The death of Daevid Allen earlier this year hit fans hard. Daevid was the Australian poet, composer and musician who co-founded Soft Machine and Gong, exploring the outer reaches of space rock and psychadelia to the delight of fans over the world. He was a long term friend of my editor at Gonzo weekly, Jon Downes, and of owner Rob Ayling. He was a very prolific musician both with his own projects and his contributions to other people’s work. One of those collaborators was Don Falcone of Spirits Burning who enjoyed a long association with this artist. I talked with Don about his work with Daevid over the years and the impact this renown musician made on his life.
DH: What was the first record you owned that Daevid was part of?
DF: Technically, it was “You” by Gong. It took some time for me to appreciate it, as it felt a little too produced for my tastes at that moment. What really reeled me in was the live Planet Gong “Floating Anarchy” album, which was Daevid, Gilli, and the Here & Now band. It had all the space elements you’d find with Hawkwind, but it was so different in execution. Not having experienced live Gong yet, this was my first chance to hear Daevid in a heavier, wilder, spacey environment.
DH: How did this early exposure draw you in – what did you see in his art that spoke to you?
DF: At the time of those initial listenings, I thought of Daevid as a confident vocalist, and perhaps a maestro who could assemble and lead musicians to new places. I tended to like the mix of play and intensity he brought to an ensemble, things like “Opium for the People,” and the “Black-Sheep” piece. I wasn’t quite ready for some of the quirkier moments of “You.” I’m not sure if it’s the right analogy, but where I liked Monty Python, Bonzo Dog Band, or even the Bob Calvert “Capt. Lockheed” quirks, I never connected with Frank Zappa, and something about early Gong arrangements initially hit me as more like Zappa. It took some time for me to appreciate Daevid. To be honest, it was easier for me to latch onto the solo, and more instrumental-based adventures of Tim Blake and Steve Hillage, or their work with Clearlight Symphony and Nik Turner.
Early on, I had no clue that Daevid was a master of gliss, and underrated as a guitarist on so many levels. I simply thought that most of what I heard was Steve Hillage in Gong, and Steffe Sharpstrings in Planet Gong. I knew that Daevid has some solo albums, but thought that he did acoustic guitar here and there. It’s funny what you pick up (or don’t pick up) from album covers, reviews, and so on.
It wasn’t really until he was in my home studio that I discovered how much I had been missing. Or, the moments where he performed locally, prior to those sessions, and where I got to see him in person: playing guitar, performing, putting out so much energy and passion.
DH: How did you end up collaborating with Daevid?
DF: I contacted Michael Clare and asked him for help in setting up a session with Daevid at my home studio. Daevid was probably staying at Pierce’s McDowell’s house and I either picked him up there, or dropped him off, or both… I knew that Daevid was visiting San Francisco in those days, and I thought it simply made sense to get him involved with a project that celebrated space rock.
[Michael and Pierce have since become long-time Spirits Burning bass guitar contributors, and are part of the Gong family of musicians, having played in University of Errors and Mother Gong, respectively.]
DH: What stories or anecdotes do you have for the times you worked together – his sense of humanity, of humor, or life?
One year, Daevid showed up for a session with a gift for me. A copy of Robert Calvert’s “Centigrade 232” book/cd. Daevid knew that I was a big fan of Calvert’s poetry and music. I was blown away. It was also kind of serendipitous, in that I had brought Daevid and Robert together on two pieces a few years earlier (when Robert’s wife Jill had given me a tape of the “Centigrade 232” readings, and I had recorded Daevid on the two pieces with Robert’s voice).
