Never the most straightforward of bands, by 1977 Gong were represented by two radically different incarnations. One of them, trading as Pierre Morlen’s Gong, were deep in the realms of vocal-free jazz-rock (as exemplified by the previous year’s Gazeuse! album); meanwhile, original founder Daevid Allen’s nascent (and ultimately short-lived) Planet Gong outfit were on a more raucous musical path.
With Allen joined by wife and long-time musical partner Gilli Smyth, plus assorted members of space-rockers Here & Now, the collective set off on a series of tours. Recorded at their 6 November 1977 show in Toulouse, and released the following year on French imprint LTM (and Charly in the UK), the Live Floating Anarchy 1977 album presents a vivid illustration of their live dynamic. The recording kicks off with ‘Psychological Overture’, a classic Gong montage of pixie voices and electronic bleeps, abetted by Gilli Smyth’s legendary space whispers. It’s left to the following ‘Floating Anarchy’ to herald in the new direction, cranking up the tempo with a furious barrage of high-speed riffs topped off with political slogans and an anthemic chorus. ‘Stone Innocent Frankenstein’ follows: a sped-up and rejuvenated reworking of Allen’s classic Banana Moon solo album cut.
With its ethereal shrieks and slow-paced riffs, ‘New Age Transformation Try: No More Sages’ briefly harks back to old musical pastures before ‘Opium For The People’ (later released as a single) presents Planet Gong’s take on new wave music. The epic (in both title and song-length) ‘Allez Ali Baba Black-Sheep Have You Any Bullshit? And/Or (Then) Mama Maya Mantram’ rounds things off with a downright unsettled menagerie of crazed chanting, astral bleeps and heavy riffs.
With a dynamic perfectly suited to the times, yet still quintessentially Gong, the band were warmly received by contemporary audiences (in marked contrast to many of their late 60s peers). But then, with Gilli Smyth providing a feminine dimension almost unheard of in prog, and with an anarchic element constantly at play, Daevid Allen’s Gong were never your average prog outfit. With Planet Gong, Allen added new wave angularity and uptempo riffs to their patented mix of folk, psych, space-rock and jazz. In the process, he managed the near impossible: selling hippie idealism to punk rockers.