Saturday 19 November 2022


Concorde 2, Brighton, Thurs 18th Nov

Shortly after the sad death of Nik Turner seemed just the right time to attend an Old Hippies Reunited party, and as luck would have it a double-barrelled one came along…

I’m not sure how many time I’ve seen Ozric Tentacles now. There was a fifteen to twenty year period where it seemed almost impossible not to see them. Attend anything remotely resembling a festival or gathering and there they’d be. And I’m equally unsure when I last saw them, except it was some while ago. They would play regular venues too, but it what when that festival environment was clamped down on that they went out of my sight, like an animal losing its habitat.

Looking back, their sound was based on a kind of false memory. There wasn’t really a time when Psychedelic music overlapped with Prog, it was more than one waned as the other waxed. The bands who performed that transition, like Pink Floyd, tended to have a ‘mellow’ phase in-between. But that sound was why their best-known number came to be ’Kick Muck’, the guitar sounding less like a guitar and more like someone cranking furiously at a funnel which emits a ceaseless torrent of notes, so many and so fast they go by in a blur.

Guitarist Ed Wynne is the only survivor from back then. And the band’s become something of a family affair, featuring his ex-wife Brandi on bass, his son Silas Neptune on keyboards and a flautist and drummer whose names I failed to catch.

The standard thing to say about a longstanding band is what they’ve gained in ability they’ve lost in edge. Which sounds remarkably close to what music did when it morphed from Psychedelia to Prog. The greatest thing about Psychedelia being its abandon and derangement, and the worst thing about Prog being that it abandoned that abandon.

And for a band whose first-ever gig was a six-hour spontaneous jam at Stonehenge Free Festival in ’83, who often seemed to be jamming on stage, there seems little jam tonight. Wynne even introduced the tracks, something never done back in the day. The absence of ‘Jumping’ John Egan, who combined flute-plyaing with on-stage antics like a cosmic Bez, also changes the dynamic.

Nevertheless, if there’s now more smooth than rough, there was always some smooth. Unlike most festival circuit bands, they had (and have) the musical chops to work for those who stood to listen as well as those who waved their arms. There were points this set seemed to meander and my attention drifted, but overall it kept enough punch and was musically adventurous enough to take you with it.

The highlight, version of ’Kick Muck’ notwithstanding was the finale, also their most Dance-influenced number, where the abandanometer most definitely went into the red.

This was very much a double-headliner, with the auditorium packed and ready for Gong even at the un-rock & roll time of 8pm. In case there’s anyone left who doesn’t know who Gong are these days… Daevid Allen assembled a younger band around him (this time with no relatives) back in 2014, who released one album. After getting his no-hope diagnosis (the album was called ’Rejoice I’m Dead’), he suggested they carry on after he was gone, which they have.

But any debate about whether that makes them Proper Gong or a tribute band with validation is sidelined, when they play precisely one classic Gong track the whole set, even then segueing into it from somewhere else. Which was ’Master Builder’, my absolute favourite Gong track ever, so they made one Old Hippy happy.

How much the set drew on the one album made with Allen I don’t know, I’ve not heard it. Though at one point new new songs are announced. Pretty soon it became obvious that this was really only Gong in the sense of inheriting the family name, and you should look on them as a new band.

To which the verdict would be mixed. Some tracks did sound close to hippy music as described by its detractors, meanderingly pleasant music with ‘positive energy’-type lyrics. But, not just on ’Master Builder’, also elsewhere in their set, they proved that when they want to wig out they absolutely can.

Not from our fine shores, but more or less the right Ozrics line-up…

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