Gilgamesh, spring 1974 : Mike Travis, Alan Gowen, Phil Lee, Steve Cook

When was Gilgamesh formed? When did it split up? When did it reform?

Gilgamesh was formed in the autumn of 1972. It split up in late 1975, shortly after the release of its debut album. It was revived sometime in 1977 for occasional rehearsals which led to the recording of the second album in the summer of 1978.

What were the main line-up changes in the band's history?

The original nucleus of Gilgamesh was the duo of Alan Gowen on keyboards and Mike Travis on drums. After a series of line-up changes involving players like Rick Morcombe, Jeff Clyne, Alan Wakeman and Richard Sinclair, the quartet stabilised in early 1973 with the arrival of Phil Lee on guitar and Neil Murray on bass. There were then a few changes of bass player, with Murray being replaced by Steve Cook, Mont Campbell and finally Jeff Clyne again for the album sessions.
After leaving National Health in March 1977, Gowen started work on new compositions, and occasionally assembled an informal line-up of Gilgamesh - consisting of himself, Phil Lee, Neil Murray and Trevor Tomkins - to rehearse it. When the time came to record a second album in June 1978, Murray was replaced by Hugh Hopper, but this line-up only lasted for the duration of the sessions.

How did the original members meet? Had they worked together previously?

Gowen was previously in a band named Sunship. When that band's drummer, Jamie Muir, left to join King Crimson in July 1972, Gowen started working on a new band project with guitarist Rick Morcombe. Jamie Muir recommended his old friend Mike Travis from Edinburgh, who had now established himself on the London jazz scene. Connections on that scene then provided Alan Wakeman and Jeff Clyne. When Morcombe left, Travis recommended Phil Lee, and Gowen met Neil Murray at a party. When Murray left, Steve Cook joined, having been a member of CMU, the band led by Gowen's old friend Roger Odell (later Shakatak's drummer). Trevor Tomkins, the drummer on the second album, was a longtime collaborator of Phil Lee on jazz gigs.

Why did they choose the name Gilgamesh?

In Assyro-babylonian mythology (around 3000 BC), Gilgamesh was a legendary god-king of Sumeria who discovered the secret of eternal life. Gilgamesh's quest for immortality is described in an epic poem, written on clay tablets in a complex cuneiform alphabet, that was discovered just over a century ago in the ruins of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). The band chose that name following suggestion from Clive Merredew, a photographer friend, who had a book called "The Epic Of Gilgamesh".

How many albums did Gilgamesh release? On which labels?

Gilgamesh released two albums : "Gilgamesh" (late 1975) on Caroline Records (then a sub-label of Virgin) and "Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into" (February 1979) on Charly Records.

The American label Cuneiform Records released a CD of archive recordings by Gilgamesh entitled "Arriving Twice", in September 2000. This consists of previously unreleased recordings from 1973-75 featuring Alan Gowen, Phil Lee, Mike Travis, Neil Murray, Steve Cook, Jeff Clyne and Peter Lemer. It includes several previously unreleased compositions, most notably "Extract", a theme from the unrecorded Gilgamesh/Hatfield and the North double-quartet piece.

Have these albums been reissued on CD? On which labels?

Both albums were reissued in 1990 by a Japanese label, but the pressing soon went out of print. "Another Fine Tune..." was reissued by French label Spalax in 1995, and "Gilgamesh" followed in 1997, on Caroline's parent label Virgin. More recently, both albums have been reissued by the Esoteric Recordings label.

Who were the band's main composers?

Gilgamesh was formed by keyboardist Alan Gowen as a vehicle for his own writing (initially the band was more or less co-led by guitarist Rick Morcombe). Consequently he wrote the majority of the material, although Phil Lee, and later Hugh Hopper, sometimes contributed to the writing.

How much, and where, did the band tour?

Gilgamesh played only a few gigs, mainly in and around London (they only ventured as far outside London as Brighton). Given its low-key status, Gilgamesh could not be a permanent occupation for its members, who had to work elsewhere to make a living.
Most notable were the band's two double-quartet gigs with Hatfield and the North in November 1973, in Leeds and London. The eight-piece line-up of Phil Miller, Phil Lee, Dave Stewart, Alan Gowen, Richard Sinclair, Neil Murray, Pip Pyle and Mike Travis was the precursor to the 'rock orchestra' concept of the original National Health.

Below are all known gig dates for Gilgamesh :

  • 28/01/1973 - London, British Student Council (only gig by the original line-up)
  • 12/06/1973 - London, College of Furniture
  • 24/06/1973 - Croydon
  • 08/07/1973 - Brighton, King & Queen
  • 31/07/1973 - Greenwich [London] Theatre
  • 12/08/1973 - Brighton, King & Queen
  • 26/08/1973 - Greenwich [London] Theatre
  • 09/09/1973 - Finchley (North London), Moss Hall Tavern
  • 24/10/1973 - London, Phoenix Club
  • 04/11/1973 - Leeds, Polytechnic [double-quartet gig with Hatfield and the North]
  • 23/11/1973 - London, Notre-Dame Hall [double-quartet gig with Hatfield and the North]
  • 03/03/1974 - Bishop's Stortford, Angel Underground (as advertised in Time Out)
  • 17/03/1974 - Bishop's Stortford, Angel Underground (from Steve Cook's diary)
  • 16/04/1975 - London, South London Polytechnic
  • 17/09/1975 - London, Phoenix Club [augmented by Dave Stewart]
  • What were the reasons for the band splitting up?

    Where are they now?

    Last updated : December 4th, 2011