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Daevid Allen – A Personal Reflection

Daevid Allen was born in Australia in 1938, but his springboard to musical legend came after he moved to the UK in 1961. He was a founder member of Soft Machine in 1966, but became best known after starting madcap psychedelic rockers Gong. The band are best known for their Radio Gnome Trilogy, made up of the albums Flying Teapots, Angel's Egg and You. Although he left Gong in 1975, he resuscitated the band in 1991 and played with them until their last album 'I See You' in 2014.

I first encountered Daevid Allen in 1999 when, through a series of happy accidents, I joined Gong at short notice for a European Tour filling in for Didier Malherbe, playing saxes and flutes. I had heard little of Gong's music and was barely aware of Daevid though I knew some of Gong member Steve Hillage's music, particularly his album 'Fish Rising' which I thought was great. Joining Gong was a turning point in my musical life. For 10 years I toured the world and recorded with Daevid and the band, playing saxes, flutes and some keyboards and I co-wrote much of the 'Zero to Infinity' album. I recently read of Daevid Allen's music being 'like Sun Ra meets Vivian Stanshall meets DIY punk meets a really big fucking bong' and I think that just about sums it up!

When I met Daevid, I was immediately taken with his openness, his love of music and words and his sense of wonder and almost childlike curiosity about the world. He was continuously excited by all things artistic and creative. He took great delight in words– whether poetry, lyrics, puns, or just the fun of language and games with word play. I spent endless hours with Daevid and Mike Howlett on tour buses around the world joking and playing with words and rhymes.

With Gong, Daevid was very happy to be an equal part of a group and although he was the soul of the band, wrote the majority of the music, did most of the singing and fronted the band, he was very generous with sharing out songs and instrumental solos and encouraged everyone to write music for the group. He also shared out songwriting credits in a far more generous manner than most in his position would.

Daevid was a talented guitarist and a great improviser. There was a wonderful freedom of spirit in his playing which I enjoyed very much – much more than all the technically accomplished rock guitarists who have everything worked out and pre-prepared. I once heard his soloing style described as like an airplane taking off and you never knew how it would land and I think that was right. Anything could happen and his solos were unpredictable. When one is truly improvising, things don't always work out- but that is the risk you take. Daevid was wholeheartedly improvising and some magical music and guitar playing resulted. His glissando guitar technique which he said was inspired by Syd Barrett was wonderful and at times awe inspiring – washes of sound, harmony and textures floating in space. He also said that Syd Barrett was the original inspiration for singing with the strong London accent – a characterful style of singing that he, Robert Wyatt, Richard Sinclair (of Caravan) – and later David Bowie – all adopted, at least for a while.

Daevid not only started off the bands Gong and Soft Machine (both which I have enjoyed playing with for many years) , he also recorded many solo albums, and formed University of Errors, Brainville, Magick Brothers and various other groups. He was a catalyst for an enormous amount of much music making and musicians and poets worldwide were drawn to him for his creativity and his huge enthusiasm for life.

He loved jazz, free form improvisation, songs, experimental music, folk music, nursery rhymes, noise music, chanting and all sorts of fringe musics. He used to wind people (including myself!) up by saying he 'hated the Beatles'. He also said he 'hated Prog'. He embraced punk and new wave music and there was often a youthful and fiery energy to his music, from his band Planet Gong right up to the end. On the very last Gong album – 'I See You' there are almost punk like thrashes that sound like a band of seventeen year olds – not a 76 year old man – and certainly not a music icon from the 1970s.

Daevid was kind, fun, inspiring, encouraging, endlessly creative, and an original thinker. A big fan of the Goon Show, his crazy humour was loved by millions though he also saw it as having a revolutionary edge to it too. I think it was in the subversiveness. The Flying Teapot trilogy, Radio Gnome and the Pot Headed Pixies were all wonderful inventions – charmingly bonkers. He was not one to toe the line and could often be contrary – sometimes infuriatingly so. One funny anecdote I remember was that he went to a legalise cannabis event in Hyde Park in around 2001 as a special guest as he was such a leader of the counter-cultrure movement. You would not believe how many people I have heard say that they had their first trip listening to Gong's music. Anyway Daevid went to this event at Hyde Park and in front of a big crowd, stood up and said 'Ban cannabis! It's terrible for you! And the throng of people in their stoned haze just cheered – 'Yay! Great!' Hilarious and very Daevid.

Of course being the age he was Daevid was right there when it was all happening in the 1960s. He lent Jimi Hendrix his first amp when he came to London, and enjoyed playing chess with him. He played alongside all the rock greats when they were starting out. He was in Paris during the riots in 1968 and the Stonehenge and Glastonbury festivals in the early 1970s. Gong were one of Richard Branson's very first bands on Virgin records. I loved to hear his stories about those times.

I always felt that Daevid was 'the real thing' not someone trying to be a rock star or a poseur. He was living the alternative lifestyle full of music, poetry and life before such a thing was even invented. An artistic beatnik, an intellectual hippie, a comic surrealist and a poetic musician. A true original and an inspiration to so many.

All over the world I have encountered so much love for Daevid and his music. He has now had his last cuppa tea and left us on his flying teapot to another place. Farewell and bon voyage. I feel honoured to have known him. And thank you for the music you daft old bugger.

Theo Travis
March 2015

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Cipher : Pandora's Box


Looking for more Cipher Soundtracks? Click this link to see more!

