Hawkwind

Tuesday 26th November 2019

Royal Albert Hall, London

Space Rock pioneers Hawkwind are celebrating fifty years of intergalactic sonic exploration! Described by founding member, and only existing original member, Dave Brock, as more of a collective of musicians that climb on board the good ship for a finite period of time, bringing with them something unique, special and interesting to the music. Formed in 1969 by guitarist, vocalist and writer Brock, guitarist Mick Slattery and bassist John Harrison, with drummer Terry Ollis joining them within a couple of months after answering an advert in Music Weekly. Two of the band’s roadies Nik Turner (Saxophone, flute, vocals and songwriter) and Michael "Dik Mik" Davies (audio generator) were asked to join in to fill out the sound, and soon after became full time members. Their first gig was at the All Saints Hall, Notting Hill, London, on 29th August 1969, under the name ‘Group X’. The event organizer Doug Smith was so impressed with them that he signed them up and got them a deal with Liberty Records. The name ‘Hawkwind’ was apparently derived from the fact that Turner had a bad habit of hawking up phlegm and releasing wind all the time! The Hawkwind sound encompasses a variety of different styles ranging from Psychedelic Rock, Hard Rock, Progressive Rock to elements of dance and smatterings of Punk Rock. The band have seen approximately forty five different members come and go over the years, with Brock being the only original and constant member. They have release about thirty-one studio albums to date and countless live albums. Not only are they celebrating fifty years of existence, but they have also just released a brand new album ‘All Aboard The Skylark’, for which critics are saying is a return to form.
 
Just before the band released their eponymously titled debut album in 1970, Slattery decided to leave the band to go traveling. His position was filled by guitarist Huw Lloyd–Langton, who knew Brock from his busking days in Notting Hill, West London. The debut album was produced by Dick Taylor from The Pretty Things, and although not a commercial success it is regarded as a cult classic amongst fans and peers. Before the release of their next album Lloyd-Langton quit, after a bad LSD trip at the Isle of Wight Festival led to a nervous breakdown! He would return to the band in the late 70’s. Harrison then jumped ship (Harrison sadly died of Huntington disease on the 26th May 2012) and in was bassist Thomas Crimble, albeit briefly, before Dave Anderson (Amon Duul II) joined in time to contribute to the 1971 album ‘In Search of Space’. Reaching number eighteen on the UK album charts, this album is where the band’s musical ideas and visual aspects started to gel and come together. A couple of other important notable characters entered the scene around this time including sound engineer and keyboardist Del Dettmar, underground press writer and beat poet Robert Calvert, graphic artist Barney Bubbles and science fiction writer Michael Moorcock. Calvert wrote the sleeve notes for the album in the form of a ‘Hawklog’ (space travel), with Bubbles contributing to the album's striking cover. Moorcock would go on to write lyrics and provide occasional vocals.
 
By 1972 Anderson and Ollis were out and in came bassist Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister (The Rockin’ Vicers, Sam Gobal and future Motorhead) and drummer Simon King. A live recording of Robert Calvert’s composition ‘Silver Machine’ with Lemmy on vocals was released as a single in 1972 and reached number three in the UK charts. Their third album ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’ was released in 1972 and features, what’s now known as, the classic line-up. The subsequent tour to promote the album was recorded and released as a live album in 1973 called ‘The Space Ritual Alive’, a career defining moment and without doubt one of the finest live albums ever recorded! The Space Ritual show managed to create a full on audio-visual experience with stage prop visuals by Barney Bubbles, a Psychedelic light show by Liquid Len, and spoken word poetry by Robert Calvert which encompassed science fiction and fantasy lyrics of Starfarers in suspended animation traveling through time and space with the concept of the music of the spheres. The live show's stage presentation was also augmented by the infamous naked dancer Stacia and Miss Renee.
 