Another memorable moment… our first session. I had this piece called “Arc” (or “A Real Creeper”), and after Daevid finished two different gliss parts, he turned to me, and asked if I had anything in the room that he could recite for the piece. I said… well, I do have my college thesis, with a number of poems I wrote. As I played back the piece, Daevid proceeded to flip through my thesis and vocalize various lines of my poetry, interpreting them on the spot, bringing new life to them, experimenting with various ways to actualize them. It was quite amazing. One of my first experiences with Daevid’s ability to improv vocally. This was a predecessor, I guess, to his work on the Weird Biscuit Teatime album, specifically with “Beezlebabble Slush.” For that piece, he improvised vocalizations that were between pre-human and inhuman. Utterly breathtaking: Concurrently scary and inspirational. To be in the same room…
Daevid was also open to try anything. I truly admired (and appreciated) this willingness to let me lead him to a place, where he could do lyrics that I gave him, or as was often the case, where he would turn to his sheets of lyrics. There were funny moments in there too. For example, when I gave him the “Book of Luana” lyrics, and said that one part needed a manic preacher feel, he dived in. Daevid’s tall, and him stamping a foot on the ground while yelling “You can call him the preacher” shook the house here, and got our dog barking quite a bit. When we let her in, she could only look up quizzically at this giant wizard.
The mentions of Daevid as a vocalist barely scrape what he brought to Spirits Burning and other projects we worked on throughout the years. His gliss work remains heavenly, ethereal, haunting. It was always special to be in the same room, as he took the song and me to a place that I could not have imagined. He brought so much to so many SB CDs, as well as brief moments for Astralfish, Quiet Celebration, and Fireclan. But, the gliss workings were just the beginning. When we first got together, I had no idea that Daevid was so adept at guitar improv. I could not have predicted the numerous rhythms and leads that he would do over 12 SB CDs, and a couple “Weird” albums. Daevid’s parts have a way of making a song more creative, passionate, deeper. More than I could have dreamed of.
As the 2010s rolled in, Daevid no longer swooped into the bay area, and our in-person sessions ended. Daevid did continue to work with me remotely. He was using a Pro Tools system that I had helped him set up, and a mic that I had given to him in lieu of a session or two. I think he did some of his vocals for later Gong albums with that setup. I recently looked back at our emails the last few years, and there were the occasional questions about how to do something on Pro Tools. While I was always respectful of Daevid’s time and email address, it was always good to be able to help him in these adventures.
In the Spirits Burning parts that he recorded in Australia, I could see, or rather hear in the files that he sent me, a strong interest in trying to do more things with his voice. For example, on “Bring It Down,” he supplemented the lead and backing vocals with a vocal bass part, and a vocal cymbal part. Things like that.
Perhaps the final joy that Daevid brought to me, was the same joy that he first brought, more than a decade earlier. His support and belief in me as a musician. One passionate musician to another. We all need that sometimes. We’re human. In January of 2015, when Michael (Clare) and I sent Daevid the results of our months of work on the second WBT CD, Daevid responded with more than I could have expected. “you have done a fascinating job of mixing this up for me and I find myself both moved and nicely surprised….. Love to you all and thanks for your patience, your cards and your sweet caring! Huge hug.”
Shortly after, Daevid announced to the world that his time on this world was coming to an end.
DH: How do you think history will view Daevid and his important work?
It’s hard to say… it’s like asking what will be the view of 70s bands that didn’t have hits when we’re all dead and gone.
There will be digital text histories like Wikipedia. Although I do wonder what happens to the band sites that many have started when no one is left to pay for them, or the companies running them are gone…
There will be the aural histories: Various streaming services, posts on the Facebooks of today and tomorrow, and lots of collections that hopefully will get passed down or over to others. Plus, our conversations about Daevid, our ongoing dialogues.
There are also the hidden gems of Daevid’s works. For example, what he has brought to Spirits Burning. Many Daevid and Gong fans are less aware of his amazing contributions to the history of SB.
It’s in all of these histories that Daevid will rest and continue to grow.
DH: Do you have anything still “in the can” to be released of your collaborations?
For Spirits Burning, there are definitely 2-3 songs, maybe a couple more. First, the next Spirits Burning (titled “Starhawk,” and coming out Oct 30, 2015) will end with “So Strong Is Desire,” featuring a vocal duet by Daevid and my wife Karen. Daevid commented that he really liked the piece, and was kind of surprised that I wrote the piece and its words. One of my music cohorts thinks it’s the poppiest thing that Daevid’s ever done. My intent was to capture the psychedelic feel of one of those mid-70’s Hawkwind numbers with Nik Turner and others Hawks singing.
