Gilli Smyth, now off to the castle in the clouds.
Gilli Smyth, now off to the castle in the clouds.

Gilli Smyth, vocalist for English/French prog-psych band Gong, has died at 83 after a long illness.

Sometimes performing under the name Shakti Yoni, Smyth was known for her echo-laden "space whisper," wide array of personae, and surrealistically poetic lyrics. She founded Gong with her former partner Daevid Allen in 1968, gathering an incredible roster of musicians, including Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe.

Gong was an alternate artistic universe in which phantasmagorical whimsy, utopian politics, sexual liberation, and an impish lexicon ruled. They could write concise, catchy numbers like "Rational Anthem" and "Tried So Hard," generate mantric and sinister jams like "Master Builder," engage in New Age drone and chant like "Magick Mother Invocation," or indulge in lysergic, space-outs like "Flying Teapot" and "Prostitute Poem."

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Smyth left Gong after the 1974 masterpiece You and cut several solo records, as well as performing with diasporic ensembles like Mother Gong, Planet Gong, Gong Matrices, and Acid Mothers Gong. Before all of that activity, Smyth sometimes read her poetry onstage with Canterbury prog-rock stars Soft Machine. Onstage and in the studio, Smyth was a uniquely enchanting, ethereal, and empowering presence. She was a part of a special crew that infused the normally ultra-serious world of prog rock with a mischievous, bawdy sense of humor. It's doubtful we'll see/hear her like again.