At the height of their success Dik Mik, Dettmar and Calvert all decided to jump ship for pastures new. Sadly Dik Mik passed away in November 2017. Simon House came in on violin and keyboards in time to contribute to the 1974 album ‘Hall of the Mountain Grill’. After the tour to promote the 1975 album ‘Warrior on the Edge of Time’, Lemmy was fired from the band due to his erratic behaviour and crazy drug habits! Surprisingly ex-Pink Fairies guitarist Paul Rudolph was brought in on bass, with Lemmy going on to team up with guitarist Larry Wallis (Rudolph's replacement in the Pink Fairies) to form Motorhead, who subsequently went on to become more successful than Hawkwind ever were or would be again! Sadly Lemmy left this world on 28th December 2015.
 
By summer 1975 Calvert was back in, the band changed record label and brought in new management, and their sound started to evolve to include more melodic and cleaner sounding material. The 1976 album ‘Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music’ saw Calvert more prominent in the writing and vocal department. During the subsequent tour to promote this album Turner was fired for his supposed erratic playing! During the recording of their 1977 album 'Quark, Strangeness and Charm’ Rudolph was sacked, siting musical differences! In came bassist Adrian Shaw (Magic Muscle) to fill the void. Sadly Calvert suffered from mental health issues resulting in several tour cancellations. In 1978 Brock disbanded Hawkwind and renamed the group Hawklords, they release one album entitled ’25 Years On’. A raft of new members were drafted in for this project before Brock resurrected the Hawkwind name for the 1979 album ‘PXR5’. By 1979 Calvert was out for good. Tragically he passed away of a heart attack on 14th August 1988.
 
In late 1979 Brock assembled a revamped line-up including Simon King, Harvey Bainbridge (Hawklords), Huw Lloyd-Langton (played on debut album) and Tim Blake (Gong), signing with Bronze Records they released the live album ‘Live Seventy Nine’. The studio album ‘Levitation’ followed in 1980 and featured Ginger Baker on drums. By 1981 it was all change again, Baker was out to be replaced by drummer Martin Griffin (Hawklords). Sadly Baker passed away on the 6th October 2019 at the age of 80. Brock and Bainbridge continued on, becoming more heavily involved with the overall musical sound the band would make over the next few years, handling all the keyboards and sequencers themselves. 1981 and 1982 saw the release of the ‘Sonic Attack’, ‘The Church of Hawkwind’ and 'Choose Your Masques’ albums. By 1984 things were evolving yet again, Griffin was out and in were a succession of drummers, before finally settling on Danny Thompson Jr. (son of bassist Danny Thompson). Also in was a very important link in the chain and probably the main reason Hawkwind continued to be relevant, successful and creative over the next twenty odd years, enter the formidable bassist Alan Davey (Gunslinger).
 
Turner returned briefly in 1984, before being told by Brock to leave in 1985 as he, apparently, kept honking his saxophone over everybody else's parts! Unfortunately Turner never got to contribute to the 1985 ‘The Chronicle of the Black Sword’ album. The band was in turmoil during the 1988 ‘The Xenon Codex’ album which saw Lloyd-Langton and Thompson depart soon after. Sadly LIoyd-Langton died of cancer on 6th December 2012. Another vital element in Hawkwind's continuation and creative output was the arrival of drummer Richard Chadwick (Smart Pils) in 1988. Chadwick remains Hawkwind’s drummer to this day and is one of the main reasons they are still together and making new music.
 
The 1990’s saw the band evolve and adapt yet again with the arrival of their first and only female vocalist, Bridget Wishart. She appeared on the 1990 studio album ‘Space Bandits’ and the live album ‘Palace Springs’ in 1991. By the end of the ‘Space Bandits’ tour Bainbridge, House and Wishart departed and the band continued as a three piece. A steady flow of new studio albums would be released throughout the rest of the nineties including ‘Electric Tepee’ (1992), ‘It Is the Business of the Future to Be Dangerous’ (1993) and ‘White Zone - Released as Psychedelic Warriors’ (1995). The band made a good decision in 1995 to bring in a more prominent front man in the form of Ron Tree, a brilliant vocalist and eccentric character. He would make his mark on the next three albums, ‘Alien 4’ (1995), ‘Distant Horizons’ (1997) and ‘In Your Area’ (1999).
 
