Two interviews with Daevid
Mark Bloch interviews Daevid
The day after:
Mark Bloch: How was your show last night?
Daevid Allen: Oh it was fine. It was great. I don't know what to say. I didn't see it. I was doing it.
Did you and Kevin Ayers just share the bill or did you actually play together?
No, because we haven't seen each other for 25 years. You just don't walk in... I havent seen him for a year. I mean we haven't really hung out for a very long time. You don’t just walk in and start playing with people in a situation like that. People seem to think that because you played in a group once 20 years ago that you're going to automatically be able to play it again and do it again in 20 years. Don't automatically assume that. Our paths have taken diametrically opposite directions.
I suppose it could happen that I'll play a little guitar or something on some or one of his songs, once we get used to it. But to assume we'll do it straight up is a bit presumptuous.
How did you originally meet up? Was Kevin the first one that you met in the Soft Machine or was it Robert Wyatt? I'm unclear on who you met first.
Well I met Robert first. When I came from Australia it was in 1960 or so. I was in England for about a year. Then a very close friend of mine died. He killed himself in Australia and I was too… to go back to Australia… I was staying in England. So I thought, "Well, I'll put an advertisement in the newspaper there and just wait it out and see if anyone..." I was looking around for a place where I could live very cheaply and one of the replies was Robert Wyatt's parents. They had a house in Kent down near Canterbury- a big old house full of paintings. They were writers themselves. It was very bohemian. Well, I got to stay there. They rented me a room very cheaply.
Robert was only 14 or something… maybe 16 or something. I was 21, so he was like a kid but he was very precocious in the sense that he was painting in a very advanced sort of way. The curious thing was that he had the same records as I did- the same record collection. So you know, we became friends pretty fast. He was quite old for his age. We could easily converse. I suppose he probably looked up to me because I was older. I was a kind of beatnick from Austrailia and a tear away… a rebel.
His parents were very tolerant toward me. I was basically really seriously into sort of the beat poet thing. I was hitchhiking everywhere and writing bits of poetry and I'd go anywhere and do anything at any particular time and I got Robert in various bits of trouble and so on, as well.
I met his friends. They all went to school. So they all started playing music really simply in the beginning. In the process I met Hugh Hopper and all the kids who were going to the same school. Shortly after or the next year- I was there for a year and a half- finally I outraged everybody and they finally threw me out of the house. And I went to move up to London and after about a year of living in London they came up and we started the first jazz- free jazz- group. Nobody was listening much to Ornette Coleman in England at that time. In fact If you went to ??? Records, which was like the number one place… they'd sort of pass you an Ornette Coleman record with a pair of tweezers, they hated it so much.
And so we were playing free electric guitar music and so on at this time which would be 1961… something like that. I don’t think we were doing it very well but we were doing it.
And who was that with?
It was called the Dave Allen Quartet. In the group was Robert and Hugh and Mike Ratledge and myself and it was limited. But we played and we played free and we got actually to play at various places. I had a bit of a reputation as a poet- the beat poetry again- so we got to play opposite Dudley Moore at this club called The Establishment Club and we got to play at a place called New Directions which was run by a guy called Mike Horowitz, who is the editor of the Penguin book of Beat Poetry in the 1960s.
So we got around a bit but we didn’t really gather too many fans. We mostly seemed to outrage people and so that was that. Then I went to Paris and left England and started doing various sorts of performance art and poetry and so on and eventually they came over and we tried recording a bit. That’s more or less how it started. That’s how the band sort of started.
Then I took off to Spain and lived in Spain with Gilli Smyth and eventually Kevin would come down and stay at our house. They would all come and stay with Gilli and me. But Kevin would come and stay in the house in Majorca most.
Was Kevin one of the ones that would play in London?
It was a jazz group. He was really interested just in songs. Now Kevin would come with all his records. Meanwhile they'd reformed a group called the Wilde Flowers back in England and were making headway around the Canterbury area with this particular group. That was a rock group. I didn't really know about the rock group actually. I was writing poetry and books and painting and so on in Majorca. I wasn't playing guitar much at all.
But then Kevin would show up with records like the early Beatles records and the Yarbirds- a particular single by the Yardbirds which is based on this Indian riff and I was very much into Indian music and we were all experimenting with acid and so on at this point and that whole Leary, Owlsely and acid inspired thing. Mostly we were interested in exploring the kinds of inner visions that came with that. I started to think about the esoteric.
