The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet: Surfing the Wave of the Mystery, live at Kozfest 2018 (Dakini Records)

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The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, if my gnomic cosmology holds true, was a term originally coined to describe the ‘otherness’ or trance induced by the dronish passages of Gong’s music, specifically that of glissando guitar and space whisper produced by the band’s founders Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth. It also came to encompass parallel projects in four corners of the globe – Australia, the UK, Brazil and the US, all  of which had Daevid Allen’s patronage and most his involvement (although information about the American branch is somewhat elusive) from the late Eighties onwards.

In fact my first viewing of Daevid Allen, at a memorable gig in April 1988 in an Afro-Caribbean club in Birmingham may well have gone under the umbrella of IOCOT – certainly gigs later in the year with the same musicians did. In the Nineties I got to hear albums by the Australian version (with Russell Hibbs), and the UK band (who I also saw at Gong 25) whilst a tape sent by current Gong guitarist Fabio Golfetti under this name was reviewed in Facelift and became the sleevenotes for its eventual release on Voiceprint. Much much more on that Brazilian connection in a later article.

Meanwhile, the UK version has continued its patronage of the UK festival scene, and are regular attendees at Kozfest, where this particular performance took place last summer. In fact this triumphant gig occurred towards the end of the traditionally Gong-ish Sunday on the festival’s smaller Judge Trev stage where the likes of the Glissando Guitar Orchestra, Yamma, Kangaroo Moon, Microcosmic and Magick Brothers had appeared through the weekend.

Fronted by guitarist Brian Abbott, whose Gong credentials stretch back to being the GAS custodian in the late Eighties, and partner Jackie Juno, this band’s trademarks are both romping through selected riffy Gong and Daevid Allen standards with a definite whiff of Camembert (notably ‘Stoned Innocent Frankenstein’, ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ and ‘We Circle Around’) alongside some strong originals. Occasionally they stop to take breath, and it is here that Jackie Juno’s alter ego presents itself. On the one hand a hugely charismatic, strong-voiced lead vocalist and stage presence, dropping the ‘F’ bomb at will, she can also morph into a more considered poetical side. Right from the off, the invocation ‘Now’ (whose words include this album’s title) sets the scene, whilst the later ‘Temple Song’, backed by thrashy guitar work from Brian Abbott calls down the wrath of the gods on the Chinese state (the track is dedicated, appropriately,  ‘to Tibet’).

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The highpoint, however,  is Juno’s superb, evocative ‘Great Goddess’ poem, extended from Gilli Smyth’s words, which provides the intro for a killer version of ‘Master Builder’. This is somewhat shorter than the current Gong band’s version, but punchy enough for immediate impact. The guest bass player here is none other than Mike Howlett, who of course pounded out the original line on ‘You’. A trio of originals unfamiliar to me is rounded off by  ‘Wake Up’, which alternates between some lovely harmonised verses (hints of ‘And You Tried So Hard’) between Juno and percussionist Trina McDougall, and a somewhat rousing chorus, before extending out into a glissy wig-out (and I’ll wager those two words have never appeared in tandem in print before). The aforementioned ‘Temple Song’ completes a trio of originals– as with most their material, it’s good rousing stuff for the festival crowd. Hats off to a tight band with keyboards (Julian Veasy), bass (Phil Whitehouse) and drums (Tracey Austin) and strong backing vocals throughout, and the three-strong female presence including the excellent drumming adds a different, somewhat boisterous twist to the Daevid Allen originals.

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Tim Hawthorn

Other guests on stage included Andy Bole, adding an extra guitar, and for an unexpected encore, original Invisible Tim Hawthorn/Hall/Flatus, who forsakes his gentle folky balladeering temporarily for a rousing version of ‘Bad Self’, the punked up number which he wrote and sung on ‘Jewel In The Lotus’. Although two further acts were to follow on this particular stage that evening, it brought down the curtain on our own particular viewing for Kozfest this year as we prepared to head back up north, and the pink clouds we emerged from inside the tent to, captured on the album’s front and inside covers, remain a fitting memory of an excellent gig.

You can order this CD direct at https://www.brianabbott.info

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