A reunion of sorts occurred on the 21st October 2000 at Brixton Academy in South London. Billed as ‘Hawkestra’, this event brought together about twenty past and present members of Hawkwind for one big celebration. As it turned out it was a bit of a shambles on the night! Musicians were all over the place and under rehearsed! After the event, Turner went on to form xHawkwind with some of the early members of the group. Brock was not at all happy with this arrangement and went on to sue Turner over the right to use the name! Brock won and Turner changed the name of his group to ‘Space Ritual’.
 
Hawkwind continued on with the core of Brock, Davey and Chadwick for the 2005 album ‘Take Me To Your Leader’. Sadly Davey decided to leave the band in 2006 to pursue other musical adventures. This was a major loss to the overall sound as Davey was an exceptional bass player, vocalist, arranger and songwriter. In came Mr. Dibs on bass, he was a roadie for the band for many years. Not as powerful a bassist or as charismatic as Davey, but he gave it his best shot and managed to contribute to the next few albums. Blake returned in 2008, being joined by Jason Stuart on keyboards and Neil Hone on guitar. Tragically Stuart died of a brain haemorrhage on 8th September 2008. The band continued to release a succession of quality albums in the form of ‘Blood of the Earth’ (2010), ‘Onward’ (2012), ‘The Machine Stops’ (2016), ‘Into the Woods’ (2017) and the new album ‘All Aboard the Skylark’ (2019). The 2018 album ‘The Road to Utopia’, a reworking of old Hawkwind classics with orchestra, is probably better best forgotten! Mr. Dibs departed in 2018 sighting ‘irreconcilable differences’ as his reason for leaving. The current line-up consists of Dave Brock - vocals, guitar, keyboards, synthesisers, Richard Chadwick - drums, vocals, Niall Hone - bass, keyboards and Magnus Martin - keyboards, guitar.
 
So, why is Brock at 78 still doing it? I'm sure it’s not for the money! Well, the simple answer is that he still enjoys playing! And so here we are at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall, London on Tuesday 26th November 2019 to witness the mighty Hawkwind do their thing! This fifteen-date tour is billed as the '50th Anniversary Tour', with the Royal Albert Hall being the final night. For this tour the band were joined by keyboard wizard and Gong legend Tim Blake. The support on all dates was from the 'Blackheart Orchestra'. Don't let the 'Orchestra' part fool you! They are basically just a duo consisting of multi-instrumentalist Rick Pilkington and Chrissy Mostyn. Their music is quite Proggy and atmospheric with beautiful ethereal vocals from Mostyn. They played an interesting and well received thirty-minute set.
 
Hawkwind hit the stage at 8.30 pm and kicked off the evenings proceedings with the Space Punk ferocity that is 'Motorway City' from the 1980 'Levitation' album. Brock is handling most of the lead vocals tonight with Magnus Martin handling lead on four songs. A spectacularly stunning laser show peppers the vast hall with shards of multi-coloured light beams. The venue wasn't sold out by any means, but there was a good turnout of loyal supporters. No dancers on stage tonight, the focus is on the band and the music.
 
The time came for some new material with two fine gems from the new 'All Aboard The Skylark' album, the juggernaut that is 'Flesh Fondue' galloped onward with abandon before the more laid back 'Last Man On Earth' slowed things down a bit, with Martin taking lead vocal on the latter. The former is a classic hard-driving Space Rocker which sounds just like any other great Hawkwind track from the 70’s. With repeating ascending and descending power chords, psychedelic riffing and hypnotic drumming, a winning formula that pleases the diehard fans no end! These songs are all about the extinction of the human race due to destructive human activity and the fact that aliens will eventually inhabit the earth and eat all remaining human forms!
 
