli Smyth and by 1969 had formed Gong and started recording albums for the French label BYG.
Gong’s music mixed space rock and psychedelia with avant-experimentation and hippie philosophy. In England, Gong became popular on the festival circuit (alongside Hawkwind, Pink Fairies, Skin Alley, Mighty Baby, Global Village Trucking Company etc.) and recorded the landmark Radio Gnome Invisible album trilogy for Virgin Records (The Flying Teapot, Angels Egg and You). The trilogy was full of eccentric detail, goofy interludes and sonic space jams, revolving around Allen’s tale of Zero the Hero and The Pot Headed Pixies from the Planet Gong. Very trippy stuff!!
Allen left Gong in 1974 and recorded a series of well-received solo albums. He returned to Australia in 1984 and teamed up with David Tolley (ex-Tolley and Dara) as The Ex. That collaboration resulted in the Don’t Stop mini-album.
While in Australia, Allen also continued his pursuit of esoteric wisdom by working on Drones, training as a ‘Conscious Connected Breath’ therapist and organising Healing Festivals to put his various themes of self-advancement into communal practice. In January 1988 he returned to the UK, re-formed Gong, initially as Gongmaison, touring and recording a series of new albums.
Trying to unravel the details of Allen’s discography post-Soft Machine is a bewildering task. Essentially, the early Gong recorded six studio albums (1970-1974) followed by another four studio albums (1992, then 2003-2014), to say nothing of the multiple live / archival releases and compilation albums. Then there are all the various albums issued by Gong offshoot bands he was involved with: Planet Gong, New York Gong, Gongmaison, Mother Gong and Acid Mothers Gong.
On top of that he issued something in the vicinity of 30 solo or collaborative albums, and again numerous live / archival releases and compilations have appeared. Even the likes of The History And Mystery Of Gong (2000) and The Man From Gong: The Best Of Daevid Allen (2006) really only scratch the surface of his enveloping career.
Likewise, this barely touches the depths of his work but here are two of his solo albums with which I’m most familiar.
Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life (1977)
Following the crazy electric space rock of Gong, Allen went acoustic for his next couple of solo albums. Utilising the services of Majorcan band Euterpe, Good Morning! (1976) was a pleasant mix of contemplation and whimsy. Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life is where this combination works best, with world music, psych folk and ambient elements allied to Allen’s thought provoking, occasionally bitter lyrics. Mostly recorded on TEAC 4-track at Allen’s Bananamoon Observatory, Deià, Majorca, Spain, it all provides an intimate setting.
Allen reprises the story of Zero the Hero here and while his nasally vocals don’t always hit the mark in such a setting, it’s the instrumental backing that holds the key. As well as Allen’s acoustic guitar there’s flamenco guitar (Juan Biblioni and Pepsi Milan from Euterpe), violin (Xavier Riba, Ramón Farran, Vera Violin), tabla (Sam Gopal), mellow synth (Victor Peraino) and stringed harp (Marianne Oberascher de Soller). Of the songs, the highlights include the heartbreaking, minor key ‘Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do?’, the 11-miunte soundscape ‘I Am’ – in which Allen’s glissando guitar weaves in and around de Soller’s exquisite harp like a gentle breeze on a summer’s day – and the gloriously uplifting ‘Deya Goddess’.
The angry, spoken word discourse ‘Poet For Sale’ is Allen almost at his wit’s end but fortunately he has the good sense not to dwell on the consequences. Nevertheless, he thought enough of the piece to issue it as the B-side to the 1978 Planet Gong single ‘Opium For The People’. Perhaps the oddest moment is ‘Tally & Orlando Meet The Cockpot Pixie’, in which Allen relates the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy as a fairytale to his two children, Taliesin and Orlando.
Australia Aquaria / She (1990)
Thirteen years on and Australia Aquaria / She was a vastly different proposition. The first thing you notice is that astonishing collage (by Lindsay Buckland) on the front cover: a Cyclopean aboriginal man with an intense stare in that one menacing eye. In contrast, the music on the album is richly melodic, focusing on mood and texture, sometimes ethereal, sometimes vigorous, often majestic. Recorded at Foel Studios, Powys, Wales, August-October 1989, it’s mostly keyboard dominated, as played by producer Harry Williamson, although additional instrumentation is essential to the musical flow. And Allen is in particularly fine voice here.
It’s an album of two halves: the first three tracks – ‘Gaia’, ‘Peaceful Warrior’ and ‘Australia Aquaria’ – are Allen’s ode to his birth country. He sings the lyrics in a pronounced strine accent which adds to the intent of the work. The gentle ‘Gaia’ (“Gaia, Gaia, great Mother of mountain and valley”) is particularly poignant. The final lines are: “Just as earth goes as birth, so like birds we could fly / She will make us immortal by taking us back when we die”.
‘Peaceful Warrior’ is actually more forceful than the title might suggest; Allen breaks out the electric guitar and builds the mood from quiet beginning to rousing finale backed by Rob George’s pounding drums.
The epic ‘Australia Aquaria’ is a significant work, a very tasty dish indeed. “I love Australia, land of our dreams, I see her there / The Dreamtime legends tell how many millions of years ago, when the Planet Earth was forming / Australia was the birthplace of the very first race of men”. Allen goes on to posit that a “brother from another planet” comes down to see this Garden of Eden before we lost our way. Keyboards, acoustic guitar, various percussion (Rob George and Marcus Ozric) and backing vocals (Jacki Dankworth, Jenni Rodger, Julie Wareing) help intensify the flavour while Bart Willoughby (from No Fixed Address) provides another key ingredient in didgeridoo.
‘She’ is a gentle love song, based around acoustic guitar, Graham Clark’s violin and Dankworth’s backing vocals. ‘Slave Queen’ is probably the most unusual track here, with a funky rhythm section – Conrad Henderson on popping bass – and Rob Calvert’s soaring tenor sax. Then it’s back to ambient textures with the 10-minute ‘Voice of OM’.
It’s a shame this album was overlooked on its release because it’s Daevid Allen’s most Australian work in tone and content.
DAEVID ALLEN – Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life (1977)
- Flamenco Zero 1:46
2. Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do? 6:51
3. Tally & Orlando Meet The Cockpot Pixie 3:15
4. See You On The Moontower 5:41
5. Poet For Sale 3:28
6. Crocodile Nonsense Poem (aka Nonsense Rap) 0:59
7. Only Make Love If You Want To (aka Lady Dear Lady) 5:37
8. I Am 11:10
9. Deya Goddess 6:45
All tracks written by Daevid Allen, except Flamenco Zero by Juan Biblioni
DAEVID ALLEN – Australia Aquaria / She (1990)
- Gaia (D. Allen/H. Williamson) 4:43
2. Peaceful Warrior (D. Allen) 5:34
3. Australia Aquaria (D. Allen/H. Williamson) 14:42
4. She (D. Allen/G. Clarke/H. Williamson) 7:26
5. Slave Queen (D. Allen) 8:06
6. Voice of OM (E. Romain/J. Saraswati) 9:55