Friday, 13 March 2015

Daevid Allen 1938-2015

The Australian-British musician Daevid Allen is dead (dark times, first Pratchett and now him).
He was a founding member, alongside Robert Wyatt of the band Soft Machine (named after the novel by William Burroughs) in 1966. The band was formed in Canterbury and  was a central band of the so called Canterbury scene. Soft Machine was along with Pink Floyd and The Beatles one of the first bands to take rock music seriously, as an artform, rather than dance music or entertainment. Progressive rock, in other words. They were also one of the first bands to explore psychedelia and to fuse jazz and rock. Their importance and influence can't be overestimated.

However, Allen left Soft Machine before their first album, because being an Australian citizen, British authorities did not allow him re-entry into the country after a journey to France. Instead, he formed Gong, with which he did his finest recorded work. The music was progressive/psychedelic rock. Jazz was a prominent element, as was electronic music. Gong was an important pioneer of so-called space rock.

The band had a concept or mythology behind it, revolving around the hero named Zero and the Planet Gong, which came to the fore on the classic Radio Gnome Trilogy of albums: Flying Teapot (1973), Angel's Egg (1973) and You (1974). It was a surrealist and very funny science fiction story, in the spirit of the psychedelia of the time, but also in the grand tradition of British surrealism going back to Lewis Carroll*.  As funny and whimsical as the concept was, it also expressed Allen's spiritual worldview.

Today we have lost one of the most important people in the history of rock music. Daevid Allen was a musical pioneer, who with daring and humour, explored unknown territory in rock music and expanded it's borders. Hopefully his music will inspire others to continue to do the same.

*While English culture is know for it's stoic, earthy and matter-of-fact approach, with analytic philosophy and Victorian stuffiness, there is also a surrealist tendency. There is a tradition of outwardly respectable and otherwise perfectly "Victorian" gentlemen writing works of fantasy and "whimsy". The  Examples include Lewis Carroll, A. A. Milne, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien.

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