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Gong’s Dave Sturt on How to Connect with an Audience

The perfect album title

With the release of Gong’s latest album, Rejoice! I’m Dead!, bassist Dave Sturt knew his band was out on a limb.

Gong has gone through 11 official incarnations since it began in a French commune in 1967. Both the band’s co-founders, Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth, died in the last year and a half, and the current lineup contains none of the original members. The first song on the album, a hard rock tune laden with vocal harmonies, sounds different from anything the group has done.

And yet audiences have responded to  Rejoice! I’m Dead! with renewed fervour.

The Guardian’s Everett True writes, “Nothing makes sense when you talk about Daevid Allen. Everything makes sense.”

That’s the kind of sense Gong makes, even without Allen.

gong-by-ashley-jones-1

Gong. Photo: Ashley Jones

The founder’s vocals do appear on two tracks, and the new album’s title comes from a poem he wrote long before his cancer diagnosis. After his death, the current band browsed his work for lyrical inspiration, and immediately stumbled upon “All I Ask”.

“One of the lines in that poem was, ‘Rejoice, I’m dead, at last I’m free,’ and it was really prophetic, and just summed up the mood,” Sturt remembers. “Whenever [Allen] heard of a friend, or somebody he knew who’d died, he responded saying, ‘Fantastic! Well done, that man,’ so he kind of looked at it in almost a positive light.”

Old memories for a new face

Allen personally chose his replacement, Kavus Torabi, because Torabi reminded him of previous band members. He’d never even heard Torabi play.

Luckily, Torabi didn’t disappoint.

The new lineup played a tour without Allen while the founder was still alive and receiving treatment in Australia. Sturt says recordings of those performances thrilled the ailing singer.

“We were all slightly unsure before that point, but the chemistry within the band was just superb, and the response was fantastic by the audiences,” Sturt says.

He adds that Steve Hillage, another of the band’s “classic” members, appeared with the current lineup in London and said the new Gong was the best version he’d seen.

“That kind of gave us the confidence to think, this really is working. So, whatever happened, we were going to record an album, because we had to see it through, really. We had to just see what was in it, and if it hadn’t have been accepted, well, that’s fine, it wouldn’t have carried on, but the response to the album has been astonishingly positive.”

Authenticity and the audience

Sturt figures at least part of the reason is that, although the new Gong differs in many ways from the original, a crucial element remains: honesty.

“We decided not to try to pretend to be anything other than what we were.” That, he says, is the key to connecting with an audience. That, and belief in yourself.

Dave Sturt

Dave Sturt. Photo: Martin Bostock.

“I feel like everyone has got something to offer creatively, it’s just most people are held back by a lack of confidence, or the thought that, ‘Why would anybody be interested in what I say, or what I do, or what I paint,’ or whatever it is.

So, the key thing, I would think in any art form, is just to have a complete belief, and to just trust your inner instinct, and not try and please anybody other than yourself, really.

If you’re kind of honest with that, then it’s more likely that it’s gonna affect other people, I think, and that would then generate an audience.”

It also helps to get some press, he admits. Promoting his most recent solo album, Dreams & Absurdities, has been a challenge alongside his work with Gong and Past Lives, an Arts Council England-sponsored project he has been managing for the last three years.

That’s why, even though his album has been out for a year, he just released the video for it today.

The key to getting unblocked

“I get blocks, and I think I’m probably in one at the moment, just because I don’t have enough time or the space to actually experiment and try things out, which is where I get most of my ideas from.

I think the key to getting unblocked is probably just to make sure you have time, and just, sleep. Get enough sleep, and then just experiment and play and then see what comes out.”

For reasons he doesn’t fully understand, he’s generally more creative in the spring, he says, and finds fall a better time for organising and promoting.

“You know, it would be lovely if all you had to do was create art, but it’s never as easy as that.” There’s also the whole networking part, which can be difficult for musicians, who, more often than not, tend to be introverts.

“I do wonder sometimes why on earth I put myself through it, because for hours before a gig, I’ll feel uncomfortable, and I don’t feel communicative, particularly, and it’s hard work to actually get up on the stage, and yet, when you’re on the stage, and afterwards, it’s such an incredible elation.

You feel so alive that it makes it all worthwhile.”

Featured image: Dave Sturt, photo by Martin Bostock.

What about you, Reader? Have you ever performed for an audience? What was it like? Let us know in the comments.


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3 Comments

  1. I enjoyed my performance the best when I went on stage with idea “Now we are doing our best so let’s give it out to these people. Let’s enjoy it too! We love what we do, don’t we?” And the energy flowing is amazing then.

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