Gong - Wingful of Eyes
Gong formed in Paris in 1968 after the Australian Daevid Allen was forced to leave Soft Machine because immigration officers refused his re-entry to Britain with his expired Visa. The original lineup of Gong consisted of Daevid Allen, Gilli Smith, Dider Malherbe and, eventually, drummer Pip Pyle. Since the very first Gong recordings of just Allen and Smith the band have gone through in excess of twenty different members and a silly number of line ups. They are still recording and releasing stuff today with their most recent being 'Mothergong O Amsterdam' in 2007.
This album is a compilation that was put together by Mike Howlett (Gong '73-'76) that reflects on Gongs music between 1975 and 1978 (a time when there was no Daevid Allen).
Here is an interesting excerpt from Mike Howlett's notes that might help you understand what Gong really is about;
"This may therefore be a suitable occasion to clarify perhaps, Daevid Allen's original intention and principle in forming Gong. At the core is the idea that through music are communicated ideas, concepts and emotions beyond the capabilities of language alone. Added to this is the concept of the musician as in instrument of music, that dispites the foibles of personality and vain strugglings with technique, a group of musicians act as a conduit, transcending individual intent."
Wingful of Eyes opens on 'Heavy Tune' which is my favourite track on this album. Heavy Tune is taken from Gong's 1978 album Expresso II and is a fantastic composition. It opens on the tapping of the high hat and an outrageously simple plodding bass line (one of my most memorable bass lines of all time). Heavy tune then jumps between epic guitar riffs and melodic, psychedelic plonking xylophone with an ever evolving bass line and fantastic drumming. What more can I say? Though I dare say that any Xylophonists out there may have a more suitable adjective for the description of their style.
'Cat in Clark's Shoes' left me with somewhat of a debate as to the identity of the lead instrument, for my musical ear isn't quite up to scratch. I will hesitate a guess at the soprano Sax though... Cat in Clark's Shoes opens on another awesome bass line, followed by soprano sax and after a bridge a fantastic battle for top spot between organ, sax and violin. Then comes another bridge and we're brought into the streets of France hearing street corner violinists and French conversation. But we're not done yet! The crescendo comes with the patter of Glockenspiel, mad sliding bass and violin to finish. Eight minutes of genius taken from Gong's 1975 album 'Shamal'
Third on the album is 'Night Illusion' which is taken from Gong's 1976 album Gazeuse! And was written by Allan Holdsworth with more epic guitar riffs and soloing galore. Everytime I here it my memories of playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Megadrive are awaking and I can picture myself running down the twisty corridors of the bonus levels trying to collect as many coins as I can... Perhaps not the praise that Gong are after but praise nonetheless.
'Golden Dilemma' has the most intense opening on the entire album with crazy percussion galore which really does put across the message of dilemma. Shortly after the two minute mark the guitar comes in with a cool downbeat riff followed by percussion that brings the whole track into a breakdown, slowed up continuation of before. The ending drops the beat to the tempo of track number 5...
'Wingful of Eyes' the title track and second off the album Shamal is the first to include vocals. I really enjoy the first few seconds where the instruments are introduced and the ass line depicts the form of the vocals. This is also the first track to include the flute. I'm not the sort of person who reads into the meaning of a song but I really enjoy the simplicity of the way the vocals are sung and the poetry of the lyrics;
'There is a feeling we all know,
Something happened long ago,
When you remember who you were,
Makes you what you are today.
You are a kite upon a wind,
Blowing through eternity,
And you were always meant to fly,
You are a wingful of eyes...'
Track six, 'Three Blind Mice' is my second favourite track on the album and is a demonstration in "What to do with a Xylophone, if you own one". At least, it's what I'd aspire to if I owned a Xylophone. Three Blind Mice is also a drummers dream with fantastic drumming and a Bongo Bridge.
'Expresso' is back to the format of Night Illusion, and quite rightly so as it's from the same album. I'm sure that the spelling of expresso was considered a pun against the ignorance of many who ask for said mystical coffee. More sax, more epic guitar, more awesome drumming, more ridiculous xylophoning and more mad sliding bass guitar... Six minutes? Yes Please.
As with Heavy Tune 'Soli' is take from Gong's 1978 album Expresso II and is probably the most chilled out and one of the more accessible tracks on Wingful of eyes. An awesome opening structure builds up to a crescendo of flowing xylophone and guitar solos that see Soli out to almost the very end bar a cheeky drum roll and a couple of tinkles...
Track 9 'Shadow Of' seems to open on an outro and soften through it's 8 minutes eventually leading to some fantastic classical acoustic guitar.
'Mandrake' is brilliant. It's a composition that lies somewhere between what you might expect of a music box and a Chinese lullaby. Half way through Mandrake goes upbeat and gets a bit of a groove on - rocking out to some awesome Jazz sax licks and more incredible percussion before softening out to the most peaceful Gong finish yet.
The finale of Wingful of Eyes is another taste of the Orient with 'Bambouji' this time including some Oriental female vocals, Oriental pipes, guitars, wind sound effects and the piste de resistance; a Gong. This has been a tremendous musical journey...
1. Heavy Tune
2. Cat in Clark's Shoes
3. Night Illusion
4. Golden Dilemma
5. Wingful of Eyes
6. Three Blind Mice
9. Shadow Of
1986 Virgin Records
I picked my copy up from ever-reliable play.com for the princely fee of £4.95 though it is available on Amazon for a slightly higher fee, and I bought my original copy (which vanished in the sands of time) from HMV.
Though much of the album is not Daevid Allen's early Gong it still symbolises what Gong are all about and that no matter how many metamorphoses there are of their music, it will always stick to the same principle. I think Mike Howlett defines what this sort of 'crazy' music is all about and bein able to listen to, appreciate and enjoy these recordings gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction.
I think that this album is excellent, but I happen to like crazy, 70's experimental prog-rock-acid-jazz and that is exactly what this is. Many people who I have leant this album to just find that it becomes a bit much after a while and can't handle the cacophony of noise created by a bunch of eclectic, virtuoso musicians (those who have heard the album will know exactly what I mean). I consider this to be in my top handful of compilations ever and will happily recommend it to all those who has the time to really listen to it.
Have those disillusions of xylophones only being associated with your time in the elevator dispelled and take the plunge into percussive heaven!
If you like this, or at least like the sound of it, then I recommend that you check out Gong's second recording 'Camembert Electrique' or perhaps give Soft Machine a go and try any of the albums from 1-5...
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Heavy Tune
2 Cat In Clark's Shoes
3 Night Illusion
4 Golden Dilemma
5 Wingful Of Eyes
6 Three Blind Mice
9 Shadows Of