19 March 2022
Of the 8 times I’ve seen the current incarnation of Gong in the last 5 years or so, the most memorable occasions are etched in the brain partly due to the particular circumstances of the venue: the triumphant arrival at Kozfest in 2016; the back-of-beyond vibe of the village hall in Allendale; and Beatherder festival where the band provided an antidote to the all-pervasive techno. But it doesn’t get too much more personally resonant for me than the intimate surrounds of Hebden Bridge Trades Club, a place where I played a small part in bringing Didier Malherbe to these shores with Hadouk, and have also seen Steve Hillage and Daevid Allen perform. It’s also just down the road from us.
This was 13 gigs into a continuous 14 day stretch on the band’s current UK tour, performing nightly 2 and a half hours sets, and one might expect the band to be flagging. On the contrary: Jonny Greene (of the essential support network, the Gong Appreciation Society) reckoned the band had just about reached their peak the previous night in York, whilst tonight a revved up band were beaming and talkative afterwards. Reports had been consistently coming in of this tour showcasing the best performances of the current band, and it would be interesting to see whether tonight’s gig would stack up.
Prior to the gig, the question for me was how the band would find something new to say… ‘The Universe Also Collapses’ is 3 years old now, and even the recent appearance of an excellent double live album ‘Pulsing Signals’ can’t hide the fact that COVID has curtailed plans to record a third album of new music, hopefully merely postponed until later this year. The band’s solution on this tour is to air a combination of new and revisited tracks from ‘Rejoice I’m Dead’, alongside some inspired plucking of material from the vaults, and more subtly, a little tweaking here and there in amongst the established set lists.
The Trades Club is small enough (capacity 150) and convivial enough to work your way through a number of different vantage points and gather your impressions without unduly annoying other punters. And my thoughts were these: tonight, the vibe was often Camembertish punky (witness ‘O Mother’and ‘Kapital’), swirly (thanks to a lovely trancey reworking of ‘Eternal Wheel’) and mesmeric (‘Selene’, ‘The Universe Also Collapses’). It was also testament to a ridiculously tight and well-honed performance of some highly intricate compositions. For me the highlight of the set was the completely unexpected rendition of ‘Through Restless Seas I Come’, with spine-shivering vocals from Kavus Torabi; with Ian East, wonderfully audible tonight, memorably adding soprano before the track breaks out. Other high notes was ‘Love Is How You Make It’ from Angel’s Egg, freshly plucked from the archives with Fabio Golfetti dexterously dealing with the tuned percussion lines on guitar. Plus of course the requisite mind-boggling Torabi solo on ‘Rejoice!’; and the phenomenal, often tribal drumming throughout of the increasingly invisible Cheb Nettles (tonight in industrial strength face mask)
When I spoke to my daughter this morning for the post-gig debrief, she asked me firstly how long the band had played for, and secondly whether they’d performed ‘Master Builder’. Somehow my answers to her questions got conflated and I clearly gave her the impression they’d performed ‘Master Builder’ for 150 minutes. One could be forgiven for thinking this sometimes, this piece assumes ever more epic proportions, tonight heralded by a beautiful melodic Dave Sturt fretless bass solo within the introductory invocation. I can’t tell you whereabouts this was in the setlist, or whether I have told you enough about the glissando guitar playing, the light show, the banter between band and audience or the sheer exultation within the audience, but it was that sort of night…
Thanks to Fabio Golfetti. All things Gong at http://www.planetgong.co.uk