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Gilli Smyth

Why Are There So Few Women in Gong?

South Golden Beach, Australia, 1995

Reading an article about Arthur Brown in the 'Independent' magazine the other day written in the usual colourful 'blown-up' style of rock journalists, I thought….

For Arthur, someone I have known and appreciated for a long time and with whom I have had long discussions on life, the universe and everything, one of the most important elements in his life in recent years has been bringing up his son, and the looking after and helping his son's friends, some of whom were homeless, some in trouble with drugs and the law. However the 'mothering' side of Arthur was completely absent from the 'glamour writing' about him as a guitar hero, setting things on fire and talking about 'naked women' drifting in and out like accessories.

Also, how few female music journalists there have been, and practically none as editors with the slash pen. Articles about female musicians generally either concentrate on their sexy aspects, or what the men in the band say. Even mention of mothering brings a short embarrassed laugh and dismissal of subject to return to the newsworthiness ("aren't we shocking", or the "we're really above or beside ordinary life, or in the pub") of male musicians. This old-fashioned style continues into the 1990's music mags with a modern gloss over what is really being said. Are women so threatening? Perhaps to the role of 'Master of the Universe' and there are always people like Snoop Doggy Dog to remind us how useful rape and violence are to keep 'bitches' in their place. Many women give up and seek male protection, because it's a dangerous world out there.Many male musos would bridle at the idea of racism coming out of their mates, without taking into account that gender inequalities are also racist. The exclusiveness of the 'oldboy's club' inflicts the same kind of professional damage on women as exclusion of black musicians did in the 40's and 50's. Because it is so disguised, it is not seen for what it is.

On tour in the U.S.A. last year a Seattle journalist told me that space whisper and glissando guitar were his favourite elements in the Gong band, but he had never understood why in relation to the media I had always appeared to be invisible. He cited the Melody Maker crew, who had always sought interviews with Steve Hillage, daevid allen or Mike Howlett, but never with me, despite an obvious public following. I still feel in a somewhat ambiguous position. I have been enormously touched - heart-warmed - by so so much public support, at Glastonbury Festival, or on tour all over Europe and the U.S.A. A lot of this support would be the 'poor and dispossessed', women from Greenham living in benders on the downs, for example, sensitive people searching for the" return of the dark goddess", i.e. the intuitive magical forces (dark= the growing earth, the womb), people who feel disempowered by a corrupt government; and such people have said to me, "use the stage to speak for us, we don't have a public voice". And of course in this respect I have always considered myself to be an activist, a shaker and a shocker when it comes down to the bottom line of what is really happening our "vertical democracy". After all the mythological character known as Good Witch Yoni can say and do absolutely anything she chooses. For the editors wrapped up in the commercial flow I don't exist, never had,swept into the "too hard" basket.

In my mind, and that of daevid allen and other Gong musicians Gong represents a balance of male and female forces, as the mythology makes clear. there is an emphasis on the wisdom of deep unconscious forces (inner selves, the universal unconsciousness), the interaction with the" natural world", as indeed with everything, with the "web of being". My favourite vision of that being Gong being a huge boat -we (the original band) started sailing it , and more and more people came on board until there were thousands (which is a bit like the Gong network today), all sailing along constantly interacting. We (the band) are no more important than anyone is, because every single person is. None of that ego macho popstar hype bullshit, we won't have a bar, or a chord, of it.

The family feeling was what was so wonderful about the 25th reunion concerts. It links something which makes me feel exceptionally blessed, - that I could curtail professional activities almost exclusively to recording to bring up the kids with the amount of energy they needed; and return full on in 1989/90 to find that not only was there still an audience for what I was saying, but that it had increased. The "witchy" women were joined by "political" women, by gentle brother Gong fans, and in events like the 1st International Goddess Festival in the U.S.A. last year,by mothers and daughters, executives, straight, gay, definitions didn't matter, because the magic did. All these people have provided me with the affirmation and support necessary to continue through all the obstacles, exclusions and hurts occasioned by the "old boy " musos and the entrenched music establishment digging into it's position, to whom true equality of men and women would bean anathema. They are completely controlled by the system and by other men but recoil in horror at the idea of being controlled by WOMEN! I guess their is a lot of work to do before they realise that strong women do not emasculate men and disempower them, they augment them! However female musos do hang back because of all this prejudice. Most that I know play in all women bands, where they feel there is more co-operation and less competition. I really do believe that enlightened men and women have to work together, do not believe in separatism.

What can we do about this? Even with the perceived Gong philosophy, at the 25th Gong Concerts there were three women performers out of fifty. We know the music establishment is behind the times. But gentle brother Gong fans, why are there so few of the sisters in gigs, in bands? Sisters where are you? We would like an open forum on this, so the mystery will reveal itself. Write to Jonny at GAS or me in Australia….

Gilli Smyth

Originally published in 1996 GAS Magazine

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