So when he showed up with Beatles albums and particularly this Yardbirds thing with Jeff Beck playing on it I suddenly thought "Well, we could go on doing what we were doing- which is the free thing- and call it rock 'n roll or call it pop music or something and people might go for it. So we started doing this. We started writing a few songs and that's how Soft Machine was born.
A guy showed up from the States. He was a flipper but he was an amiable flipper because he sold his business in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
That was this guy, Wes?
Yeah he gave us the money to get all the guitars and amps that we needed to start a band. He gave us tickets to England so he showed up at a particular auspicious moment and we all- well Kevin and I- took off to England and drew Robert out of the Wilde Flowers
So you were doing this without Robert at this point? Just you and Kevin?
We were doing it on one hand. They were doing it with the Wilde Flowers over in England. When we wanted to start Soft Machine we came and kidnapped Robert and pulled him in to play with Kevin and me and Robert and this other guy called Larry...
Larry Nolan, who I'd found in Majorca.
So you were playing guitar at that time?
I was playing a bit of guitar and a bit of bass but I wasn't really good at playing rock 'n roll guitar because I'd been playing jazz for years and learning that language.
And when you were playing the jazz what did you play- guitar?
So then when you had Larry Nolan you guys had two guitarists?
Yeah. Kevin would play guitar some of the time. We'd swap back and forth playing the bass but I had to relearn the language- the rock n roll language. I was never particularly interested in the blues. I was never interested in the origins of jazz in the sense that the blues were involved in it so I ignored all the blues riffs. I refused to learn the blues riffs and invented my own riffs. That meant when I came to play guitar I only half-played and only half spoke the language but it also made for a more original kind of style.
So are you the person who brought Kevin and introduced him to Robert then?
Remember- I came from Australia to the scene in Canterbury and they were all going to school together so I came sort of as an older madcap and I worked with them.
So eventually you started playing at the UFO Club through a connection of yours called the International Times?
Well yeah. I'd been already known as a poet and somebody who was around and when we came down to London there was a definite buzz. The combination of Kevin and Robert and myself, particularly, seemed to- we were all very intent to make it happen. The combination of the three of us together was the driving force behind it. Mike Ratledge came later. Larry Nolan dropped out. The three of us, we had this sort of vision in common. We wanted to make this thing work. We were very very intent. So we used all the connections we had- which were considerable- between the three of us. We had been working very hard for two or three years so we broke through. We got the band signed up through Kevin's connections, really, to the manager Mike Jeffries, the manager of the Animals as well. And at same time I had all these connections, as well, like The International Times and People Amoungst the Freaks.
The Freaks. The Freak Organization. People who were writers and everyone was related. It was very interesting. I'd been involved with the poets and Robert had his connections through his brother who was an actor and his family who were pretty involved in literature and the arts as well. And Mike had all his opposite connections when he finally joined up.
So we made a single called "Love Makes Sweet Music"; pushed very hard and it went into the charts that’s how we made the Soft Machine- there's the basics right there, the basic stuff about Soft Machine.
Tell me one more thing- you were denied entry to the UK after this Desire Caught by The Tail gig in France? Is that what happened?
Yeah. Because the English changed all the immigration laws and were trying to restrict the immigration of black people. They didn't want to admit they were trying to restrict the immigration of black people so for political reasons they had to make it all Commonwealth people- really, white people from the Commonwealth.
So I didn't bother doing anything about changing my status. I could have. There was a way where white people could change their status so they could get in and the black people couldn't. Now the English, usually that’s they way they do things. They don't do it overtly. They pretend they're being very cool about it but actually they're being completely racist. But I got caught in that net because I didn't take the series of steps to avoid it and therefore I was thrown out for three years.
So you found yourself back in Paris...
They wouldn't let me into the country. They put me in the slammer. They deported me to France. That way I couldn't get in I had all my belongings in England. They wouldn’t even let me in.
And you had been in Paris before that?
Yeah I had lived in Paris.
But at that point you were there doing the Desire Caught by The Tail gig?
No I had lived there for several years and I preferred Paris. I didn't like England all that much. I was able to go back to Paris and survive very easily, very quickly. That was how Gong started.
I'm writing as book about it at the moment, my own personal vision. So it's called The Visionary History of Soft Machine and Gong because its really just the visions, personally, that I had because it has nothing to do with the other people. The way I see it…
All that Zero the Hero-type stuff?
No. Zero the Hero was a book, an allegory that I wrote. No, this was my own sequence of visions that I had. Because ultimately what I haven't said in talking to you about it- I'm telling you the practical series of events- the whole thing was inspired by a series of visions. So the visions were what were a little more important to me. They were the things that really got me on my feet.