Further down the road will be two pieces on the second SB & Clearlight CD. There’s a piece that I started when I went to an Ableton Live class years ago. I sent it to Daevid and he added guitar and vocals (about a female friend of his ending up at a hospital). He even did some digital cutting and pasting to suggest a different arrangement. Actually, there are two versions that we did. One is an instrumental, which will have Cyrille and Camper Van Beethoven violinist Jonathan Segel on it. The vocal version is currently under new development. They’ll be the bookends for the album.
The big news, is that there is a successor to the Weird Biscuit Teatime album, under the name Daevid Allen Weird Quartet. On vinyl too. It’s Daevid, Michael, me, and drum duties over the album split by Trey (Sabatelli) and Paul (Sears). The album was started a few years ago, when Trey and I worked at Digidesign, and we reserved the studio for us to record in while Daevid and Michael were visiting the bay area. I had started some songs, brought them in, and Daevid, Michael, and Trey played to them. They also did a couple of jams that turned into songs. For the rest of the album, David did vocals and guitar at my home studio. The album was on hold for a few years, for various reasons. Then, in 2014, Michael and I dove back in. Michael doing missing bass parts from Hawaii, me doing new mixes and experiments here. For the pieces that still needed drums or percussion, we brought in Paul, who had worked recently with me in Spirits Burning, as well as on the 2014 Clearlight CD.
DH: What is the next Spirits Burning project?
“Starhawk,” an adaptation of Mack Maloney’s “Starhawk” novel. It’s scheduled for an October release on Gonzo Multimedia.
The starter tracks for the next Spirits Burning & Clearlight album are finished. I’m now reviewing what we have, and deciding what other instruments we need for each piece.
Then, there are a slew of SB projects in the works. I’ll be announcing them on the Spirits Burning Facebook page as they develop.
Daevid touched so many people. Literally, and sonically. He almost always would talk to people before and after shows. Sometimes even during… He was one of those few musicians who could just hang out. He made so many musician friends too, as he was willing to play with so many musicians, in so many different styles and setups. He reached so many listeners, in so many ways.
On a personal note, I feel that he gave life to Spirits Burning, in the sense that he helped get it off the ground, and bring in label interest. It’s something that I’ll always remain thankful for.
The Daevid Allen/Spirits Burning Family Sessions (as best we can remember)
- Summer, 1998 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “New Worlds By Design.”
- Between September, 2000 and March, 2001 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Reflections In A Radio Shower.”
- Late 2001 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Found In Nature,” 9 songs for Weird Biscuit Teatime “DJDDAY,” 1 song for Quiet Celebration “Sequel,” and the track “Clear Audient v2.5” for the “Bay Prog CD” and its remix on daevid allen & don falcone “CD “Glissando Grooves.”
- December, 2002 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Found In Nature,” and mixing of 9 songs for Weird Biscuit Teatime “DJDDAY.”
- April, 2003 (San Leandro, California; Daevid in the bay area for gig with Makoto & Cotton): 3 songs for Spirits Burning “Alien Injection,” 2 songs for Fireclan “Sunrise to Sunset,” and 6 songs for Spirits Burning “Crazy Fluid.”
- November 2006 (San Bruno, California, and Digidesign Studio in Daly City, California; Daevid in the bay area for University of Errors show at the Hemlock): 4 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Earth Born,” plus 11 songs for the follow-up to the Weird Biscuit Teatime album (later renamed as Daevid Allen Weird Quartet).
- April, 2007 (San Bruno, California): 3 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Bloodlines , and 11 songs for Spirits Burning “Behold The Action Man.”
- May 2010 (San Bruno, California): “The Book of Luana” for Spirits Burning “Crazy Fluid,” and 2 songs for Astralfish “Far Corners.”
- 2011 to 2013 (remote, from Australia): “Make Believe It Real” for Hawklords “Friends and Relations,” 2 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Make Believe It Real,” 1 song for Spirits Burning & Clearlight “Healthy Music In Large Doses,” 1 song for Spirits Burning “Starhawk,” and 2 songs for Spirits Burning & Clearlight “Roadmaps” (future release).