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Gong co-founder Gilli Smyth has died

The psychedelic rock Space Whisperer has died aged 83

Performance artist, musician, poet and Gong co-founder Gilli Smyth has died. She passed on 22 August. “Gilli died at mid-day in Australia surrounded by loved ones,” Planet Gong reported on 23 August. “She had been admitted to Byron Bay hospital with pneumonia a couple of days ago. She was 83 and also ageless.

“Her unique stage presence and vocals manifested and determinedly represented a vital, deeply fundamental feminine principle within the Gong universe. She last performed with the band in 2012.

“The two images of Gilli that spring to mind when I think of her are reading a newspaper, feet up on a tour bus, in our kitchen, in 100s of dressing rooms - she was never without a newspaper whatever country we were in, or laughing – a little Gilli semi-supressed chuckle at the absurdity of pretty much everything.

“We will miss her. Love to the Good Witch and all who feel her loss.”

Smyth was born on 1 June 1933. At the age of 12 she was expelled from the convent Catholic school she attended for, according to Plant Gong, “writing 'heretical' and erotic poetry”. She studied three degrees at Kings Collage London and worked as an editor for the collage's magazine Kings News. She moved to Paris in the 1960s and began teaching at Sorbonne University. In 1966 Gilli published a book of poetry Nitrogen Dreams Of A Wide Girl. It was in Paris that she met the late Daevid Allen (founding member of Soft Machine with Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge), occasionally travelling with the group as a performance poet. In 1967 she founded the psychedelic rock group Gong with Allen and released their debut album Magick Brother in 1970. In Gong she often performed under the name Shakti Yoni with a vocal style which had her develop the concept of the Space Whisper singing style. As Planet Gong notes ”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 inerity of the band and was often credited as being the 'invisible' leader.”

Smyth left Gong in July 1972 and following a brief period in Spain with her children went on to form numerous other project including Mother Gong releasing her first solo album Mother in 1978. That was followed by several albums written with Harry Williamson such as Fairy Tales (1980), the Robot Woman trilogy, The Owl And The Tree, and others. Gilli went on to release albums throughout the 1990s (including two with her son, Orlando Allen, as Goddess Trance/Goddess T) and 2000s, including reunions with Daevid Allen and 2012's Paradise.

Watch her perform “Witches Song, I Am Your Pussy”