Pierre Moerlen’s Gong

Pierre Moerlen’s Gong was a French jazz-rock band that functioned as a continuation of Gong following the departure of Daevid Allen, with percussionist Moerlen assuming the reigns. This iteration of the band released six albums between 1975 and 1981, the last three of which bear the affixed nameplate. 

Members: Pierre Moerlen (drums), Benoit Moerlen (percussion, vibraphone, marimba, keyboards, 1978-79, 1987-89, 1995), Hansford Rowe (bass, 1978-96), Mireille Bauer (percussion, 1978), François Causse (percussion, 1978-81), Ross Record (guitar, 1978), Bon Lozaga (guitar, 1978-81, 1993-96), Jeff Young (keyboards, 1979), Ake Zieden (guitar, 1983-89), Lena Andersson (vocals, 1983-85), Dag Westling (guitar, 1983-85), Michael Zylka (Chapman stick, 1983-85), Nina Andersson (saxophone, vocals, 1983-85), Chister Rhedin (keyboards, 1983-85), Stefan Traub (percussion, keyboards, 1987-89), Frank Fischer (keyboards, 1987-89)


Background

Pierre Moerlen (b. 1952) joined Gong in 1973 as part of a new lineup that included his girlfriend, percussionist Mireille Bauer (b. 1951), and bassist Mike Howlett (b. 1950, Fiji). In the 1973–74 Gong lineup, they played alongside guitarist Steve Hillage, keyboardist Tim Blake, and co-founders Didier Malherbe (sax, flute), Gilli Smyth (vocals) and Daevid Allen (vocals, guitar).

The latter three recorded the 1970–72 albums Magick Brother, Camembert Electrique, and Continental Circus. Hillage and Blake joined for the early 1973 Virgin release Flying Teapot, the first of Gong’s Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy, recorded with bassist Francis Moze and drummer Laurie Allan. The last two cleared for Howlett, Moerlen, and Bauer, who played on the 1973–74 albums Angel’s Egg and You, the second and third albums of the trilogy.

An ensuing lineup shuffle saw the early 1975 exits of Hillage, Smyth, and Allen. Moerlen assumed leadership of Gong, which eschewed psychedelic space-rock (Allen’s vision) for percussive jazz-rock. French keyboardist Patrice Lemoine (b. 1953) joined the new Gong, which toured the UK civic hall circuit in November 1975 with Virgin label-mates Clearlight. Lemoine hailed from Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes and recently played on Owlcreek Incident, the third album by English folksters Prelude.


Shamal

On February 13, 1976, Virgin Records issued Shamal, Gong’s seventh overall album and the first headed by percussionist Pierre Moerlen, who plays drums, vibraphone, and tubular bells. The title refers to the northwesterly winds of the Persian Gulf desert.

Side One features one composition each by bassist Mike Howlett (“Wingful of Eyes”), keyboardist Patrice Lemoine (“Chandra,” lyrics by Howlett), and saxophonist–flutist Didier Malherbe (“Bambooji”). The trio co-wrote the Side Two opener “Cat in Clark’s Shoes,” followed by Moerlen’s “Mandrake” and the group-composed title track.

Shamal is the final Gong album with Howlett and the only one with Lemoine. Moerlen’s girlfriend Mireille Bauer (a guest percussionist on the two prior Gong albums) becomes a full-fledged member on gongs and pitch percussion (marimba, glockenspiel, xylophone).

Former Gong guitarist Steve Hillage guests on “Wingful of Eyes” and “Bambooji,” which features the voice of his girlfriend Miquette Giraudy. Four tracks (barring “Wingful” and “Mandrake”) feature Argentine violinist Jorge Pinchevsky, a Sui Generis sessionist.

1. “Wingful of Eyes” (6:19)
2. “Chandra” (7:16)
3. “Bambooji” (5:21)

4. “Cat in Clark’s Shoes” (7:45)
5. “Mandrake” (5:07)
6. “Shamal” (8:58) features the voice of one Sandy Colley.

