Not Forgotten: Gong – Camembert Electrique

Released in 1971 on French label BYG Actuel, Gong’s second album resurfaced on Virgin Records in 1974 at the special price of 59p, by which time the teapot was in full flight with the Radio Gnome trilogy. Even back then, Daevid Allen’s mythology was close to fully formed.

The photo on the back sleeve shows the band in their hippie commune, looking like a self-created new species, benign freaks in touch with aliens to guide them. The sessions were recorded during phases of the full moon (subsequent recordings favoured the crescent or “banana” moon as they referred to it, maybe due to its resemblance to a pothead pixie). Such stoned shenanigans would have maybe been tolerated in seventies Britain, but rural France was the perfect backdrop for their utopian experiment to stretch its wings.

The album embraces all the things I love; it’s playful, ridiculous, esoteric and full of rhythmic gymnastics and trance workouts. It sounds spontaneous and improvised while remaining ridiculously tight. You never know where you are with it, but where it takes you is always a stimulating bombardment of staccato beats and driving sax, held together with trippy space whispers, glissando guitar and unearthly messages from the planet Gong.

Flowing from one universe to another with ease like a patchwork river of ever-changing moods, it tosses virtuosity around like discarded leaves floating on the surface, speeding up, slowing down, occasionally hitting the rocks before reaching a serene moment.

Whether it’s the grooving ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ or the jazzy ‘Fohat Digs Holes in Space’, the whole thing sounds like a bulletin from the past to a future that has become too self-knowing and uptight to do anything like this again.

At just over thirty-nine minutes, it’s concise but it packs in a myriad of ideas into every groove. The template and concept would be developed and enriched over the albums that followed, becoming more sophisticated with the arrival of Steve Hillage on guitar and Tim Blake on synth, but the madcap essence of Gong is gloriously captured in all its fierce glory on Camembert Electrique.

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