1974 – Camembert Electrique – Gong

1974A - Camembert Electrique

Phil got an Afghan coat from Pippy’s, I bought an Alchemists Almanac (Handbook of Herbal Highs) and David tried smoking banana skins that he’d dried in the airing cupboard. He assured us that afterwards, you “felt a bit funny” when you bent down. Things started getting decidedly “hippy” in 1974. And, naturally, we discovered Gong. A few people we knew in the year above us at school had been to the free gig the band had done on the car park at the back of Virgin records in June the year before. They said it’d been great and had got hold of the 1971 “Camembert Electrique” album at the gig. I got it when Virgin released it for 49p, the price of a 7″ single.

As soon as we heard it, we all wanted to go and live on a commune on the outskirts of Paris smoking dope and hanging out with girls who wore big, floppy hats and long flowery dresses. Unfortunately, despite having stayed with the Amizet family for 3 weeks on a school French exchange visit, I was well on my way to failing dramatically in my GCE ‘O’ level French. David and Phil came from faintly Bohemian families living at the ‘posh’ end of Sheffield, so could conceivably have managed on a commune, whereas I was from a semi-detached house on Elm Lane in Firth Park. The only things I could do in French were: tell you my name, ask you to open the window and sit down.

However, Gong became my new obsession. “Camembert Electrique” introduced me to unusual time signatures and jazzy rhythms along with Gilli Smyth’s space whispers and Didier Malherbe’s distinctive saxophone sound.

Lyrically, there were similarities to Genesis in that they went from the whimsical to the matter-of-fact in the same song.  In “And You Tried So Hard” Smyth whispered about, “Silken chords trembling into the waterfall,” while in “O Mother” Daevid Allen sang, “How’s your father and mind how you go!” The song “Fohat Digs Holes In Space” in particular, was the one that inspired me to raid the kitchen looking for a knife that I could rub up and down the strings of my newly-acquired second hand electric guitar, to achieve the other-worldly ‘glissando’ effect that Gong used. While I was there, I found a metal colander that I used as a hi-hat. I recorded myself playing it onto a cassette player and then twiddled along with the rhythm on playback.

Although the Pot Head Pixies don’t appear on the record, there are the first mentions of Radio Gnome and the Planet Gong – themes that became so crucial in their subsequent albums.

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