Fourth track in was the 'The Song of the Gremlin', a Calvert poem from his 1974 solo masterpiece 'Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters'. Brock recites the poem accompanied by a smorgasbord of weird and wonderful spacey sounds! These days created on computer rather than an audio generator! The time had come to take off into deeper space with the hard driving space boogie 'Born to Go' and 'You Shouldn't Do That', originally from the 1973 'The Space Ritual Alive' album and the 1971 'In Search of Space' album, respectively. Their intense repetitive riffs and metronomic hypnotic drums put us all in a deep trance! We became one with the music, in a state of total absorption, feeling the pulsating rhythms penetrate deep into our souls. Delightful experience!
 
Another two tracks from the new 'All Aboard The Skylark' album came next in the form of '65 Million Years Ago' and the mellow coda 'In The Beginning'. These songs are about the beginning of a new time after an asteroid hit the earth 65 million years ago causing total extinction! Brock was experiencing a few technical glitches with his amps which was clearly distracting him. The techs didn't manage to completely sort this out until about three quarters of the way through the set! A slight change of pace and mood came next in the form of the upbeat 'Spirit of the Age' from the 1977 'Quark, Strangeness and Charm' album. A great hippie anthem had the crowd singing along in a state of bliss, with Blake enthusiastically conducting the audience from the front of the stage! Another fine track from the new album greeted us warmly in the shape of 'The Fantasy of Faldum', a lengthy Progtastic piece with sprawling oscillating soundscapes and cool far out lyrics. Martin taking lead vocal on this one, which he dedicated to his late father.
 
Motorhead's Phil Campbell guested on the haunting 'The Watcher', a Lemmy penned song originally from the 1972 ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’ album, also featured on the first Motorhead album. The rendition at this gig was less heavy than the original, with more keyboards to the fore and lighter airy vocals by Martin. At the previous night’s gig in Guildford, Eric Clapton guested on this one and stayed on stage for the rest of the set! Campbell stayed on for one more song, the classic 'Silver Machine'. An intoxicating anthem that has us all singing along! Lead vocal was handled by Chadwick, who did a reasonable job of it, despite having almost lost his voice due to a cold!
 
To keep the evening's entertainment elevating still further into the cosmos we were smacked around the ears with two quality songs from the 1975 'Warrior on the Edge of Time' album, 'Assault and Battery' and 'The Golden Void'. The sound had improved by now and everyone on stage seemed more locked in, focused and settled. The performance was sublime! Onto the last furlong of the show with Brock and Davey's 'Right to Decide' from the 1992 'Electric Tepee' album - a formidable song and mainstay of the set for many years.
 
For the start of the encore Blake came on and played some atmospheric Theremin over a backing track of relaxing and therapeutic bird song before the gentle acoustic strum of 'Hurry On Sundown', from the 1970 'Hawkwind' album, delighted the dedicated followers. Brock said they had to lower the key to Eb to make it easier to sing as he was losing his voice! A mass singalong ensued and a warm feeling of unity abounded! The radiating positive energy continued to elevate and our senses continued to be walloped by the arrival of the classic 'Master of the Universe' from the 1971 'In Search of Space' album. Campbell returned to the stage to jam with the band on this one. The song's hypnotic repetitive riff drove the crowd down the front into a frenzy of moshing! Blistering stuff! It is just a shame Turner isn't here tonight to perform on this one, as it is one of Turner's greatest ever songs. The evening’s entertainment drew to a close with Brock reciting a couple of verses from 'Welcome To The Future', originally featured on the 1973 'The Space Ritual Alive' album. The cheers of adoration from the crowd carried on long after the band had left the stage, and continued on even after the house lights came on! Hawkwind always manage to deliver a crowd-pleasing set and tonight's gig was no exception!
 
Steven C. Gilbert

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