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New Double Talk Band Album

Nic ,Theo, Mike, Pete – Koolworld Studios Jan 2015

​Just spent two amazing days in the recording studio with my band Double Talk comprising Mike Outram (guitar), Pete Whittaker (organ) and Nic France (drums and percussion). We recorded various versions of eight tunes including some serious epics and some powerful bluesy prog jazz. Some wonderful playing all round and the tracks are sounding stellar. A few things still to do, but very pleased with the results… Watch this space…

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New Double Talk Band Album

Just spent two amazing days in the recording studio with my band Double Talk comprising Mike Outram (guitar), Pete Whittaker (organ) and Nic France (drums and percussion). We recorded various versions of eight tunes including some serious epics and some powerful bluesy prog jazz. Some wonderful playing all round and the tracks are sounding stellar. A few things still to do, but very pleased with the results… Watch this space…


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What a week…

I have just had the most busy and varied week of musical activities I have had in a long time. Last Monday, Sept 15 was the release date of my latest album – Travis & Fripp 'Discretion' (on the Panegyric label). An album of duets with he who is Robert Fripp, it is our fourth CD release and perhaps our finest. I hope we will do more live performances in the future but at the moment Robert is on tour in the USA with the latest incarnation of King Crimson, playing to sold out houses everywhere. I was fortunate enough to see the band play through their set to an invited audience of about 25 people at Elstree studios as part of their rehearsal process. It was great to hear Mel Collins again (one of my favourite sax and flute players) and I thought the three drummer front line (yes, you heard correctly!) worked very well. Anyway, for now promotional Travis & Fripp gigs will have to wait.

Then on Tues, Weds and Thurs I was working with Trevor Warren on his new album. Trevor is a founding member of a curry club of friends that convenes from time to time with lots of the London jazz guitarists – John Etheridge, John Paricelli, Carl Orr, Trevor and others. It has expanded to now include various musician friends including myself and is always a lot of fun. So the band Trevor put together had one day of rehearsal to play through the ten songs he has written then two days recording. The band was awesome – Trevor on guitar and vocals, Ayo on second guitar, me and the stunning rhythm section of Dudley Phillips on basses (who I toured with with Anja Garbarek) and Nic France (of Steven Wilson/ David Gilmour/lLoose Tubes fame) on drums. We rehearsed at the rather funky Audio Underground studios in Stoke Newington, London, but were recording in Bath. The sound engineer was Stuart Bruce – a great sound engineer who was at Peter Gabriel's Real World for years. We were recording at his own Riverside studios where the facilities were very good, and relaxed too, and there was very comfortable residential accommodation. Stuart was superb and also had some great stories like when he recorded Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al Di Miola and the egos, law suits and even physical punch ups that were involved in those sessions! We arrived at the studio lunch time on the first of the 2 days and were ready to record by about 4.30pm. I thought it would be impossible to actually record 10 songs by the following night then drive back to London, but unbelievably we did. I played tenor and soprano sax and flute and there was a very organic feel to the songs – which were all recorded live, in one, two or occasionally three takes. There was also a lot of space for layers of flute and soprano sax soundscapes and loops which we recorded live in real time and they came out really well. There were also some roaring solos from various members of the band. A very English feel to the songs, I was reminded of Syd Barrett's songs at times. On the evening of the second day, the heavens opened and there was the fiercest thunder and lightning I can ever remember, like from a Hammer Horror film. We were a bit nervous driving back to London but I eventually got back home fine. I am looking forward to hearing the finished album.

Very early the very next morning I had to get up and drive 3 hours to Ironbridge in the Midlands for a dress rehearsal of the Freefall Arts / Cipher Past Lives performance. Past Lives is an archive amateur movie footage and live soundtrack project (www.pastlivesproject.com) which is unusual, inspirational and moving. It involves writing and performing live scores to amazing films of real people and real lives from the Midlands going back to the 1940s/50s and 1960s. Saturday's performance was of a soundtrack written by students from the excellent Abraham Darby Academy in Telford, arranged and organised by Dave Sturt and myself. The music was arranged for brass sextet, percussion ensemble, wind and strings and two duos. Each of the eight pieces had to run sequentially with the film that had been put together from local historical footage and the performers, who were schoolchildren – very proficient and able students, but nevertheless still children – had to get it right. I was conducting the whole thing, so had to carefully follow the tempos with an in-ear click track to make sure the music stayed in sync' with the films. I also needed to see the film as it was running, and conduct, bringing in instrumentalists as required and ensuring all went smoothly. There were about 250 people in the audience so a big occasion for my public conducting debut! Thankfully it went well and there was some excellent feedback. During the second half of the performance I was playing sax, flute and clarinet for the original Past Lives film and live soundtrack composed by Dave Sturt and myself. A great evening and rewarding event, to be followed by the rather dull 3 hour drive home.

Then Monday (yesterday) I got the early train to St Ives in Cornwall to play at the Guildhall as part of the St Ives festival with the mighty Soft Machine Legacy with special guest Keith Tippett on piano. The train should have been five and a half hours but because of a fatality on the railway line (poor sod) the journey was actually seven hours. It did give me some much needed time to try and write a bit more music for a planned instrumental psychadelic Prog- jazz project I have been working on for some time. So out came the manuscript paper and iPad keyboard (I love GarageBand!). I arrived in St Ives time for the soundcheck, quick Mexican dinner, check in at the Western Hotel and then the gig. It was a great gig and everyone was on form (John Etheridge on guitar, Roy Babbington on bass, John Marshall on drums, Keith Tippett on piano and your truly on sax, flute, keyboards and a bit of electronic jiggery-pokery). We went for a quick drink afterwards at the Kettle and Wink pub under our hotel where John Etheridge whipped out his guitar and sat in with the local band to much applause.

So it is now the following day and I have arrived home (late because of another fatality on the railway line…) and ready for a nice cuppa tea….Phew.

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