I would like to speak more with you some time about the spiritual side of things.
It's very difficult to talk about that sort of thing. That's why I'm writing this book. Because I can better explain the whole thing in a way to people who have a reaction against these vision things that are not really tangible material- especially in this very material world of rock 'n roll. People don't really understand it. So I felt it was necessary to share that the whole thing was coming from a sequence of visions I was driven by. From my point of view by visions. But to me they are more important than the material things. But I really need to present it in a way that people can digest it into their system. That's why I don't really talk about it outside of this wide structure that I've put it into in this book. I'm quite happy to tell you the practical things. The actual juicy energy drive I'm saving.
OK. Thanks. I wish you well.
Mark Bloch: Daevid, I'd like you to drift back... drift back.
Daevid Allen: Drift back? Like this? (Leans head back) Is this what you mean?
Yes. Open wide. When did you first go to the dentist, Daevid?
Almost imediately upon birth. I immediately had problems with my teeth and in those days the dentists were very ancient Chinese weathermen with leather aprons and large boring devices. So I was bored to death by dentists. That's why I really don't get on with them.
Even the Chinese ones didn't interest you?
No. They didn't speak the language of Gong.
And when did this Gong vision first pop into your head?
On a rainy day and a windy day in the desert. It was unusual that it would rain in the desert. I think it was because of that shock that I saw the whole thing as a flash. You're expecting one thing and you get another. You're in the desert and it becomes like the English countryside. Actually it's going to turn you around and make you reach for a strawberry milkshake or two. And so I did: I rolled it in paper and wrote the story that's the end product- Gong!
Ah! And it was all in there? Everything we heard tonight?
I manufactured it on a machine for manufacturing Gong stories. It was built by Professor Van der Bilt in 1923. It was a beautiful thing. It was painted silver and sort of irridescent blue. It was like a press. You'd feed disgruntled noises in one end and they'd come out as lucid conversation at the other. Now, in the process of doing this, all of a sudden, there was this treatise-- a three-level treatise on the purpose of Planet Gong Propagation on Planet Earth. And the three treatises were that there was, first of all, a sociological doctrine which went with Planet Gongery. Secondly, there was a philosophical, sort of, spiritiual doctrine. And thirdly, there was a mythological journey-- a shamanistic journey. Anybody that really wanted to be involved with Planet Gong needed to really go on this journey. A mythological, mytho-illogical journey. A shamansitic journey where you transform yourself. Where you change yourself. Thus, shapeshifter!
And when did this vision take place? At what period of your life?
When I was 72.
Oh 72! Was that dog years or pot head pixie years or maybe gnome years?
No, 72. I'm 171 now. It was quite a long time ago.
Forgive all my serious questions. Do you have any idea why there's all these fans walking around obsessed by this music like me? Why is that?
I hadn't really noticed it. I mean I'll take your word for it. If you say so, yes.
I was talking to Pip (Pyle) about it.
What did he say?
Pip's girlfriend was suprised. She thought it was a bit like Beatlemania. She seemed shocked that he was like a cult figure in certain people's eyes. And I can see it because I got onto it when I was about 17.
Ahhhh! You were a kid! I used to be... my gods were Charlie Mingus and Eric Dolphy and Thelonius Monk, you know. And I used to go and hang out and try to talk to them and...
Did you ever talk to them?
Oh yeah! I talked alot to Eric Dolphy and also Charlie Mingus. I never got to talk to Thelonius Monk, though. Bud Powell, yeah, I knew him quite well. Those were my heroes, right? So it really meant alot to me. So whenever somebody comes to me with that feel, I just have to remember how I felt when I was, like, really... It's a real magical thing, you know. It has to be acknowledged and honored, you know. It's a very beautiful emotion.
I feel better already!
And it's.... some people always get embarrassed by it and then they push it away. They resist it and they don't want to know. I think it's actually a beautiful interchange. It's a lovely interchange and I accept that completely and I enjoy it. Though I guess tonight I'm a bit tired. Also I reserve the right to be completely whimsical in relation to it. So there may be, absolutely, not that much sense, you know, at certain moments in my life when you ask me these questions. I simply improvise in my imagination.
Well perhaps it was my questions. I'm interested in those early days. You had gone to the UK from Australia and met Robert. And things came out quite ahead of their time. It must have been a reflection of where you guys were at that time.
