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GONG UNCONVENTION 2006
THE MELKWEG, AMSTERDAM
FRIDAY 3rd, SATURDAY 4th, SUNDAY 5TH NOVEMBER 2006

There is no way that a piece of writing can begin to convey what an extraordinary experience this was, but I shall have a go. I think it's fairly safe to say that everyone who witnessed or participated in these three days would consider it a once in a lifetime experience of rare quality. I do not make that statement lightly. "A joyous Full Moon conspiracy" and a mind-blowing musical and creative extravaganza of the highest order!

The opening Daevid Allen set on Friday in the main hall was a mellow affair, with songs from his early seventies albums "Good Morning" and "Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life" including "Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do?". Towards the end of the set several other Gong members joined in and by the time of a classic Mike Howlett opening bass riff for "Wise Man In Your Heart", one sensed the magic of the weekend had begun.
The Hadouk trio were pure musical sophistication featuring the reeds of Didier Malherbe, very smooth jazz/rock/experimental vibes, often with an Eastern flavour. Other acts on the Friday included American violinist Cyndee Lee Rule who played a number of times over the weekend. I caught her first solo set and then came back to see her playing with a DJ spinning the sound of bagpipes, a great vibe. Actually there were some real bagpipes at another point in the weekend. Theo Travis and Graham Clark were two other musicians who seemed to pop up all over the place, doing a great job on reeds and violin respectively. Mother Gong were one of the highlights of the three days for me. Having very obviously benefited from recent touring, they were tight as a drum. Orlando Allen, Tim Hall, Didier and the always excellent Gwyo Zepix backed Gilli Smyth in style. Some hysterically funny (and highly intelligent) poetry from Gilli about G.O.D. (Gorgeous Old Dear) and terrorism, "Where does the hate begin?". Indeed, a very good question.

The Glissando Orchestra consisted of ten guitarists all stroking away in time-honoured Gong tradition. I am a big fan of the glissando sound (initially developed by Daevid Allen after seeing Sid Barrett of Pink Floyd in the sixties) but I personally felt this brave sound experiment dragged on a bit, others loved it. The Here And Now set featured the blistering solos and powerful rock of Steffe Sharpstrings and friends. Later on, Acidmothersgong pushed the boundaries of musical expression with a crazy improvised Japanese psychedelic mix that some people loved and felt was genius, while others weren't quite sure what to make of it all!

Unfortunately I missed Pip Pyle's memorial celebrations on Saturday afternoon which were moving and inspirational by all accounts: funny and touching speeches by Gong members, drumming with audience participation and an all-singing-all-dancing jig inside and outside the venue! Saturday night in the main hall was given over to dance acts, most notably Eat Static and the System 7 duo of Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy. Nice to see Hillage using guitar a bit more in their take on progressive trance these days. In the other hall, Sacred Geometry played a great spacey ambient set featuring Microcosmic and Daevid Allen on glissando guitar, joined by various guests including Didier, Gilli, Jean-Phillipe Rykiel and Thom The Poet. Some truly blissful moments.

The last night proved to be every bit as magical as we had anticipated. House Of Thandoy, the excellent University Of Errors with Daevid and Josh Pollock (their set included updated versions of early Soft Machine songs) and Kangaroo Moon all played their support slots well. Tim Blake and Jean-Phillipe Rykiel played a first class spacey set with their exceptionally excellent trippy keyboards and the occasional Om riff thrown in.

Then the moment we had all been waiting for... a Steve Hillage Band on stage for the first time in something like 27 years! Great to see him and Miquette playing a few of those classic riffs and the unbelievably brilliant, distinctive lead solos again. The band could maybe have done with an extra member for a fuller sound, but essentially the vibe was still as magical as it ever was. Hillage began with "Hello Dawn" from "Motivation Radio" and finished with "These Uncharted Lands" from "For To Next", with a healthy portion of "Fish Rising" along the way. To be bouncing up and down while singing "Its All Too Much" again was erů all too much for quite a few people, including me! Many people had waited a very long time to see this, some had travelled from the other side of the world, and they were not disappointed.

The climax of the event came as the remaining members of Gong gradually joined the Hillage Band on stage. Then followed some of the most amazing live music I have ever witnessed in my life, I know everyone there felt the same. Afterwards many people were saying it was the best Gong gig in 30 years. All the classic line-up (with drummer Chris Taylor replacing Pierre Moerlin R.I.P.), all in top form, tight, some great improvisations. All the best from the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy and "Camembert Electrique", one or two newer tracks, an ORGASMIC "Master Builder"! The visionary Captain Capricorn (Divided Alien himself) in a variety of bizarre costumes and in top form with spiritual ramblings and clever funny nonsense.

What a weekend. Just about every type of music and act you can imagine crammed into three days at a great venue in the grooviest city in Europe. As someone later pointed out, this was not merely a nostalgic event, the energy was fresh and alive and very much in 2006. Thank you so much to everyone who helped make it happen, particularly Jonny Greene and those behind the scenes. Rumour has it there will be a DVD.

Will there be another Gong Unconvention in 2007? Tune in to Radio Gnome and all will be revealed!
www.planetgong.co.uk

Tim Burness
Photos by Kirsty Sloman of CozmikArt
www.cozmikart.co.uk

 

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