At the Winter Solstice, we celebrate Children’s Day to honour our children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness into the dark time of the year. Holidays such as this have their origin as “holy days”. They are the way human beings mark the sacred times in the yearly cycle of life.
In the northern latitudes, midwinter’s day has been an important time for celebration throughout the ages. On this shortest day of the year, the sun is at its lowest and weakest, a pivot point from which the light will grow stronger and brighter. This is the turning point of the year. The romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Riotous merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewellery, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life’s continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets.
The custom of mummers visiting their neighbours in costume, which is still alive in Newfoundland in U.S.A, is descended from these masked processions.
Roman masters feasted with slaves, who were given the freedom to do and say what they liked (the medieval custom of all the inhabitants of the manor, including servants and lords alike, sitting down together for a great Christmas feast, came from this tradition). A Mock King was appointed to take charge of the revels (the Lord of Misrule of medieval Christmas festivities had his origin here).
In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.
Mistletoe, which was sacred because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was ceremoniously cut and a spray given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations, but it has continued to have a special place in home celebrations.
In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favoured day because it was thought to be Jesus’ baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). Around 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided with Winter Solstice, the Yule and the Saturnalia. The merry side of Saturnalia was adopted to the observance of Christmas. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe. During the 16th century, under the influence of the Reformation, many of the old customs were suppressed and the Church forbade processions, colourful ceremonies, and plays.
In 1647 in England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether. When Charles II came to the throne, many of the customs were revived, but the feasting and merrymaking were now more worldly than religious.
I Am A Fool / Back To The Womb / Mother / Shakti Yoni / Keep The Children Free / Prosititute Poem Street Version / OK Man This Is Your World
Next Time Ragtime / Time Of The Goddess / Taliesin
For this years winter solstice I have the pleasure to upload the debut LP by Gilli Smyth (A.K.A. Mother Gong) released on Charly Records over three decades back in 1978.
These recording sessions were the last to involve Gilli Smyth and Daevid Allen both collaborating together…
…that is until 2009 when they both got together for the sessions that culmulated in the release of Gong’s ’2032′ double LP released on Steve Hillage’s G-Wave Record Imprint.
Two further original Gong members, Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe, were also part of the project to release this wonderful new work by Gong. I could have blagged a free jolly at the London Kentish Town Forum gig a few weeks ago but alas could not get to that performance on that night. Anyone go at all?
Text below courtesy of planetgong.co.uk.
An ‘awkward’ and ‘difficult’ child, Gilli learned to live in her imagination in reaction to being punished for her acting abilities. She was subsequently expelled from her Catholic convent school at the age of 12 for writing ‘heretical’ and erotic poetry. Inspired by Simone de Beauvoir she edited her university magazine writing such radical anti-sexist and anti-racist articles that it prompted the Daily Mirror and Daily Express to a vitriolic attack upon ‘girls like this, who should not be funded by the government to go to university’. Nevertheless she achieved an M.A.
She had a daughter Tasmin out of a brief marriage. Decamped to Paris with her child where she slept under bridges until rescued by an old ‘clochard’ who sold her an old boat for twenty quid. Six months later she was teaching NATO generals English whilst working as a professor at La Sorbonne. Eventually she sold the boat to one Daevid Allen. A year later they began living together in a small apartment in Rue Beauborg and subsequently moved to Deya in Majorca.
In 1966 Gilli published ‘Nitrogen Dreams of a Wide Girl’ and travelled with Soft Machine in the spring, creating Pop Poets with Daevid which incorporated the band, notably at Deptford Boxing Ring and as a duo at Paris Bienniale in 1967.
Gilli started doing performance poetry with Soft Machine on their occasional poetry / music gigs, and then more intensively with Daevid Allen and the first Gong band after it was founded in Paris in 1968. This ran for a colourful season in an old Theatre Restaurant in the Latin Quarter, with many visiting poets and musicians passing through including American beat poets Laurence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso, and jazz musician Don Cherry, who sat in with this Gong band at the concert at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. The Stockholm concert, attained after days of travelling through silent frozen forests, was held in conjunction with an Andy Warhol exhibition of enormous cornflake packets, and widely publicised as contemporary music.
Gilli developed the concept of Space Whisper as her own, unique singing style, rather than be coerced into singing ‘girlie’ backing vocals. It wanders across modes, keys and pitches to find the resonances that touch our deep instincts. It is the sound of emotions, a sound that moves us to cry, laugh, dance, and also a search to sing the music of grass-growing, spheres moving, and the deep humming of outer space. Despite a classical music training, Gilli’s sound has moved into unchartered areas which seem to some impossibly anarchistic and to others instinctively harmonious. Even though it may break established rules, it does have very strict rules of its own in the resonances it chooses. It is a constant experimentation to find the sound of the event and cannot be written down. This became part of the unique sound of Gong as part of the concept of Total Space Music that they had heard in their mind’s ears. Gilli played a central role in the creation of the Gong mythology, being responsible for much of the radical political integrity of the band and was often credited as being the ‘invisible’ leader.
However, the balmy days at the Theatre Restaurant were abruptly shattered by the 1968 Revolution. Gilli had to flee Paris, considered a dangerous revolutionary by the right wing authorities, as did many other musicians, television crews, writers, etc.
She returned to France in 1969, a return politically expedited by a film maker, Jerome La Perrousaz, who wanted music for films, and made available his haunted Normandy Chateau, where the group of musicians who were to form the second Gong band under the musical leadership of Daevid Allen gathered together. This time, however, the dreamy contemporary music was augmented by sizzling jazz rock, which combined with absurdist stories and lyrics and lifestyle extremism. This was to catch the imagination of the alternative culture and shoot the band up to being, as Actual magazine put it, “the leading underground band in France”.
Gilli was the only female voice in the line-up of brilliant musicians, including Steve Hillage, Pierre Moerlen and Didier Malherbe. She portrayed the prostitute, the witch, the old woman, the many voices of women, and this became part of the cult. Mythology was written in the sixteen albums that were produced, and mythology was abroad in the air, and it was as if “we were all sailing off in a huge white boat that accommodated thousands of people”. The band were not the captains, they simply got on the boat first, and the people who joined became part of a world wide network that exists today
Gilli struggled with the age-old question of how to continue working while having two babies (born in 1972 and 1974). As the success of the band in worldly terms grew and grew, so did her agony at being parted from the babies, so she ran away to Spain with them in 1974 to try and forget the band which had meant so much. In 1978 four years of thinking and writing about this emerged as a solo album ‘Mother’ (Charly CRL5007) produced and recorded by Daevid Allen. Following this the stresses and strains became too great and their relationship broke up in 1979, whereupon to her great surprise and despite the extraordinary depth of her attachment to Daevid, Gilli fell immediately into a deep relationship with Harry Williamson. Together they have made several albums, ‘Fairy Tales’ 1979, ‘Robot Woman’ 1981, ‘Robot Woman 2′ 1982, and ‘Robot Woman 3’ and ‘The Owl and the Tree’ 1990, ‘Wildchild’ 1992, as well as numerous cassettes. They ran a poetry and music program on 3CR community radio for five years, called People in Performance. During this time they met Tom the Poet, an extraordinary improviser who for years has breathed fire into the renowned Street Poetry of Melbourne. Tom toured with Gongmaison in 1990 and Mother Gong in 1991.