Well, where a lot of other people were at too. It was a period when yeah, we were the product of our time just like anyone else was. It was a very strange time- the sixties. Looking back at it from here, it looks like, wow, what a bizarre period! People were so... there were so few conscious people around. Nobody was... it seemed like everybody was really brainwashed and totally conformist to an extraordinary degree. So we seemed like absolute radicals just by making the slightest gesture. These days, I mean, you can go to incredible Surrealistic extremes to attract attention to yourself and nobody will even notice. And more will walk the other way. So it's a very different atmosphere these days. That's for sure.
But you were doing things just ahead of everyone else weren't you?
We just did what we felt intuitively was right in the moment basically.
But you personally, I mean. You were ahead of your time in so many ways. Why did others pick on them a couple years later?
I just expressed myself. I just sensed that I needed to... I'm just built that way. I had to express myself the way I was. It didn't really fit very well with my environment in that context and so I got alot of punishment from people who wanted me to be different and I learned how to deal with that. I kept doing what I was doing anyway. Nobody could make me stop being myself. I just kept being myself and in being myself, a stream of events happened and that's OK. That’s where I was.
What made you leave Australia?
It was horrible there then. It's great there now. It's a totally groovy place. In those days it was horrific. It was worse than McCarthyism. I mean, it was total redneck. Total redneck. It was a dreadful place--like the West in 1949.
That was the reason?
Oh sure. I had to get out of there I was stifled I was completely asphyxiated.
If you don't mind me bringing up something unpleasant, you told me once this friend of yours took his life and that rocked you?
Oh yeah, thats right, he did. Pete... yeah, Pete, right. Anyway, it's sad and very tragic.
So you felt it was time for a change?
Well, I would've gone back because he was my friend, you know. I would have gone back to hang out with him. But when I realized he was dead, then it seemed like all the reasons for going back suddenly whithered away. I would've gone back to hang out with him but I knew Australia was a pretty horrible place It didn't really improve until the left wing government got in for a few years. (Edward Gough) Whitlam really, really created a revolution then. All the people who had fled Australia like myself and Jim Angria, for example, or people like that... Barry Humphries and, yeah, these kinds of people-- all the people of my generation-- we just ran as soon as we could. We got out of there. It was horrific!
We all wanted to go back, though, when Whitlam and the government got in there and the whole thing changed like a revolution. We had a political revolution in Australia and that's when things started to... That's when the movie industry began. All these really juicy things that have come out of Australia all started in that period-- when the Whitlam government had its brief period of power.
When was that?
In the 70s. I think. It was the 70s. You know, I don't really know. I can't remember what year that was.
Then there was this incident where later where they blamed you for Robert's suicide, apparently? Robert (Wyatt) tried to kill himself?
What happened was, he was talking to me about it during that time and I was saying. "Well, it's stupid, you know, to kill yourself. You end up stuck in the… this kind of place between the physical world and the astral world and you just don't really... You're stuck there. It's like being stuck in a cupboard. You can't change yourself. It's over. At least if you're in a body you can change yourself. If you're a suicide, you get stuck there until the length of your life is worked out in, sort of, earthly time. But it's, like, horrible. You're neither here nor there. You don't really have a body anymore. You try to, sort of, work through people. Its very frustrating." So yeah. But then in the end he kept talking intellectually about what a wonderful thing it was, to kill yourself. I just got fed up with him!
Was it that it was wonderful? I thought it was despair?
Well, he thought it was a good idea. So in the end I gave up and I said, "Alright, well if it's really such a good idea and nothing I say can convince you otherwise, then go fucking kill yourself! I'm going to bed!," you know?
So the problem was he did. So there was somebody else that was there at that time. And they misconstrued it and wanted to say that I had encouraged him to kill himself. So that was a misunderstanding. Nevertheless, I was thrown out of the house because I'm never very good at defending myself in situations where I'm accused. I tend to just surrender and say "Oh, if that’s what you think, well, OK!" which I did in this case and so I was thrown out of the house.
Is that when you went to London?
I moved to London.
And he came?
Yeah, then they left home and came over and joined me in London.
And you were doing this...
Kevin had said something once to me about poetry readings and banging on pots and pans...
There was a lot of stuff happening. It was a quite a long period of time, if you think about it. From 1961 to 1966 when the Soft Machine was formed. I mean, we survived five years. There was a lot of things going on every day. Yeah there was a lot of poetry going on as well. I was a beat poet. I was officially a beat poet.
I was doing poetry readings all over the place but in those days nobody wanted to know, you know.
And when you say you were influenced by Mingus and Thelonius Monk, was it the Beats, too?
Oh sure, yeah, of course. The Beats were a very important thing. When I discovered the Beats, that's when I left work. I dropped out a month later. I read my first Evergreen Review and I dropped out of where I was working. That was a review published by City Lights.
