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The 40 year-old Virgin

04/10/2012

Listening to the grinning cardigan being quite balanced and statesmanlike on the radio yesterday, about the latest jaw-dropping piece of blinding incompetence by the British Department of Transport*, it occurred to me that Virgin Records must have started sometime in the early 70s. Sure enough, a quick check reveals that the label was founded in 1972. Branson had already been flogging records and tapes (I remember my grandfather once explaining to me what records and tapes were) for a few years, and pulling a VAT export fraud which didn’t quite put him in court or chokey, but did cost him a shed-load of money in fines and penalties.

Today’s post is not specifically about typos, misprints or orthographical flubs. It is about one of Virgin Records’ early musical triumphs. The majestic Tubular Bells had been the label’s first release but I bring you, dragged squinting and recalcitrant into the sunlight after 39 years in a musty cupboard, the forgotten Flying Teapot: Radio Gnome Invisible, Part 1 by the Franco-British band, Gong.

Up along the top there, I do say that I will write about “cases where errors cost embarrassment, ridicule or cash”. Although it’s not strictly an error, other than of judgement, what could be more ridiculous (though completely of its time) than the album’s instrument and personnel listings:

PON voicebox – Dingo Virgin & Hi T Moonweed the favourite
Orgone box & space whisper – the Good Witch Yoni
VCS 3box Cynthia size A & crystal machine – Hi T Moonweed the favourite
Split sax ie tenna & soprasax & so flooth – The Good Count Bloomdido Bad De Grass
Gitbox – Stevie Hillside (spermguitar & slow whale), The Submarine Captain (sideral slideguitar & Dogfoot), Dingo Virgin & others (aluminium croonguitar & stumblestrum)
VCS3 fertilised elect piano & left bank uptightright pno & Shakesperian meat bass – Francis Bacon
Drumbox kicks and knocks – Lawrence the alien
Congox – Rachid Whoarewe the Treeclimber
Road crew & trux – Venux De Luxe
Switch doctor – Wiz De Kid LIGHTS & Duke

Dingo Virgin was Daevid (yes, that’s the correct spelling!) Allen, founder of Gong and previously a founder-member of Soft Machine, who maintains to this day that the cardigan never quite got around to paying him for the album. Having just listened to it once again (the selfless things I do for you, eh?), I can’t help feeling that, even so, it’s arguable that he paid too much. Think We’re Only in It for the Money without the satire or musical discipline; leaden, worthy, pretentious, time-worn, ear-bleeding dross. Not that I’m being judgemental, of course.

TRIVIA NOTE: I see that one of the tracks on Magick Brother, the first Gong album, would surely have appealed to the late and unlamented Jimmy Savile: 5 and 20 Schoolgirls.

* I had first-hand experience of the bozos in Transport many years ago. I was invited to a meeting and presented with a metre-high pile of documents. “We are negotiating with Sir X Y of company Z, and it’s all proving suspiciously easy. He’s being far too nice. We know that he must be lying to us, and that these numbers are false, but … we can’t find it. Help.” It took a few days, but it wasn’t that hard to find £385m of lies. I’m proud to say that Sir X hated me after that. Where’s my knighthood, then?

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