Today would have been Gilli Smyth's 90th birthday.
Gilli was, along with Daevid Allen, the co-founder of legendary psychedelic progressive intergalactic jazz (con)fusion band Gong. She was a trail-blazing vocalist, poet, feminist, intellectual, conversationalist. In the 60s when the music industry was ruled exclusively by men (unless you were an attractive whispy pop or folk singer), Gilli was one of the few women working in the experimental / psychedelic music scene – or at least one of the few that history has either not recorded or erased.
I was incredibly privileged to consider Gilli as one of my closest friends in the last years of her life. I lived with Gilli and her son Orlando in a rustic beach house near Byron Bay, Australia for a number of years, and that period of my life will always hold some of my fondest memories.
The long, long, LONG hours sitting on the front balcony or around the dinner table discussing subjects philosophical, musical or scientific. The many cups of tea, the many glasses of red wine – often at improper hours of the day – not to mention the continual spliffs. It was a heady atmosphere.
What I most liked about Gilli was that she was an intellectual. Her passion for philosophy, science, feminism, literature, poetry and of course music was unquenchable. There would always be copies of New Scientist and Fortean Times piled high wherever Gilli was currently sitting. There were always interesting and obscure books scattered around.
She also could impart some absolutely cracking anecdotes – not surprising, as she was friends with Simone de Beauvoir while living in Paris, lived with Robert Graves in Deja, and regularly played chess with Jimi Hendrix in London.
From around 2000, I occasionally collaborated with Gilli on musical projects, and later I worked extensively with her on her final releases – “Paradise” ( https://gillismyth.bandcamp.com/album/paradise ) and was working with her on an album entitled “Do Birds Dream in Song?” when she became too ill to continue working.
I did my best to push the “Do Birds Dream in Song?” project through to completion, but always wanted Gilli to creative leader and steer the project – not take control as men have so often done in the history of the music industry. I regret not being able to finish the project at the time, and while there's often been suggestions to complete the project in recent times, Gilli's illness and passing left me too sad and upset for many years to consider picking it up.
Now, that there's been time to heal and recover, I've dusted off some of the recordings. Perhaps it is time to complete the album? I've thought to perhaps contact some of Gilli's other friends and collaborators to help complete the project.
In the meantime, I've decided to release several of the tracks from the sessions as a semi-unofficial EP as a free download to celebrate Gilli's 90th birthday. The tracks are as they were when we were unable to continue, so please bear in mind they're not what I would consider to be masterpieces of production, but I still like them a great deal.
Gilli never liked celebrating her birthday – it was at her birthday party in 1973 that Robert Wyatt fell out a window and broke his spine – but she did like any excuse to open a fine bottle of red and spark up a spliff – so raise a glass / joint to Gilli Smyth (1 June 1933 – 22 August 2016).