Yeah, I just picked up a copy of the Pataphysical issue, actually.
Oh yeah, thats a good one! I still have a copy of that myself, somewhere. Pataphysics. I love pataphysics.
So you were mixing all that stuff together? Pataphysics, Jazz, the Beats?
Yeah, it was all there. It was all on the pallette. So just paint with it, you know? Whatever was available.
And what were you painting back then? You were a painter?
I'm still a painter. I paint all the time. I draw all the time. I went to art school.
Yes, but when you were living with Robert, the two of you painted together. What were your paintings like? Were you doing the things with the faces like you do on the Gong album covers? Were you an Abstract Expressionist? Do you remember what your paintings were like?
No, I was doing... it was a bit like De Kooning, in a way, I suppose. What was that other guy? There was guy living in... I dont know if it was anyting like De Kooning. It wasn't like De Kooning. It was like some of those English organic painters of the sixties, as well, but...
Max Ernst was an enormous influence on me because he used an incredible variety of styles. There wasn't so much emphasis on, you know, "If your a painter, you've got to paint with one style; you've got to produce an exhibition in this one style; If you're making records, you've got to do all your songs in one style." It was presented to us sort of like an amorphous misogyny. I don't like that thing. I've never adhered by that. I've always tried to make every track different and be as unsettling as possible. So I don't do that in my painting. I don't do that with my music. I try not to do that in any part of my life.
Do you do that now? Try to be a bit unsettling in your music?
Sure! I try to be unsettling everyday.
It was great to hear the stuff from Angels Egg tonight. It made me think of World Music. The mixing up of styles. You practically invented World Music didn't you?
Thats what I'm saying. Yeah, in painting, in music... always. It' s that thing, that idea. That's why Max Ernst was so good. Because every painting he did, he quickly moved from style to style to style. And so he could always be Max Ernst. It was always the same energy. And I feel thats what happens with Gong. Gong can process just, like, anything, and it will come out still sounding like Gong. It will sound like the style as well. So the whole idea is that a band is not a style. A band is a kind of invisible soul-- if its a real band. And that soul keeps changing and metamorphising. You can take any form. You can go from Dixieland through Country through Heavy Metal, you know, to Classical, you know, and you will still be playing similar themes. But the themes will still be bent 'round to different forms, different styles.
I guess record companies make people sign things saying they won't change their style.
Maybe they should make them sign things saying they won't change their soul.
That's it entirely. That's the basis for it. That's the invisible force. That's why we don’t deal with those kinds of record companies, under any circumstances, ever.
Is it easier or harder now that you are older?
Oh it's easier. Its easier because as you grow older you get a little bit of extra skill here and there. Yeah, I think you enjoy things more. I guess you're more laid back. There's a lot of advantages to growing old. I think you feel really happy! A happy life. You want to be more in the here and now, not thinking of the future or the past so much. I think it's easier to accept the way it is while it's happening rather than saying, "I want to control it. Make it this. Do this kind of Julius Caesar..."
Once when I asked you about the UFO Club you told me "Mike had such and such connections, Robert had all these other connections through his family..." You had connections through the International Times. What suprised me was the fact that you were all quite ambitious.
Yeah, we were very ambitious then.
It's funny, isn't it? Maybe not to you, because you were there.
I was there. I was very ambitious. I was very ambitious at the beginning of Gong. That's what I mean, you know. The thing is, as you get older, those things get less important-- the whole competition thing, sort of. Also, what is there to prove, sort of? Like once things have been established a bit, you don't have this sense of being driven by those kinds of artificial premises. Really, what you're driven by is simply trying to be as real to yourself as you can to yourself. So therefore: following your own particular, personal flame. Every person has that-- that pearl in them, you know-- that pearl. Every single person in the whole world has this pearl of their own particular individual, unique contribution. And some people are closer to finding it. Maybe its just luck, maybe it's skill. I don't know. The fact is that I feel lucky because I found my pearl and I'm just... I enjoy it. I enjoy it...
...you just shine it up and share it and...
Yeah, I enjoy it but at the same time, what I'm trying to do is... do it such a way that encourages everyone else's pearls to come to the surface. Or if they're already at the surface, to shine in unison. So that we all become pearls. That's the whole idea. The whole competition thing says "I've got my pearl and I'm going to try and stop you from getting yours because if I have my pearl, I'll have an advantage over you." That's not the way I think now. My feeling is everybody should have their own pearl out there! Life would be so much more beautiful. Life would be so much fun.
Alright! Well that's a good note to end on.
© Mark Bloch, 2015