Sessions took place in December 1975 at Olympic and Basing St. (Island) studios with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, who produced Shamal after finishing work on Floyd’s September release Wish You Were Here, preceded by the May Virgin title Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, the third solo album by ex-Soft Machine singer–percussionist Robert Wyatt.

Shamal credits four engineers, including Basing St.’s Dave Hutchins (Dog Soldier, Fruupp, Gonzalez, Heavy Metal Kids) and Phil Ault (Deaf School, Joan Armatrading, Nasty Pop, String Driven Thing) and Olympic’s Ben King (Andy Fairweather Low, The Pretty Things).

Artist and photographer Clive Arrowsmith designed the gatefold cover to Shamal, which features a desert landscape (outer) and a side-to-side group photo (inner-gate). North American copies appeared in a single sleeve with a different desert pic and typeface. Arrowsmith’s cover visuals also accompany 1976 releases by Patrick Moraz (The Story of i), Gino Vannelli (The Gist of the Gemini), and Wings (Wings at the Speed of Sound).


Reading Rock ’76, Lineup Change

Gong plugged Shamal on the UK club and college circuit. On March 26, 1976, they played the Free Trade Hall in Manchester with Finnish jazz-rockers Wigwam. On June 6, Gong played the New London Theatre as part of a multi-act bill with Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith and Gong spinoff Daevid Allen & Euterpe, whose 1976 Virgin release Good Morning features Mike Howlett and Pierre Moerlen on the track “Wise Man In Your Heart.”

In late August, Gong played Reading Rock ’76, a three-day event at Little John’s Farm, Reading, with sets by A Band Called “O”, Automatic Fine Tuning, Back Door, Brand X, Camel, Colosseum II, Eddie & the Hot RodsThe Enid, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, MoonOsibisa, Pat Travers, Phil Manzanera’s 801, Rory GallagherSassafras, Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, and Van Der Graaf Generator. Gong headlined Day 1 (Friday the 27th), which also featured Mallard, Supercharge, Stallion, and reggae acts U-Roy and the Mighty Diamonds.

Gong embarked on autumn UK tours with John Stevens’ Away and Steve Hillage, who (with Miquette and band) performed his recent second solo album L, produced by Todd Rundgren with backing by Utopia.

Before Gong reentered the studio, Howlett ended his three-year tenure. He plays on the 1976 Polydor release Vibrarock by French percussionist Robert Wood, who opened for Gong on the You tour.

Howlett entered production, starting with Virgin punk signees Penetration and their 1977 single “Don’t Dictate” and 1978 album Moving Targets. He played on the 1976 Polydor release Vibrarock by French percussionist Robert Wood, who opened for Gong on the You tour. Howlett subsequently produced titles by the new wave bands Fischer-Z, Martha + The Muffins, and Punishment of Luxury. In the early eighties, he worked with Athletico Spizz ’80 and Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark.

Gong rehired Francis Moze, the bassist on the first two Magma albums who preceded Howlett’s tenure on the early 1973 Gong release Flying Teapot. Gong also welcomed guitarist Allan Holdsworth, a seven-year journeyman (‘Igginbottom, Nucleus, Tempest) whose virtuoso plaudits stemmed from recent stints with Soft Machine and Tony Williams New Lifetime.


Gazeuse!

Gong released Gazeuse!, their second album headed by drummer–percussionist Pierre Moerlen, in late 1976 on Virgin Records. The title is French for “sparkling.” In North America, the album appeared as Expresso, the name of the opening track. Gazeuse! is the first of two Gong albums with recent Soft Machine–Lifetime guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who also plays violin and pedal steel.

Gazeuse! features three compositions by Moerlen: “Expresso” and the lengthy showcases “Esnuria” and “Percolations (Part I & II).” Holdsworth submits “Night Illusion” and”Shadows Of,” a variation of the title-track from his concurrent CTI release Velvet Darkness. Fretless bassist Francis Moze wrote the closing number “Mireille,” named after percussionist Mireille Bauer, who double’s Pierre on pitched percussion (marimba, glockenspiel) and co-plays vibraphone with his younger brother Benoît Moerlen.

