More than forty years after the last of the Gong Trilogy albums was first released and In the year that the very singular and charismatic Daevid Allen was taken from us, news that Charly records were to put out a newly remastered box set of the thrilling threesome, Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You featuring LP and CD formats complete with original artwork and 12” hardback book should come as great news.
Well yes, you’d think so. However all is apparently not well on the little green planet, which it seems is no more immune to contractual wrangling than anywhere else in the universe.
Following the announcement of the box set, which was released in November, surviving band members released a strongly worded statement distancing themselves from the release. In response, Charly prmised to issue its own statement refuting some of the band’s comments. It looks to be a classic case of “this is my truth, tell me yours”.
The situation regarding the various claims on classic period Gong albums is a complex one and hence open to different interpretation. When Gong became one of the first acts to sign with Virgin in the UK, they were already signed with BYG in France. In fact 1973’s Flying Teapot album (the first in the Gong “trilogy”) and the budget priced Virgin/Caroline issue of its predecessor 'Camembert Electrique' contain joint BYG/Virgin credits.
In an interview with Fred Dellar of Mojo magazine in 2002 Daevid Allen explained “our BYG contract was for France and thus excluded UK so we felt free to sign [with Virgin]. Meanwhile BYG emerged & offered to go 50:50 with Virgin for a first explorative release”.
BYG seemingly folded around this time only to re-emerge later in the decade long enough to licence Camembert and Teapot to Charly. Not only that, the deal appears to have included the subsequent albums in the trilogy, Angel’s Egg (1973) and You (1974), which seems key to the current dispute. Moreover Virgin appeared to lose its shared rights to Flying Teapot somewhere along the way, which, if so, would explain why the only version currently available is the Charly one.
The crux of the matter, though, appears to be that band members receive no royalties from these Charly releases which means they won’t benefit financially from the lavish new trilogy box set either. According to the band’s statement, to which Gilli Smyth and Didier Malherbe from the pre-Trilogy line-up are apparently party “none of the surviving members of the line-ups that created those recordings were ever signed to BYG or Charly”. The statement goes on to give a version of events that is at variance with that contained in the new box set’s sleeve notes stating that “Charly has been brazenly abusing our rights as artists for decades”. The statement also disputes the claim that the new box set has been remastered from the original tapes which it claims “…reside in the Virgin Records Archive, and that Charly has never at any time been given access to them…”. The upshot is that the band members are urging fans to boycott the box set and are instead throwing their weight behind a planned re-issue by Universal (who now own rights to the Virgin catalogue) and which they say is being released with their co-operation.
Charly’s statement was still awaited at the time of writing). Meanwhile the label’s social media pages have attracted a fair few comments from fans requesting answers to the charges levelled at the label in the band statement. All of which means that the matter remains as acrimonious and unresolved as ever.
Were the dispute to be taken to its logical conclusion then the only parties ever likely to be happy with the impasse would be two sets of lawyers. It’s doubtful that anyone else would want to see that happen and the many Gong fans and well-wishers must be hoping that the band and the labels will, in time, find a way to resolving their deep seated differences.
Meanwhile the music and the mythical characters of the Planet Gong continue to exert a strong gravitational pull on sections of Earth’s population who will no doubt form their own opinions as regards this latest release of the classic Gong canon.
Yer pays yer money…
… Or not, as the case may be.
Ian Fraser, November 2015