Gazeuse! is the final Gong album with co-founder (and last-remaining pre-1973 member) Didier Malherbe, whose role shrinks to tenor saxophone on two cuts (“Expresso,” “Esnuria”) and flute on “Shadows Of.”

1. “Expresso” (5:58)
2. “Night Illusion” (3:42)
3. “Percolations (Part I & II)” (10:00)

4. “Shadows Of” (7:48)
5. “Esnuria” (8:00)
6. “Mireille” (4:10)

Sessions took place in September 1976 at the Manor Studio, an Oxfordshire mansion facility owned by Virgin co-founder Richard Branson. Dennis MacKay produced and engineered Gazeuse! in sequence with 1976 titles by Brand X (Unorthodox Behaviour), Curved Air, Jeff Beck (Wired), Mahavishnu Orchestra, Narada Michael Walden (Garden of Love Light), Return to Forever (Romantic Warrior), Spiders From Mars, Tommy Bolin, and the Island release Go, a super-project by Stomu Yamashta, Steve Winwood, and Michael Shrieve with contributions by Klaus Schulze and Al Di Meola.

Gazeuse! features nineteen-year-old guest percussionist Mino Cinelu, an emerging sessionist (Bernard Lavilliers, Patrick Vian) who recently cut an album with French jazz-rockers Moravagine, which morphed into Chute Libre.

French-American painter Jacques Moitoret did the Gazeuse! cover art, which shows bubbles, coils, ribbons, and spinning tops hovering over an ornate mandala. Original UK copies contain a four-fold poster of the artwork.

US and Canadian copies (Expresso) feature an alternate cover by illustrator John Thompson, the visual artist for Pere Ubu.


Expresso II

In March 1978, Gong released Expresso II, their third Moerlen-led album and the last issued on Virgin.

1. “Heavy Tune” Pierre Moerlen (6:22)
2. “Golden Dilemma” Hansford Rowe (4:51)
3. “Sleepy” Mireille Bauer (7:17)

4. “Soli” Hansford Rowe (7:37)
5. “Boring” Mireille Bauer (6:23)
6. “Three Blind Mice” Benoît Moerlen (4:47)

Recorded July–August 1977, Pye & Matrix Studios, London
Producer (Pierre Moerlen’s) Gong, John Wood
Pierre Moerlen – drums, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, tympani, tubular bells
Benoît Moerlen – vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, percussion, claves, tubular bells
Mireille Bauer – marimba, vibraphone
Hansford Rowe – bass, rhythm guitar (2)

Additional personnel
Mick Taylor – lead guitar (1)
Allan Holdsworth – lead guitar (3, 4, 6), rhythm guitar (1)
Bon Lozaga – lead guitar (2), rhythm guitar (3)
Darryl Way – violin (3, 5)
François Causse – congas


Downwind 

On February 9, 1979, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong released Downwind, their first of four albums on Arista.


Time Is the Key

In late 1979, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong released Time Is the Key, their second Arista album.


Live

In 1980, Arista issued Live, a document of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong from their winter 1979 shows in Paris (2/16: Stadium) and London (3/11: The Venue).


Leave It Open

Pierre Moerlen’s Gong released their fourth Arista album, Leave It Open, in 1981. This is the sixth Moerlen-headed studio album (seventh overall) and the fourth with his name


Breakthrough

In 1986, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong returned from a five-year absence with Breakthrough, released on Eulenspiegel (Germany) and ARC Music (UK).


Second Wind

In 1988, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong released Second Wind in Germany on Line Records.


Discography:

  • Shamal (1975)
  • Gazeuse! (1976)
  • Expresso II (1978)
  • Downwind (1979)
  • Time Is the Key (1979)
  • Leave It Open (1981)
  • Breakthrough (1986)
  • Second Wind (1988)

Sources:

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